My thoughts on authenticity, legalism, liberty in Christ, and grace:
As we come off of the recent Halloween weekend, I am bombarded by my thoughts one why? I am not asking, “Why does America observe and celebrate it?” though it does beg the question. I am asking why do followers of Christ observe, celebrate, and participate in it? Some of my thoughts have been “out loud” and I have been accused of being legalistic and judgmental. I understand the accusation, but I disagree with it and here is why.
The day I accepted Christ it was because I became acutely aware of my sin and Christ’s redemptive work for that sin. In that moment, I humbled myself before the Cross of Christ and begged His forgiveness and salvation. I have not once regretted that decision in 34 years. Jesus didn’t just save me to keep from the eternal flames of Hell, but to complete His perfect work in me, use me to bring glory and honor to Himself, and to keep me from being eternally separated from Him. With so great a salvation comes also a great responsibility and that is to become less like me and the world, become more like Jesus, and make disciples.
I believe an important part of reflecting Jesus is living authentically. This is something I am vulnerably aware of on a daily basis. When I encounter others, whether they are brothers and sisters in Christ or in need of this Jesus, I am unashamedly honest in who I am and Whose I am. I never (or at least try to never) pretend to be something or someone I am not. My flaws are disclosed openly and often with examination. While Jesus’ work started in me the day I turned from my sin, it continues in me daily. The truth is that it is hour-by-hour because there are many days that my flaws and struggles threaten to consume me and I am always fully reliant on Him. My hope is that if someone can see that life is hard and, though I follow Jesus, I am far from perfect and He is far from finished with me.
As I grow in Christ, my prayer is that each day of growth and sanctification takes me further from my sin and closer to His glory. This I have found to be the truest testing of my faith because honestly, as God reveals more of my sin in me and as I submit to His refining the world and most often other Believers accuse me of “legalism” or “judgmentalism” because I am turning from the sin that, as Scripture reveals, “so easily besets me.” (Hebrews 12:1)
For instance, my husband and I were convicted about 16 years ago regarding viewing of movies and certain television programs. At first we were convicted not to view or patron movies or television programs that blaspheme the Name of the Lord. As we weeded those out and became obedient to Christ in that area of our life, the Lord convicted us regarding profanity, nudity, and many other things that are also present in movies and programs. We felt the Lord telling us that,”If you would not participate in these sins in your own life, why do you find it acceptable to sit and watch them?” It was quite revealing to us and we felt that complete obedience meant we could no longer partake in this everyday activity that our friends and family participated in.
As we began declining invitations to the movies, we were immediately accused of being legalistic and in our perceived legalism, they felt judged. It is very discouraging to be accused by brothers and sisters in Christ when we are only “working out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) and striving to be obedient in those things God was asking of us. God ultimately reminded us that we are only called to be obedient to Him, in ALL things, and not be conformed to the world. Which brings me to the reason I felt I needed to write this blog in the first place.
One of the things we have been convicted of is Halloween. Now this is a testy matter, too, like movies. There is one thing most Christians do not like and will wound other Christians on quicker than you can blink and that is taking away their “fun.”
We have never tried to make a big deal of not observing Halloween, we just quit observing it…simple. We did not make a big announcement, “Hear ye, hear ye, the Provencher family is no longer observing Halloween and they believe any Christian who does it from here on out is a sinner going straight to the pits of Hell.” No, that is not our style….just like with our conviction on movies. However, when asked about Halloween for example, “Are you passing out candy, will you come to our costume party, do you allow your son to go ‘trick or treating?'” the answer is honest and, “no.” Of course, then we are asked a litany of questions and then promptly accused, AGAIN, of being legalistic and naturally we are again judging them.
Then come the questions about our liberty in Christ, the mission field we are ignoring, and that we are supposed to be in the world, but not of it. So, if I may quickly address each of these:
Liberty in Christ
In Galatians 5:1, Paul said, “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.”
Paul was not giving us permission to do whatever we want, he was speaking to being in a yoke of bondage to the law. There were Jewish leaders trying to put on Gentiles the yoke of bondage to the Jewish laws. Paul makes this clear in Galatians 2:4, “This matter arose because some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” Further, Paul warns us in Galatians 5:13, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” Paul also gives us a stern warning in Romans 6:1, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?”
Ignoring the Mission Field
The only thing I really think when I hear or read this statement is that other Believers are attempting to use emotional, guilt inducing, and unfair extortion on me. We are all at different places in our walks with Christ and what I have been convicted of by Him is NOT your conviction. James 4:17 says, “But as it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil. Therefore, to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin.” For me to turn and do those things that a Holy God has specifically asked ME to stop doing would be willful disobedience and a sin.
For YOU to guilt me or attempt to extort me into turning back to sin is deplorable.
In the World But Not Of It
Honestly, this one is loaded. What does that truly mean and where is that proverbial line that we should not cross? I would answer it with Paul’s exhortation in Romans 12:1-3, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith.”
How can I present myself, my body, as a living and HOLY sacrifice, acceptable to God if I am being willfully disobedient to those things He has called me from? I vow that I cannot. That same verse goes on to tell me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind. Renewing — a refreshing, a new learning, SANCTIFICATION — that word means, “to make holy or to set apart.”
I want to be like Him — I want to be set apart. For me that means obeying when He convicts me, trusting when He compels me, and leaning — not on my own understanding — but, acknowledging Him — then He promises to make my paths straight — and what did Jesus say about straight and narrow paths, “For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Matthew 7:14
While we might have liberty to go to movies and participate in worldly festivities is it needful? Do we, as Believers, have to be limited to the world’s idea of fun? Are we being authentic and wise by doing these things? How can we make true disciples of Christ and show them a need for the Savior, if we are just like them?
These are questions that each of us can only examine in our own hearts. However, it is not legalistic or judgmental to serve Jesus, as He has called me. Grace abounds the more, but even grace needs balance.