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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Behavior

More Stuff Will Make Me Happy…Right?

Do you want to be happy? I do. In fact, most people I know desire to be happy. But so many of us aren’t. Usually our happiness is linked to one of two things: 1) our possessions and 2) our position/circumstances in life.

Free-StuffWhen it comes to our possessions, the idea is that stuff will make us happy. If I could only have that new iPhone. If I could only acquire that special __________ – you get the idea. The problem with linking our happiness to stuff is that they’re ALWAYS making new stuff! What good is getting a new phone when they’ll make a new one next year? Pursuing the latest stuff is only a temporary fix. But stuff will always leave us sad. The new thing breaks or becomes outdated.

But the character of the believer is supposed to be opposite of this. Jesus himself said:

Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions. (Luke 12:15)

The idea of guarding against stuff even made into the 10 Commandments when God told Israel not to covet anything that belonged to their neighbors. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think God is telling us that having new and nice things is wrong. But we get into trouble when stuff and the pursuit of it possesses our hearts. Filling our lives with stuff leads to only temporary happiness and is never permanent.

When it comes to our position in life, we often think that we can only be content of we just had a better job or more social standing or ___________________ (again, fill in the blank). But our life’s circumstances don’t have to determine our contentedness. In a very difficult passage to wrestle with, the Apostle Paul writes:

 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. (1 Corinthians 7:20-22)

Paul is NOT advocating for slavery. In fact, notice that he says a slave should gain freedom if he is able to do so. The heart of what Paul is talking about is really finding life contentment in Christ WHEREVER you are. Our position does not dictate our contentment. This is why Paul can write that he has learned to be content no matter his situation. He can starve or be full. He can be free or beaten and in chains. His contentment comes from his rock-solid faith in Jesus.

We’re never promised happiness. We’re promised that God’s grace is sufficient for us. That is real contentment – resting on God’s sufficiency no matter what life throws at us.

Paul reminds us:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

But how can you work on getting over the stuff? How do we let go of the world’s understanding of happiness and pursue contentment? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Memorize some Bible verses about stuff and/or contentment. If you’ve got the words of Jesus easily accessible when you’re walking through Best Buy, maybe you’ll be able to get out of the store without caving to the “gotta have it” mentality so pervasive in our culture.
  2. Practice giving something away every week. Make a habit of refusing to let stuff control you – give something away. It breaks the power of stuff over your life and allows you to brighten someone else’s day.
  3. Serve people who are worse off than you are. Nothing puts our lives in perspective like helping others who have it worse than we do.serve

You can do it. You can find real contentment. It’s not found in stuff or circumstance. You can be dead broke in a dead-end job but still experience godly contentment. Let God help you find it.

I’m the Most Humble Guy You’ll Ever Meet

Humility picHumility is one of those things that I know is good for me but also one of those things that is so hard to put into practice. Our culture regularly drives us to “be number one!” Many of us have jobs that require an annual review in which we sum up all of the great things we did through the year.

And yet, humility is a foundational characteristic that is supposed to make up the Christian life. It is the quality Christ exuded when taking on humanity and dying on a cross. If Christians are supposed to make his character our own, then humility needs to be near the top of our own list of character development. For our own growth, humility begins with a proper recognition of our place in the universe. Isaiah 66:1-2 says:

“Heaven is my throne,
    and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me?
    Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things,
    and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favor:
    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,
    and who tremble at my word.

Since God is the creator of the cosmos, what can we possibly bring to the table? Those questions are rhetorical. Our planet is a mere footstool for God (and the feet were not a clean and honorable part of the body in the Ancient Near East, which is why Peter freaked out when Jesus tried to wash the disciples’ feet). God doesn’t want us to feel down and depressed about how insignificant we are. This is, however, a call to recognize the greatness and grandness of God. A high view of God puts us on the right path to humility.

One we get that human/divine relationship understood, the next step is to look in the mirror and not think better of ourselves than we ought. Luke tells a story of Jesus in Luke 14:

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, he was being carefully watched…. When he noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, he told them this parable: “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited.

If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

HumilityThere’s a practical wisdom to Jesus’s words. It’s FAR better to choose humility than to have someone else thrust humility upon you! Don’t get so big-headed you think more highly of yourself than you ought. Instead, choose lowness and, if other people exalt you – score! If not, you’re no worse for the wear and can avoid the walk of shame when someone tells you you’re in a place for someone more important.

Finally, humility involves building others up. Paul writes in Philippians 2:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

I would also contend that part of looking out for the interests of others includes not taking credit for an idea or action from another. Give proper credit where credit is due.

We’re not looking for false humility. That’s just pride in disguise. But a genuinely humble person who recognizes her place before God, who accurately sees himself in the mirror, and who honestly seeks to build up others, will be the kind of person who reflects the character of Christ.

My 5 Year Old Sucks at Theology

Of course she does, shes five! Lemme back up a sec…

The other night as I was putting her to bed and she asked one of THE questions in theology:

“Daddy, why did God make us?”

Now as we’re approaching the anniversary of the Protestant Reformation and as I was asked to write a piece on Soli Deo Gloria (glory to God alone),  my brain started thinking about how I could convey to a little girl the idea of God’s glory being the ultimate desire and design for humanity.

Glory of GodIn the end, I gave her a simple version of the Westminster Catechism, “Baby girl, God made everyone to glorify and worship Him.”

“No, Daddy, He made us to love each other and to be nice.”

Yeah, she wasn’t picking up what I was putting down. I’ll try again next year. But I wasn’t wrong. We ARE so that we can give God glory. It’s like the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10:31 ~

“Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Paul says this at the end of talking about the controversial topic of eating food that had been offered to idols. Not as big an issue for Western Christians in the 21st Century, but it was for Paul and the early church. But ultimately Paul called people to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the individual conscience with the idea that Christian liberty allows us a wide range of activities…with one caveat.

Do everything to the glory of God!

And this is where we often come up short. Sure there are some areas we surrender and do to God’s glory. Other times, if we’re totally honest, our behavior does NOT glorify God. And this is a key point of the Reformation – not just that everything we do is for God’s glory, but that everything we do is ONLY for God’s glory. No one else is on equal footing. God alone should be the motivator of our thoughts and actions.

If we started to view our days through the lens of Soli Deo Gloria we’d probably change a lot of what we do.

  • Should I really post that on social media? Does it bring glory to God?
  • Should I really pass on this story about Jake that I heard from Sarah? Does it bring glory to God?
  • Should I really talk to my wife and kids like this? Does it bring glory to God?

An honest assessment shows up coming up short. Not only do we put other things before or equal to God, but even when it’s God alone our behavior doesn’t daily live for His glory.

Kind of depressing, actually, to thing of how often I miss the mark here. Thank God for His grace.

But that’s another Sola…

Christianity: Stupid Is As Stupid Does

stupid isEven people who have never seen Forrest Gump have heard the expression, “Stupid is as stupid does.” It’s the way Forrest’s momma teaches his that real stupidity is not in intellect or how others judge you. Stupid people are reveled through their stupid behavior. People who DO smart things ARE smart people. People who do stupid things…well, you get the idea. And that concept is not unique to stupidity. It’s a truism of many facets of life. If you want to know about the character of a person, look at his actions. His behavior will out the truth. Smart people are those who DO smart things. Careful people are those who practice safety and care. Friendly people are those who behave as friends. In his first letter, John says it’s no different with spirituality and righteousness.

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous.

Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. 10 By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3)

I think John would have us understand a few things here:

  • We ARE family!

It’s an amazing thing to think about. In a world where people are striving for connection, where we settle for the superficial “friends” of social media, we are invited into a community of faith that becomes our family. God welcomes us with open arms and says, “There is a place here for you.” But that means something more than just a place to belong.

  • Family begins to look and sound like each other.

One of the funniest parts about belonging to a community is that we take on the look and speech of that community. Each family will have its own peculiar lexicon that develops over the course of time and shared experiences. I remember one time my family went to Wendy’s for a meal. While my mom was in line, my younger brother (maybe 6 years old?), my dad, and I went to the corner table. My brother was climbing over and under the tables and came up suddenly and hit his head on the bottom of the table. Trying to communicate what happened, he cried, “I boomped my head!” Naturally we thought this slip was funny, and it became part of the family lexicon. 30 years later we will still say to each other, “I boomped my head (or arm, foot, etc.) when we get injured.

I read a fascinating article a while back (and if I ever find it again I’ll hyperlink it) that stated we sound like the 5 most important people in our social circles. That is to say, take the 5 people you spend the most time with, the people who have the most influence in your life, and you will find your dress and speech patterns are an amalgamation of those 5 people.

she's the devilThis is no different spiritually. Our spiritual family is supposed to change the way we look and sound. God’s family is supposed to do godly things. We turn our backs on ungodly behavior. To paraphrase Forrest Gump, righteous is as righteous does. We are called to turn our backs on ungodly behavior. We’re either part of God’s family or part of the devil’s family.

  • Finally, being part of God’s family is about MORE than personal righteousness – it includes taking care of each other.

The Bible is quite clear that we cannot be right with God if we are not actively loving and caring for humanity. If God is love, we cannot hate people and still maintain personal righteousness. There’s a unique spiritual blend – genuine righteousness means loving God AND loving each other. Any less is bogus spirituality. It’s a sham.

Think about your life. Have you actively been pursuing righteousness? Does your behavior identify you as part of God’s family? Do your actions towards others show that you are a child of God? If not, where do you need to change? How do your actions and speech need to change to reflect belonging to His family?

They’re Called Christians but SHOULD be Called Judgy McJudgerson

Christians LOVE to judge people.

Well, to be honest, it’s a human trait. I asked a group of people to identify ways in which they have been judged or have judged others. What do you think they came up with?

  • We judge people based on appearance
  • We judge people based on their vehicles
  • We judge people’s intelligence based on our ability to understand them (we often see foreigners as less intelligent when they don’t speak English)
  • We judge people based on their punctuality (or lack thereof)
  • We judge people based on their beliefs (whether they have a different faith than we have or even if they believe different elements of our OWN faith! How many Christian denominations do we have now?)

And this is just the first 5 that came to mind. In a couple minutes we came up with a dozen+ items.

judgmentWhile we all judge and are judged, it’s not SUPPOSED to be this way for those in God’s kingdom. We’re supposed to be above it. We’re supposed to let go of judging others. And most people know this. How often have you heard someone say, “Only God can judge me!”

YES! AND HE IS!

What people really mean when they say this is, “Don’t tell me how to live my life!”

But the Bible is clear that there IS such a thing as objective truth. There is right and there is wrong. You don’t get to make it up and live life however you want. Well, you CAN, but the end results won’t be the outcome you really desire.

And the Bible doesn’t tell us never to judge. What Jesus really says is this:

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7)

What Jesus said is that our hearts and motivations ought to be right. When we pass judgment on someone, our ultimate goal is really to change them without caring about the person. We don’t try to get them on board. We don’t try to build them up. This is why interventions rarely work – we try to impose our ideas on someone else but they never have a desire to really change.

plankeyeJudgment tears people down without building people up. Judgment is more concerned with the tiny fault in someone else than the massive fault in ourselves. This is why Jesus gives us this absurdly humorous illustration about a log sticking out of our face.

If our REAL goal is to help people, let’s focus on cleaning our own mess before trying to help people with theirs. Then, when we’re ready to help, it is not, “LET ME TELL YOU WHY YOU NEED TO CHANGE!” It turns into, “I’ve walked this path, too, and if you want I’m willing to help you find a better way.”

Judgement shuts people down and closes off their spirits to receiving help. Genuine love is about caring for people and walking with them towards growth and maturity. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t judge.” He says, “Get yourself right and love people.”

God has given us a good way – a better way than the world offers. But when we approach people with judgment, no one is going to hear us.

My Life Sucks, and Yours Does Too

realityWell, it doesn’t suck ALL the time. Just sometimes. But I don’t share about the crappy parts online. I only share about the good times – the times that make life seem good, happy, and perfect.

We don’t share about the times our kids having fits and making us want to pull out our hair or send them to boarding school. We don’t post about the times we aren’t getting along with our spouses. And when people DO share those things, often they’re looking to get sympathy or to control public perception. And THAT’S the real issue.

We only  share those things that will  create the public persona we want out there.

We don’t share the things that we think will reflect negatively on us. I’m not the first one to write on this topic. My brother shared an article with me some time ago about the same theme. There’s probably even an official name for the phenomenon – I just don’t know it.

What I do know is that we do this because we gain a sense of self-worth and value through our public image. Yet Jesus wants us to forget the idea of shaping our public image. One time Jesus was teaching:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

We do this kind of thing all the time. We want others to see the best part of us, the most generous part of us, the super-parent us, the philanthropic us, the Ubermensch us. But the great things we do don’t amount to a hill of beans. They don’t affect the way God sees us. He sees us when we do things in private. He loves you not because of how great you look to the world, but because he loves unconditionally.

It’s hard to do good things in secret. There’s a part of us that wants credit for doing things when we do good things or when we excel at something. Jesus says we ought to do good for the sake of doing good even if we never get recognition.

I remember one time I was on tour with my college music group. We got off our bus to have lunch one day in San Francisco. I was hanging out with the drummer, and as we exited the bus, the team went off to the left, but the drummer turned right. I asked him where we were going. He said, “I’m not hungry so I’m going to give my lunch to a homeless person, but I don’t need the rest of the group to see it.”

He felt called to do good but didn’t want recognition from others.

I ate my lunch (in a post about doing things without recognition, I’m not going to let you think I was so high-minded)!

But we can all learn from Jesus’s words. Humility ought to be our norm. We should do good just BECAUSE it is the right thing to do. Don’t worry about shaping public opinion of yourself – do what you should do! So here’s your challenge – this week don’t post anything online that would make you look good. It’s okay to build others up, but practice humility this week and change your social media habits.

Your value comes from God, not what others think of you – so practice intentional humility.

——————————————————————————————————————————–
What do you think? Have you seen yourself posting things that make your life look fabulous?

Is Lent a Catholic Tradition that Leads to Hell?

No, it is not.

When it comes to debate, there are a few key verses that Christians always have on standby. If you want to argue with people about predestination and election, pull out Romans 9. If you want to talk about Gifts of the Spirit, pull out 1 Corinthians 12 and 14. If you want to eliminate women from Christian leadership, pull out 1 Timothy 2.

lentIt is no different when we’re talking about the church calendar. Yes, Lenten season is upon us. Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglicans observe Lent, but so do Lutherans, Methodists, and some Evangelical traditions.

But then there are those who ADAMANTLY oppose Lent. They throw around phrases like “Papist traditions” and “traditions of man.” As proof-texts they will read you Mark 7:8-9 –

“You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

Lent, however, is not a human tradition intended to supplant God’s commands. No one I know pushes Lent as a means of salvation or a ticket to heaven. It’s not about righteousness through works. And Christian traditions are not INHERENTLY bad. They are only bad when we use them in place of God’s work.  Lent is one of the oldest observations in Christianity and, though it has morphed over the centuries, is about aligning our hearts with God. Doug Ponder writes:

The heart of Lent is a season of fasting, which Jesus seemed to expect for his followers to do. After all, he said “when you fast,” not “if you fast” (Matt. 6:16). In Lenten fasting we abstain from worldly pleasures to realize their power over us, to remind ourselves of our frailty and continual need of grace, and to rejoice that our appetite for sin has been forgiven and will one day be erased. I know of no Christian who would object to that!

fastingIn the Bible, Paul says that certain days are special to one person and not to another (see Romans 14). The point is not to judge each other, but in Christian liberty allow for a wide variety of how we honor and celebrate Christ. Rather than lamenting the “Papal tradition” of Lent, Christians everywhere should commend other Christians who desire to set aside human appetites in order to give space for God’s work in their lives.

Isn’t this the point of any fasting?

When our fasting (at any time of year) is centered on and motivated by God, no one should condemn it. Richard Foster wrote: “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us.” Since there are so many works examining the BIBLICAL practice of fasting, I’m not even going to waste space defending it. It’s an expected part of the life of a disciple of Christ.

This Lenten season, get off your high horse. Examine your life and see where your appetites control you. What can you put aside in order to create space to listen to God?

———————————————————————

For additional reading, check out:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/history/2008/august/beginning-of-lent.html

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2010/february/13.54.html?start=1

http://www.christianity.com/church/redeeming-lent.html

Foster, Richard J. Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. Harper San Francisco, 1998.

Willard, Dallas. The Spirit of the Disciplines: Understanding How God Changes Lives. Harper San Francisco, 1988.

Alternative Facts: Taking a Stand For Truth

victoriaI’m on a journey to read at least one book a month through 2017. Most recently I read Victoria, the new historical fiction based on the life of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom. The author, Daisy Goodwin, wrote the book while she was also writing the story for the Masterpiece mini-series on PBS. The book itself is a relative quick read. There is a lot of dialogue and not much dead space between events. The characters are quite engaging and I found myself enjoying the read.

Through the book I also realized that I don’t know a whole lot about British history and government processes (I’m embarrassed to think that the average Brit knows more about American history and government than we do theirs, but I haven’t asked any Brits about it). The book inspired me to dive deeper into the characters and history surrounding the narrative.  That’s the neat thing about historical fiction – you’re given dialogue and relationships that are from the author’s imagination, yet the author’s imagination is guided and constrained by actual people and events. In the case of Victoria, Daisy Goodwin used history and the Queen’s own diaries to help create her telling of the story. Nevertheless, we cannot forget that the truth of the story must be balanced against the creative license of Ms. Goodwin.

This got me thinking about current events and the brouhaha about truth vs. “alternative facts.” Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not posting to comment on any particular fact or person. I’m merely dialoguing about truth in general. Regardless of a person’s personal view of religion, politics, relationships, or ANYTHING, one cannot deny that there is such a thing as objective truth. 2+2 is always going to equal 4. Quantitative measurements are objective – it’s only qualitative measurements that move into subjectivity. Still, there is objective truth. We may interpret historical events in different ways, but we can objectively point to those historical events.

As Christians, we are called to be people of truth. A simple search of the word “truth” in the Bible will yield hundreds of results.

  • Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long. (Psalm 25:5)
  • Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness utters deceit. (Proverbs 12:17)
  • I did not speak in secret, in a land of darkness; I did not say to the offspring of Jacob, ‘Seek me in vain.’ I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right. (Isaiah 45:19)
  • And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

The Bible is FILLED with the idea that we are supposed to be people of truth because God IS truth. So if God IS truth, then telling untruths is CONTRARY to the very nature of God. That means that everyone who follows God should be adamantly opposed to the spreading of untruth. That is to say, Christians ought to be the first to stand up and say, “Wait, that’s not true. That’s a deception. That’s fraudulent. That’s a lie!”

deceive-1299043_1280But to often we don’t. We perpetuate falsehoods and untruths because they fit our framework for thinking about and reacting to the world around us. It’s easier to accept some fabrications because truths make us uncomfortable. But comfort isn’t part of the package when it comes to following Jesus. Sure, eternity in heaven will be comfortable in the presence of God, but this life isn’t promised to be a life of ease.

As people called to pursue justice and righteousness and truth, we will need to stand against deceptions wherever we see them.

Because God.Is.Truth.

Things Christians Just SHOULD NOT DO!

Christians do a great job of judging the state of other people’s souls. We’re mind readers, really. We know the condition of your life just by looking at the things you do. If we like the things you do, you’re obviously heaven-bound. If you do things we don’t approve of…well, you’re headed the other way. Some of things that reveal the state of your salvation? Well:stop-1077973_1920

  • you like beer? You’re not really saved.
  • you like R-rated movies? You’re not really saved.
  • you struggle with addiction? You’re not really saved.
  • you have tattoos? You’re not really saved.
  • you got pregnant out of wedlock? You’re not really saved.
  • you got divorced? You’re not really saved.
  • you voted Democrat? You’re not really saved.
  • you don’t read the King James Bible? You’re not really saved.
  • you smoke cigarettes? You’re not really saved.

The list of taboo things can go on and on. But in reality, most of the list really comes down to this:

You disagree with how I interpret the Bible and live a Christian life? You’re not really saved.

And that’s a shame. The Bible is actually not as black-and-white about all of these side issues as Christians are. Salvation really comes down to faith in Jesus. Can you smoke weed and have a saving faith in Jesus? Can you vote a certain political party and have a saving faith in Jesus?

I think so.

In the end the “You’re not really saved” lists that we all have come down to us – what we dislike or disapprove of. Don’t get me wrong – the Bible does talk about sin and Christian behavior. But we seem to add a lot of things to the lists. Look at the Mark 7:

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

That’s pretty powerful. Jesus tells these upstanding religious elite that they’re holding on to human traditions and letting go of God’s commandments. Won’t we be surprised when we reach eternity and find people who didn’t live the way we wanted them to live?

Might we have some good ideas about how to life a righteous life? Sure. You might have your own list of things that you feel you need to do to stay in right standing before God. There is nothing wrong with that. The Holy Spirit works in each of us at different times, convicting us of some things and freeing us to do other things. But our personal conviction, even if it’s from God, doesn’t mean that it’s supposed to be imposed on EVERYONE. Even within Christianity, there is a lot of room for Christian freedom.

Don’t get me wrong – some things are downright forbidden. Adultery is always wrong in God’s eyes. Murder is always wrong. Idolatry is always wrong. The Bible does relay to us concrete do’s and do not’s. But if it’s not specifically spelled out in the Bible, God gives us a lot of latitude to work within our consciences. It doesn’t make you less of a Christian. It doesn’t make you a better Christian.

This is actually a call to unity. We are unified as believers, even if we disagree on some of the peripheral issues. How we live out our faith on these other issues shouldn’t cause us to break fellowship with people. Our Christianity is bigger than these issues – we are united in our faith in Christ and it’s time to let go of our pet issues.

If you’ve ever had your salvation doubted because of this or other issues – I’m sorry. Christians mean well (usually) but we have a horrible way of judging anything that doesn’t fit our mold. And if you’ve ever doubted or questioned the salvation of someone else because of some behavior you disapproved of it’s time to repent.

The condition of someone’s salvation is really up to God.

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