Personal convictions are NOT the same as Biblical truth. Yet Christians have been twisting personal convictions and Biblical truths for centuries in an attempt to lead people back to law, and that’s what it truly is when you examine the most common arguments concerning personal liberty versus conviction. From going to movies, listening to secular music, or participating in sports or going to a game, (not to mention celebrating Christmas or Halloween), these issues have managed to burden the church with untold heartache all because someone, somewhere used personal conviction instead of biblical truth to create yet another doctrine that was not based on grace and personal liberty, but law in an effort to control the people in how they desired people to live.This always leads to Legalism.
So what exactly is a personal conviction?
A personal conviction is a viewpoint relating to conduct or behavior based on social upbringing and family history. This view says “I can’t do that because I might stumble.”, or it might say, “I don’t believe God wants us to participate in that, so I don’t and neither should you.“. Either way, whatever the argument or defense suggests, the end result remains the same, it’s a conviction not based on actual biblical truth, but based entirely upon past experiences, behavior or upbringing. To be clear, there are indeed conduct and behavioral attitudes found throughout the word to which God desires us to walk, but when we are discussing disputable issues relating to personal liberty, then that’s when things become an issue, and when we need to understand that sometimes what we have held onto as doctrine, is nothing more but church tradition that God never intended for us to be bound by.
I was raised in the Pentecostal holiness movement. At an early age I was taught by the church for years that Christians did not go to movies, they did not dance, they did not listen to secular music, nor did they adorn themselves with gold or jewelry, nor did its women wear anything commonly associated with the opposite sex, this meant that women could not wear pants for it was something made for men, thus, it was a sin. The same with the famous hair doctrine that Pentecostals created as another means to control its people. The idea, for both men and women, was that women should have long hair (even though other societies around the world have their own cultural beliefs) when the truth is, we had many reasons why we shouldn’t, yet they were never based on the word of God, but a distorted view based from the law.
Paul warned the early churches throughout his writings not to go back to ritual and law, and it was for a reason, it could not be maintained. There was a reason why the law was rigid and strict, because man, by himself on his own efforts could not satisfy the law, thus, the sacrifice was needed. Today, that sacrifice was fulfilled through Christ. He satisfied the law and all its requirements where we could not, this gave us the gift of Grace which is what we are in today. Yet there are those who once again would desire man, as well as the church, to go back unto law and all of its rigidness under the Mosaic system, and be controlled by those who would yield its full weight and measure. The result? Spiritual ruin.
When we are referring to Disputable Issues, we speak of those issues relating to personal views, not on the word, but on issues which have, and continue to divide the church today. Disputable Issues (or matters) are what Paul outlined in Romans chapter 14. Here we see what Paul wanted us to avoid at all costs – disputings which lead to strife, and worse – bondage to the law. Throughout chapter 14 of Romans, Paul gives us, the church, a clear resolve when it comes to things which the Bible is silent on, and that is this, liberty. Romans 14:5 “One man esteems one day above another: another esteems every day alike. Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Here Paul is making it clear that one man might see the need for Sabbath, while the other does not, but both must adhere to this one rule, to be fully persuaded in his own mind to what God would have him do, but never should he impose his own beliefs upon another believer, for in doing so, they have created a new law, a new doctrine and a new bondage to which there is no law. Again, let me be clear, Paul is never speaking about participating in immoral acts, or those things or issues which are clearly condemned in scripture, it’s simply referring to issues which have not been dealt with in scripture.
Still, many in the days of the early church were fighting among themselves about what was right and what was wrong to do or go as it related to personal conduct or behavior. The early church found itself divided over food offered to idols that was being then sold on the market that Christians could not decide if it [meat] could be bought and then eaten. Paul settled the issue in the same chapter (14:3) by saying “Let not him who eats despise him who eats not….” The answer to the problem concerning a dispute was found simply in Christ and the cross – personal liberty.
The other issue conflicting the church in its first establishment was the celebrating of pagan holidays. How interesting that while Paul equally gave his instruction to the early church on these matters, yet nearly 2,000 years later, the church has found itself once again arguing over matters, such as Christmas or other festivities, to which there are no law in the new covenant. Again, one would literally have to go back to the old covenant to make an argument for why the church should abstain from anything relating to the eating of certain foods, or celebrating or participating in pagan holidays under the new covenant. This is again, a disputable issue that Paul dealt with by stating that there is no law under the new covenant for any believer in Christ to abstain from such, simply because we are now under Grace.
Grace is not a license to sin, far from it, it’s a call that demands holiness. Yet when we examine personal convictions as it relates to ones own personal growth, we will begin to see that when we allow the Holy Spirit to be our guide, instructing us in all things relative to ones own conduct, then we will be able to do, or not to do things which may or may not be wrong spiritually, but participate or not based on a more maturer level of intimacy that can only be done by placing our faith into what Christ did on the cross, and then allowing him to teach us accordingly. Paul reminds us of two indisputable facts for the believer that should be our guide as it relates to personal convictions:
1) We shall all stand before Christ at the judgment and give an answer for our actions on this earth. (Romans 14: 10)
2) We should desire to be at peace with our brothers and sisters no matter what level they or we are on, but to live in peace and love one another. (Romans 14:19)
From my desk in China,