Know the difference between biblical absolutes, spiritual convictions, and personal opinions

There is a difference between a biblical absolute, a spiritual conviction, and a personal opinion. It’s important to know the difference and not misapply them. This chart defines the three terms and explains how they differ.

Source Characteristics Proper attitude Example
Biblical absolute The Bible God’s eternal, objective truth applicable to everyone I embrace this and I encourage you to embrace it too. Thou shalt not steal.
Personal conviction The Holy Spirit’s conviction and leadership A personal conviction that I should follow  I embrace this personal conviction but I don’t expect you to. We send our children to private, Christian school.
Personal opinion and preference Self A personal preference I have personal preferences, but I’m also willing, at times, to yield to your preferences. I prefer traditional worship, but I know many people prefer contemporary worship, so let’s offer both.

There are several ways to misapply these terms.

  1. Sometimes, we call something a biblical absolute when it is not. Ex: “Christians should not drink alcohol.” There is no biblical prohibition for drinking alcohol. It may be your spiritual conviction, but it’s not a biblical absolute. We misrepresent God and confuse people when we label something as sin that the Bible doesn’t. 
  2. Sometimes, we erroneously elevate a spiritual conviction to the level of biblical absolute. Ex: “You must have a daily quiet time.” This is certainly a good idea, but it’s a spiritual conviction, not a biblical absolute. Don’t suggest that God will be displeased at me if I don’t have a daily quiet time.
  3. While it’s good and normal to have personal preferences, at times we may need to hold them loosely and yield to the preferences of others. We should acknowledge and accept other people’s preferences.

Consider each of these statements. Is it a biblical absolute, spiritual conviction, or personal preference?

  1. Do not speak unwholesome words.
  2. We should sing only hymns in church.
  3. Forgive one another.
  4. I like living in the country.
  5. We should sing only praise choruses at church.
  6. I’m going to read my Bible every morning before I go to work.
  7. I would rather spend my extra money on nice clothes than a nice car.
  8. It’s important for a church to have Sunday night services.
  9. Be completely gentle.
  10. We feel strongly that our children should attend public school.
  11. Encourage one another.
  12. I’m going to participate in the anti-abortion rally.
  13. On my day off, I enjoy solitude.

Numbers 1,3,9 and 11 are directives from the Bible, so they are nonnegotiable. Numbers 6,10 and 12 are spiritual convictions. The remaining statements are preferences.

Know when to hold tight to your persuasions and when to hold them loosely.

4 Replies to “Know the difference between biblical absolutes, spiritual convictions, and personal opinions”

  1. Thank you Don for a simple, yet practical, logical and applicable treatise on these important differences. Very helpful article – especially for those who were maybe brought up in ultraconservative or ultraliberal religious families or denominations. While the motive was often pure, the interpretations and applications have been confusing and troubling for many.

    1. Thanks, Randy, for affirming words. It does help to clarify what is required and what is optional. I hope you are well. Don

  2. Praying before each meal to give thanks etc. Maybe I’ve forgotten if this is a biblical absolute or spiritual conviction. Prayer before a meal would not be a preference?

    1. Hi Jim. I think praying before meals would be a personal conviction. I can’t think of a scripture that mandates it. Thanks for responding.

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