We were talking at church the other day about people we know who at one time seemed to have deep personal convictions on godly, holy living, but now they've turned their back on the very things they once stood for. It's puzzling when this happens. I'm not judging these people. Only God knows their hearts, but I do wonder? Why is it they stopped living this way? Why did they give up their convictions? Why did they say one thing, and then a few years later do the complete opposite of what they said? Perhaps they got frustrated. Perhaps they felt it wasn't worth it. Perhaps they just didn't want to try anymore. I don't know. I'm not them. I have no opportunity to ask them these questions, although I'd love to hear their answers. See, the convictions they had, are convictions that I still have!! That's what really makes me wonder??? Why is it that I still have the conviction they once had? What makes me keep it and them give it up?
I've come to several conclusions about this. Again, I'm not questioning anyone's motives, because I can't do that. The only person I can judge is myself. In fact, I am supposed to be judging my actions and attitudes. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged (I Cor. 11:31). My first conclusion is that if the conviction isn't born out of a heart for God, it's not going to last. Colossians 3:2 says, Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. A heart for God is essentially a focus on Him. That's what this verse is all about. Setting our desires, loves, and passions on the things of God. Now let me just say, that initially a conviction doesn't always necessarily come right from the heart in order to be obedient to God. There are some who will conform outwardly, but it may take time for these things to really settle and root in our hearts. Usually this is because we don't fully understand what the Bible teaches on a particular issue. This has happened with me in so many different areas. I'm going to give one personal example, and I hope it'll be an encouragement to you.
Before I went to Bible college, I had no personal standard regarding what type of music I listened to. In fact, we didn't even have a "rule" in our house about music! I didn't like much of what was on the radio, so I never really listened to rock/pop, etc. Blah!!! Even though I didn't know it at the time, I believe God gave me a distaste for wicked music to protect me from it's bad influence. I did go through a short phase of listening to a "Christian" rap group. I'd only listen to it on my walkman (ahhh.... that is so old school!), because frankly, I was too embarrassed by the content of some of the lyrics to play it in front of my parents.
The first time I was introduced to a music standard was at Bible college. I abided by the rule, but it certainly wasn't a conviction for me not to listen to CCM, etc. In fact, I had even used a lot of praise and worship music at my home church that never would have passed at Bible college. I liked that music, but because of the rule, I didn't play, sing, or listen to it. Giving up that music wasn't a big deal for me, but I ONLY gave it up because of the rule, NOT because of a personal conviction.
Being a music student at Bible College, I was introduced to the Scriptural reasons for not listening to rock/CCM music very quickly. In fact Church Music Philosophy was one of my favourite classes. A lot of the other students were unfamiliar with CCM because they came from churches that never used it, but I had sung it, and listened to it, and never thought it was a big deal. Boy were my eyes opened in that class! I had already discontinued using that kind of music because of the school rule, but now I realized WHY it was necessary. I began to develop a conviction. To this day that conviction continues to be shaped and strengthened through my own Bible study and spiritual growth.
I was obeying God by abiding by the music rule while in college, but I didn't fully understand just how much until I studied it. The obedience to the rule certainly wasn't born out of a biblical conviction in my heart, but it definitely became that way later on. I believe that because this developed into a heart conviction, I've been able to maintain a music standard that seeks to honour the Lord and abide by biblical principles. If my music standard had just stayed a college rule, then I imagine after I graduated, the standard most likely would have been thrown to the wind, and I'd be listening to Hillsong or Michael W. Smith right now.
So again, obedience may not necessarily start out in the heart, but it MUST eventually become something that is in our heart, or it won't stick.
Not only do our convictions need to be born out of a heart surrendered to God, but we need to constantly guard ourselves against sin. Even if a conviction is developed from a heart of submission to God and His will, sin is still a danger. Sin is subtle, clever, and deceptive. Satan will try to entice and trap us in it in any way he can. That's why we must constantly guard our hearts and focus on keeping a right internal relationship with God. Keep thy heart with all diligence... (Pro. 4:32). I've seen once solid, on fire Christians give in to sin and ruin their lives. I've seen them give up the convictions that came from a godly heart. I've seen them choose a wrong path. Praise God for His mercy, because I've also seen people come back to God and be forgiven. However, sometimes the consequences of sin will last forever. I think we are often guilty of a very cavalier attitude toward sin. Sin is not something we can just be lax about. Colossians 3:5 says, Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth; fornication, uncleanness, inordinate affection, evil concupiscence, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Mortify means kill! God doesn't view sin lightly. He's not nonchalant about it. He doesn't brush it aside. He doesn't ignore it. Neither should we!!
This initial list in Colossians 3:5 is some pretty nasty stuff, but there's another list a few verses later. But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another... (Col 3:8-9). When I look at that first list I actually measure up pretty good. Those are the "big" sins, and I'm probably only guilty of one, maybe two of those. But, that next list. Whew!!! Pretty much guilty of everything on one. The fact is, sin is sin, and no matter if it's "big" or "little" God commands us to kill it. This is a constant, daily battle. I know I sure fight it every day! I've actually heard people say they've gone a whole day, or maybe even a week without sinning. Forgive my skepticism, but... yeah right!!! James 4:17: Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin. I know this verse sure stops me in my tracks!
The sad reality is that we are going to fall into sin at some point, but that doesn't mean we should give up and turn our back on everything we believe. I think sometimes people get discouraged with sin, and that's exactly what they do... give up. Instead, we need to keep fighting the war. Keep praying. Keep reading the Bible. Keep going to church! Another fact... we've ALL been there. We've ALL lost the battle against sin at some point. The question is not whether or not we are going to sin, because we are! The question is how will we react to that sin, and will our reaction bring honour and glory to God, or will it cause Him grief. One of the most encouraging Bible verses I've ever read is Proverbs 24:16, For a just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again... I just LOVE this verse. That just man fell, but he didn't stay down. He got up again. And he didn't just fall once! He fell multiple times, and every time he got back up!
I guess what I'm trying to say in this post is keep on living for Christ! You CAN do it, but you must do it God's way. The reason Philippians 4:13 says, I can do all things through Christ, is because we can't do it on our own. It makes me so sad when I see people change, give up their standards, and fall away from Christ. It's heartbreaking! It's REALLY discouraging. Sometimes, I don't think those who make the choice to give up realize just how much that choice effects others around them. Maybe if they knew how much they discouraged others, they'd think twice before giving up. By God's grace, I won't give up. I will fall. There's no doubt, but I hope I can be like that just man in Proverbs 24 and rise up again!