Thursday is a perfect day for me to continue this conversation.
You know, the one that started with this post. Then continued here (particularly in the comments).
And now, it's beautifully morphed into a deeper discussion on what the Bible says about judging stuff.
I emailed back and forth with a couple readers who really challenged my thinking on the topic, and in the face of conflict, I say yes please. I press in and examine and search God's word. Because I know I'm fallible. We all are. And God is not. His word is the bar and is 100% without error. So where else can we turn but to the Bible for clarification on these touchy subjects?
It's super important that we start with a definition of the word judge. Dictionary.com lists 5 for the verb form.
#1 - to decide upon legally or to sentence
#2 - to hear evidence in a legal case
#3 - to form an opinion of, to decide upon critically
#4 - to decide or settle authoritatively
#5 - to infer, think, hold as an opinion, conclude or assess
Right away, I see God is clearly in charge of #'s 1 and 4 when it comes to mankind. He "sentences" and ultimately sits as judge over our lives. He also settles matters with authority when it comes to our final judgement. We have zero room to encroach upon His jurisdiction here. But sadly, lots of Christians have ruined it for all of us by justifying that very thing. Jesus knew that would happen so He told us, "Judge not, lest you be judged." (Matt. 7:1) He is referring to this encroachment on God's authority to judge and condemn people for their sin. (A really good Biblical commentary on Matthew 7 and what kinds of judgements this verse prohibits and does not prohibit are found here.)
On the other hand, we as believers are clearly instructed in the Bible to judge in a #'s 3 and 5 sense. But are we? What I'm afraid of is that our culture has beat the critical thinking and spiritual discernment out of us with the words like "tolerance." Suddenly, Christians are told they are "judgemental" for deciding anything is actually wrong, even if it's explicitly described as such in the Bible. Moral relativism has become the clean way of saying the truths of the Bible are no longer relevant. (I'm getting off on a tangent that is another giant can of worms. Squirrelly, controversial worms.)
Most recently, I heard a sermon at my church on this passage. It is not unclear, and it's message is also NOT what our culture wants to hear. Paul says,
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people--not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.
I Cor 5:9-13
It's strong language. But you MUST REMEMBER that Paul is instructing Christians to judge other Christians only in alignment with the rest of Scripture: with gentleness, in love, with a sense of warning instead of condemnation, and most importantly with grace and humility. This passage is just one example of many where we are called to assess and "decide upon critically" how to interact with other believers who are blatantly walking outside of the truth. And the assumption, if you know God's word, is that we would do so under the direction of the Holy Spirit, ensuring that love was the greatest motive.
Well, there is no verse that explicitly says reading Fifty Shades is wrong. And the Bible is open to interpretation based on where we are in our journeys and what the Lord is working on in our lives. And God knows where each of our hearts is. And this issue is not a deal breaker. Obviously. I realize He could use something about reading those books to His glory if He wanted to. Of course He could. And He probably will in some cases.
But what I pursue and also struggle with, to be honest, is finding a way to obey ALL of God's word. There are many verses referring to our freedom in Christ, but there is also a clear direction in the Bible for us to exhort one another in love. Dictionary.com says that "to exhort" means "to urge, advise, or caution earnestly; admonish urgently." We are commanded to advise and warn each other in love when we see fellow believers compromising and veering away from what we believe God's word says. It is not judgement; it is obedience. This is exactly what I was trying to achieve in my first post on Fifty Shades, and exactly what I was encouraging others to do as well with the last bit of the post regarding our sisters in Christ.
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
I think what gets messy is when exhortation is done without grace. You knew it would come down to this. All along, the heavy-handed truth was thirsty for grace.
A person cannot be judgemental (in the wrong ways) if she is maintaining an understanding of her own sin and desperate need for God's grace. It's impossible. Maybe I didn't communicate my own need for grace well in my first post. And maybe I didn't feel a need to, since I talk about it all the time on my blog. But some of the resistance to my first post could also be that moral relativism has hardened our hearts a bit so that we are not as sensitive to truth as we could be, just like the Hebrews verse above describes. Our culture's gradual acceptance of sin in various forms is certainly a cause of hardened hearts. Mine included. (I mean, I'm ashamed to say that I laughed through the vulgar movie The Hangover, which after the fact I realize I probably should not have seen. But I have a bit of a hard heart that is not as disgusted by sin as God's is, and I'm working on that.)
Exhorting another believer without a healthy balance of grace walks a line of legalism. A person who is allowing grace to overshadow truth is promoting license. For real growth to take place, both are required: truth and grace. I have always tried to offer both on the subject of reading these books, sharing God's word on the matter, and having enough humility to say I don't always get things right.
And until God tells me to shut down this here bloggy, I'll keep trying to balance truth and grace in each and every post. But because I'm not perfect, my blog will never be.
So I'll keep needing a lot of grace from you too. I pray I've accurately handled God's word here on these touchy matters. It's not easy to publicly address these kinds of things, but I do so in love. Really. Love for God's word, love for Him, and love for you.
Have a good weekend.