Here’s Part 8 of the Black & White Thinking Series. I would encourage you, at minimum, to read Part 1 (Introduction), Introduction (Part 2), Part 2 (Biblical Lens), and Part 3 (Grace) before reading this blog. Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), and Part 7 (Pride) can be read by clicking the appropriate links.
Whether in the counseling office, at church, or at home, all of us either know a person who thinks more Black & White, or we are one. Christians are as different from one another as the rest of the world are from each other. Our shared beliefs in Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, & our trust in His Word unite us together to live out our faith together at a local church. Yet, how we live out our faith can be very different than the next person. How we interpret Scriptures, perceive events, and treat our fellow Christians will partly depend on whether our thinking is more Black & White or Relational. This particular Blog is more about how the Black & White Thinker lives out their faith.
As stated in previous blogs, Black & White Thinkers often focus more on the fruit (the actions & behaviors) than they do the heart (motives, desires), although the heart is certainly acknowledged. Typically, in the heart of the Black & White Thinking Christian, the motives tend to be more focused on the importance of obedience to the Word / Law (you can also exchange “law” for expectation or standard) and living a life that demonstrates this. If you are not obedient, which is right, you are disobedient, which is wrong. And if you are wrong, consequences are deserved. And basically, this would be correct. The Black & White Thinking Christian emphasizes obedience in his or her Christianity, yet may have more difficulty feeling or understanding the relational component that is also important in the Christian faith. While some acknowledge that Christianity is not about religion, but a relationship, the relationship is often lived out by works, which may tend to lean toward religion.
“I’m a Christian. I believe all Jesus did for me. Now, just tell me what to do and I will do it.” Devotions and service, for example, stem from the desire to be a good (not bad) Christian. Relational individuals will focus more on God’s love for them and their love for God as motivation for doing something for Him, and may tend to de-emphasize the obedience to God. Black & White Thinking Christians tend to focus more on obedience to God and have difficulty with less concrete things such as the feelings and emotions of faith. According to Jesus’ words in John (14:15, 23), “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” or “obey me.” This verse captures the love of a Black & White Thinking Christian towards God…it is demonstrated mostly through obedience.
One of the main concerns of Black & White Thinking Christians in the church and in family life is that grace becomes a license for people to sin and do what they want (see Romans 6:1-2) . This is one of the reasons grace is a difficult concept for many. If you give grace (a relational concept) to others, then others will take advantage, they won’t learn, and they will be more disobedient. If fellow Christians live by grace (as opposed to obedience), they will not act regularly according to His Word. Since obedience is such an important dimension of faith, grace seems to stand in contradiction to obedience. What the Black & White Thinking Christian needs to comprehend on a greater level is that while remaining true to being obedient to God, it is God’s grace that empowers such obedience. If you haven’t already, please read the Blog on Grace & the Black & White Thinker for more on this…
While recognizing that overemphasizing grace (some call it cheapening grace) and overemphasizing obedience (religion) is a danger to our faith, Black & White Thinking Christians ought to be cautious of not judging others by the standards of obedience. Obedience is certainly important in the life of a believer, but it is not the standard by which others are measured (as good/real or bad/fake Christians). Christ’s obedience on the cross is the measure of obedience necessary for us to be considered righteous by faith.
One additional caution for Black & White Thinking Christians is to recognize that relationship is just as necessary as obedience. This relationship between God and us was made possible only through God’s love and grace (“We love because God first loved us” – 1 Jn 4:19), and was never made possible through our own actions. We will never be able to earn God’s favor, love, or attention through our works. Therefore, all of us, Relational and Black & White Thinking Christians alike, need to remember to focus specifically on Him and His love and Grace through the cross, and not focus on our own or other people’s works. Our treatment of others must reflect our relationship with God through Christ, based on His grace and mercy to us, and not on whether others are obedient or not (good or bad Christians).
Finally, I would also argue that paying attention to the vertical relationship with God through Christ will help us to be able to acknowledge our own blindness. Often, while focusing on obedience to certain standards, we can be blinded to the relational commands in Scripture. For example, we may speak truth to those who are disobedient, but we are often blinded to the fact that in speaking truth, we do not speak it “in love” (Eph 4:15). When speaking the truth overshadows the “in love” part, the truth spoken ceases to carry any weight of the Truth (with a capital “T”).
Black & White Thinking Christians are very important to the Body of Christ. Although I’ve mentioned some weaknesses and cautions, let me share one significant strength as well. The Black & White Thinking Christian’s passion to stand for the Truth and the Word of God is exemplary, and often guides and challenges others around them (hopefully in a good way). Though personal feelings may heavily influence interpretation of a Relational person, feelings are typically submissive to the Truth with Christian Black & White Thinkers. Any feelings that are present are more of a response to Truth (or of other people’s not believing the Truth) than an actual guide for discovering or learning Truth. Without this anchor to the Truth, the Christian faith can easily become watered down if we gave in to the demands of “feel good” culture or even the fears of our hearts. If we cannot stand with the Truth, we will fall with this world.
There is so much more that can be said of Black & White Thinking Christians that has not been said in this blog. Hopefully, in reading the series, additional insights can be gleaned throughout that can bring some clarity to our differences in our world views. My hope is to one day put all this together into a resource for many…
(Note: The Black & White Series is based on observations and conversations with many individuals in the counseling office and beyond, and includes various insights into the Scriptures as well. While not stating all that is said in these blogs are Truth, the series is meant to be a starting point for further discussion and perhaps help us to understand, love, and live out our faith and relationships better. That being said, I would love to dialogue with you and hear your thoughts and add to the discussion and one another’s understanding. So, in that spirit, let me ask you: What other areas do you see are different for the Black & White Thinking Christian? What challenges or questions do you have that you can add to the discussion? I hope to hear from you soon!)