Personal Conviction and Truth

This is the rough draft of part 6 of Pastor Steve’s message from the series, '“Unlearning Religion” from June 10, 2019. You can also watch the message here. We hope you find this helpful as you pursue your next steps in Christ.

“Today we are wrapping up a series called “Unlearning Religion.”  This idea is based on some of the challenges that Jesus throws our way in the NT.  That to truly know God it means to know him. To truly live life to the fullest it means that he comes to us in relationship. The challenge, back in Jesus day and for many of us, is that we think we come to God through religion.  That we can come to God by following a bunch of rules first. Jesus tells us over and over, “you need to unlearn religion so that you can learn relationship with me first.”

With that as a basis, here is what we have established.  When Jesus came into this world, he did some pretty amazing things and made some pretty audacious claims.  He said it this way. “I am the way, I am the truth and I am the life.” (John 14:6) Jesus came along in a world that was struggling and said, “No one comes to God the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  In fact, Jesus also said this, “when you see me, you see the Father.” (John 14:9) Jesus was sinless. Jesus was 100% divine and 100% human. He was God in the flesh. He was righteous. He was full of grace and full of truth.

We’ve illustrated it this way.  Jesus came along and said, when it comes to living, I’m the standard.  I’m the bar. I am who you aim for. So, when it comes to living, there doesn’t have to be guesswork.  Just follow me. Walk in relationship with me. So, when you and I walk in relationship with Christ, what should be our goal?  Our goal is to please Jesus.  Our goal is to live up to that standard.   Now if we think with that mentality, it changes everything.   Just aim for pleasing Christ in your marriage, in your parenting, and in your parenting.

With this bar representing Christ, we’ve also said this.  Below the bar living becomes sinful.  As unpopular as that is, Jesus says we all have that issue.  We all struggle with it. Jesus implores us to not remove the bar.  He challenges us not to settle for living below the bar. Why? Because even though it sounds freeing, it ends up chaotic.  It sounds great but it doesn’t really live great. So, what do we do? We walk in discernment.   Discernment is the ability to know what is right and wrong.  So, you and I walk daily with the reality of trying to, with Christ’s help, make right decisions.  Discerning what is wrong and avoiding that in my life.

While some of us are tempted to lower the bar, others of us are tempted to raise the bar.  We raise it with rules. Raising the bar becomes more about religion than it does about relationship.  So Jesus clearly says this. Above the bar living becomes judgmental.   When I raise the bar, I often expect more of others and when people don’t live that way, I look down on them.  At the heart of that thinking is a critical spirit. We tend to be condemning of people. So we have learned that we have to do this;  walk in grace and truth.  If you tend to walk only in truth then you can become judgmental.   If you tend to walk only in grace, then you anything goes. Our goal is to be like Jesus.  Follow Jesus. To be full of grace and truth.

With that as a context, let’s dig into a few questions that have popped up during this series.  How do we as Christians do a better job rallying around the main thing-Jesus?  A question like that gives me the notion that too often Christians rally around things that are more personal conviction or preference.  Personal conviction leads to conversations like what do we watch on tv? What version of the Bible do I read? Can I social drink?

So, how do we cut through what is truth and what is preference?  How do we decipher what is necessary and what is opinion? Here is a good place to start.  When Jesus is clear, it applies to everyone.  If Jesus clearly teaches that this is what we do, then do it.  If Jesus clearly teaches that this is something we avoid, then we avoid it.  If Jesus is the standard and his teaching is clear, then it applies.

Let’s go back to the social drinking question for a moment.  What is the very clear thing that we get from the teachings of Jesus and other passages?  What is it? Don’t get drunk. Super clear. Not only do people do really stupid things when they get drunk, but Jesus say, don’t do it.  Other examples. Jesus is clear on sexual purity. Jesus is clear on how we treat each other. Jesus is clear that we serve and we give with our money.  Jesus is clear on the standards of marriage. Jesus is clear on how to pray. When Jesus is clear, it applies to everyone.

And you can add more layers to this.   Jesus says that “if you love me, you will follow me.”  Jesus says, “if you believe in me, you will obey me.” He calls us to aim higher in this life and he helps us through the help of his Holy Spirit to lead that life.  If I’m a Jesus follower, this applies to me. I want to please him.

But what if Jesus is not super clear on a subject?  When Jesus is not clear, apply Biblical context.  Jesus did not come out and address every issue that ever would exist.  He didn’t. But there are overarching principles of morality that run from the beginning of God’s Word to the end.  Very consistent teachings and values that you see from Moses, David, Paul, Peter and Jesus. So in everyday living, we apply that context.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:16-17

God breathed, that means it’s all inspired by God.  it was all imparted to man by God’s Spirit.  Useful means we can use his Word today. We can grow from it. We can mature from it.  Equipped. That means God’s Word equips us to live life. It equips us to be a great parent.  It equips us to stand strong morally. It equips us to handle our money well.  

Let me give you an extreme example. Jesus doesn’t say anything about porn. Yes, I have heard people that are Jesus followers use that as a justification to engage in porn.  Again, I think it’s simple. Does that please Jesus? Nope, but let me run with this a bit. People say, ‘Jesus never said anything about porn, so it can’t be that bad.  It can’t be bad if it’s consensual. It really enhances a marriage right?’ And my pushback would be “no” if you look at the context of God’s Word. Not if you look at the context of Jesus’ teaching on purity which is reiterated by so many passages and author.  Here is context from Paul.

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Ephesians 5:3

A hint. That’s literally like a lingering smell in the air.   Like the smell leftover from a burnt batch of cookies in the oven.   There shouldn’t be a hint of that in our lives. So, if you run with an idea like like porn, I think most smart people can look at it and say, “yeah, there is a hint there.” After all, it degrades women right? I think that’s a hint. It’s causes people to treat other people like objects rather than creations of God. Sounds like a hint. Porn gets you focused on self rather than pleasing your spouse in marriage. Again, that sounds like a really big hint to me. Are you with me so far?

...because these are improper for God’s holy people.  Ephesians 5:3

This doesn’t jive in the life of a person who’s goal is to please Jesus.  This is living below the bar for Jesus followers. Because Jesus followers are called to aim higher.  To aim for what is righteous. And maybe Jesus doesn’t come right and say, “you shall not,” but the context is very much there and very, very clear.  

Let’s go to the next question you asked. Is it ok to raise the bar for myself?   In my opinion, yes.  If it applies to you, yes!  Now, let me again contrast it with this statement.  It’s never right to lower the bar. Now again, vast parts of our culture would not agree with that.  Maybe you don’t agree with that. Certainly, some of our friends would give push back on that. If you are a Jesus follower, no matter how much we rationalize it, lowering the bar is not what Jesus calls us to.  It’s not.

But raising the bar, that’s a different conversation.  Let me throw out a couple of ideas today. One, you can raise the bar for yourself.   I personally know Jesus followers that raise the bar in their own lives.  These come from personal convictions or steps they want to take to strengthen their faith in Christ.  These might be ways they want to lead in their home or to put up protection to avoid temptations in their lives.  

For instance, I might raise the bar and remove social media from my life.  Why? So I can take that time that I’m usually on social media and focus more on God.  I want to raise that bar in my life so I can learn to listen better to God’s Holy Spirit.  Maybe I’m going to raise the bar in my life for purity. So, I’m going to cancel HBO, Cinemax and install software on my devices.  Why? Because I want to pure in thinking and in turn pure in my lie. So I raise the bar for myself so I don’t go there and so I can protect and strengthen my following of Jesus.  

Out of personal conviction, you can raise the bar.  But hear this too. You can’t raise the bar for others based on your own personal conviction.  Certainly, there are some exceptions to this.  Parenting. In circles of Christian leadership, it’s important.  But generally speaking, I generally raise the bar out of personal conviction for me.  To grow me. To deepen me. That doesn’t give me the right to press that conviction into others.  So Jesus followers, that is why unchurched people struggle with you sometimes as Jesus followers. You expect a person who does not know to Jesus to act like Jesus.  How can you live like Jesus if you are not following Jesus? Answer, you can’t. In addition, you expect unchurched people to follow your personal convictions. That’s not going to happen.  And in turn, they are going to run from the hills and miss out on the truths of Jesus. So, lead with Jesus only!

But it also happens in the Christian community.  We get focused on personal conviction rather than Jesus.  We get focused on a version of the Bible which I would say is conviction. Instead of leveraging that conviction, why don’t we leverage the truth that we are all called to read it and grow our faith? We as Christians can get focused on doing communion four times a month instead of one.  Personal conviction right? Instead of leveraging that conviction, why don’t we leverage the value of communion and it’s significance rather than how many times it occurs? I could say the same many other convictions.

As Jesus followers, we have to learn to live that way with one another.  We have to focus on the main thing; Jesus. And realize that discipleship takes time. Growing in Jesus takes time. Life change takes time. And it’s ok to have some different convictions and opinions on things that are not game-changing, Jesus centered values.  This came to my mind when I prepared this message.

Conviction is important but it doesn’t trump truth.  Conviction is key but it doesn't trump Jesus.  

So, let’s focus on Jesus.  Our mission is to help people experience a life-changing relationship through Jesus.  Reaching people for Jesus. Pointing people to the hope of Jesus. Helping people know Jesus in their marriage.  Helping people lead their children to know Jesus. Let’s stay focused on the main thing. Is that helpful for far?

What do you do when people believe you are judging them based on your own personal faith?   The context of this question is that when I follow Jesus, I’m called to live differently.  I’m called as a Jesus follower to take some stances in regards to truth. I take those stances in obedience.  I make those changes for me. But those around me somehow take that and misinterpret that as me judging them. Has anyone been there before?  

Here is how this often plays out.  You become a Jesus follower and you decide to make some changes.  Those changes may mean you don’t go to the bar with your buddies or clubbing like you used to.  Maybe you are cleaning up what you watch and so that means you choose not to go to a certain kind of movies with friends.   And your groups responds negatively. They call you a “goody goody” or they look at you and tell you to stop judging them for what they do.   But you weren’t saying that at all. You never imposed on others. You never expected that of others. All you said was “no thank you” or “I really don’t want to do that anymore.”   

What do you do?  One, don’t excuse what Jesus does not excuse.  In other words, you don’t have to apologize for the way you are living.  You don’t have to justify your choices. You are following Christ and Christ calls you to live differently.  Not live weird, but different. Live by his righteousness. So, don’t compromise. Don’t lower the bar. Don't excuse something to be accepted.  Anytime you and I lower the bar what happens? Chaos. Turmoil. Pain. Any time you and I drop below the bar, we don’t win. We don’t experience life to the fullest as Jesus says.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? Matthew 5:13 (MSG)

Jesus followers are like God seasoning on this earth.  Be salty. Be the flavor of Jesus. Inspire others with how you live.  What did Jesus say here? If you lower the bar, your seasoning, your life, will not impact anyone.  

Two,   Trust the process.   Trust what God is doing in you and through you.  Trust the timing. Let’s be honest. When you follow Christ it may change some of your relationships.  It may strain some of those relationships. Your circle of friends my change. Because of your changes, they may feel like you are not a friend anymore.  You might even fell rejected by them to a degree. But hear me; trust the process. God is working through you to your friends and as he works in you. Even if there are some new areas of uncomfortably with you friends and your faith, understand that God can use what he’s doing in you to change others   God may use your stances to cause them to ask some questions of their own lives. God will use your new faith to stir up some curiosity in the lives or give them a reason to hope in their lives. That’s the salt and seasoning teaching of Jesus.

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:14-16 (MSG)

That’s powerful.  God will use you as a light where ever you live.  So he says, “don’t hide it. Don’t lower the bar in faith.  You are showing people life with Christ. People can open up because of they way that you live.  So trust the process. When you trust God with the process, he opens up other people to God through your life.  

I was watching a Q/A on this subject a few weeks back and a young woman in her 20’s stood up and shared her story.  She said she grew up following God and then ventured out on her own and made some poor life decisions. She said she felt this way when her friends around her were committing their lives to Christ.  They never imposed their faith on her. They never were judgmental towards her. They loved her and prayed for her. As friends they believed that how she was living was destructive to her. They essentially said, in love; ‘We can’t do this with you anymore. We love you. When you are ready to get through this and lean on Christ again, we will be there to walk with you through this.’

She said she reacted to how they were living not because they mistreated her or were critical to her.  She reacted that way, she said, because deep in her own heart, she was feeling convicted in her own life.  She knew by watching their lives that she needed to get her life right with Christ. But she didn’t want to.  She wanted to do her thing. She said, “when you walk with people that are far from Jesus, and they react this way, don’t take it personal.  Many times their reaction to you may be some personal conviction they are feeling in their own soul.”

By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.  Matthew 5:16 (MSG)

Wow, that’s powerful! Today as we close this series, let’s remember this. Jesus came not to give us a bunch of rules. He didn’t come to make it hard to discover God. That is what religion is all about. And for many of us here today, we have to unlearn some of that thinking. Jesus came how? He came to have a personal relationship with us. He came for us and for the many people that still don’t know Him personally. Let’s pray. “