Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Liberty, Arrogance, and Appealing to the Flesh.

I’ve always heard that anything that “appeals to the flesh” is sin. I suppose that’s true depending on how one is defining one’s terminology. The term “appealing to the flesh” is one I’ve seen defined (used) in a few different ways:
In this brief article I’ll examine these three definitions, define them a tad more clearly, and conclude with my thoughts on the whole matter. The crux of what I want to say is at the end, so if this becomes a tedious, mind-numbing read to you, please feel free to skip down to the last few paragraphs!

Anything that “feels good”.
This is one of most common concepts regarding the lust of the flesh and one that is applied the most inconsistently. I can’t count the number of pastors I’ve heard give this definition in one form or another, while at the same time displaying an incredibly impressive pot belly! They’ll preach on the sins of doing things just because it “feels good”, yet everybody knows to stand clear of the dude whenever there’s a church “pot luck”! Most generally, this definition is applied to all matters of life…with the exception of good food and marital sex. The concept is that if you do something simply because it feels good, then you are obviously pandering to some base instinct that is completely counter to anything that God might have for you. It’s almost as if God’s will for you is to be free from any physical or emotional pleasure. This is foolish of course, and nobody would present it in the same manner that I am here; however, we’ve all seen this presented in convincing arguments (usually with little Scriptural support). A typical presentation would go something like this:

“Love not the world, neither things that are in the world. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, are not of the Father but are of the world. The world passes away and the lust thereof, but he that doeth the will of the Father shall abide forever.” Now we see here that ALL that is of the world appeals to the flesh in some manner or another, and that is displeasing to God….
At this point, the preacher is free to launch into a diatribe regarding the evils of drinking, or smoking, or going to movies, or dancing, or rock music, or pants on women, or any number of other things…..This leads me to the second definition.

Anything whereby you come down on a different side of a matter of liberty than I do.
There is quite a bit of crossover between definitions 1 and 2, but there are some distinctions between the two. In definition 2 there is not time wasted in attempting to prove that some matter of liberty is right or wrong…it is simply a given and anybody who would partake of said thing is pandering to the flesh. This definition is most commonly used when dealing with the “fuzzier” areas – music, movies, dress, drinking, smoking, television, etc. I’ve not met anybody in fundamentalism who would be willing to make an argument that there isn’t potential to sin in each of these areas; but rather than teach solid, proven, biblical principles and discernment, some chose instead to simply draw a line of right and wrong where one may not exist. This sort of methodology has run amuck in fundamentalism and is one of the greatest contributors to some of the increasing dissatisfaction that people like me are experiencing in regards to the movement.

I keep hearing the argument that we need to simply worry about what’s in our own back yard and not worry abouth the rest. I suppose there’s some truth to that; however, if you are part of the fundamentalist movement, you’ve got an awfully big back yard. And regardless of what side of the movement you identify with, you’ve got some of these issues to contend with. I’m not familiar with a single branch of fundamentalism where a line hasn’t been drawn on some matter of liberty. I’m not saying that’s all bad, mind you. I consider drinking in moderation to be a matter of liberty, but I’m much more inclined to identify with teetotalers than I am with groups that encourage social drinking (do such groups even exist within fundamentalism?).

There’s a real danger here, though. Anytime we elevate matters of preference to separation issues, we are in trouble. When a matter of liberty is definitively described in terms of “right and wrong”, a dangerous line has been crossed. When we begin to claim (as an over-the-top example) that anybody who wears silk shirts is doing so simply because it feels good and is stylish and said person is, therefore, acting out of a desire to satisfy the lusts of the flesh, we’ve crossed a line....Let’s move on to the 3rd definition and wrap this thing up.

Anything that seeks to sacrifice giving glory to God in favor of satisfying some base desire.
This is a fairly biblical definition, I think, and it’s also as far as Scripture goes on many things. When it comes down to what we are going to do – or not do – in matters of liberty, there are some questions we must ask:
  • Why am I doing this? Is it simply because I can, or am I seeking to glorify God in this?
  • Am I acting in love? For the sake of illustration, let’s say that I drink one alcoholic beverage with my dinner on a regular basis. This is an activity I can do with a clear conscience and I believe that God is pleased with it. Tonight I am having a friend over to dinner who has extremely strong feelings on the subject. As a matter of fact, he has said that he is convinced and convicted from Scripture that drinking alcoholic beverages is sin. Even though I still have the liberty to drink (it’s my house, my food, my liberty), would I be displaying my love to this brother by drinking in front of him? This isn’t an issue of causing a “weaker brother to stumble”…for all I know, I might be the weaker brother in this scenario. This is an issue of restraining myself because I love Christ and I love my Christian brother. Too often I find in my own life that I want to display my “freedom” in order to just show somebody that they are wrong. This isn’t love, and this isn’t a proper motivation.
  • Will I offend someone in this activity? This is, once again, a struggle for me. Here’s a real life example….I enjoy listening to Todd Agnew and Casting Crowns. Both of these are Christian rock groups, and I am (I assume) part of an extremely tiny minority of people in my church who listen to this sort of music. I don’t feel compelled to hide the fact that I listen to it (that much should be obvious by the number of posts I've made on the subject on this blog); however, I don’t want to flaunt it to someone who will be offended by it. Some might say this is hypocritical, and I suppose that it can become that way if one allows it to. However, I don’t pretend to be what I am not – I just don’t feel the need to offend others who may not feel they have the same liberty as I…or even worse, who may feel that what I consider to be a liberty is in fact, sin.
  • Does this activity bring glory to God? If the answer is no, don’t do it. If you’re not sure what the answer is, then perhaps you should refrain from said activity until you have an answer you can anchor in Scripture.
By no means is this meant to be presented as a comprehensive discussion of the subject of liberty - I’ve barely scratched the surface on that – but what I’d like to do is cause us to take pause and think! It’s not a bad thing to ask whether or not something is right or wrong. As a matter of fact, we should be asking that regularly in light of Scripture and the teaching of the Holy Spirit. This article is nothing else than my simple observations (for what they are worth). Furthermore, I hope this can serve as a gentle reminder to us (or perhaps just to myself) that we should not allow pride and arrogance to become determining factors in how we choose to behave and conduct ourselves.

I tend to struggle with pride when it comes to this issue of personal liberty. My natural reaction when I discover that somebody has an issue with the way I _____ whatever, is to say, "Who cares? It doesn't matter what they think - it's all about giving glory to God!" While there is truth to such statements, no amount of pious statements such as this will be sufficient to counter my fleshly motivations. I Corinthians 13:4-5 hold the key, I think. The love I am supposed to be showing to those around me is a love that is not arrogant, rude, rash, or resentful...it's completely selfless and should put that other person first. Examining issues of liberty in light of passages like 1 Corinthians 13 should cause us to take pause.

I've got more to say on this later, but this thing is already longer than I intended...


Howertons said...

Hey, Ellis, Baron showed me your blog site. You sound like you believe exactly the way I was raised to believe. I grew up in what I call a fundamental family but as I grew up, my parents seemed to stay firm in their doctrianl beliefs but moved away from having a list of rules for every Christian to follow. I have often been disheartened by all the pastors with pot belly's who preach so harshly on standards but seem to ignore the fact that over eating is also a sin! It is encouarging to know there are others who are standing firm on the doctrines but see that we can't condemn people for having different standards that aren't cut and dry in the Bible!
It seems people who believe along these longs just keep silent so as not to open a can of worms but I think it is good to be able to be open and honest about what we believe. Thanks for your articles.

Ellis Murphree said...

Good to hear from you, Joyce! I hope you don't interpret my statement about pot bellies to be an indicator that I find them to be sinful....I sport somewhat of a pot belly myself!

In all seriousness, as I continue to work through these issues I find myself becoming increasingly frustrated...at times with myself and at other times with the movement I've been a part for most of my life.

Phil said...

Hi Ellis, I just wanted to say "thanks" for your blog--I have been reading it for a couple of weeks now. When the scales were taken off of my eyes about radical fundamentalism, I was so disillusioned, I was close to overreacting and becoming a Mormon or a Catholic or something. Slowly, level-headedness began to prevail and I realized from other websites and forums that not all Baptists are "hyper fundamentalists" like the church I am in now. It's very encouraging to see someone else who has, more or less, some of the same frustrations I have!

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks for the comment, Phil, and I'm glad I can be an encouragement. I've been to your blog a time or two and I can certainly sympathize with some of what you're going through. Continue studying, brother....when I first began to understand some things, I was so mad that I nearly dropped out of church altogether!

I'm grateful to be serving a patient and gracious God!