“GRAS” is a government label which stands for “Generally Recognized As Safe”. Many things are labeled as GRAS but are only safe to a certain point, or are not safe at all. But the government is too lax to change the label, so the products or compounds continue in public use.
I propose we create a label for things that are commonly called sin that really are not sin. “CRAS” would be a good acronym for these things. Things “Commonly Regarded As Sin” include drinking, dancing, long hair on men, short hair on women, nudity, being drunk, use of birth control, saying certain words, anger, telling untruths to evil people, women wearing pants, men wearing anything but pants, and on and on.
Some of these things are sin after a certain threshold is met, or under certain circumstances, or when done by certain people. But the church and church culture at large is too lax to discriminate and to stop labeling these things as sin. So people continue to fight them even though they’ve never truly examined why they are so opposed and the people that engage in them are still labeled sinners.
I won’t argue that ALL people can do ALL CRAS things. Each of us have our own struggles with various sins. For some of us alcohol is a stumbling block, for others it’s nudity in art or temptations to lose our temper sinfully. Anything can be sin to depraved people, honestly.
A few of those things I list probably surprise a few of you. Either you regard them as sin at any level and think I’m being antinomian in saying they are not, or you have never heard them called sin. All of the things listed above I have read and heard called sin. Some of them have been the topic of heated Facebook debate, with me usually on the minority side.
Each of us need to listen to our conscience and follow what it says we should and should not do. But we need to be careful not to bind the consciences of others over things that we cannot call sin scripturally. We should be gracious to those who can handle the things we can’t and stop calling them out for adiaphora.
When pointed out that there are people in scripture clearly doing the very thing they are calling sin without consequence or even at the command of God, CRAS defenders will commonly resort to saying there are exceptions. Samson’s long hair, Isaiah’s nudity, and David’s (almost naked) dancing are often explained away as exceptions to the Rule. God somehow suspended His holiness and granted permission (and command) to violate the law.
Perhaps I am too black and white, but when there is an exception, a rule is no longer a rule, especially when it comes to sin.
People also like to change the meanings of words in scripture and say Jesus made and drank non-alcoholic wine, Isaiah was wearing underwear, or Samson’s hair wasn’t really THAT long. When pointed out that some things are relative, like hair length, they’ll say something like “well, you know what long is.” This applies to women’s dress as well with “It’s obvious when the skirt is too short” or “When too much skin is showing” or “Low cut is low cut.”
Alcohol is also a fun topic. Some say any level of alcohol consumption is evil. Some say it’s a sin to be drunk period. But what is “drunk”? At what point does being drunk become “addicted to much wine”? How many drinks equals “drunkenness and carousing”? “Drunk” is a relative term. Do we think the wedding guests were stone sober when Jesus made the best wine in large quantities so the party could continue? I have pointed out to some anti-drinking folks that the wine in Jesus’s day was made extra potent so that it could be mixed with water to kill microbes so the “best” wine was really the strongest. I was told that Jesus only drank heavily dilute wine. Heavily diluted wine seems to defeat the antimicrobial point of the wine in the first place.
Sinful things clearly listed in scripture as sinful are always sinful without exception. Murder, lying, theft, adultery, idolatry, incest, homosexual acts, immoderate use of food or drink, these are all obvious things listed as sin in scripture. But with CRAS things folks often have to jump through hoops to prove a sin where there may or may not be sin. Where scripture speaks, speak, where scripture does not speak, do not put words into its mouth.
The other side of “sin is sin” is “not sin can sometimes be sin.” Things not listed in scripture as sin can be sinful in certain circumstances to certain individuals. This is where the CRAS stuff falls. If it becomes idolatrous or harmful to one’s self or others it becomes sinful. If by doing it one would be violating other law (i.e. causing a brother to stumble or making a false witness of themselves) or one’s conscience (one feels x is sin, but does it anyway) then they are sinning.
We should not take our Christian liberty to be an “anything goes” type of freedom. Those who have no problem with CRAS things should refrain from them if they are with a weaker brother or sister who cannot handle those things or around non-believers who would be turned off to the Gospel if they witness participation in such things.
If our conscience tells us not to do something, even if scripture may not back it up, we should not do it. But we should also make sure our conscience is not left in ignorance. We need to educate ourselves so that we do not fall into the CRAS traps described above.
The bottom line with all of these things is: stop calling people sinners who may not actually be sinners. Be careful when labeling things as sins when there is little or no scripture to back you up. Don’t think that just because your conscience feels pricked by a certain thing that it is sinful for everyone. Maybe it is sinful for you because of a weakness in your character or just a spiritual struggle you’re not able to overcome. Don’t heap guilt on others just because you can’t control yourself. And don’t think that just because you are able to do them that you should do them with reckless abandon and ignore the consciences of others.