Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Holiness

“All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” – 1 Corinthians 10:23

As Christians, we tell ourselves that we need to be in the world, but not of the world. This is a phrase that encapsulates the many verses about not loving the world or the things of the world, and how to love the world means to not love God. We preach this so often, but have you ever dissected it and asked yourself if you have truly set yourself apart? We are supposed to be the beacons of light in a dark place. People will know us from our fruits. A thorn tree will not bear apples, and an apple tree will not bear thorns.

This post discusses things that might not be easy to grasp if you are not mature in your faith, and cannot be humble to God’s word. Its a deeper issue that really needs to be taken with full attention. So I will give you some scenarios.

  • The bible does not say a Christian cannot drink alcohol (unless he wants to be an elder)
    • Many argue that it does, or that the words of the time did not have a valid translation, but that is not true. Looking in the context of the Roman empire, wine was very much a common drink among most people. It was a mundane things like drinking Coke instead of water.
    • The bible does say to not get drunk.
  • The bible does not say a Christian cannot get a tattoo.
    • People like to pull the Leviticus verse about markings and piercings of the skin as their justification (Leviticus 19:28)
      • We know this is a invalid argument because the whole book of Hebrews explains how the New Covenant is better than the old one, and how we should not follow it, but follow the New. And we know that the old law was fulfilled because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, and no other sacrifice would be required. We are not bound by the old law because Jesus fulfilled it. And as Paul tells us in Romans, we have the old law because we know what sin is, through the old law. Its a record that shows us the nature of God, and why we need Christ (All of Hebrews, Galatians 3:24, Romans 10:4, and many others).
    • People pull the body is a temple verse (1 Corinthians 6:19)
      • This does not apply because the verse is actually specifically talking about sexual immorality and how you should not defile the temple by becoming one flesh with multiple people. The context shows this, but people keep using it out of context. But it does not talk about tattoos, piercings, being out of shape, etc.
  • The bible does not say vaping is wrong (or smoking) for the same reasons as above
  • The bible does not say eating a diet of only refined sugars and fat is wrong
  • The bible does not say that we cannot listen to profane music with sexual lyrics
  • The bible does not say we cannot go to a rated-R movie
  • We could go all day.

So those are some things that to us are lawful. Now, the whole theme of this will be taken with the context of Romans 8-10. It’s 3 chapters, but it will show you a condition to the above.

(Time to side track and give my story)

So as you may know, I have struggled this last year. I have been satisfying the flesh instead of God, and in that, I was pulled away from God. So since then, I have been doing well. I have been going to church, being in fellowship with the brethren, prayed more frequently, and denied the flesh more. Now scripture never says that drinking is wrong. Paul even states that a little wine is good for an upset stomach. The when the bible was written, it was during the Roman Empire, which was very wine friendly. To be fair, the wine was not as strong as it is today, the Romans did not like the taste of strong wine. But regardless, it was a common drink to everyone. I decided to casually start drinking. I enjoy the taste of beer, especially the craft beers. I drink for taste and not effect. It is like me choosing Coke over Dr. Pepper. It was a mundane subject to me. In many countries it is a mundane thing as well. In America, it has a stigma. And Christians do not fall into that stigma. Doing so, might make those young in their faith stumble/hurt their conscience. In America, a Christian is not seen as one that drinks. But is it not lawful for me to do that? What about getting a tattoo? What about vaping? Is it not lawful for me to do all of that? The scriptures allow me to do that. That is true, but are they profitable?

The passage of Romans discusses the concept of lawful but not profitable. Paul states that we should eat meat without questioning if it was sacrificed to idols for conscience sake. If they tell us it was, then do not eat. If we are invited to eat with a non-believer, eat with them. But if they tell you that the meat was used as a ritual in idol worship, do not eat. We are not partakers of the worship if we eat the meat that was sacrificed to idols. If we buy Starbucks, it does not mean we are in support of same-sex marriage. If I do yoga, it does not mean I am doing spiritual Hindu worship. But if any of those things cause someone to be hurt in conscience, then we should refrain from it all together. In not doing so, we are sinning. So Paul will eat meat no more. In America, drinking, vaping, and tattoos may be lawful to us Christians, but it might hurt the conscience of others.

I was approached by my campus minister because my roommate has problem with me and the other roommate vaping. Though we tried to assure him that vaping pure glycerin is safe, he would not listen to the facts. My campus minister asked me why am I always trying to blend into the world. He asked why I keep pushing these delicate issues and not try to strive for holiness. I was offended because, to me, he said that all the things that he was pointing out were somehow unlawful, and they pull you away from holiness. He asked me that in whatever I do, it either pursues holiness, or it does not. If it does not, why do I do it? I can say the same about drinking soda over water, or riding the bike instead of driving. But that was not what he meant. I asked him then how do I become like those I minister to so I can save some (Romans 9:19-23)? My intention is to become like those I try to minister to so I can relate to them and know them better so that there is a better method for me to save them. My minister asked then if Paul sacrificed animals for the Jews. Then I knew he did not understand me. I know Paul became like those he ministered to until it went against God’s Will. Again, I saw this as him accusing drinking and vaping as against God’s Will. In the American context, it does.

Now casual drinking, vaping, and tattoos are not wrong, but depending on the context you are in, it might not be profitable. Many people may look up to me, especially when I go into ministry, and see a Christian doing things they think are worldly. It may give them an excuse to say that Christians are hypocrites and those young in the faith may be hurt in their conscience. All those things that are lawful that I was doing have a negative stigma to them, and if my brother has a problem of conscience with me hiking, then I will never hike again. I am a slave to others. I am not here to serve myself, but to serve others. But let me flip the switch.

In many European countries, beer culture is large. It is so common to see people drinking a beer during every meal of the day. It has no stigma, and it is part of their culture. It is as mundane as picking Coke or Dr. Pepper, and in some instances it is offensive to not drink. In this context, it might be profitable to drink casually. If this culture was a get-drunk culture, then you know that this is not lawful to begin with. Thus, we will not go against God’s will. Other cultures, like in some Middle Eastern countries, it is customary to have a conversation while smoking a hookah pipe. It is extremely common and is how many people socialize in town. To refuse to partake might be an offensive gesture, thus in this context, it might be profitable to smoke with them. Some African tribes have a custom of bringing a Kola nut when visiting someone. Without a nut, it could be seen as offensive, thus it is profitable to bring a nut when visiting someone. So, even though, it is lawful to casually drink, smoke, get a tattoo, or eat a Kola nut, depending on the context, it may or may not be profitable. In some places, it does not matter to drink or not, and no one will get offended if you don’t want to drink. And that is fine. It might even be recommended to put a personal fence around drinking so the temptation of getting drunk is not even a problem; or a fence around rated-R movies, so you don’t get tempted if a sex scene comes up; or a fence around profane music, so someone might not be tempted to call you a hypocrite. It is contextual, and you need to evaluate what is necessary and profitable in each environment. Doing so is striving for holiness.

In the end, maybe my minister was telling me that tattoos, drinking, and vaping are not striving for holiness in any situation. And in not doing it, that makes us separate from the world. I find nothing wrong with partially blending in with the physical up to the point that it might cause someone to stumble, because people will know us not by what we display in the physical. We will become like all things in order to save some. Yet they will see our spiritual fruits and know we are different. No, we don’t need to wear shirts that say we are Christian, but our actions should reflect those of Christ. Our love and kindness will be separate from the world. Drinking, vaping, and getting tattoos does not really help me in becoming as those I minister to. It has the potential for a brother to have a problem of conscience. I might make him stumble. My drinking could make someone call me a hypocrite, further strengthening their dislike of Christians. So that physical act I do, might not be good.

If we wrap up what Paul is saying concerning lawful and profitable, and adapting to those he is trying to save, in Romans 8-10, then we see all of this: we should adapt and become like those we are trying to minister to in order for us to save some, but in doing so, we must consider if some of our adaptations are lawful. After that, we need to consider if it is profitable. If your culture is a beer culture where not drinking a beer is not profitable, then consider drinking one. If you vape but your culture has put a negative stigma on it, then consider stopping. All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.

Here in the American context, I was wrong. I will not drink and I will not vape. I probably will not get another tattoo either. I will not stay the night at a girlfriend’s place, even though it is lawful, because others may be hurt in conscience. I will not encourage the use of a woman’s use of a two piece bathing suit because it might tempt a sheltered brother. I am a servant to others, and not myself. Today, the rebuke humbled me. I prayed moments before hoping that our Father could soften my heart and humble me so I could handle the situation with my roommate better. He broke my heart, and humbled me.

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