Shades of Grey

By now you’ve probably already heard of the best-selling novel Fifty Shades of Grey. It set the record in the U.K. as the fastest-selling paperback of all time, surpassing the Harry Potter series. Who knew there would be such a pandemic response to erotic fiction?

There have been debates whether or not Christians have any business reading this book. Some might say that it’s harmless fantasy and nothing else. Others would go so far as to call it “mommy porn”. Some see this issue as black and white while others see it as a more of a gray area.

I haven’t read the book nor have I dug deeply into the reviews. But beyond reading this book, I see a more critical question at hand.

How do I navigate through various shades of gray in life?

While I may not always admit it, I like my life to be defined in black and white. Concrete answers provide secure footing. And honestly, it takes a lot of effort to navigate through gray areas.

The problem is that by living in black and white, I found too many inconsistencies. I realized that what works for some people doesn’t always work for me…and vice versa.

Finding my way through all these gray areas has sometimes been a cause of fear. I’m either afraid I’ll go too far in my freedom or on the other hand, that my freedom will be compromised because of legalism.

I don’t want anarchy but I also don’t want to be controlled.

I might be able to read Fifty Shades of Grey and, poor writing notwithstanding, I may be totally unaffected. You might read this book and have a vulnerable place in your heart exposed.

The safe thing to do would be to ban the book outright. No one should ever read it. But isn’t that controlling? What about freedom?

These are the types of questions I ask every day. There are plenty of people who want to tell me what I should do. There are also plenty of people telling me to do whatever I want. But there’s something in between these two extremes. Those are the gray areas I have to discover for myself.

There’s a reason we weren’t given a manual for every single issue of life. We were never created to be a homogenous blob of followers. We were all created uniquely and have different life experiences. We were each given the wisdom and discernment to navigate through the various shades of gray. And that freedom is our greatest responsibility.


QUESTION: How do you make choices about gray areas?

[photo credit: Laurajane photography]

  • Julie

    I’ve lived my life mostly in the gray. Looking back and reflecting, life in the gray was lived by three perspectives: God, self, and others. The problem with life in the gray is that it leaves my conscience to decide what is right and wrong.

    I will be the first to admit that I fall short daily. I sin daily. We are given free will and the choice to do what we want, but not everything we want to do is good for us. When we live life in the gray purely on our selfish desires, we become slaves to it. It feels good in the moment but there is a deep emptiness later (at least for me).

    I’m not as free as I think I am. I have to be careful with my freedom and how my actions affect those around me because the life I lead may be the only Bible others read.

    I will be honest, I do want to read Fifty Shades of Gray, but not right now. I’m in a very vulnerable place where I’m vulnerable to sin. I recently made a decision to cut one sin out of my life so I’m fragile. I don’t want to compromise that area right now.

    My entire life has been lived on my own understanding and has only led me down a life filled with hurt and disappointed because of the choices I made with my own free will.

    Every day I am thankful for God’s grace and the choice to live in the color of God’s truth of who I am to Him.

    • Tony J. Alicea

      “When we live life in the gray purely on our selfish desires, we become slaves to it.”

      That’s a great point, Julie. And I think that’s a mature decision to evaluate where you are right now and make the decision not to read the book. And I love the expression “live in the color of God’s truth”

  • Donald Borsch Jr.

    My advice:
    Believe like a Calvinist, yet live like an Arminianist. Ha!

    Sin is sin, to be sure. In how our Father looks at sin, it is strictly black and white. When Paul says that what might be sin for you may not be sin for me is not saying that sin can be reshaped to fit our individual tastes. That particular principle illustrates and brings to light maturity issues, weakness and strength issues, individually. But sin is still sin in the eyes of our Father. (You know this, Tony. I’m not inferring you are seeking to marginalize sin.)

    An easy example is drinking alcohol. I drink wine. No worries. I do not pursue drunkenness, nor debauchery when I sit down to have a crisp glass of a chilled white Italian wine. Being drunk is a sin. However, a brother may have issues with alcohol in that it leads him easily into sin by his own choosing, so he would do best to avoid alcohol. The sin of drunkenness is still there, but each of us has our own ways, according to the wisdom of The Spirit, in how to combat it.

    Is drinking alcohol a ‘grey area’? It can be. But that greyness can be brought into black and white easily with God’s wisdom, showing us how to see things as He does.

    • Tony J. Alicea

      What you said in your second paragraph is exactly what many of us never get to the point of doing for ourselves. We wait for others to tell us what to do and in doing so forfeit our freedom.

      It takes much more effort to walk through the gray areas that aren’t explicitly stated than it does to live in the black and white.

      In this column I’ll be sharing some of my own stories of learning to make choices in the gray areas. I’ve made a lot of mistakes to be sure but I’ve also learned from those mistakes and it’s made me stronger and wiser.

      • Donald Borsch Jr.


        Is it possible that you might be one of the few sons of God who will actually be sharing things that matter to us as sons? Now that will be something to see, given the plethora of drivel that is passing itself off as ‘relevant’. I’m intrigued. :)

  • TCAvey

    I pray about it, seek out what the scriptures do say, seek Godly counsel and pray some more. If I don’t have peace then it’s not from God.
    Confusion, fear, worry and all those other negative feelings are not from God. That helps me gauge what I am doing.

  • Dave DeRosa

    God’s laws aren’t a set of rules to hem us in and keep us in a glass jar on a shelf. They are designed to keep us from harm and when embraced in Love they are in fact our security.

    • Tony J. Alicea

      There is actually a lot of freedom within boundaries. Sometimes it’s hard to see that.

  • Louise Harvey

    I think what can be most difficult is when you and a friend disagree on what is grey. So for example, I may choose not to watch a certain film, but then when a friend is off to watch it I’ll think ‘well if they’re Christian and watching it surely I can deal with it too’. It’s hard to admit I’m weak where others aren’t.

    • Tony J. Alicea

      Yes, I know exactly what you mean. It’s hard not to compare ourselves but the truth is that we’re not all in the same place. For example, I watched the movie I Am Legend and I had no problem with it. I had another friend who watched it, even though she is very sensitive to thriller-type movies and she was shaken up pretty badly. Just because I had the freedom to watch it, she should have made the decision not to watch it based on her vulnerability in that area.

      It’s different for all of us and it’s a matter of growing and maturing that will help us make better decisions.

  • Duane Scott

    Excited about this column, Tony! :)

    • Tony J. Alicea

      Thanks man, me too! I have some fun ones coming up next. :)

  • Anna Spencer

    I ask questions, read books from the full spectrum of perspective, talk about with friends, ask more questions, and then sometimes come to a conclusion about the topic. Most grey areas for me though are things I feel like I will never fully grasp. Things to question and wrestle with for a lifetime.

    • Tony J. Alicea

      I know what you mean about feeling like you will never fully grasp some things. I know for me there are so many issues that have gone back and forth in different times in my life. What might not be a big deal to me today may look totally different next year.

      I know when I have kids, I’ll be in for a whole new perspective shift.

  • Jennifer Upton

    I’ve swam enough deep dark waters and walked enough dusty roads to know those vulnerable places of exposure within my landscape. I am certain there are areas yet to be exposed and I can only hope to go through them well as they are exposed. I don’t run out and do, see, and read whatever everyone else is reading. I’ve set standards for my Covenant eyes and this works for me. I know what fantasy can do and sadly I know what fantasy played out in reality can do. I have enough visions running through my head that I have no desire for fictional characters to join in. I am thankful for the healing I now know. The weight of mercy and grace received is weighty as most treasures are. My desire is to honor the gifts I’ve been given. This works for me. Thank you for such a well written post.

    • Tony J. Alicea

      It just makes me think about why we escape into fantasy. If the fullness of this life isn’t enough, maybe fantasy isn’t the answer but a life well-lived is what we lack.

      • Brenda Coats

        I think you hit the nail on the head with the reply, Tony. Good article, great discussion.

  • Eddy Damas

    Like you said, there are black and white areas, and we should be either or, but most of us live constantly in the grey areas simply because we don’t know. The only way to make a choice is to read the Bible, pray and follow through. The answer is always there, but do we have an understanding heart?

    • Tony J. Alicea

      Great question. Another one is, “Are we willing to seek out the answer for ourselves or simply rely on predefined rules and regulations for every area of our life?”

  • Bridget

    Good thoughts. It’s far easier to live according to black and white rules than to have a real relationship with a living God who knows the thoughts and intentions of our hearts. It’s also easier to make snap judgments about others based on our hard and fast rules. Gray gives us more room to give and receive grace.

  • Brenda Coats

    I won’t be reading, simply because I know I’d be tempted to fall in many areas. Thanks for addressing this book.