Sometimes it’s fun to be controversial and judging from the title, this one is going to be controversial! Don’t be too quick to judge a blog by its title.
Nothing has changed – I am still against doing what is wrong.
For years we have told people that Christianity is not a religion. We have painted religion as a bunch of rules based on the fear of angering God or the goal of earning His love and respect. We have tried to convince people that Christianity isn’t about rules, it’s about relationship. Sounds good until we bring out the Christian rule book. There are the standard don’t make God mad rules and then, depending on what denomination you attach yourself to, a few added distinctives (nice word for we don’t want to be confused with the other guy because he missed the boat). The truth is there are rules that guide us so that we understand what it is to live a holy, obedient life that’s pleasing to God. Simply put, if we are in relationship with God through Jesus the Christ there are things we must abstain from.
It appears that I have contradicted myself.
I titled this blog “The Dangers of Teaching Abstinence” then I said there are things that Christ followers should abstain from. While it is biblical to teach followers of Christ to avoid/abstain from any type of evil, it is also biblical to teach against incorporating a legalistic approach in our grace based salvation. Teaching abstinence gives quick answers that paint a very black and white way to live. When we hear the word abstain or we are told to practice abstinence we automatically assume that it is Godly not to participate in this activity.
The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. Galatians 5:19-21 (NIV)
I have been involve in youth ministry off and on and I was a youth in another life. There has always been a set of questions that are unavoidable. Can I drink? Can I do drugs? How far can I go (sexually)? The first one is easy to answer, all you have to do is check the denominational stance, no Bible necessary (humour intended)! The second one was easy to answer until the recent loosening of the marijuana laws, drugs are illegal so don’t do them. The third one is a little more difficult because it requires an agreed upon definition of sexual immorality but a boundary can still be established; you can go this far but the rest is off limits.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 (NIV)
While abstinence is easier to teach, I find teaching the fruit of the Spirit in light of the limits of Godly behaviour a more effective way to prepare people for the decisions they will have to make. To properly equip ourselves and those desiring to please God in all aspects of life we need to ask, do the actions in question lead me to produce the fruit of the Spirit? Anything we do for personal gain that has an effect on our ability to be loving people, full of joy, living in peace, being patient (forbearance), full of goodness and gentleness, living in a state of self-control, is wrong.
Whether it is a youth or an adult asking the questions: can I drink – can I do drugs – how far can I go (sexually), there is a better way to answer than don’t do it. Drunkenness leads to all sorts of unloving behaviour often ending in physical altercations not gentleness. Recreational drug use is about escape, it creates a false sense of joy, peace and even the façade of forbearance because the person just couldn’t be bothered. Sexual contact, no matter how far it goes, can be about one’s self not about kindness, goodness or love, and means the unmarried person is being unfaithful to the spouse they have not yet met. These actions do not produce the fruit of the Spirit.
The Fruit of the Spirit gives us a way to set limits while abstinence simply says do not.
Wine was good for Timothy’s stomach according to Paul, morphine was good for the pain in my stomach after my gallbladder surgery and sex in marriage is good for whatever ails you (unless you have an upset stomach)* – abstinence leaves no room for God approved actions, it simply says do not!
* The author of this blog has received no formal training in medicine or related fields. Consult your doctor before treating any symptoms or diagnosed ailments with alcohol, drugs or sex.