Occasionally, we might draw a conclusion that seems necessary to our limited human minds but isn’t, in fact, good. Let’s stick with our example above and Romans 13:1, which says, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” Looking at that one text alone, someone might argue that if the particular government they are subject to orders them to bow to an idol, they should do so. It seems, at first glance, to be a “necessary” consequence of the command to obey rulers. But even a superficial knowledge of the rest of the Bible shows that this wouldn’t be a good consequence; we have clear texts forbidding idolatry. So, while the “logic” of Romans 13:1 might lead our friend to think he is being obedient in bowing down to an idol, as people under God’s Word, we know that this is faulty reasoning. Not all seemingly “necessary” conclusions we draw from a particular passage are good—not least because our minds are limited and clouded by sin.
Subtler, but perhaps more common, is the danger of turning good consequences into necessary ones. Imagine you have been asked to give a short talk on 2 Timothy 3:16, which reads, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” You carefully set out a faithful view of the Bible, calling people to trust it as God’s Word. Then your mind turns to application: What is this text calling us to do? This is where a right understanding of good and necessary consequence becomes so important. Your thoughts go to your own habit of reading a portion of the Bible yourself each morning. Is this a good consequence of believing the Bible is God’s Word? Absolutely! But is it a necessary one? Surely not. Does this verse—or, frankly, any other section of Scripture—bind all Christians to read the Bible for themselves each day? No, for the fairly obvious reason that for most of the history of God’s church, this would have been impossible. People couldn’t read and didn’t own their own Bibles. So, we can rightly command people to “meditate” on the Word (Ps. 1:2), but we mustn’t legislate the means of receiving that Word beyond the command to gather in worship and hear the Word preached. A faithful believer might perhaps take the sermon preached last Sunday and meditate on that, rarely if ever reading the Bible for himself. This in itself would not be inherently disobedient. However zealous we are for people to delight in God’s Word, we must not make good practices into bindingly necessary ones or we will crush the flock with unnecessary guilt.
We could multiply examples. Hebrews 10:25 warns us not to neglect meeting together. Does this mean it is absolutely necessary to be a member of a home group? No. Home groups are a “good” consequence of that text, but not a good and necessary one. Therefore, they should not be made binding for church membership or we are setting a higher bar for membership of our churches than Christ does for His kingdom.
Of course, in preaching and teaching we can recommend “good” consequences, but must always be careful to avoid giving the impression that they are binding or the true marks of committed discipleship. We pray for the Spirit’s help neither to fall short of teaching the fullness of His revelation nor to go beyond it and crush people with unnecessary burdens.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on July 5, 2019.