“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2 NASB).
I grew up in a conservative church filled with wonderful people who loved Jesus. The leaders surrounding me desired to live their lives according to the boundaries and principles they understood to be in the Bible. They presented a consistent formula for how to live the “right” Christian life, which brought me comfort.
When I entered college, I was surrounded by people who all said they loved God, yet they didn’t all believe the same things. Some believed women should wear certain clothes or hairstyles according to what they read in the Bible. Others saw those things as boundaries established just for that period in history. Some people believed in present-day miracles, while others insisted miracles were restricted to the years Jesus was physically present on earth. When we discussed the whys, the answers were often “because that’s what my home church teaches.”
The leaders of my childhood church taught a standard of right and wrong, but the why was rarely fleshed out. I can’t help but wonder how many generations passed down rules for Christian living, editing some to their comfort level without asking why. The church has always included influencers who push their personal agendas rather than God’s. This includes church leaders who were—who are—legalistic. One aspect of legalism is adding restrictions to a boundary God established. Jesus addressed legalism in Luke 11:37–53 when he spoke to Pharisees.
Instinctively, I want to stick with what I’ve been taught, even when it starts to feel uncomfortable. The type A, firstborn, rule-follower in me breaks out in a sweat when anyone suggests ignoring a rule, but reading the Bible through the filter I’ve created in order to keep my life comfortable or easy hasn’t served me well. I believe that at times it’s even kept me from fully living out God’s calling on my life.
I’ve learned something since my college days, though. When I pause to ask why before deciding I’m right, my heart and head align more quickly. Furthermore, they are more likely to stay aligned. Experience has taught me to identify this centering as the Holy Spirit. The great thing about asking why is that sometimes the process helps reaffirm that the teachings of my youth were God-established, not man-established. God’s Word is relevant today because God is relevant today.
Other times the process of asking why opens my eyes to God’s character in a new way. Consider the series of stories in Exodus 15:22—16:21. Moses is leading the Israelites through the wilderness after their just being freed from four hundred years of slavery. They are thirsty, so they cry out to Moses, and he prays to God, who provides water. Then the Israelites ask for food. Again Moses prays, and again God provides. Finally, they ask for meat, Moses prays, and God provides.
This section of Scripture used to frustrate me. God knew they needed to eat and drink, so why did he wait until Moses asked before providing? Over time, though, my perspective has shifted. The Israelites were taught about other gods while they were slaves in Egypt, and now they are asked to trust only Yahweh. They needed to go through this faith-building process of asking and receiving. Three times they asked, and three times God provided. God heard and responded to their needs. I have faith that God listens and responds to me because the principle is the same for us today as it was for the Israelites.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited” (Hebrews 13:8–9 NASB).
For me, applying these verses from Romans and Hebrews (top and above) includes striving to remove the filters others place on God’s Word. We’ll be most satisfied in our relationship with God when we’re working on developing discernment. This doesn’t mean we ought to reject the teachings of our church leaders, but ultimately the responsibility for discerning truth begins with us.
Beth Walker is a football coach’s wife and mom of two energetic boys. She strives to encourage those around her to pursue their best lives in Jesus whether she is near the game field, in church, or at the local coffee shop. As a writer, Beth has been striving to find her voice through seeing Jesus in the ordinary and extraordinary of daily life. She blogs at Lessons from the Sidelines.
Photograph © Albertus Galileo, used with permission