1. Travis Perry says:

    This is a balanced discussion of a topic that rightly points out that it’s possible to error in the opposite direction of legalism and in turn be legalistic without even realizing it. And you are right, this is a topic worthy of discussion multiple times.

    However, I look at your point number 2 with a sense of concern. Yes I can agree that feeling lingering guilt over sin confessed to God can be a problem–but the problem could have more than one cause. Perhaps it really could point to a legalistic reliance on self. Or it could be a lack of faith in God’s forgiveness. Or it could be the person feeling guilt is not actually confessing sin to God. Or it could be the person feeling guilt is continuing to repeat the same sin over and over and feels lingering guilt in a totally appropriate way–the Bible repeatedly tells Christians to put aside sin and the conscience has the role of leading a Christian to do that.

    Romans 14 tackles the difficult issue of what happens when one Christian believer has a conscience afflicted by a particular action not expressly forbidden by Scripture that another Christian isn’t affected by. Note the Scripture does define someone who can face more without a sense of guilt as stronger and someone who can’t as weaker–but the Bible does not condemn a person who sets personal rules for himself or herself in order to avoid feeling guilt that others may not feel. In fact, the Bible allows for such rule setting and keeping (Romans 14 and some other passages lay out how that’s supposed to work). The specific examples of the time were keeping Jewish holidays and eating meat that had been offered to idols (verses eating vegetables only), but the same thing applies to PG-13-related content.

    Someone who feels continual guilt about a particular action, a sin that has been confessed in faith to God, then that person should in fact stop doing it according to Scripture. If a person establishes a rule for himself or herself to help keep away from guilt, the Bible does not call that legalism if the person only applies the rule personally and allows others to set their own standards within the bounds of things the Bible does not expressly forbid. (On keeping holidays specifically in verse 5: “One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.” EACH is allowed a personal stand on the topic.)

    I personally cannot watch brief flashes of female nudity or near nudity as occurs with some PG-13 films without having a problem. Cussing I dislike and avoid but I don’t really feel much actual guilt there–it just seems unneeded to me and even dumb. I can and do sometimes watch movies with cussing–but if something has any female nudity, like Game of Thrones on HBO, I avoid it like a plague, without commanding that everyone else needs to do so in all cases.

    And according to the Bible, I’m doing exactly the right thing–protecting my conscience by avoiding things that trigger it because I personally have a problem that I should care more about eliminating than pretending it’s no big deal.

    In a world awash with entertainment, I think we may in fact have a culture represented on Speculative Faith that is more likely to ignore personal sin in order to enjoy a story than to establish legalism. Though, yes, no doubt we have some legalists or legalistic thoughts lurking. But being vigilant against personal sin and sensitive to your own conscience and actively avoiding those things that you know (I’m using the generic “you” here) may cause you to sin, whether they trip up anyone else or not, and in fact perhaps setting some personal rules to avoid sin, NONE of that is legalism, correctly speaking. It’s behavior, again, that the Bible specifically allows for and protects. Please refer to Romans chapter 14 (key verses 12 and 13) through verse 6 of chapter 15.

    We each stand before God as our own person and each will be judged by God individually. Each Christian should be aware of our own conscience and be sensitive about violating it. Each of us should also avoid making extra-Biblical rules we apply to Christians other than ourselves to force them to do what we think is right. Doing that, forcing or pressuring others to follow a specific standard–that’s the kind of legalism or legalistic thinking we need to warn about and actively avoid. (As opposed to being sensitive to our own conscience.)

    • DG says:

      Point #2 stuck out to me as well…perhaps what might be called “guilt” could actually be conviction of the Holy Spirit…as in stop doing what you are doing. I feel like we are too free with excusing such convictions today.

      • Travis Perry says:

        DG I talked about the role of the conscience and being sensitive to it but I spoke incorrectly. I should have said “conviction of the Holy Spirit”!

        Thanks for keeping me on track. And I appreciate your comment.

  2. Sarah Witenhafer says:

    Great post! The only way I will be able to navigate such issues as a writer is to sit with my Father and listen.

  3. What a great article. Thanks, Marian!

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