Prove all things. Cling to what is good. Abstain from all appearances of evil. I Thessalonians 5:21-22, KJV
“Is it legalism or freedom?” my friend asked herself when her child questioned the occasional drink she and her husband had in their home. It’s the same question I asked myself years ago when my kids questioned freedoms I exercised as a Christian. Like Nora, I chose to abstain from the behavior my child questioned for the benefit of their growing faith.
Nora’s question has stuck with me: Legalism or freedom? It’s the grey area we Christians argue over. Recently, things which used to be considered ungodly per biblical standards are now acceptable, even cool.
Why we need to talk
If you ask most non-Christians, their opinion of Christians is not favorable. We Christians are not a good witness for Jesus Christ. That’s a problem.
Christianity is known more for politics and issues than the gospel of Jesus Christ. On the other hand, we’ve also become so culturally relevant that there’s not much difference between the non-Christian and a Christian except going to a church on Sunday or having #faith or #Jesus in your social media bio.
We’re in the world, of the world, and like the world.
Why reflect Jesus?
Yet, the Bible calls us to godly living in order to glorify Jesus Christ and to draw others to Him. Being a disciple of Jesus is not about freedoms or legalism, it’s all about Him.
That’s why Nora’s decision is important. The Holy Spirit convicted Nora that the freedom of responsible drinking was a stumbling block to her child. Our kids watch us, as do young Christians and non-Christians. Those of us who call ourselves Christians influence what others think about Christ.
It’s a sobering reality. What’s even more sobering it that each of us will answer to Jesus for what we do with our witness, freedoms, and convictions. (See 2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 14:12, Matthew 18:6, James 3:1).
Christ’s call to his followers is to glorify Him and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:16-20, Acts 1:1-11). This should be the life and breath of our daily priorities outside of taking care of our basic needs. But the modern Christian is more defined by legalism and freedom than glorifying Christ.
How to walk the walk
How do you glorify Christ in a post-Christian culture? The Bible has the answer because it’s God’s word to every generation. God and His principles do not change. Malachi 3:6 says, “I the Lord do not change.”
1 Thessalonians 5 is one passage which gives clear instructions:
- We’re to live as children of the day, not of the darkness (1 Thess 5:5).
- We are to watch and be sober (1 Thess 5:6).
- We are to be at peace among ourselves (1 Thess 5:13).
- We should rejoice. We should pray.
How do you practically do this? How do you determine what honors God and what doesn’t? How do you make moral or lifestyle choices in the tension of legalism and freedom? How do you make decisions about moral choices for your kids when peer pressure is real, especially among Christians? 1 Thessalonians 5: 21-22 give three vital principles.
1. Prove all things. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
You prove something when you look at all sides in order to come to a conclusion. When deciding whether you should or shouldn’t do something, ask yourselves these questions:
- What does Scripture say about this freedom, or what biblical principle does it follow?
- In there someone whose relationship with Christ could be harmed by this freedom?
- Does this freedom or conviction draw others towards Christ or away from Christ? Why or why not?
2. Cling to what is good. (1 Thessalonians 5:16)
To cling is to hold fast and not let go. Goodness is eroding from the social fabric rather swiftly. When I think of things that are good, I think of things that are wholesome, healthy, and unwavering.
When I worked as a school counselor, a twelve year old boy of color said that of all the things he wanted to be when he grew up, he wanted to be a good man. He knew what good looked like and he wanted to be it more than anything.
What would it look like if Christians were known for goodness (not goody-two-shoeness)? And not just when it suited us, but we clung to it? How it would draw people to the true, living God, one whose character is completely good, wholesome, healthy, and unwavering!
3. Abstain from all appearances of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)
This is what Nora did when she gave up her freedom to drink during the current season of childrearing. I (begrudgingly) follow the same principle in areas that may be stumbling blocks to my children or others who watch my witness. I say begrudgingly because the flesh says we should be able to do what we want! But 1 Corinthians 10:23 says everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial.
Many grey area freedoms are not evil, but God calls us to abstain from appearances of evil. When we indulge our freedoms, we don’t make space for goodness and the life Christ calls us to, glorifying Him and drawing others to him. We also don’t know how the freedoms we exercise affect others. With her permission, Candi, a recovering alcoholic wrote the following Facebook post near the July 4 holiday:
“Honestly, summer holidays are difficult for me. I never know where to go or what to do. Living a sober life in a world where alcohol is the norm for summer festivities just sucks.
No, I don’t want to drink… I HATE everything about alcohol and what it does to a person.
It’s more about being the odd man out. Not being like everyone else. While I like who I am and what I have become during my almost 10 years of sobriety, it can be hard to swim against the current. To be confident in being true to my nature and nurturing that part of me that is so different than almost everyone I know.
I turn heavily, to my spirituality during these times. I ask Jesus to give me just a little extra love than he normally does. HE saved me…HE knows my heart and HE knows who I am and what my struggles are.”
We never know how our freedoms effect other people, how they may not only draw them away from Christ but also away from what is good.
The principles in 1 Thessalonians 5 have caused me to think about freedoms and the Christian witness. In a culture where Christianity no longer is associated with goodness, I’m challenged to be what Christ really wants us to be. Christians Muslims in the Middle East are giving their lives for Jesus Christ and most American Christians don’t think of giving up personal freedoms for the sake of another. I’m guilty of sitting in this camp. I wonder if you are, too.
Let’s prove all things, cling to what is good, and abstain from all appearances from evil for the sake of others, not our selves. I’ve been convicted by this. Will you join me?
Father, keep us in your Word and equip each of us to discern what you are calling us to. Help us to heed the conviction of the Holy Spirit when we are being legalist or exercising our freedoms which may not glorify you to someone watching us. Give us your heart and burden for those you want to draw to you, including our kids. Amen.