Personal Convictions

Personal convictions are the template, pattern, or framework for decision-making in each person's life. We arrive at personal convictions in a variety of ways, but there are similarities in each of us. Most of us rely heavily on our upbringing. The values of our parents or guardians are interwoven in all we do. Also, major life experiences and crucial interactions further color our life choices. For the believer, though, there must be a higher standard by which we make our life choices; our personal convictions must be based on Biblical truth.

Not many are likely to deny the above statements. Most professing believers would claim that they base their life framework on Biblical commandments and principles. How is it, then, that the lives of believers unfold in such an amazing variety of ways?The first thing to consider is that there are certain commandments given in Scripture that are iron-clad life restrictions by which every believer must abide. Thou shalt not commit adultery is as clear as it can be, and it is applicable to every believer in every age in every place. A sexual relationship with another man's wife, or an unmarried woman, or anyone besides my wife is never acceptable for me in any situation. This restriction was true for the Apostle Peter, Martin Luther, Charles get the point.

However, every believer must also make day-to-day decisions about issues to which Scripture does not speak. How does one decide what type of music to listen to, what kind of clothing to wear, which establishments are acceptable to frequent, what to eat or drink, or what entertainment to enjoy. Also, more squarely in the realm of the spiritual, one must decide how to worship, what method of sharing the gospel is best, how to raise one's children, and what body of believers to join. In Galatians 5-6 Paul gives in-depth instruction to the church of Galatia which is amazingly helpful for modern believers as well.

The first point to consider is that each individual believer will stand before God and answer for the choices that he made in his life. No one will be able to claim that his parents warped him, his pastor taught him inadequately, or his friends led him astray. Therefore, although wise parents, a godly pastor, or strong friends can be a major help in one's spiritual decisions, every personal conviction must be carefully considered on its own merits. In Galatians 6:3-5 Paul says that no one should get haughty in his own mind based on his lifestyle. Rather, each one should carefully examine his life and compare it to Scripture-God's standard-not the way others are living. God does not grade on a curve. Each person will be accountable for his own life ("bear his own load"). The Berean church (in Acts 17:11) was noted for having the positive character trait of Scripturally examining everything they encountered to make choices based on the truth they trusted-the Word of God.

The second point to consider is that personal convictions have no merit in and of themselves. For example, let's say a man had a drinking problem that led to violence, neglect of his family, money troubles, and many other issues. It may be a wise decision to avoid the bar at which he used to drink. This could be a positive personal conviction. However, he must remember that God does not love him more or less because he no longer frequents that establishment. This is the trap the Pharisees fell into in Jesus' day. They made rules for themselves that could be helpful. The problem was that they assigned merit to the fulfilling of these man-made rules. Similarly, some of the members of the Galatian church had become convinced that they must fulfill the requirements of the Law. Though God had originally given His people the Law, Jesus had freed His followers from the Law through His perfect life and sacrifice. Thus, when men choose to bind themselves by the mandates of the Law or rules of their own making, they are rejecting the gift of Jesus and insisting that they will earn their own salvation. Paul says in 5:2-4 that these people will gain no benefit from Christ and indeed become indebted to live a perfect life.

The third point to remember is that personal convictions are completely ineffective at curtailing evil impulses. Apart from the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer he will not, and in fact cannot, avoid sinful behavior. What does this look like in a modern context? Returning to the illustration of the recovered drunkard-it is a good idea for the man not to have a six-pack of beer in his fridge, but if his life is controlled by his flesh rather than the Spirit, he will find a way to procure alcohol. His personal conviction to abstain from keeping alcohol in his house is useless. Another example-having a filter on one's internet connection may be a help in avoiding accidentally viewing offensive content, but if one sinfully desires to view sexual content, he will defeat the filter or find another avenue by which he can fulfill his evil cravings. If the heart is ruled by the flesh rather than the Spirit, the works or fruit that naturally result will be the works of the flesh rather than the fruit of the Spirit. Personal convictions are a facade in that case. Paul speaks about this again in his letter to the Colossian church. In Colossians 2:20-23 Paul asks why the believers were shackling themselves with regulations like "Do not taste, do not touch, do not handle?" Paul says that rules have an appearance of wisdom, but in reality they just promote man-made religion and are "of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."  

The final (and perhaps most important) point to consider is that personal convictions must remain personal. You may have a safeguard or reminder in your life that is very helpful to you. You do not count on it to gain merit with God, you do not enslave yourself to it and forget the grace of God, you do not count on it magically to ward off evil from your life, but it is a help in living out the decisions that you have already made about the way God wants you to live. If so, that is great. Just remember that other believers have not had the same life experiences as you. They may not struggle with the same exact manifestations of evil. They may be strong in an area in which you are weak. Another believer may not need the same reminder you need. The admonishment here is to be generous and gracious to your brothers and sisters in Christ. Others may not do things the way you think best. Others will definitely not do things the way you prefer. Just remember that the Spirit is at work in their lives as well, and He is under no obligation to direct the same way in all of us. Paul warns that those who foist their personal convictions on another have their own ambitions at heart. In Galatians 6:12-15 Paul says that they are seeking to glorify themselves rather than Christ. The thought is that if you insist that others act according to the Bible, you want them to act like Jesus. However, on issues where the Bible leaves room for freedom, if you insist that others follow your lead, you want them to be like you, not like Jesus. Take, for instance, the issue of the "proper" attire for church. One man may dress for work every day in coveralls. On Sunday he wears a nice suit as a reminder to himself that this day is different and specially dedicated to the LORD. He does this as an act of worship and for the glory of God. That is beautiful! The man that sits in the next chair, however, may wear cargo pants and a polo shirt. He may have found that a dress outfit like a suit was so warm and uncomfortable for him that he found it more difficult to concentrate on the message. As an act of worship for God's glory he wears clothing that will allow him best to concentrate on the preaching of the Word. How dare the man in cargo pants look at the man in the suit and declare him to be a pompous faker. He cannot possibly know that man's heart. Or, how dare the man in the suit consider the cargo pants man a lazy slacker who does not respect God's house. Each man should lovingly assume that the other is doing his best to glorify God based on his life and situation.

It is in our nature to have personal convictions. Believers and unbelievers alike naturally use this system to streamline our decision-making process. As believers, though, we must make sure that our convictions are helpful and not a distraction. And, as our life and situation evolve, we must be willing to reconsider and Scripturally scrutinize how we make lifestyle decisions so that we do not enslave ourselves to rules that actually hinder our ability to serve our Savior.


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