If there’s one thing that’s destined to doom Christianity, I believe it to be the conjoined twins of complacency and pragmatism. They tend to infiltrate the Church and bring it down from the inside out. Certainly, Satan will try with all his might to afflict and affect the redeemed through violence and persecution — outside pressures. But, to dismantle the Bride of Christ, he inflicts turmoil and unrest from the inside. Satan’s scheme has always been to muddy and mar the gospel, and he does that no better than by stoking the flames of discord and disunity amongst God’s beloved. Typically, what causes the world to disbelieve God is Christianity’s own infighting and schism — seeing pastors and denominations hurling passive-aggressive smear campaigns at each other over functional or theoretical dilemmas. And nothing stirs the evangelical pot more than convictions.
You probably shuddered at the very mention of the word; perhaps it raised a few goose bumps. Or, perhaps you rejoiced at the notion that an unabashed grace-addict like myself is finally about to talk standards and rules and “the stuff we need to do.” Frankly, both inclinations are mistaken, as I’m not going to release my grip on the “plank of free grace,” nor am I going to object to convictions of truth and articles of faith that guide and cultivate our pursuit of holiness. What I wish to do is put a small dent in the discussion about standards and personal convictions and remind us all of their true purpose. This is overdue, in large part because Christianity as a whole has a huge “public relations” problem. We’ve forgotten the kernel of truth of the gospel, the crux of the whole thing: it relies on a cross, not on our competence.
If you were to survey a random group of unsaved individuals and ask them, “What does ‘being a Christian’ mean?” the majority of their answers would likely revolve around the rules and regulations of the redeemed. I’m sure you’ve heard this response before: “I don’t want to be a Christian, they can’t do anything — they have too many rules! I want to live my life!” It’s a sad day when the mission Jesus came to accomplish has been relegated to nothing but a cold set of “do’s” and “don’t’s” that aim to enclose, harass, and coerce people into “being good.” What a travesty that those doomed to an eternity in an infinite hell won’t relinquish their lust for life because Jesus has been presented to them as the killjoy of freedom! We have a big PR issue here. When Christianity is known more for people’s convictions than for Christ, we’ve strayed far from what Jesus came to do.
In and of themselves, convictions are a treasure pulled from the lines of God’s everlasting Word. The issue is that we have grey areas, subjects to which God’s Word doesn’t directly say, “Thou shalt not!” And in lieu of any direct command from God saying “don’t,” men have reckoned it their responsibility to fill in the gaps by creating standards to which all Christians must adhere. Naturally, opposition to such sanctions arises, and we then have the basis of all Christian debate: one man’s opinion over another’s — one view pitted against another.
What we need to remember is that while convictions are good, they’re only good if they disregard themselves — they’re “only precious when they lead you away from themselves to Christ.” The problem with most of our convictions is that we get lost in them instead of becoming lost in God’s forgiving grace. We get mired in personal standards, progressing piety, and making sure that everyone else has our same convictions such that we forget the gospel! We forget that it’s not our feelings towards God that are our ground of peace and hope, but his feelings towards us.
Our feelings vary, he varies not. His love and favour toward us do not depend upon the warmth or the steadfastness of our love toward him, but remain ever the same. (Bonar, #34)
Convictions aren’t the rock upon which you stand; they’re more like the sand, in that, if you build your life upon nothing but sand, your life will crumble. (Matt. 7:24–27) No, the only thing that lasts, the only thing that’s sure, our only hope and confidence must rest and rely on Jesus and his gospel of grace. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Heb. 13:8 NLT) “Convictions are precious things,” continues Dr. Bonar, “but they bring no peace of themselves, but war and storm and trouble. Convictions are precious things, but they are not salvation; they are not the Saviour.” (#34) True religion doesn’t consist in one’s person preferences and convictions forming the linchpin of genuine faith in Jesus’s salvation.
My friends, if we wish to rebrand Christianity, we must make it a religion less heard through controversy and more seen through confession — through brokenness, defeat, and weakness. We must make it a faith that doesn’t major on the minor, that isn’t “serious on light, and great on little things.” (Guthrie, 88) We must make it a religion of active charity, not theoretical purity. And we do all of this, not by postulating convictions and standards, but by way of remembrance. Each and every day, the glorious news of Jesus’s substitution must overtake and overwhelm us to the degree that we can’t help but tell and show others of the grace we’ve received. For, true religion “is a thing seen, not heard; it shines, but it makes no sound; not often found on [our] lips, but always in [our] lives.” (Guthrie, 83)
What are you living for: Your convictions or Christ? What are you promoting: man-made divisions or divinely-appointed truth? Are you being led to Christ daily? Or are you being led to think much of yourself because of your efforts in “progressive sanctification”? Let’s not get muddied in the cavalcade of convictions, but let all our lines be drawn back to the one true center, the staunch, steadfast origin, that is Christ Jesus the Lord.
This article was originally written for Rooted Ministries.
Horatius Bonar, Kelso Tracts (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1851).
Thomas Guthrie, Man and the Gospel (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1866).