A lot of the decisions I've made about my lifestyle wouldn't mean much to anybody else if they were simply personal preferences and pragmatic habits. And I don't deny that preferences and pragmatism play a part in my choosing not to drink, limiting my movie-watching, and so on.
In addition, I hesitate invoking the apostle Paul's instruction for protecting "weaker" believers from freedoms some enjoy but others consider to be sins. Not only do I not like thinking of myself as a weak person because I don't drink, but, because I don't think it's necessarily a sin TO drink, nobody of faith who drinks in my presence challenges my perspective on the subject. I have had friends ask me first if I minded if they had a beer or glass of wine, and while I've appreciated their courtesy in asking, I'm not offended when they don't. I don't like it when believers joke about getting drunk, because the Bible repeatedly identifies inebriation as sinful. But that requires a different response than worrying if I'm going to sin if I sip somebody's margarita.
So the scripture I believe best reflects my conclusions on the subject of freedom to participate in "vices" comes from 1 Corinthians 6:12, which says "all things are lawful, but not everything is beneficial" (paraphrased). In other words, for areas in life where options exist that aren't prohibited by scripture, we have the freedom to engage those options, but we need to understand that doing so won't necessarily be to our advantage.
For example, although Christians have the freedom to drink as long as they don't get drunk, there could be situations and circumstances where it would be better if you didn't. If you think simply going to someone's house and dancing to contemporary Christian music with a group of people is harmless fun, you may be right, but you could be putting yourself in a situation which invites other sin. You might dismiss concerns about yoga as irrelevant since you don't study all of the eastern spirituality that traditionally goes along with it, but practicing the physical manifestations of the Hindu religion risks compromising the Holy Spirit's working in your life. Maybe nothing bad will happen. At least not that you'll notice. But contrary to some popular teaching on the issue, is taking risks such as these - under the guise of freedom in Christ - wise?
It's Not Easy Being a Freedom Flaunter
In a way, people of faith who flaunt their Biblical freedoms aren't as free as they like to think they are. Think about it:
- Christians who drink need to monitor their intake and remain vigilant against getting drunk.
- Christians who go to movies need to carefully preview what they want to see, since there's little excuse any more for watching sinfully-explicit movies with all of the reviews available in cyberspace.
- Christians who like to dance - even just awkwardly jiggling their bodies at wedding receptions - need to be evaluating the music, the words, and their imaginations, all while trying to have a good time.
Maybe it's worth it for some people of faith to voluntarily put themselves in situations where they constantly have to be on guard against sin, but I know that at least for me, I can wander into sin on my own quite nicely, thank you very much, without the additional incentives provided by things I don't need in the first place.
Indeed, abstinence can free you from need, want, and anxiety. At least, if you really want to exercise freedom. God isn't standing in Heaven with a humongous mallet, waiting for us to sin so He can pound us into the dirt for our indiscretion, but neither does He expect us to willingly make ourselves available to sin. His grace may be free, infinite, and lavish, but should we take it for granted?
Christ died to free us from our sins, and His death on the cross grieved the Trinity in ways you and I will never, ever be able to comprehend. If we really want to serve our Creator Savior, then shouldn't we actively seek to honor His sacrifice, even though doing so won't earn us any more freedom than we already enjoy in Him?
Balancing the Benefits of Freedom
Then there are people who claim that the very exploitation of our Christian freedoms helps to confirm Christ's love for us and God's desire that we enjoy life to its fullest. After all, life is a precious gift, and since all things have been made by God and none are intrinsically evil, believers display the authority given to us by our Creator to be rulers and subduers of the Earth when we reclaim fallen pleasures for our use.
Since there's nothing in the Bible that explicitly contradicts this theory, I suppose believers can go off and practice it if they like. But don't we Christians have bigger fish to fry? Does not having a direct refutation from scripture mean a green light is automatically flashing? Aren't there other aspects of our faith walks which are, in fact, spoken to directly in scripture and for which we will be held directly accountable? Have you already mastered discipleship, outreach to widows and orphans, honoring your parents, and other responsibilities expected of all believers? I know I haven't, but then, I don't multi-task well. When we get to the Great White Throne, will God be as interested in what wines we enjoyed as how we've worshipped Him in spirit and in truth? How much of our enjoyment of Biblical freedoms exists more as a phenomenon of our affluent society and hedonistic pursuits than a sincere desire to honor God with every area of our lives?
True, freedom in Christ means we don't need to be scared by the eternal consequences of pushing the envelopes of prudence, modesty, and conventional worldly behaviors. But before any of us goes off into our liberty-laced lifestyles, shouldn't we ask ourselves questions like these:
- Which is more important: demonstrating freedom in Christ by dancing in mixed company, or modeling the principle of being set apart by voluntarily limiting your dancing to environments in which you don't open yourself up to sin?
- Which is more important: demonstrating freedom in Christ by exercising with yoga, or obfuscating any connection with a demonic religion by choosing another form of physical fitness?
- Which is more important: demonstrating freedom in Christ by smoking cigars (talk about your oral fixations!), or admitting that the smell really isn't as great as your buddies tell you it is, and that cigar smoke can also cause cancer?
Remember, we'll all be held accountable to God for how we answer these questions - or whether we even consider them at all.
Not that I have any greater edge over anybody else when it comes to living a holy life. I'm not saying that people who've answered these questions differently than I have are on the road to you-know-where. After all, piety can become the sin of pride.
And we all know what pride comes before!