rebelling against low expectations

Christianity Is Relationship, Not Just Rules


“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:…to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
— James 1:27

Have you ever wondered what it means to keep ourselves unspotted from the world?

I do, all the time. How do we live in the world, yet not be of the world?

Is it a list of rules? A kind of behavior?  Certain “do’s or don’ts”?

Some Christians seem to believe so. They have an unspoken code of conduct, a way they think a Christian is supposed to live. They don’t wear make-up, or listen to certain kinds of music. They court — not date. They don’t dance or watch TV.

But while these rules might set one apart from the ways of the world, they often open up the door for judgment and criticism among God’s sons and daughters.

Although I believe their motives are pure, and I respect that God calls some to live a particular way, I have to wonder — is this really the definition and completion of “pure and undefiled religion”?

As Christians living in a world polluted by evil, we often set up a myriad of rules and regulations in an effort to protect ourselves from that evil. We focus on these guidelines because they’re the most applicable. But are they the root of the issue?

While I am far from perfect and could never claim to be, I strive to follow Christ in all areas of my life. But still, I wear make-up — and jeans. I listen to contemporary Christian music. I watch movies. I love to dance.

Maybe you don’t. Maybe you try to avoid those things. Does that make you a better Christian?

I don’t think so.

On the other hand, maybe you went to see a movie I personally felt uncomfortable watching. Maybe you read a book I didn’t completely agree with — and loved it.

Does that make me a better Christian? Do I have the liberty to judge you for it?

Absolutely not.

Don’t get me wrong. There are many things that are black and white, that are clearly wrong or right. I’m not advocating an “anything goes” mentality. There are certain movies Christians shouldn’t watch. Music that wouldn’t be acceptable on a Christian’s playlist.

However, there’s a difference between saying that Christians shouldn’t listen to secular hard rock, and saying that contemporary Christian music is too worldly.

Many other things are not so clear. Still, we often act as if they are. As if our personal conviction and opinion is the only right and true way. As much as I cringe to admit this, I know I’m guilty of it too.

But I’ve seen the consequences of such judgment. I’ve known families that fell apart over such non-issues, and I’ve witnessed friendships severed because of them.

It breaks my heart.

And, I think it breaks God’s too.

God does call some people to do certain things. Maybe He has asked you to refrain from watching TV. Or listening to this, or wearing that. Whatever it may be, obey His leading. But don’t push personal convictions on others, or make judgments about them.

Let’s face it. Living as Christians in our current culture is messy and confusing, and leaves more than a little room for misinterpretation. How often I have wished for a “one size fits all” Christianity. One where God gives a giant list of rules down to the very last detail, and makes us, His followers, stick to it.

But that wouldn’t be a relationship, would it?

And that’s what God desires from His people above all else.

More than rules and legalism. More than a squeaky clean life or flawless past.

More than all of it, He wants your heart.

Your love.

Your obedience.

Your life.

That is what He values more than anything.

It may sound a bit radical, but I think the best way to keep ourselves unspotted from the world isn’t to shun everything in the world — after all, we do live in the world and among those who are of the world — but rather to chase after God so hard that He captivates our single-minded devotion and becomes our first love.

The only way we will ever truly be different from the world — unspotted — is by having a transformed heart that leads to a transformed life. And Jesus is the only One who can bring about such a change. Click To Tweet

The only way we will ever truly be different from the world — unspotted — is by having a transformed heart that leads to a transformed life. And Jesus is the only One who can bring about such a change. Not rules. Not legalism. Just a personal relationship and daily intimacy with the King of kings.

Follow hard after Jesus. Obey Him in the personal convictions He’s placed on your heart, and love your brothers and sisters in Christ, even if He hasn’t placed the same convictions upon them. That is the only way the world will ever see the unending love of Jesus in our lives. The only way to claim pure and undefiled religion.

Maybe, keeping ourselves unspotted from the world has a little less to do with the outward and a little more to do with the inward.

What do you think?

Photo courtesy of Send Me Adrift via Flickr Creative Commons.

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  • This is such a good article, Sara! So often we think if we follow all the “Christian rules” we’re doing all right, but you brought it back to what really matters – loving God. Thank you!

  • I’ve thought about this topic and about writing about it, but the words never came to me. The concept was there, but I couldn’t get a clear picture of it. This article did it so clearly, so simply, so gently. Can’t wait to see what you write about next! (no pressure 😉

    • Oh, Olivia, your comment meant so much to me! I’m so glad you enjoyed it! Thank you for taking the time to read it!!!! 🙂

      And, just between us, I might have another article coming out in a few weeks! *wink* 🙂

  • Wonderful article, Sara! I agree with you that some things are a little grey nowadays, but we need to listen to what God is leading us (individually) to do/not do. I also think that sometimes when we judge others for not being exactly like us – it’s off putting. I know a lady who grew up in a church of rules, rules, rules, and didn’t want anything to do with it. Later, she heard about the LOVE of God and the church family. Now, she is a very strong Christian lady who is very active in our women’s ministry!!

    • Absolutely! You are spot on, Katelyn! It’s SO important to truly seek God on what He would have us to do.

      What a sweet story! That’s so wonderful that she is so strong in the Lord now!!! 🙂 I love stories like that!

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read it! It means so much to me!!! 🙂

  • This is a GREAT article! That is the best kind of Christian (The radical ones!) The way we live should be so radical that people look at us and go “woah”. We should be willing to be UNCOMFORTABLE for the sake of Christ and the gospel! (shameless plug ahahahaha!!! This is spot on tho. Thank you! <3

    • Aww, thank you so much, Emma! I totally agree! That’s how I strive to live, even though I know I fail. Thank God for His amazing grace! 🙂

      I checked out your blog! (I’m cool with shameless plugs. Lol!) I especially liked “Be Still”. Very well done! You go, girl! 🙂

      Thanks again for taking the time to read it! It means so much to me! 🙂

  • I LOVE this!!! I have a few convictions that kind of stand out from other Christians, like the fact that I wear skirts. But does that mean I judge everyone else who doesn’t? No! Each person needs to have their own convictions from God, so that they can grow more in Him and shine brighter for Christ. The way you worded this was so balanced and it’s what I’ve told people who ask about why I do and don’t do certain things. Yes, I have personal convictions, but I’m not condemning yours because they are different. 🙂

    • Oh, Melissa! Your comment encouraged me so much! I was a little worried that it could have come across judgmentally, but you eased my mind. 🙂 Thank you so much for taking the time to read it!

      I agree with you 100%!!! I have many friends that only wear skirts and I love that while they stay true to their convictions they (like you!!!) don’t judge others when they wear pants. (Plus, I usually get a lot of cute, modest outfit ideas from them! *wink*) I love what you said “Each person needs to have their own convictions from God, so that they can grow more in Him and shine brighter for Christ.” Beautifully said!!! 🙂

      Thank you so much for following your convictions, and for your faithfulness to Jesus! 🙂 Keep shining!

    • I’m not saying the choices you make are wrong, but what exactly are your “personal convictions” based on? Are they from the Holy Spirit? If your convictions are based on the unchangeable word of God, how can they be different for other people? God doesn’t tell different people different things.His standard remains the same, no matter the person, time period, or location. Sorry if I sound a little harsh:) I just think our values should be relative to God’s standards, not our own.

      • My convictions are based on actual scriptures. Mostly New Testament too. In reality, a conviction is when you read something in the Word and then feel like you should obey it they way God is asking you to. 🙂

        • And I should also say that different people can feel convicted differently even if they are studying the same passage of scripture.

  • I agree, I agree, I agree!!! My church has split over things like this twice, and I have lost so many friends over this issue. You put this fantastically! Thank you for writing!

    • Emma, I’m so sorry that you’ve experienced all that. It breaks my heart when Christians let such small issues cause division… which is a very BIG issue in my opinion. Praying that you and your family find healing from this. :'(

      Thank YOU for reading it! <3

  • I love a lot of what you said. I totally agree that living in the world, but not of it, has everything to do with the heart, and a relationship with Jesus Christ. However, it sounds like you’re saying that what’s right and what’s wrong is relative to us. For example, a movie might be appropriate to you but not to me. I have to disagree with that. When something goes against God’s character, it’s a sin, no matter how comfortable with it or used to it you are. Christians shouldn’t be divisive on these small issues, but if you truly have a relationship with God, you will want to obey Him in everything you do.

    • Hi Tim! Thanks so much for taking the time to read it! And I absolutely agree with what you said… “When something goes against God’s character, it’s a sin, no matter how comfortable with it or used to it you are.”

      I’m so sorry if I was unclear in what I said, or made it sound like “anything was relative.” In many, many things it’s absolutely not. Like with your example, yes, there are many movies that Christians shouldn’t watch at all, even if they feel comfortable with it or think they can “handle it.”

      What I was more talking about was the things that really are gray. For example, some Christians feel personally convicted to not watch movies at all…even uplifting Christian movies. Other people might feel like God is telling them to dress in a certain way. Many sweet, Godly girls I know feel like God is telling them to wear only skirts and dresses. I personally have felt convicted to dress modestly, but I think it’s okay if occasionally I wear jeans, so long as what I’m wearing is modest and feminine.

      In either situation, these are not issues that are clearly wrong or right or directly addressed in the Bible. However, many people take these issues and make them what Christianity is all about. Recently, a family I know fell out because their one son married a girl that wore pants and make-up. I don’t believe this rift has been since mended and it breaks my heart that this family, who was once so close, now no longer speaks to each other, all because of something so inconsequential. The girl this son married was extremely Godly and sweet, but all they could see was her slightly “worldlier” exterior.

      I hope this clarifies! I am SO very sorry if the way I wrote the article was unclear! The last thing I want to do is deceive anyone in thinking that all is relative. I do truly believe that we should seek God in every area of our lives and strive to please Him in all we do. Again, I apologize if that wasn’t clear!
      Thank you for reading and sharing your concerns with me! 🙂 I appreciate it so much!

  • Once again, Sara you’ve hit the nail on the head!! It took me years to figure this out and I’m still actually discovering it! Recently, the Lord has taken me to a new place of realizing its not what I DO for Him but just being His!! And living my life for Him and pleasing Him alone!! Awesome article!! Thanks so much!!

  • This was SO good, Sara! It was such a good reminder to read today. It’s super easy for me to make Christianity a list of rules to follow (Ironically, that’s basically what most, if not all, other religions do too) when it’s really about the relationship.

    This reminded me of something I learned in Bible Bee last year. We were listening to a lecture by Jen Wilkin on 1 John 2:15-17 (“Do not love the world, or the things in the world…) and she was talking about how John doesn’t point to specific “worldy” items Christians should avoid (like owning a nice house or owning a car, etc.). Instead, he goes after the heart of it: the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, and the pride of life….like the attitudes behind it. It all goes back to our heart and WHY we’re doing what we’re doing. That’s where the real challenge lies, because it’s so much easier sometimes to follow a list of rules than develop a relationship.

    • Amen! Wow, very wise words! I couldn’t have said it better! And, honestly I wrote this as a reminder to myself just as much as to anyone else. 🙂

      Thanks so much for taking the time to read it! It means SO much to me! And also, welcome to theReb! 🙂

  • Sara, thank you so much for this article! I loved your point about God placing convictions on our hearts that may be different than our friends. I’ve definitely seen this in my own life. This was so helpful!

  • This was such a good article! This is such an important topic and one that I feel like all of us Christians need to be reminded of in today’s day and age. I think you summed up this issue perfectly in this line:
    “Maybe, keeping ourselves unspotted from the world has a little less to do with the outward and a little more to do with the inward.”
    Thank you for this! I love the reminder of how important it is to seek God!

  • I loved what you said. I recently had thoughts about this problem within the church, especially in its students. Crazy how the Lord works. This sin struggle has been something that has prompted my testimony. I do believe there is something deeper within the state of the modern church (do you have thoughts on that?). The way I, personally, am prone to legalism in the way I try to earn God’s approval (legalism as defined as: works without faith). But I believed there was something so much more to God than just the works. Anyways, thanks for your encouraging post. Let’s go to war with this.

rebelling against low expectations

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