It seems that I keep bumping into the theme of Christian liberty. JavaDawn has this great post. Storbakken has a good post and comment section about Christmas trees that ends up being more about Christian liberty than Christmas trees, I think. And Tim Challies has written about how we school our children, which winds up being about Christian liberty as well. We are also studying Romans 14 in my Sunday School class. And this subject is certainly one the Holy Spirit has been chiseling away at my heart about for quite some time now. So, bear with me as I share my rambling thoughts with you.
First, I notice that the last two verses of chapter 13 of Romans says,
Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts.
After that warning, Paul begins to discuss this idea of Christian liberty and how we should interact with our brothers and sisters in Christ. I had never before noticed that warning about strife and envy and putting on Jesus, leaving no room for the flesh. Wow! Does the Holy Spirit know my heart or what? When a Christian friend tells me she is doing xyz because God has convicted her about it, and I know that I know that I know that God hasn’t convicted me that way at all — or maybe I think He’s convicted me in a totally opposite way — do I ever need to put on Christ and not give in to strife or envy and not make provision for my flesh!!
Then the Holy Spirit, through Paul, goes on to explain specifically that some in the church believe they must follow dietary restrictions, but others think they can eat anything. Some in the church believe they have to follow the Old Testament holy days, feasts, and festivals, but others think they don’t have to. I think we can think of several examples from our own time that would fit into this category.
Romans 14 says
5b Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. . . . 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore, let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
If my Christian friend feels led to observe the Old Testament dietary laws or celebrate the Old Testament feasts, then I should neither despise nor judge her (verses 1-4). If my Christian friend feels God is directing her to send her children to public school, then I should neither despise nor judge her. If my Christian friend feels God is directing her to go back to work to alleviate some of the financial pressure her stressed husband is feeling, then I should neither despise nor judge her. If my Christian friend starts wearing only dresses and headcoverings and throws out her make-up and grows her hair long, then I should neither despise nor judge her. And those friends should neither despise nor judge me for eating at Red Lobster, celebrating Christmas, homeschooling, staying at home, wearing blue jeans, having short hair, and wearing lipstick.
Now, I think we can get carried away with this notion and be totally morally relative, having no absolutes. There is a huge movement in Christianity today that is all-accepting in a way that embraces God’s character of love while dismissing or overlooking His character of holiness and righteousness and justice. The Bible is clear that certain behaviors and attitudes and heart conditions are sinful, and the Bible also tells us in some passages to hold each other accountable, even giving guidelines for forms of church discipline.
But when a Christian brother or sister is prayerfully making a decision she feels the Holy Spirit has directed her to make, who am I to tell her she’s wrong? Unless, of course, it is directly against some very obviously-stated scriptural command. And I do mean obviously-stated command or directive. Some scriptural directives are no so easily-understood or so obviously-stated. Some people read passages about modesty and feel strongly convicted that those passages mean women can’t wear make-up or pants or even a wedding ring. I have studied and studied, prayerfully studied, those passages, and I just don’t get the same conviction from them. Some people study the Old Testament and feel convicted to celebrate Passover and The Feast of Tabernacles. I’ve deeply and prayerfully studied those books of the Old Testament, and I don’t feel that conviction at all. Some people study the Bible and feel strongly convicted that women must be under the headship of a father, husband, or older brother — some man — at all times in life. My husband and I have studied that together, and we just don’t feel that conviction either.
Who’s right? Hmmm. . is it possible that all of us are? Is it possible that the Holy Spirit would lead some people to some convictions and lead other people to seemingly opposite convictions? Maybe so. And as long as we are all fully convinced in our own minds and totally living out our conviction to the Lord — not to our own pride, not to tradition, not to appease our pastor or our dad, not to gloat over our freedom, not to indulge our flesh, not just because we’re too lazy to study the Word, but to the Lord — then we’re glorifying God and we’re OK.
Look at the apostles. Paul, who was called to the Gentiles, felt freedom to eat anything the Gentiles ate. Peter, who was called to the Jews, did not feel that same freedom UNTIL he also was called to the Gentiles. So, I think that is the way it is with us. God calls us and equips us differently in some of these lifestyle areas because we are called to reach different people. There are no cookie-cutter Christians. Because we are different, we have a greater reach with the Gospel. The homeschooling mom with 10 children who wears denim jumpers and grinds her own wheat will reach people whom I cannot reach. The teenage punk with long hair and Bible verses scribbled on his denim jacket and on his skateboard will reach people whom I cannot reach. The sweet Christian mom who serves on the PTA at her children’s public school and volunteers in the office will reach people whom I cannot reach. The single twenty-something woman who still lives with mom and dad and has never worked outside her home but who regularly helps young moms or sits with elderly neighbors can reach people I cannot reach. And the single twenty-something woman who feels called to leave home and serve as a nurse on a foreign mission field can also reach people I cannot reach.
I have more thoughts swimming in my head about this, but this is plenty long for tonight. I’d love to hear your thoughts.