James and Paul

The Volume of Actions

I see no need for diatribe against legalism. That has been done enough. What Christians lack, apparently, is the admonition to live as consistent human beings.

We are confused about sins of commission. So many are trapped in the vice of legalism—and yet of those who are free, so many of them take it as a license to do whatever they please, under the auspices of a forgiving and loving God. If we are going to be hypocrites, should we not at least recognize it?

Parents make rules for their children, and they eventually remove them. They do not do this so that their children, as adults, can live like children once again. They do it because of trust, and the belief that their offspring have learned to apply the principles that the rules were based on.

There is no harm in breaking certain rules that never meant anything. A curfew is not instated because going out after dark is wrong, but because it is likely to entail danger. We can go out after dark, if we can go out safely. Other rules, however, are instated because the action itself is almost always wrong.

It should dawn on the general public that some of the intense legalism practiced in evangelical circles is correlated with things that we really should avoid. Drugs, sex, alcohol and profanity are not moral wrongs per se. It just so happens that they are often found in the company of moral wrongs.

Profanity is worth spending a minute on. It is considered benign by the culture at large, and uttering a profane word, in and of itself, has no moral implication. This does not mean that one who is free from legalism ought to take up the habit of swearing. Profanity is a controlled substance among many Christians because of the effects it generally has on listeners, the speaker, and the listener’s perception of the speaker. To free oneself from the restriction of never uttering the words does not mean ignoring these considerations. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, some Christians limit profanity primarily because of the effects of not using it. And this brings us to the most important part.

We are confused about sins of omission. Despite all the time we spend railing against this selfish and consumerist culture, we still pander to it. I have heard countless people say that their philosophy of life is centred upon doing the least harm. This is selfish. Harm is bound to reflect badly upon the doer of the harm, and it inevitably causes guilt. Only a philosophy centred upon doing the most good, where good is not mandatory, contains any selflessness.

Do we really gain so much pleasure from all that is permissible that we are willing to sacrifice all that is possible?

Atheists often comment—though it is rarely the cause of their atheism—that living a Christian life is impossible. I was once told, with regards to one aspect of this Christian life, that I am “living in a fantasy world.” I am living here nonetheless. My life is not perfect, but it is real, and I have seen it realized by others who have preceded me. The Christian life is more about the things one does rather than the things one does not do, and these things are not always mutually exclusive. In my experience, there is less room for wrongs in a life full of rights, and you will not succeed in keeping out the wrongs if your life is a vacuum, begging to be filled.

If atheists are convinced that the Christian life is impossible, why be Christian unless you can prove otherwise? And yet we still look around and ask ourselves “Who does that? Who lives this impossible life? Why then should I?” which brings us to the final point.

We are confused about tolerance. People do a lot of things that we might consider morally wrong, and we feel pressure to revise our lives. These people are our friends, after all, and if we can tolerate this behaviour in others, could we not tolerate it in ourselves? But this really isn’t that hard to understand. Just because you don’t do something doesn’t mean you have to judge people for it, and just because you don’t judge them for it doesn’t mean you have to do it.

Actions cannot buy tickets to heaven, so far as I know—but they demonstrate who you are. You are responsible for the impact that you have, and fail to have, on others. As to the veracity of your beliefs, this is another matter entirely. It is not enough to believe that something is true, because the truth will continue on being the truth, with or without you.

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4 Responses to “James and Paul”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Excellent. Sermon I heard this morning related to this, but I think this was more eloquent and nuanced. Couldn’t agree more, anyway.

  2. I like it! I don’t remember a time when I had nothing else to say about one of your blog entries other than just that.

  3. Thanks! I appreciate that. Now I suppose I’ll go ahead and schedule ones for the weeks ahead that you’ll have complaints about 🙂

  4. That smiley looks pretty evil. I just used a closed bracket; it shouldn’t look that evil.

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