Conformity and Conviction

7:43 AM

"Why do you always wear skirts?"

My palms sweated. I swallowed awkwardness. I searched inside my brain for the ten point statement on why. Then I remembered this was a six-year-old who had probably never heard of the abomination of cross-dressing or the skirts vs. pants battle. I was weird. She wanted to know why. And I asked myself, "Why do I?"

A split second later, I shrugged my shoulders and answered: "I just like to."

It was a revelation to me: I could do something simply because I liked to. I'd never thought of having any personal convictions, only universal principles held by at least one decided group of Christians. And the revelation came in handy -- the kindergartners always asked why. Always. As in always.

"Why, Miss Bailey? Why?"

"How come you always wear pants?" I'd joke with a wink and a smile. They gazed up at me, brains whirring, then gave me a hug and we went back to Justin Bieber and dogs and, if we had time, sight words.

It's rare to find a conservative Christian with a real opinion, a genuine preference. We know it. We keep our mouths shut when asking others about why they do this or that, knowing that we could unintentionally judge or be judged. It's much easier to discuss these matters with more liberal-minded believers or non-Christians altogether, who are simply curious, who have room for diversity, who accept that we may wear pink because it's our favorite color and not dye our hair the same simply because we want to.

With some Christians, I feel as if I have to have a whole theological thesis paper prepared on why I wear make-up or why I listen to country music or why I don't like chocolate chips. I feel uncomfortable having my own opinion or preferences: chapter and verse must back up every opinion, from the very air I breathe to the movies I watch. To be fair, I subconsciously demand the same.

With good reason, I suppose. We ought to have purpose for everything we do. We ought to look to Scripture as our sole guide for life. But is not personal conviction a good enough reason? Is not unique service and expression for the glory of God acceptable? Why must we look for minute commands instead of general principles?

In short, why do we obsess so much over convictions?

In my experience, nobody bothers to argue about the little things in Christianity -- the nature of God or the Gospel or the canon. We yawn, swallow our pride and urge charitable affection to overlook these offences. But when it comes to skirts -- and rap music -- and healthy eating -- and spanking -- now we're getting into the meat of Scripture! My friend and I, very controversial and opinionated people both, once compared notes on our deep discussions: the most heated were on external convictions, the alleged "gray" areas. The church splits, we'd observed, usually occurred after the Pastor took off his suit coat to preach or the worship leader added a drum set or the hymnals were booted for the big screen look.

The important things, in other words. There we stake our claim and die. All for the cause of Christ.

I've frequently admitted that I was once a hardcore legalist -- which is a hot and dangerous word in the conservative circle. What I mean by it is that I elevated the external convictions far above the Gospel and that I'd rather have looked good on the outside than reached out in love and grace to the less spiritual brethren.

My grandmamma taught me this. An amazing lady. Strong West Texan accent, rapier-sharp wit and the humility of a saint -- which she is. We were lazying about in summer, me with the newspaper spread out on the table, and I saw it -- an offending article about the latest pop star shaving her head.

"Oh, good grief," (thinking my grandmamma would groan along) "this girl has issues."

She took the paper and began laughing softly. "So sad."

"I know! Why on earth would she shave her head? That's just -- "

"No, it's not her hair," my grandmamma cut in. "It's just -- poor girl. She needs more than a haircut."

I never forgot my dumbfounded chin drop. Her salvation, more important than her hair length? My world dumped upside down. It was a subtle pride, a subtle snootiness, a subtle oblivion to love and grace. In that journey out of legalism and fear and toward grace and truth, I faced the very real conundrum: what on earth do I do with my convictions?

I wasn't going back to the performance-based Christianity that'd kept my faith at bay -- not at all. Neither did I see that throwing all caution to the wind and feeling around life with my own deceitful heart would do me any good. Paul spoke of "liberty": I immediately thought tattoos and blue hair. Paul spoke of obedience: I instantly conjured up a dictionary-thick rulebook to rival the Pharisees' oral law.

Then it clicked for me -- sometime after the hundredth reading of Romans 14 and the millionth conversation on skirt-wearing. I was still misunderstanding the nature of liberty and of obedience in the new covenant of grace. I was still whitewashing the exterior. I was still operating from works and trying to fit in grace on top of that, instead of going from the Gospel up.

The Gospel set us free to serve God in a way the law never could. Through trying to fulfill the law (a feat only Christ could and did accomplish) I made null grace and I stalled in my Christian walk. I wasn't walking in the law of love by doing whatever I wished or by adhering to strict "Biblical" principles. Christian liberty is far more restrictive than legalism and far more freeing than antinomianism. It is, in short, truth.

Without further ado, the three steps to examine convictions (from Scripture, no less!):

1. Convictions ought to glorify God (Romans 14:1-12). If one reads Scripture, he finds very quickly that it is silent on many of today's pressing issues. It does not speak on how many carbohydrates one should consume in a day or comment on Hollywood or analyze Christian worship. Why? I believe that the Lord desires us to truly seek Him -- to find out what He loves, to think His thoughts after Him, to pick out the things we can best do to serve Him and go at it with our whole heart. The question of Should I? ought to be Does this glorify the Lord? And contrary to popular opinion, one person may glorify God one way and another person in a different way. In the end, we do not answer to ourselves or our fellow Christian: we answer to God. We are His bondservants; we are responsible for our actions, and we cannot "pass judgment on the servant of another" (Romans 14:4). Liberty is the freedom to glorify God they way He's called us to.

THE ONE WHO EATS, EATS IN HONOR OF THE LORD, SINCE HE GIVES THANKS TO GOD, WHILE THE ONE WHO ABSTAINS, ABSTAINS IN HONOR OF THE LORD AND GIVES THANKS TO GOD. 
ROMANS 14:6

2. Convictions ought to enable us "to be all things to all men" (Romans 14:13-23; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23). I once heard of a Pastor who invited a waitress to church. She at first declined, saying she'd have to come straight from work, but he pressed her and said that she could sit with so-and-so's family. The husband would be wearing his military uniform so she could identify them. The waitress said she'd think about it. In the meantime, the wife of the family really took to heart this chance to minister to the young woman; and that Sunday, she decided to wear jeans to church so the waitress wouldn't feel uncomfortable coming in her work clothes. The waitress did not come that Sunday, but I thought it pictured beautifully the concept of being "all things to all men." So many would object to this wife's decision, saying she ought to have painted a picture of femininity and respect or allowed her reverence for God to win out over her misguided love for the young waitress. I know I would have been the first to point my finger at her.

I HAVE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE, THAT BY ALL MEANS I MIGHT SAVE SOME. 
1 CORINTHIANS 9:22

But from my study of Scripture, I'd have to say that she was in the right. She used her freedom to minister to a younger woman instead of sustain a preferred conviction or habit. This love and care has been repeated over and over in ministry: missionaries to specific cultures adapt to the dress and courtesy of the certain country; a believer may strike up a friendship with a nonbeliever over a mutual interest in The Lord of the Rings while refraining from such conversation in a family that prefers to go movie-free. Liberty is the freedom to love others before ourselves.

DO NOT, FOR THE SAKE OF FOOD, DESTROY THE WORK OF GOD. 
ROMANS 14:20

3. Convictions ought to guard our conscience (1 Corinthians 8:7-12). Having said the above, it is important that we never cross our conscience. Some of us are weaker in certain areas than others. I know the thought of women wearing jeans to church, even for such a good cause, would offend those who sincerely believe that skirts are the only or best way to dress modestly and to do otherwise would violate their conscience. In that case, one should not violate her conscience. Convictions guard our hearts and keep our conscience clear: it sets us on a path free from as much temptation as possible in order to glorify God and love others. For instance, I do not listen to certain songs, not because I believe them inappropriate, but because they distract me from devoting myself to the Lord and focusing on what I need to overcome. I wouldn't drink beer with a non-Christian friend, not because I believe it is wrong, but because I do not wish to tempt myself or tempt my friend. I set personal convictions knowing where my weaknesses show through; I do not try to bind others with the same. Liberty is the freedom to live undistracted -- for the glory of God and the love of others.

BLESSED IS THE ONE WHO HAS NO REASON TO PASS JUDGMENT ON HIMSELF FOR WHAT HE APPROVES.
ROMANS 14:22

In the end, no one ought to concern himself with "lightening up" or "looking holier." We ought not to frighten ourselves with wondering whether we're "strong" or "weak" Christians. We shouldn't compare. We should't ratchet up a belief and a group of followers to justify our convictions. We simply should do what the Spirit leads us to. No finger pointing. No guilt. Just pure obedience, love and faith.

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17 impressions

  1. Wait.

    YOU DON'T LIKE CHOCOLATE CHIPS???

    But HOW can you be a Christian if you don't like chocolate chips?!?!

    Totally kidding. Although I find it terribly hard to believe that anyone doesn't like chocolate chips. Count on me to pick such an irrelevant detail out of a beautiful, thought-provoking post. Which it was. You've done it again, and, as always, in such a wonderful way.

    Wow. I hadn't thought about this a lot before. I've done that, too, judging people by their little convictions and not even paying attention to their key beliefs.

    "We shouldn't compare." I'm going to remember that. Thanks, Bailey.

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  2. I loved this. Not to mention I totally needed it. Bailey, your posts are always so inspiring and challenging to me, and I can't thank you enough! :)

    I often feel out of place- too odd and conservative for the world (I'm a Christian. I avoid certain movies and music. I don't shop or work on Sunday. I'm generally just an old-fashioned nerd.) but too "worldy" for the really conservative Christians (because though my hair is long, I have cut it before. I not only watch movies, but I adore old movies and BBC period dramas. I wear jeans. I listen to oldies more than I listen to Christian music.).

    Because of that, I used to feel like I was being judged by both groups. Maybe I was, maybe I wasn't, but that's not the point. I was unconsciously (until God brought it to my attention :) judging the people in both of those groups, and I've been feeling really convicted lately as I've been reading in Matthew about not being judgemental.

    Your last paragraph is so right...I'm bookmarking this post to come back to later. Or maybe I should print it out and put it somewhere that I can see on a regular basis. Because I need this reminder often! :)

    ~Kristin

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  3. I can give you ten great reasons why chocolate chips must be appreciated. ;)

    I feel the same way. If I do something, I'll have to write a 5,000 page report on why. Or if someone in my family does something, I have to think up a 10,000 page novel to defend them. Your sister wears makeup?!?!?! -- sure, I would too, if I wanted to spend money on makeup. I'll stick with that frumpy, tea-tree-oil look... ;)

    There's so much more to a Christian than their personal convictions. It was not said, "Believe on Christ, and..."

    Isn't Christ enough in common to those in Christ? Why can we not fellowship with the 'weaker' Christians whose convictions are looser than ours? Frustration.

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  4. Amen, and amen. What a wonderful, honest post this is. I used to mentally point a finger at other young women who were doing things differently than myself (they weren't doing bad things, they were just different than me!). God has convicted me in that area... teaching me that my convictions are good, but that He calls others differently at times. Loving others, despite differences, because of the high calling of Christ is SO much more important than arguing the little things that, in light of eternity, don't matter as much as we'd like them too.

    God bless!
    Rachel

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  5. *dodges rain of acid chocolate chips* I know, I know -- I will repent someday when they make chocolate chips sweeter. Ironically, I adore chocolate chip cookies. I just hate chocolate chips.

    Newsflash: Yes, I'm weird.

    Kristin, I totally get you. I feel trapped in weirdness (beyond my dislike for chocolate chips) between the "worldly" and "conservative" groups. It's so easy for me to judge others for possibly judging me. This is something I'm constantly failing at -- thank goodness for grace!

    Flop, excellent. One thing I love about big families is we all have different convictions on certain things, so we sort of have to learn to accommodate differences in order to survive together. Thanks for sticking up for my make up rights. :P

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  6. Bailey I as well was blessed and encouraged by this post! Thank you for sharing your thoughts on convictions. :) I went through the same thing when I was 18 realizing that I was a legalist. Now I wear pants once in a while and realize that if someone sees me in my sweat pants getting the mail its not the end of the world. :) Modesty is definately more about the heart than the outward appearance, but I do believe our outward appearance should be a mirror of our relationship with our King.

    Thanks again for sharing and your blog is one of the ones I am always wanting to read each time I see a new post. :)

    In Christ,
    Rebecca

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  7. You know, Bailey, they do make *milk* chocolate chips. Those are much sweeter.

    Reading this warmed my heart in such a beautiful way. Hot cocoa to my soul, it was. No, wait. Hot mocha mix to my soul (your Mom's mocha mix, that is).

    And for the record, if you were at one point a legalist, then it must've been before I knew you, because I have never felt looked down upon by you or anyone in your family. I realize that my family's convictions are a bit less conservative, but I've never known anything but grace and love coming from you and yours.

    This post blessed me in more than one way today. In my "Homeschool Pharisee" post on my blog, what you wrote here is sort of what I meant. You know...I've been rather legalistic about things instead of grace-based. Outward results have been given more import than inward curiosities. So, thanks for shedding a little more light on my desire to change things around here.

    I love you.

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  8. I needed this, Bailey ... your last paragraph sounds suspiciously like Hudson Taylor, did you notice that? :-) It's true.

    Anyway, this is just what I have been struggling to free myself from for years, and I'm so thankful to read your clear insights on the topic. Thanks for the timely encouragement!

    Love,
    Vicki

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  9. Bailey,
    I don't attend church and am obviously not in your circle of friends, however, I read your words with delight. Your insight is refreshing. Thank you :)

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  10. This reminds me of what Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful" and something my mom says, "not wrong, just different." Other people do things we don't do. We do things they don't. But we are all serving the Lord. Somehow that works, and it gives us a chance to practice brotherly love in spite of our differences. :)

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  11. Well, you know, us Texans are the bomb. ;]

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  12. Just wanted you to know this is beautiful, and I agree. :-)

    Sheila

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  13. You wrote this beautiful.

    I have one think to point out, though. Did you know that there are Christians who drink beer? :) Not get drunk on beer, but have one with their meal.

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  14. Yes, I personally know many do, which is why I made sure to clarify with this statement immediately after: I set personal convictions knowing where my weaknesses show through; I do not try to bind others with the same. Abstaining from beer is my personal conviction. One absolutely may be a strong, godly Christian while doing otherwise. Sorry if I implied the opposite!

    Blessings!

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  15. Bailey-
    I have been reading your blog for awhile, but this is my first comment. I wish I had started a blog such as yours ten years ago, mainly because I am realizing now the avenue for self-discipline that daily blogging has opened. (I hope you don't mind my use of the passive voice.) Anyway, I enjoyed this post because judgement of others is a sin that I have struggled with for years, and I feel that sometimes it has been enabled by well-meaning individuals that confuse what is best for them with what is best for everyone. There's much more I could say, but this is already getting to be rather long for a blog comment. Rather than continue, I will promise to comment more often as I continue to enjoy your posts.

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  16. hey Bailey, I didn't think you were implying that a Christian that drank beer is a sinner. :) I just thought that maybe you didn't know that certain Christians drink. There are some people out there that live in la-la-la land. I used to. :) ha!!

    I think you are a wise young lady and one that is seeking her Lord. He got you in the palm of His hand. From where I stand I see it beautiful. :)

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  17. I've had that question put to me many times in my 20+ years of existence - most of the time I answered with the same kind of "because I like to" but also with because it is my personal conviction that modesty is something I need to embrace, and embody.

    Certainly fodder for an interesting conversation.

    Isn't it amazing how society sees people who dress modestly as being "different" and yet men treat me with respect (e.g. they open doors, etc)? Ironic.

    Just found your blog, really enjoying what I'm reading!

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Hit me with your best thought! I'm very interested in your unique perspective. If you'd like to discuss things in private, feel free to email me! :)