The Silver Bullet

The “silver bullet” is a term we assign to a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for the things we do in our lives. Typically, we lump similar tasks and actions together and we train ourselves to treat them all like the same thing – to do them with the same approach, method, or mentality and hope to reap the same rewards from each of those tasks. The main benefit we see from living our lives with a “silver bullet” mentality is that it allows us to get more things done in life. We can be more efficient in saving time, energy and money (all valuable resources) by recycling our methods and strategies for multiple things. As a simple example, parents can feed their two children two different dishes for lunch, or they could adopt a “silver bullet” mentality and cook the same thing for both their children. We hear our parents complain about this all the time, that it’s much less time consuming to cook one thing (but make twice the amount) than to cook two different things; not to mention that it may be cheaper to cook in bulk rather than in small quantities. But what does the Bible have to say about this sort of mentality, and how are Christians meant to use or not use this “one size fits all” strategy?

The Silver Bullet of the Law

Upon first glance, the Bible does seem to condone some sort of “silver bullet” mentality. Christians and non-Christians can typically recall the Ten Commandments first recorded in Exodus, when God brought His people, the Israelites, out of slavery in Egypt and towards the Promised Land. For generations, God’s people lived by those Ten Commandments (and various other rules and regulations written in the Law – the first five books of the Bible) and it could be supposed that this Law was all that God’s people needed to live in a way that pleased God. It really did seem like a “silver bullet” approach to Christianity – Leviticus is a book that showed how God’s people could lump the same type of sins together and offer the same sacrifices to atone for those sins. As long as you obeyed the Ten Commandments, other laws, and gave your relevant sacrifices regularly, that would’ve seemed to be a life acceptable to God.

The Silver Bullet of the Law Fulfilled

But Christians who have read further into the Bible should realise the Law is not the simple “silver bullet” strategy for Christians that pleases God. God’s people not only failed to live up to the standards of this silver bullet strategy but they also missed the bigger picture of the Law. In the book of Romans, the apostle Paul details how the Law revealed sin (Romans 7:7) and that it did not actually bring about righteousness, a life that would please God. There is not enough time here to give an exposition of the book of Romans but prior to this in the gospels, Jesus states that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it (Matthew 5:17) – that is, to show that the Law was not just a simple “one size fits all” strategy but that there was more to it:

21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:21-22)

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28)

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:31-32)

33 “Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform to the Lord what you have sworn.’ 34But I say to you, Do not take an oath at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. (Matthew 5:33-35)

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. (Matthew 5:38-39)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:43-45)

From Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount, Jesus quotes from various parts of the Law that the people were following at the time and discusses how living God’s way was more than just obeying the Law to the letter. It was possible to not break the Law but still sin against God (Matthew 5:21-22) and also that living God’s way was more than doing what the Law said (Matthew 5:38-39). The hearts of the people were not inclined towards God (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8) and so they viewed the Law with a legalistic and “silver bullet” mentality. Such a way of living was not acceptable to God.

Principles and Wisdom

From Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, and through the Holy Spirit that He sent upon all Christians, we can now start to understand that the way we live for God is based more around principles (with a board perspective) than specific commandments (with a narrow focus). It is through the Holy Spirit that we can come to understand who God is from the Bible and also how He wants His people to live. The Holy Spirit allows us to hear God’s Word and understand what He meant by the commandments He set through the Law, the prophets and also through Jesus. Since the Bible gives a rough guideline as how we ought to live, but doesn’t really get into the fine details and specifics, we need to utilise the wisdom that God gives us through the Holy Spirit to work out how these principles will look like in our individual lives.

To take a very broad and simple but yet complex example, Galatians 5:14 says “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”” The Bible commands Christians to love, there’s no denying that. But what does that love look like? Will it look differently from different people, towards different people, and at different times, places and situations? Will this love be expressed in encouraging words, or through tangible actions and in what forms should those things come in? We see that learning how to love someone is difficult but one thing is for certain: there is no silver bullet in loving people. But thanks be to God for showing us His love through Jesus Christ, and for giving us wisdom through the Holy Spirit, that we may learn from His example of love for us.

There is One Way but There is More Than One Way

Perhaps part of the confusion why we keep swaying back and forth between being too carefree and being too legalistic with our beliefs is that we find it hard to fathom the balance between things we must do as Christians, and things we ought to do as Christians. In other words, we are talking about gospel issues here. If there’s anything the Bible is very firm about, and gives no room for deviation, it’s the gospel. No-one may have their relationship with God repaired except only through Jesus. That is something the Bible is very adamant about and we must continue to be adamant about that too. In that sense, the silver bullet for salvation is Jesus; Jesus is all you need for salvation (sufficient) but not only so, He is the only way to salvation (exclusive). However there is one “limitation” to this silver bullet; it does not depict step by step how you will live the rest of your life. Rather than get a single answer on how you should live your life as a Christian, we are given guidelines that act as an “umbrella” for a range of possibilities in life. Namely, we are called to live for Jesus, and there is indeed a multitude of ways of doing this, along with a multitude of ways in which we shouldn’t be trying to do it by.

In this way, “living for Jesus” as a general principle for Christians is the only way we should live. However, underneath that principle there are many ways in which this may manifest – the idea that there is one way to live (that is, for Jesus) but that there is more than one way to live for Jesus. Let us be cautious as we lay down the path for our lives, to be mindful to not stick too strongly to a silver bullet mentality on how we should live our lives. Are we setting up routines where we can wholeheartedly commit to for the glory of God, bearing in mind that what we do is not “compulsory” and does not in fact affect our salvation? Are we taking responsibilities for our faith and growth as Christians, to not abuse our freedom in Christ to do whatever we want?

My greatest fear is not so much for those of us who are still figuring this out and may have ventured into legalism, but for those who are younger and being led by those who are legalistic. When we lead a Bible Study group or disciple younger Christians, are we being cautious to not give them the silver bullet treatment? Do we treat them as unique individuals, created in the image God and for a unique purpose of His glory? Do we push them with helpful Christian habits in life, but draw the line to ensure they don’t confuse “works by faith” and “works for salvation”? The beautiful thing about living under Jesus is that there is more than one way of doing so; we are not robots programmed to live the exact same lives as each other. And as such we need to drop the silver bullet mentality in the way we approach growing as a Christian; every Christian will grow, love and live differently, and God will place us in different circumstances in life at different times.

Therefore the calling is that we equip ourselves with the understanding of different possibilities of how we may live as Christians and ask God for His wisdom to work out which ways will be best for us. As we share our faith and teach others about the Bible, let us also be equipped with teaching and loving different people in different ways, and helping them understand that they are to first and foremost imitate Christ before imitating other Christians. This may seem much harder to do than adopting a silver bullet that we might use for other worldly things; but if we’re lead to be legalistic in the way we conduct our lives for Christ because of overusing this mentality, then we’ve maligned the gospel and have voided our salvation. Let us continue living confidently in Christ and relying on His wisdom to work out how we ought to live for Him.

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