Once upon a time, there was a girl. She was a good girl. She did all the right things growing up, never gave her parents any real trouble, went to church, and knew all the right answers in Sunday school and church camp. This girl went away to a small Christian college and did well. She met some solid Christian friends and mostly held up to her ideals. She had a few missteps along the way, but by the grace of God, none of those missteps were scarring.
Then, that girl went to graduate school. For the first time in her life she felt totally alone. She sought out a Christian community, but no one seemed to have room for a lonely college student. She spent all of her time at school, work, or studying. In short, she was miserable. She still sought after God, but his voice was becoming quieter, and the call of the people around her was louder. She started making connections with people in her class, and that made up for some of the void she felt. After work, she went out with the group and drank a little too much but managed to keep her nose pretty clean. Gradually, these tightly held convictions began to fall aside. Would Mom be happy? Probably not, but at least she wasn’t sitting at home on Friday night watching Nick at Night. Then, she became better friends with a couple girls from class. They invited her to parties, and that made her feel good … until that one night. Only by the grace of God was that situation not as bad as it could have been.
That girl was me. I was the squeaky clean girl that everyone loved to tease because I never did anything wrong. I had strong convictions, but they were rarely tested. I was painfully shy and always wanting someone to be my friend. Thankfully, throughout my childhood, I had a solid group of friends that filled that need. Did I still crave the acceptance of the “cool kids?” Yes, but I managed to get through it with my friends. In college, I had a strong network of godly women who provided me with deep connections and professors that respected and affirmed me. However, when I went to graduate school, it was like the rug was pulled out from beneath me, and I was left to pick up the pieces alone. I sought Christian community, but there didn’t appear to be any room for me where I was looking—so I looked elsewhere. My friends in graduate school were all nice people and pretty tame by the world’s standards, but I didn’t want to live by the world’s standards. Gradually, their invitations and the “fun” they regularly engaged in, coupled with my desire to be accepted, wore down my convictions that were once so strong.
I remember that night well. I could have made a terrible mistake, but God reminded me who I was when I needed it most. I remember going home horribly ashamed of myself and the life I had been living. Ashamed of the impression I was giving off to those around me. Ashamed that I had allowed my desire to be loved and accepted take me so far from where God wanted me.
I called my friend the next day and apologized to her for how I had been acting. She accepted but had no idea what the problem was. I had allowed my firmly held convictions to be eroded by the world around me. I wasn’t blinded by my convictions, I was losing them. I resolved then and there that I needed to stay firm in my convictions. And while I could still socialize with those around me, I needed to create boundaries for myself so that I did not compromise what was most important.
The definition of conviction is “a firm or fixed belief.” Everyone has convictions. Sometimes it is the conviction that there is only one true God. Sometimes it is the conviction that if there is a God, there are many roads to that God. Sometimes it is that there is a strict moral code that should be followed, while others believe that our conscience should guide our convictions. There is, by nature, a tension between opposing convictions.
If there is only one true God, there cannot be more than one. If there is a strict moral code, your conscience—no matter how well intentioned—is not a good interpreter of right and wrong. Convictions are not wrong. We as Christians should have strong convictions based on what the Bible says, but we cannot allow these convictions to push others away. When we tightly cling to our convictions like a life raft, we often push aside those around us that are drowning. While we cannot, and should not, jump off the raft to join those who are drowning like I almost did, or try to force those around us to jump on the raft, we can move aside to allow them access to the raft until they are ready to climb on themselves. We can use our convictions to guide our responses to people toward truth, but we cannot force those around us to embrace our convictions, especially if we are a Christ follower and they are not.
So, how do we live in the tension between the truth found in God’s word and the grace that Jesus so freely provided for those who were so different from himself? On Monday we saw Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery. By Mosaic law she should have been stoned. The Pharisees were ready to act on their convictions and hoped that they could bring down Jesus in the process. However, Jesus, who was the only one who had the right to throw the first stone, looked beyond the offense and into the heart of the person. He saw a wounded woman that was caught in a life of sin. Instead of meting out punishment, he offered grace and forgiveness. We don’t know if she went on and left her life of sin or not, but I’m sure she carried that gift of grace with her the rest of her life.
The Pharisees knew the law better than anyone and allowed their convictions to blind them to the fact that they were looking at the Messiah they had been waiting for. They no longer saw the humanity in the people they were supposed to be serving, but saw sinners and lawbreakers.
Just like many Christians unfortunately do today, they allowed their theological conviction to be a catalyst to treat people differently.
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man Jesus is not from God, for he is working on the Sabbath.”
In this verse, Jesus has just healed a blind man on the Sabbath. This violated many items on their “dos and don’ts list” for the Sabbath, and so they clung to their convictions instead of rejoicing over the healing of a person.
After watching this miracle, these men mercilessly attacked the healed man, insulted him and his family, and then threw him out of the temple. When Jesus heard what had happened, he sought him out and revealed that he (Jesus) was the Son of Man. The healed man, in response, affirmed the deity of Christ and left a changed man. Jesus then condemned the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees and their guilt under the law they so faithfully attempt to uphold.
What convictions have you held so tightly that they have caused you to become blind to the people around you or to treat them as “less than?”
On Monday, we encouraged you to think about the messy person in your life. Have you said or done anything to love them with both grace and truth this week? Or are you allowing your convictions to negatively affect how you are responding to them?
Pray for that messy person, and ask God to show you how to love them like he does. Don’t allow your firmly held convictions to disregard the soul of that messy person. Don’t give up on your convictions, but allow room for Jesus to work through your words and actions.
Jesus, thank you that you love messy people. Thank you that you came for those who were lost and didn’t know they needed you. Thank you for showing us perfect grace when we were the messy people. Help us to live in the tension between grace and truth. Help us to stand up for what is right but also love those around us so that they may see your face through us. Thank you for your daily reminders that we are still messy people in need of your grace. Amen.
This post was written by Julie Mabus. Julie Mabus is a writer with the LivingItOut Bible Study. She has a passion for thinking about big ideas, art, reading, and seeing God reveal himself through creation. She is married and is homeschooling her four young children.
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