Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Guidelines as Boxes

“Is it Christian?”

This is probably the most common question I receive when I vend a homeschool conference. An understandable question when you glance around my tables and see covers decorated with dragons, fairies, and superheroes. And I am proud that I can always answer that every book was written by authors who claim to be Christian.

Yet at times the question rankles me, for underlying it often is the idea that somehow the label makes the books safe for consumption. Indeed, that the only thing safe for consumption is the “Christian.” This attitude points the second common view of boundaries: that boundaries are inviolable boxes.

Just like treating boundaries as arbitrary guidelines, this perception also causes problems. Yet this may be the harder view to refute because it sounds so right. After all, many of us have no desire to break God’s commands, and aren’t we supposed to be undefiled by the world? (e.g. James 1:27) And how are we to prove we are undefiled by the world if not by a “clean” life?

So in order to prevent the possibility of contamination, we separate the world into two boxes: The “safe” Christian and the contaminating secular. As a result our homes become filled with Christian books, Christian movies, Christian music, Christian décor, Christian clothing. Moreover, anything that isn’t obviously Christian is automatically eyed with suspicion as a potential road to Hell…or at least, sin.

Yet God didn’t intend for us to live this way any more than He intended us to live without boundaries!

Yes, when we encounter the unknown, we should exercise caution. Yet Scripture also proves that God loves to work in new and surprising ways, as evidenced by the fact that He rarely performed a miracle or delivered His people exactly the same way twice!  

Yes, checkboxes can be helpful, and lists can aid us. Indeed, I would be lost without them. But lists and checkboxes are supposed to be tools—something that serves us, not something we serve.

Yes, God has given us rules and absolutes which are not to be violated, and when we do violate them, they carry harsh consequences. However, I think there are far fewer absolutes than many of us believe and far more flexibility within the absolutes which do exist.

Yes, we are to bear “good” fruit (John 15:16, Colossians 1:10). At the same time, a “clean” life doesn’t equal a “clean” heart—as shown by Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees, men known for their impeccable lives (Matthew 23).

Likewise, we are to be holy as God is holy (1 Peter 1:16), conducting our lives in purity. But true holiness doesn’t result from checking all the boxes and rigidly following a list of do’s and do-nots. Nor does it come from isolating ourselves from the world. Rather, God give us His holiness through the work of Jesus Christ, in which we learn to live as we walk in this world according to God’s unique standard.    

So while God is a God of order, He created boundaries for our protection, not our entrapment. After all, Christ came to redeem those under the Law so that we would no longer have to live under the Law (Galatians 3:23-25, 4:4-5, 5:18); we are saved by grace, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9).

So rules can’t save us—nor do they prevent us from sinning. Quite the opposite! If we are relying on boxes to keep ourselves from sinning, then we are trying to save ourselves on a personal, daily level. If we are trying to save ourselves, then we are not acting out of faith. And if we are not acting from faith, then we are sinning (Romans 14:23). That means relying on boxes to prevent sin actually causes us to sin!

Rather, just as we are to rely on God’s grace to save us from eternal punishment, so also we should rely on His grace to live each and every day as He desires.

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