The only safe way to ensure that we are not binding everyone’s consciences on matters that Jesus doesn’t is to ask ourselves one simple question: Could every believer, in every place, across all time, people’s and cultures, both now and forever, do this thing?
You don’t have to be around Christians very long before you hear someone saying, ‘do you really think you should be doing that?’ or, perhaps less frowny, ‘shouldn’t you really ought to be doing this as a Christian?’ I purposefully keep this loosely worded because ‘that’ and ‘this’ could be populated by so many things. Of the things with which to make others feel guilty there appears to be no end!
Of course, we shouldn’t ignore the fact that the Bible does have commands. ‘Do not lie’ is pretty cut and dry, isn’t it? If you’re a liar, it’s not unreasonable to hear a Christian say, ‘do you really think you ought to be doing that?’ There are also positive commands too. There is no ignoring, ‘do not forsake the meeting together of yourselves, as is the habit of some’. If you belong to the some, you should expect a Christian to reasonably say to you, ‘shouldn’t you really ought to be doing this as a Christian?’ There are commands in scripture that the Lord expects us to do and those things which he clearly doesn’t want to do. It isn’t legalism for believers to point out what Jesus has said he expects of his followers and at least ask, shouldn’t Christians be doing what Jesus wants them to do?
The problem isn’t that there are ethical and moral commands in the Bible. Nor is the problem that believers expect other professing believers to at least want to be doing them. Jesus instituted church discipline for a reason, after all. The problem is when we confuse the things we find helpful, or beneficial to us, and suggest that Jesus demands them of all people when he doesn’t.
A good case in point is when the disciples of John approached the Lord and his disciples and asked why they weren’t fasting. They said that John, and so they too, fasted. Shouldn’t Jesus’ disciples be fasting just like them? Jesus’ answer to them was that his disciples weren’t going to fast while he was with them. In other words, it wasn’t something he demanded. As helpful a practice as John’s disciples found it—and Jesus was okay with them doing it—they shouldn’t be binding everyone else’s conscience when Jesus himself doesn’t.