Gray Areas

4:30 AM

To be honest, I miss one big aspect of my black-and-white legalism of my younger years.

A clear conscience.

See, even though I judged people, I held myself to the same standards. I avoided many things that now give me heartache. I never even thought of giving in to things that I now regret. I am saddened that the people who called me "prude" and "homeschooled" failed to introduce the Gospel to me and instead pressured me to explore "freedom" against my conscience. I am even more saddened that I listened.

"All things are lawful. . .but not all things are beneficial."

How do you judge gray areas? I talk big about not setting rules the Bible never makes and especially not judging people according to manmade standards. In all that, I completely missed the point of the weak vs. strong problem: the issue is not that some people make rules and some people don't. The issue isn't about rules at all -- it's about a clear conscience. And keeping a clear conscience may (read: does) involve rules, standards, and guidelines for oneself.

Even more important than a clear conscience is a tender conscience. . .one that recoils at sin's repugnance in its own sake (without recoiling from the person or withholding grace) and for your own sake. One of the most eye-opening moments was when a bunch of college friends and I were watching a random YouTube video that deteriorated into something pretty inappropriate. It was the partying, frequently drunk kid who got weirded out first and shut it off -- while all us Christian kids were still laughing along in order to appear cool and nonjudgmental.

What happened to that little girl in me who knew right and wrong and strictly held myself accountable to the right?

Once I admitted that, "Hey, not everyone needs to hold the same standards as I!", I went completely downhill into a hardened conscience that told myself to stop being prudish -- I can handle R-rated violence, a PG-13 sexually charged scene, books with profanity, kissing my own boyfriend, watching a questionable YouTube video. If I can't, it's all in my homeschooled head. I tried to be gracious and conscientious at the same time -- running away during awkward scenes on Friday movie nights, refusing to watch crude humor, staying away from books and actions and thoughts that tempted me. But I was pressured and told not to be judgmental, not to be prudish, not to be a baby. You're an eighteen-year-old college freshman. You can handle it.

Except I can't handle it. I cannot. I am sorry. I hate the violence, blood, sex, and language in most movies and books. I hate being tempted to go too far with my boyfriend after I left my "sheltered" boundaries of just holding hands. I hate it so badly. And I hate that I no longer hate those things as much as I once did. My conscience accused me of sin, and I accused it of prudery, of judgmentalism, of harboring vestiges of sheltered life incongruous with the real world.

I lost my innocence freshman year into college. I caved in and stopped judging -- and discerning -- entirely. My mind now goes to dirty places. It knows all the innuendo, swear words, and questionable thoughts I naturally never knew about. I am certainly more knowledgeable and worldly-wise. . .but I lost something I never can regain: that pure innocence that felt deeply and passionately because my conscience and my heart still remained tender.

And you know what? The second I disobeyed my conscience, the minute I stopped covering my eyes during the gore of V for Vendetta, the moment I kept reading during an explicit sex scene in the library book -- I sinned. Not merely "broke boundaries" or "pushed my limits" but flat-out sinned against my God.

Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 
But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith.
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Romans 14:22-23

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it,
for him it is sin.
James 4:17

The conscience stops working properly (or at all) when consistently ignored -- even for good reasons. Good reasons like trying not to appear judgmental. Reasons like trying not to cause a stir. Reasons like, well, being loving. 

But remember this: if your conscience condemns you, you are the weaker brother Paul talks about. The weaker brother's response to a burdening of conscience is not condemning stronger brothers (judgmentalism), nor is it ignoring his conscience (sinning). His response is to obey his conscience and trust the stronger brothers steep themselves enough in the Gospel to know that his conscientiousness is holiness, not prudery. 

The point is the Gospel -- the Gospel which indeed tells us not to judge others but also saves us to holiness. There is freedom and gray areas for many things -- but not for every Christian. Only the beneficial for you is permissible for you. Sure, the Bible says nothing explicitly about drinking beer. Don't drink it if you can't in good conscience do so. The Christian life is not about discarding rules. It's about holiness. 

If you are a strong Christian who can drink beer, wear bikinis, and watch R-rated movies, please, please refrain from teasing us weaker Christians into following suit. Don't tempt us to wreck our consciences. Don't burden yourself with the guilt of leading a weaker person astray. Encourage us to obey our conscience, to keep our rules and boundaries, to make the pursuit of holiness something positive within the Christian community instead of something stigmatized as old-fashioned Puritanism. 

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9 impressions

  1. That was a big wake-up call for me. Thank you for being so honest and for sharing what you've been learning. This is great :)

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  2. Wishing you didn't know why the rules you broke where there?

    The reason we attempt to cause others to violate their conscience is hate. We hate them, because they are better than us. Their violation of their conscience will destroy them, as our violation of our conscience destroyed us.

    The law is life. (Deuteronomy 30) Those, who hate life, encourage its violation. (1 John 2.7-19)

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  3. I can really relate to how you're feeling right now. I was sheltered like you were, and made choices to cross over to the other side, kind of like how it sounds you did/are. I remember feeling a lot of guilt, too. Part of me always wondered if I felt guilt because of residual shame taught to me, or if it was really from the Holy Spirit. At any rate, I know I have made choices in my past that I probably shouldn't have made, yet here I am now. And here you are now. You are right, you need to decide what lines are YOUR lines, and stick to them because you believe it's the right thing for who you are. HOWEVER, don't live in regret, OK? I doubt you've made worse choices than I have in my life, and even though I look back and realize I shouldn't have let myself go to those places, on the flip side I can see how without those choices/experiences I wouldn't be the person I am today, and that's a good thing. God's forgiveness and love go to the uttermost, and He WILL redeem and restore EVERYTHING in our lives and in our past, and weave it into your story for His glory. If that wasn't true, why did Christ come in the first place? You seem to be an intelligent woman and I admire your insight and how seriously you take your relationship with God. I know this might sound wishy-washy and possibly cheesy, but it's true that God is finished being angry with you way before you're finished being angry with yourself.

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  4. Amen. I love how you write from the heart, not holding anything back, being completely honest. It is very refreshing.

    I struggle with impure thoughts, just like the rest of us. The thing is, it seems not of us are willing to show our ugly humanness to one another and admit we are struggling. Thank you for reassuring me I'm not the only young woman who has lived a protected, innocent life and still struggles with these things.

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  5. Hi. :)
    I sadly but fully agree with this post, until the last few paragraphs. They confuse me. Are you saying that if you have high modesty standards and don't like your mind to go to dark places, you're a weaker brother? How does having loose standards indicate you're a strong Christian? What if you're just a lazy Christian? Can you please explain?
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  6. Yep!

    A stronger Christian IN THIS CONTEXT (i.e. the context of gray areas that Scripture frequently speaks of) is someone who can participate in a gray area without violating his conscience. He has examined his conscience and found himself free to participate. This does NOT mean he is more free from temptation, holier, more right, or better. It is merely that his conscience is not tempted or soiled by certain activities.

    It is a weak/strong comparison about consciences' responses to certain stimuli -- not a blanket statement about the spiritual strength of the individuals. Indeed, Paul insinuates that a "strong individual" who can eat meat but criticizes his "weaker brother" who can't is morally transgressing...certainly not a strength to be proud of!

    And I think you're right to put out the possibility of laziness -- you can't just NOT examine your conscience and the issues and just say, "Oh, I'm free to do it!" Nope. You've got to examine yourself constantly (which is an important spiritual discipline, anyway) and at different stages of your life and as different arguments come up.

    If you see the three things I listed at the end -- alcohol consumption, swimwear, and R-rated movies -- as unequivocally sin and not a matter of conscience...well, that's now a different story altogether. Now it's about transgressing God's law.

    Does that make sense?

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  7. I think I understand this doctrine well in real life, but am having trouble understanding the way you're putting it. You talked about that guy turning off the video when you and your Christian friends didn't...are you saying he was stronger than you, for obeying his conscience, or weaker? Do you think a strong conscience has more restrictions, or fewer? I'm just confused. It's been late at night both times. ;)
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  8. Yes, he was stronger for obeying his conscience. I was sinning by not obeying mine. If someone enjoys an R-rated movie for the wrong reasons, he has a weak conscience that he's not obeying. If someone sees nothing wrong with watching R-rated movies as long as they're worthwhile, he is the "stronger Christian" in a gray area scenario, simply because he can partake without sinning. If someone watches an R-rated movie, feels terrible about, and turns it off, he has a strong conscience by obeying.

    "Stronger" is not necessarily better and it refers primarily to those gray areas where there is a good but it can be abused for wrong reasons. I'm only using that terminology because Paul used it in his argument, though I think he would put "stronger" in quotation marks too because he was playing on the ideas and concepts of the corrupt Corinthians who indeed thought that someone was better and stronger if he could accept absolutely everything.

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  9. Okay. That makes sense now. :)
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