Sin in Movies – Seeing the Heart of Art

By

First of all, Andy P, thanks for writing a post that is longer than any of mine. I’ve long been insecure about that, and now you’re the long-winded one (until I write this post, anyway). And secondly, thank you Marc for getting the conversation going; you’re speaking out your convictions, and that’s good. I have some thoughts on the whole thing.

Reliant faith in the indwelling Christ brings love in the heart, peace to the mind. As we learn to “stay ourselves upon the Lord” He begins to express Himself through us more and more. But we can easily confuse what God really wants (reliant faith) with the letter of the Law and get overly focused on sin – one of the main problems in the church today. We’re always studying on what sin is and how to avoid committing it rather than thinking on Who Christ is in me. We’re sin-conscious rather than Christ-reliant, fear-driven rather than Spirit-led.

How much cussing in a movie is ok? Is one F bomb acceptable? Can we trade an F bomb in for two S words and a D word? What if there is just one “Hell”? Or, if there is no cussing, is it permissible to see a guy get thrust through with a sword? Or an implied sexual encounter? Where exactly is the line between appropriate and inappropriate? Is that line the same for every believer?

Don’t take me wrongly; this isn’t a monologue about how we should enjoy hearing four-letter words in movies, a way to defend Hollywood and live in fleshly sensuality. Most of the time the cussing isn’t necessary – most of us can probably agree on that. And we should definitely live our convictions, speak them out, truthfully, with love – if we feel it’s wrong to watch movies with a lot of cussing, we can speak it out. If we believe something is wrong, then it is wrong for us. But not everyone has the same struggles; not everyone has the same sin-history, so each has a different “letter of the Law” perspective. That’s why some judge cussers and others judge drinkers; we often judge the very thing we struggle with, or used to struggle with, or have had family members struggle with. So we can’t expect other believers to share all our convictions. We’re all at different stages along the journey in Christ – a journey out of fear and judgment and into faith.

And of course, some will rightly bring up “Faith without works is dead.” Which is true; faith without an outer expression is not faith – it’s merely passive belief. But people take that James verse to mean “Don’t drink don’t cuss don’t smoke don’t chew ‘baccy and you’ll be a real Christian.” It actually means that if we step out in faith on God’s Word and character and really trust Him, there will be outer manifestation, in our behavior, of that inner reliance. But we don’t focus on the results – that produces a short-circuit where we’re trying to make ourselves conform. Our job is to keep faith-ing in the One who produces the results.

God wants to go beyond judgment, beyond fear into knowing He has completely erased our sin history in Christ – that we are now new creations, dead to sin, dead to Law, and alive to God, and that now, right now, He is the indwelling Power in us; “I will cause you to walk in My ways and keep My statutes.”

All that to say – some cuss-words in movies aren’t going to destroy or weaken the infinite power of Christ living in me. But if a person’s faith in that indwelling Power is weak, cussing in movies may help weaken his faith even more, because the bottom line is we may be trying to live by a point system rather than walking in the Spirit. “What exactly is sin, and how do I avoid doing it? What exactly are the boundaries for seeing sin in movies? Can I wear a skirt this short? Is it ok to drink a beer?”

I know a young believer who says nearly every cuss word in the book. He came out of a really bad and dark childhood and found Christ through some of us who loved him. He’s now a believer and still cusses a lot, though he doesn’t get as hot as he used to. Shall I judge his behavior or should I look at his heart? Shall I chide him for his cussing or encourage him for his growth and let God deal with the mouth?

Does God look at the heart of a new creation man or woman, or does He merely look at the outer behavior to make sure it conforms to the divine standard? If His new creation being doesn’t “look right” does God then write it off as a total loss, throwing out the baby with the bathwater? Or does He redeem it by seeing what it means, and through seeing the heart of it bringing it deeper into His idea of what it’s meant to be?

If God looks at the heart of His own art, His own creation, shouldn’t we look at the heart of art in general? Shouldn’t we look to see what a movie means? Shouldn’t we redeem art by finding the light that is there rather than the darkness that is present? If God doesn’t throw out the wheat along with the tares, why should we?

Now, this is coming from a Dad who doesn’t let his kids watch anything with cussing or sex or very much violence. I understand that encoding a child is encoding a child; their minds are so absorbent – little sponges – so I’m careful with them. And I’m careful with my own mind as well. I hate gratuitous violence, sex, and even cussing. Most of the time it just isn’t necessary.

But as a grownup human and grownup believer I’m looking for light – and so I sometimes find it even in dark places. It’s a matter of focus. I used to watch movies looking for anti-Christian bias, and I found plenty of it. But now I look for truth, beauty – I look for the good. And I find it much more than I supposed possible. And, of course, if a believer is watching R rated movies in order to be titillated by the darkness that’s another story (but still the same sin-consciousness problem).

Some people (especially many women) have an aversion to violence, and it’s right and good for them to refrain from seeing it. I don’t like watching people get their bodies slashed by swords either, but since I can handle the violence a little better than some I’d rather see it than throw out Braveheart (which contains violence, sex, and the F bomb) and miss the call to love, courage, faith, endurance, purpose, mission, meaning and sticking together when everything is falling apart.

Regarding cussing I’ve been through many phases as a believer – cussing and not thinking about it, cussing and struggling with stopping, and finally giving up on struggling and asking God to clean up my mouth. The third option works. When we utilize the third option (God doing the actual work, while we’re doing the trusting) we aren’t worried about being pulled back into it. If we didn’t use our own strength to clean up our mouth, we don’t need to to exert our human effort to keep it clean. Seeing a movie star cuss isn’t going to make me start saying F U D G E (for you Christmas Story fans out there) in front of my kids.

Just how powerful is the Spirit of Christ? Who is He, really? And where is He? Well, He’s God. He’s all-powerful. And He lives in me – that transcendent, world-creating God, the God who triumphed over sin, death, Hell, and the Devil. Can He clean up my life? Can He keep me from sin? Does He have the power? Does He have the love? Does He have the desire?

Or do I have to keep myself through avoidance, effort, hiding from the world? Am I supposed to be of the world (using human effort and a performance-based mentality) but not in it (hiding out from the world), or the other way round?

These are all rhetorical questions, really.

I think I won back the long-winded title.

Profile photo of Ron Block

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he's not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin' on audiences around the world, he's taking care of his donkey named "Trash" and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


63 Comments

  1. Greg Sykes

    Thank you, Ron, for helping move us back toward a discussion that is God-directed. For me personally, at least, my concern with the general pattern of responses to AP’s initial post was an underemphasis of our journey toward becoming more and more like Christ.

    Virtually all of the comments were accurate, at least to some degree. But, I think the chasm that we can lurch toward in our pursuit of some light and beauty even in dark places is that we can minimize the holiness of God and our call as His children to pursue such holiness as well.

    So much of this debate is about the journey . . . that’s why people will understandably disagree and share very valid perspectives that clash. But let’s not forget God’s goal. I, for one, believe He’s much more concerned with remaking us into the image of Christ than whether or not we feel or experience beauty and even light in our art.

    If He can use that art, and its accompanying beauty and light, to nudge or move us toward the image of Christ, wonderful. Even if we find that nudge in a dark place, well, I guess I can accept that. But we need to possess a hint of caution and an ever-present reminder of the overarching plan of God. To do otherwise is to enthrone one’s self and one’s tastes over the person of our Creator.

  2. Dan K

    There are many areas of this post that make my hair stand on end. The more I read the more I agree with Marc.

    Why does cussing get the free pass and a film showing nudity will cross the line. Please DO NOT assume I’d advocating nudity in film. The flippant attitude regarding cussing is just as dangerous as a kneejerk gasp if a preacher says damn. I know no one is saying drop f-bombs all the time but that’s the side things are pushing towards.

    If an alcoholic avoids bars because they just don’t need the temptation and draw nothing positive from it, are they being weak or childish? Pool and darts & pinball are fun times. They can find fun outlets without the alcohol. If they avoid movies where drinking is glorified or even just a standard norm for every character; is that being weak or not trusting God to carry them thru it? Or is that reformed alcoholic even 20yrs later just holding himself to a standard. It doesn’t mean he hates all barfolk or is even judging them.

    Maybe they’re inappropriate examples but that’s all the argument seemed to be implying. I don’t buy it. I hope you didn’t imply it, but it’s what I saw outright. Having a problem with harsh language in a film (and therefore harsh language in art) may limit some opportunities to glean truth from those media. God’s truth is expressed everywhere and I’ll receive it elsewhere. He’s sufficient at speaking to me beyond film. I find truth and beauty (art) in knowing that blood is a non-newtonian fluid. If blood were newtonian/homogenous our hearts would have to be about 7x larger to pump an adequate volume. God bless fluid dynamics.

    It’s not a matter of trying to achieve some extra christian bonus round thru following xyz and avoiding dfs. It’s Christ living and working in you, and working to better serve Him. That may mean giving up some things you hold dear, even if they aren’t 100% evil.

    There is some balance of world involvement in activities that some will boldly enter serving Christ and others will not and should not enter. Either way some human effort is involved. It does not trump or thwart God’s power.
    Just because I give them up does not mean you need to, or that I am judging you for not doing it.

  3. Josh

    Language is a powerful thing. Certain words within the English language are extremely powerful and carry a lot of weight. They can be used to add emphasis and power to a statement, but used improperly they can make you sound foolish and rather dumb. The reason certain words are now considered “cuss words” is because of years and years and years of careless people who don’t know how to wield their words properly.

    The sad thing is that Christ has given us freedom, but we would rather make up a bunch of rules and regulations and do’s and dont’s that completely fly in the face of the freedom he has given us. If I am free to find truth and beauty in a film about a brutal bloody war between Scottland and England then I can’t help but feel it’s irresponsible to deny that experience for the sake of not hearing a few certain words or seeing fictitious depictions of war violence. Or maybe there’s a valuable lesson about perseverence and love to be learned in a movie about a couple that had premarital sex, lied to eachother, and even left a husband for the sake of another who she truly loved. But in spite of the obvious worldly shortcomings there is a lesson about love to be learned from it.

    I know that not everybody takes things the same way so if someone just can’t get on board with cussing and such and that’s fine. Just don’t be so quick to question someone else’s spirituality or the sincerity of their commitment to God based on the fact that they don’t see a problem with cuss words in a good movie.

  4. Greg Sykes

    In response to Josh, I certainly don’t think anyone — on either side of this argument – has intended to sit as judge and jury on anyone else’s spirituality. That was certainly not the intent of any of my posts.

    But, I do think part of the value of the rabbit room is that we’re all challenged to “question the sincerity of our commitment to God”, as you phrased it. I am not so bold to draw conclusions about someone’s spiritual life from these inadequate posts . . . I’m flawed enough myself.

    Yet this discussion does poke and prod at our hearts, and that’s good. I tend to land more heavily on the cautious side of this argument with coarse language, and now this discussion has convicted me of my use of the word “stupid” in the pulpit this past Sunday . . . for emphasis, nonetheless.

    I’ve got to look myself in the mirror and decide if the impact of the word glorified Christ or not. That’s a healthy internal debate that I’m more than willing to submit to. I certainly don’t pretend to be anyone’s judge, nor do I desire to be judged by you. But I do have a judge, and I deeply desire His opinion in every single area of my life.

  5. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dan said,

    “Just because I give them up does not mean you need to, or that I am judging you for not doing it.”

    This is the point of my post. We are all in different places. People who have a problem with being pulled into cussing, or drinking, or illicit sexual thoughts by the movies they watch or the people they hang out with need to deal with that. I thought I made it perfectly clear how I feel about cussing, or violence, or sex in movies – it’s usually totally unnecessary, and its not something I condone. But from the place where I sit in my Christian life I don’t watch sexual content and get all excited. I bought Beowulf, the director’s cut (a mistake) and watched it. There was some over the top debauchery in it. But I ignored that, forwarding when necessary, and looked for the meaning in the movie.

    The fear of many is really that there is a great big sinner Me waiting to jump out and join in debauchery, that I’ve got to build fences around sin to keep myself from doing it. But that’s not what the Word says. As a new creation I am one Spirit with the Lord, dead to sin, dead to Law (self-effort) and at the heart of me (and every other believer) is the desire to be and do everything God has put inside us (Himself). So as I concentrate on that, rather than on avoiding sin, the real Me in Christ gets bigger and bigger and overcomes the devil’s desire to misuse my flesh for unholy purposes (cussing just because I’m around people who cuss, or sitting there being titillated by sex scenes, or fudging slightly on my taxes just because my accountant says its ok – the list is endless). The Hebrews writer said if the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins, the worshipers would no longer be sin conscious. We’re not meant to live in a sin-consciousness – we’re made for Christ-awareness, seeing Him in the mirror.

    On one point I disagree with AP; the real issue in this isn’t language. It’s this: Who is Christ? Holiness. Love. Compassion. Boldness. And where is He? He’s in you and me. He has joined Himself to us. And as we grow, His perfect love in us casts out fear – the fear of disapproval of others, the fear of running straight for the sin-thing every time, the fear of not being adequate in life – all fear except that holy fear of God Himself.

    So – for my part, I’m not afraid of sin anymore. I don’t build fence laws to keep myself from sinning. I don’t avoid people who cuss a lot, or tell dirty stories. I trust Christ living in me to do that, and continually open myself up to His power by offering my life to Him as a living sacrifice. I rely on what He says about me – that I am dead to sin, not alive to it – and so when temptation hits me as it continually hit Jesus, I can say, “I’m dead to the wrong use of my soul and body; I am holy and full of power, because the Holy One lives in me.” For me, sin in a movie doesn’t hit me. The cussing doesn’t make me cuss. The sex doesn’t pull me into lust. Though the temptation is there, I replace a lonely human “I” that is trying to be “good” with Christ living through me, the one who is Goodness itself. I’ve learned this through failure. I’ve learned it through sinning and not being able to overcome. And as I give myself over to the Overcomer, He rises up and overcomes.

    You mentioned,
    “There is some balance of world involvement in activities that some will boldly enter serving Christ and others will not and should not enter. Either way some human effort is involved. It does not trump or thwart God’s power.”

    I wholly agree that the “line” is different for everyone. Yet I disagree that human effort has any place in the equation. Our labor is the labor of faith, where we go against the grain of this world’s performance-based mentality and totally rely on the indwelling Lord to live through us. This yoke is easy, and the burden light. It is not an effort to walk in this way. The effort, if it can be called that, is the effort of saying “No” to the world-consciousness of “Do this and do that and so be good.” The question really is “Who am I?” Am I a human self, separate from God, who must be good with the Spirit’s help? Or am I a branch in the Vine, made to rely on the power and love and life of the Vine to flow through me and produce fruit by no human effort of my own except the labor of continually abiding?

    And I totally agree that some should abstain; some should not watch certain movies; some should not enter a bar. Anyone who fears a particular sin is best to stay away from expressions of it. Paul said that the weak-in-faith brother who wouldn’t eat meat sacrificed to idols wasn’t to be despised, and the one who ate was not to be judged. The basic idea is “Let each live his own conscience.” But he did in fact call the one who fears “the weaker brother.” Some struggle with seeing sex in movies, and are easily sucked into pornography. Until we learn that we’re are not miserable filthy rotten people, and begin to accept that we are holy saints, indwelt by the Holy Christ of God, we will be susceptible to sin in whatever areas we struggle. As God reveals these sinful areas of “I gotta try to be good” in us, and we give over the struggle to rest in His indwelling goodness, He begins to free us from those besetting sins, which are driven by our false idea of “I gotta try to be like Jesus” and the unbelieving fear of not being able to abstain from sin. The truth is we are weak, and can’t keep ourselves from sin. All we can do is rely on the Holy Spirit – to trust Him to be the indwelling power that keeps us from sin, keeps us walking in the righteousness of Christ.

    And of course the obvious question raised in some minds will be, “Do you sin?” And the answer is of course I do. When I forget that I am now in a living, active union with Christ, that He lives in me, the cup, as the Wine that overflows – when the Devil temps me to forget that, and I go back into Romans 7, thinking I am just a human “me” that has to “be good with God’s help”, the Devil then gets his hooks into me temporarily and pulls the strings. But as I get wiser in trusting Christ, and the power of His resurrected life in me, the Devil’s lies seem weaker and weaker. What we often call sin is really just temptation, and we dump on ourselves for being temptable. Jesus was temptable – so were Adam and Eve (before the Fall). When I do sin I don’t waste any time condemning myself. I just say, “Lord, that’s what I’ll do if You don’t live through me. I have no power over the devil or sin apart from You living in me.” And then I thank Him for the Blood and get walking in faith again – immediately.

    That’s where I stand. If others stand somewhere else – abstaining from certain movies, etc (heck, I abstain from certain movies – some movies obviously have no redemptive value whatsoever, like porn, for example), then that’s fine. What I don’t want this to be taken as is a condoning of sex, violence, or cussing. One can’t leap from “I am trusting the power of Christ to live through me” to saying, “I am going to watch pornography” without turning from that inner union.

    We must all live our convictions. Sometimes those convictions evolve and change over time, because our understanding of the Word changes. And it’s important, Dan, Marc, to speak out those convictions. Without your speaking up, these conversations wouldn’t take place as together we shed light on various areas of Christ-ian living.

  6. Dan K

    I’m not sure the Corinthians 8 weaker brother carries here.

    From my reading it regards the weaker brother seeing you (the Paul addressed you) eating meat sacrificed to idols and the brother proceeding to eat against his own conscience. Then V12 states “when you sin against your brother in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ”.

    Again I don’t think it quite applies. I don’t think we’re looking at weaker or stronger conscience from either position with regard to sin in movies. This isn’t quite meat sacrificed to idols.

    Without some effort, I’m not leaving my bed in the morning. And as for how much it’s labor vs joy filled pursuit of God; AP’s Silence of God strikes so deeply because we’ve all been lost sometimes, and there are points where you feel like there is nothing to lean on but the knowledge of the character of God. I think it is effort it, and it will be until I’m done breathing; sometimes joyous, sometimes step by step. Probably something lost in the verbage.

    One of my concerns with film (or books) is that you subject yourself to seeing/receiving a message directly controlled from someone else without ever responding to the originator. It is not a 2-way conversation. It is strictly between you and that film and the film has all the power over the subject. It can be discussed later as a topic but it isn’t with the film. And yes you aren’t mindless in receiving it without filtering or even rejecting it outright.

    In contrast people are all 2-way, and you may be called to reach them. I don’t avoid people because they are all children of God. The people I may be programmed to fear the most are probably the ones who need the love of Jesus the most. Often they’re fun to hang out with anyway.

  7. Profile photo of Curt McLey

    Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    Ron, I think you should write a book. (I mean a real one.) That’s both a compliment and a good natured poke. I always benefit from your insightful words. So thanks.

  8. Stacy Grubb

    Ron, I understand where you’re coming from when you talk about each one of us being in different places, all having weaknesses that are our own, therefore what’s good or bad, tempting or not tempting, for one may not be the case for another. But where does our responsibility as “examples” start? Ferinstance, recently a colleague of my husband’s found himself in hot water with his girlfriend because she wanted to know where he’d been. His answer was to lie and say he’d been out drinking with my husband. Her response was, “Well, that sounds like a fine thing for a Sunday School teacher to be doing.” Maybe it’s unfair, but the truth is, that’s the mentality of unbelievers. My husband wasn’t even with his friend that night, but hypothetically speaking, let’s say he was at the bar, but he wasn’t drinking. Also at the bar is an unbeliever to whom my husband has previously witnessed. I think for many, the presence of a professed Christian in a bar or any other stigmatized location is a disappointment and could possibly stand in the way of an unbeliever becoming a believer. It can create loss of respect and credibility. That’s where I personally struggle. Maybe *I* know I’m not tempted when I’m around certain things or activities, but to place myself around them sends a certain message to onlookers much the same as how silence subconsciously sends the message of agreeance when you don’t challenge a statement that’s presented to you that goes against your own stance. (Like if someone was to say, “It’s possible to become ‘un-saved,” and I sat in silence, everyone present would assume I believe that, as well.)

    Do I avoid movies that have cussing, nudity, violence, and other forms of shenanigan-type behavior? No. But I think we as believers have to be aware of the message we send if we were to be seen entering the movie theater to watch, say, Brokeback Mountain. I have no doubt that a positive message could be gleaned from nearly any movie (though, there are exceptions, of course), but at the same time, I think we have this responsibility to understand that not everyone is on that page. I’m far less concerned about the fellow believer who may judge me than I am about the unbeliever who may look to me to set a higher example.

    Because the “is cussing a sin?” debate is usually a popular one amongst my peers, I always consider Matthew 12:36-37:

    36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment.

    37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

    I am in complete agreeance that the effort to wipe cussing out of our vocabulary has already been done and our “effort” lies in allowing the work God has done to move through us. We have to make that choice to accept that we will be held accountable for what we allow to fall out of our mouths and then choose to be more mindful of the examples we set. I don’t know if it’s true or not, but I did once read a study that claimed that brain activity declines when cuss words are used. The theory is that cuss words are words of habit that take no forethought, whereas, regular conversation has our brains thinking just a step ahead of our mouths (though, I would argue that not everyone’s brain has that function). All that doesn’t mean that when I hear cussing (either from a believer or non-believer) I point out Matthew, brain studies, and social responsibility…but I keep those things in mind for myself and share them when I’m asked for my opinion.

    All in all, I agree completely with your stance on movie content. For me, the waters become muddy when I consider the, “What would people say?!” reality.

  9. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dan,

    Paul was addressing the problem of pagan sacrifices that we as believers choose to ingest (or not). In his paradigm that directly meant actual food – meat bought in the pagan markets which was often sacrificed to idols and then sold for food.

    The same is true of the mind-food we call “Movies.” It is pagan meat often sacrificed to idols: Cash, Worldly Acceptance, Worldly Power, etc. We can eat this food with a good conscience without asking “Why did they make this movie?” and gain nutrition from it. But then again, if it is dirty or rotting or fat-ridden it’s probably best not to eat it. But if there’s a hunk of fat here and there we can cut it off – we don’t have to eat the fat or the rotten or dirty part. It can go in the trash.

    That’s why I continue to say, “Live your convictions” to those who believe cussing, or violence, or nudity in movies have sufficient power to pull them into sin. If we believe that is true – it is. So for anyone – if you believe that PG and R rated movies are bad for your spiritual life, here’s the thing: THEY ARE.

    But – for myself – I don’t believe that. I get food from movies. One of my favorite food movies was The Matrix, notwithstanding its more Gnostic elements. When I saw that I recognized Neo’s story as my own, not in a “messiah-complex” kind of way, but in that walk of being sought, being found, being reborn, not really relying on my true identity in Christ, missing that old identity, that old life, and finally, through an inner death and resurrection, becoming much less susceptible to our own world’s Agent Smith – Satan. Through that inner death to a false “I” that has to “be something 4 God” and seeing Christ as my life, I become a warrior in Him. As I watched Matrix over and over I saw myself in Neo’s place, with God saying, “You’ve got to let it all go, Ron – fear, doubt, and disbelief.” And through that God has enabled me to jump across chasms that would have thrown me down in fear several years ago; I’ve been able to smash the Devil’s teeth with my shield of faith and nail Him with the sword of the Spirit – the Word of God – because I rely now on my true identity, my true armor, my true weapons.

    There is a line, of course. A movie that is primarily about people having sex can have no redemptive value as far as I can see. Slasher movies – I’ve always hated them. I hate seeing people die for no good reason. But movies that stir me up, make me think, and sometimes disturb me – those have been good for my walk. Not everyone is going to have that view. But I do – for myself. I’m not prompting anyone to go see movies they feel are wrong to see. But what I am attempting to do is get any believers, any Christ-indwelt person that comes my way, to jump wholeheartedly into reliance on that truly amazing Savior and Lord that lives right there where you sit, right there in your Holy of Holies, that Lord who bought us and washed us with His blood and now has come to make His home with us – He is our life, our power, our ability. To preach Christ to others in this way, and His resurrection power in us, is the entire point of the music I play, my website, and of being here in the Rabbit Room.

    So – I sometimes watch movies downstairs at night when my kids are in bed. Braveheart. Pan’s Labyrinth (a couple of violent scenes in that cause me to shut my eyes). Gladiator. And of course I dig “chick movies” as well – Pride and Prejudice (both the BBC and American versions), Sense and Sensibility. Ok. I watch them downstairs. I don’t sit upstairs during the day. Why? Because I don’t want my kids’ minds twisted by things they are too young to see, concepts they are too young to relate to – ideas that they can’t think through or handle.

    One more idea – it is no effort to leave our bed in the morning if we have an amazing day before us. Think how easy it is to spring out of bed for a kid who is going to Disneyland, or a musician going to buy a long-desired guitar. They don’t even have the thought, “It’s effort to get out of bed.”

    That’s what our lives as believers are meant to be – a life of freedom and righteousness and seeing the power of Christ flow through us, His vessels. But sin consciousness – which is really satanic – pulls a lot of what can be joyous down to the level of “a chore 4 God.”

  10. bendavy

    I don’t personally get sin avoidance anymore. I tried for many years. I tried to efficiently parse out life and sin in this fallen world, to no satisfactory avail. But this world is all affected by sin, every square inch, and there are traces of God’s invasion all over with light and truth. This world is gray- not pure light, but definitely not total darkness. We don’t live in Zion yet, but Babylon. Even Christians that make art/music don’t do it fully redeemed. Even non-believers don’t live in an absolute void of truth and light-God’s common grace extends even to there…if you have eyes to see. And I’m grateful to God for this common grace, a measure of goodness even those that will never know the Lord can experience, and a humbling reminder to me of God’s great goodness. So we live in the tension. The already and the not yet.

    Ironically, I sorrow more over my heart’s sin now, probably see more deeply how sinful my heart is, and seek to walk in repentance now much more than when my mouth had never utter a cuss word. I once felt merit that I didn’t “struggle with cussing.” Now I feel sorrow for how quickly my heart judges other’s sin, for how slow the love of Christ is aroused in my heart for “those sinners.” Funny thing, when I saw things so black and white, I tended to put my actions in the white category other’s “sins” in the black. I see shades of gray now, with me and “those sinner” being conspicuously similar in heart condition.

  11. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Ben,

    The more I see my real “I” in Christ, the more sensitive I am to doing wrong. It gets harder to get away with “sloppy agape” and all that – not in a legalistic way, but as we go deeper and deeper into who we are it gets harder and harder to walk according to the flesh for any decent, fun-loving length of time (that’s tongue-in-cheek since no one can see my expression…)

    That’s the deal – as we move into trusting more deeply in Christ, in His indwelling power, the easier it gets to walk in the Spirit – and sin gets harder and more hateful to us. Why? Because what we’re doing is bringing out by faith who we really are in Him – holy, accepted, beloved, limitless in our riches in Christ. Lewis said at the end of Screwtape, “All the delights of sense, or heart, or intellect, with which you could once have tempted him, even the delights of virtue itself, now seem to him in comparison but as the half nauseous attractions of a raddled harlot would seem to a man who hears that his true beloved whom he has loved all his life and whom he had believed to be dead is alive and even now at the door.” That’s the power of knowing Christ – and we can know Him better and better even here, in this earthly plane, and see the temptations of the Devil “lose their power when Thou art nigh.”

  12. Jennifer

    What a great discussion….In response to Stacy, I personally don’t think that it really matters what others think (going into an R rated movie, bar, etc…). In my opinion, what matters is what Ron says, that we know our convictions, we follow them , it’s a personal thing and something between us and Christ ONLY. It goes back to the most simple lesson…does it really matter what others think of us? No. I do agree that if people know we are Christians, they have a certian perception of who we should be. Again, like Ron points out, we are merely cups, allowing Christ to live and work thorough us. It’s not our efforts anymore, so in all reality, I agree w/Ron and can appreciate his points and all of your other insights on this discussion.
    But I think it all boils down to what Ron says: “That’s what our lives as believers are meant to be – a life of freedom and righteousness and seeing the power of Christ flow through us, His vessels. But sin consciousness – which is really satanic – pulls a lot of what can be joyous down to the level of “a chore 4 God.”

  13. Dan K

    If film (or even R rated films) is the meat equivalent from Corinthians 8 then be very cautious of the follow up from chapter 10:18-33. Again, I do not think it is the same.

    18Consider the people of Israel: Do not those who eat the sacrifices participate in the altar? 19Do I mean then that a sacrifice offered to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy? Are we stronger than he?
    23″Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

    25Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”[c]

    27If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake[d]— 29the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

    31So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

  14. Stacy Grubb

    Jennifer,

    I may be taking this out of context and if I am, I trust someone will call me on it! But I was looking for Scriptural texts that pertain to our responsibility to serve as an example and ran across a few. I wanted to share this one from 1 Timothy, chapter 4:

    12 Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.

    In order to be an example, I think we *must* care what others think. We always have to be aware of what our actions say. There are few things more dangerous to the unbeliever than the believer who doesn’t practice what he preaches. I can’t effectively witness if I lose credibility as a Christian. If they want to believe that Christians as a whole are hypocrites, then I’m loathe to prove them right with my actions. To witness is our “cross to bear” as believers. We’ve been commanded to do so. Our greatest testimony is the live we live and the legacy we leave by setting a Christian example. For a believer to engage in behaviors that society has deemed as immoral or questionable, I fear, may be that wall that separates an unbeliever (as in, a specific individual in your life…not just a random guy who might know nothing about you) from God.

    Stacy

  15. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dan,

    I can’t sit in front of a movie and ingest – eat – sexual content and allow it to stir up my sexuality and at the same time have in mind my union with Christ. The two are mutually exclusive; I cannot serve two masters at the same time. I cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too. It’s what I call an “either-or” situation.

    But, if in watching a movie, I am mindful of the Lord – seeing Him as being my indwelling Life – I will not sit there and allow myself to be so stirred up. In seeing my true nature – that oneness I have with Christ – He rises up and overcomes. And so I fast forward, not in fear, but more in something like a slight annoyance. It’s permissible for me to watch sexual content, meaning I won’t go to Hell or lose my union with Christ. But it is not beneficial in the sense that it is detrimental to my marriage. And so, in deference to my wife, in love for her, I don’t waste my sexuality on trivialities.

    If I’m with an unbeliever and they are watching a movie, I can sit there and watch it with him. I don’t have to sit through the sexual content or whatever else is in there that I don’t need to spend much time on. But if there are believers there who are scrupulous, and worried about the movie, I can just go hang out with them instead of watching the movie. I abstain in love for him – because of his conscience. Whatever I do I must do for God’s glory. If it is love to hang out with the unbeliever and watch a movie, and maybe talk about issues raised by the meaning of the film, so be it. If it is to abstain from the movie at that time and go hang out with a believer who has a problem with it, so be it.

    It’s ok if you don’t think these are the same thing. I do. I’m fine with your disagreement – I’m not trying to convince you.

    Your cry is a cry for holiness. I am in complete agreement with you that we are to “be holy, for I AM holy.” What I am advocating is not sloppy agape, “Jesus paid my sin debt so I can watch R rated movies and get drunk because I can ask forgiveness.” That is an immature mindset. What I am advocating is that each one of us lives our convictions, and continues to ask the Lord to “perfect that which concerns us.”

  16. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Stacy,

    In being examples – it is easy to slip into Law (by which I mean, “My own efforts to be a witness for God”) The real way to witness is faith – reliance – a trust that leans totally on Christ living in us, and through that trust He will do the example-ing. He is the Example through us – the Overcomer through us. So my job is not to try to be an example. Here’s why –

    The nuances of the Law are so diverse and so many that there is no way my finite mind can see the end of all things. There’s no way I can see the best way to be an example except that I love my neighbor – and I can’t love my neighbor except that I rely on Christ, who is my indwelling Love for God and neighbor. When I trust Christ to live through me, as if it were me living, I open a channel or connection by which the Love of God flows through me to my neighbor. And then it is God doing the work, rather than the human trying to figure out the best way to be an example and getting all tied up in a self-conscious legalism. So – I trust Christ within me – I trust that Galatians 2:20 is reality. And I step out on that trust toward my neighbor, expecting God to act through me.

    And also – bear in mind that Jesus was constantly judged for the things He did. The religious folk were always frosted by his behavior. Sinners were glad He loved hanging out with them. When Peter worried about “the men from James” in Galatians 2 and played the hypocrite, acting like he didn’t eat with the Gentile believers (trying to make sure he did the right thing as the men from James defined it), Paul called him on it. And Paul was constantly in trouble with the Judaizers.

  17. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    Thanks for your explanation. It’s certainly a big concept to chew on and process. It’s that impossibility of living up to *everyone’s* standards that pokes holes through my stance. It’s true that what may garnish the stink eye from one person may go completely unnoticed by another person. Coming from an incredibly small town, I’m certainly hip to the fact that, basically, no matter what you do, somebody’s going to talk about it. Because of that type of no-win situation, I understand the futility of any effort to be an example. There are some simple solutions, though, that are just difficult for me to abandon, such as the opinions associated with drinking. Maybe some people think it’s okay and some people think it’s unbiblical to partake. But the easy answer is to simply not drink because “just saying no” has no negative implications, while drinking does. It’s easy for me to over-simplify, question, then turn around and over-complicate and that’s me allowing myself to be caught up in the Law, no doubt. *sigh*

    Stacy

  18. Josh

    Ron,

    I am so very thakful that you brought the up the bit about Jesus getting himself in “trouble” with the “respectable” folks by hanging out in the bars and such with “sinners”. I was going to write a response about that same subject but there’s so much that has been said since my last post that my thoughts are bottlenecking and I could’ve never gotten it out coherently and in less than ten million words.

    But I will say this: what I have observed during my lifetime of living in small mississippi towns is that by hanging out in bars with sinners around here the cages you’ll rattle are those of the people who already call themselves christians or the ones who have been shown a very wrong picture of what christianity looks and acts like.

  19. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Josh,

    Luke 6:26, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

    I was somewhat coherent and made it in at just under ten million words.

    Best,
    Ron

  20. joel vk

    ron,
    thanks for all your thoughts and replies. i’m struggling with your dislike of “fence laws.” in my mind, if there is a sin i struggle with, it makes no sense to hang my big toe over the edge and stare into that chasm. i ought to stay away from the hole. it helps me stay away to build a fence. i think Christ in me leads/ensbles me to do just that. or are you saying i can’t expect or require others to utilize my fence–that would make sense.
    finally a quote i first heard from ken davis, though i’m sure he heard it elsewhere, “he who is enslaved to the compass has the freedom of the seas” our freedom in Christ, is just that–“in Christ.” we do have responsibility to him for all our actions

  21. Jennifer

    Stacy…
    I do agree w/you, however, I believe t hat if you are totally allowing God to work and live through you, then it’s not “us” that is setting the example…It’s taken me a LONG road to get to this point and I believe it is like Ron says, it’s like switiching a channel to allow God to work through us, so we’re the cup, just the cup. I find “myself” trying to do, “good” and then stop and ask the Lord to take over and help guide me in each day, no matter what the cost.
    I found a verse I wanted to share: In Matthew 15:17, “Don’t you see that whatever passes into the stomach and then out of the body altogether? But the things that come out of a mens mouth fome from his heart and mid, and it is they that really make a man unclean. For it is from a man’s mind that evil thoughts arise-murder,adultery,lust,theft,perjury and slander. These are the things which make a man unclean, not eating without washing his hands properly”.
    I think this really sums it up for me…
    I also live in a VERY small town and have two small kids, so I’m not going to bars (never have), don’t go to R rated movies, but I”ve been out of town in Nashville and we’ve been to bars. I was actually 6 months pregnant and I went into my first “bar” to listen to music. My intent was to listen to some good music and I got some funny looks, but it didn’t bother me, for I knew the real reason I was there. Psalm 31:3 “You, Lord God are my mighty rock and my forterss. Lead me and guide me, so that your name will be honored”. Isn’t that what we all want?!
    I wasn’t trying to “call you on” anything as I’m learning right along w/you!
    Blessings!
    Jenny

  22. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Joel,

    In my own life, God has often led me to the edge of those chasms – those big sin-chasms in me. Sometimes he’s had me look way down deep in there. Other times he’s told me to step off the edge into the chasm.

    And do you know what I’ve found? Christ. Christ is in that chasm.

    I grew up in a situation that gave me a huge fear of a particular sin. All my life I built fences around that sin to “keep myself from sinning.” But in time God brought me past all those fences right to the edge of the chasm (which is what the fences do – they draw our attention to the sin, and don’t keep us from it). I was compelled to jump into that chasm, and as I jumped I realized that there wasn’t a big black sin in there, inside me – there was only Christ in that chasm.

    That’s what fence laws do. They block us from trusting Christ in us. They are human ways of manipulation and effort whereby we think we are “being like Christ” when really we are being just the opposite. Jesus had no fence laws. He ignored sin’s call to the point of annihilation. Now, He was definitely tempted, and felt the pull. But temptation is not sin, and always at the point of sin Jesus knew who He was.

    And we can know who we are. We are dead to sin. We are dead to Law (fence laws, self-effort, all of it). We can know the Father, who spared not His own Son – shall He not also, along with that, freely give us all things? We are complete in Him, and have everything (everything) we need for both life and godliness.

    That’s my argument against fence laws. Christ. His power, His life in us. Jesus Christ didn’t need them. And now, with His very own life in me, I don’t.

    Now, I’m not saying “Start going to bars and R rated movies to break down our fence laws.” There is Someone who will break then down for us. All we have to do is offer ourselves to Him, ask Him to work His will in our lives no matter what the cost – to make our outer actions conform to that inner Person of Christ.

  23. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    One more thing that may cause some interesting discussion:

    Our biggest sin as believers is “trying to do good” and “trying to be like Christ.”

  24. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I posted this comment on the other discussion of “dirty words”. I don’t know how relevant it is to the topic at hand, but thought I’d post it here, too, just in case it might be of interest in this conversation.

    Another thought I had on this issue is the different ways that people experience entertainment. Going to movies as a form of escapism is different than going as a means of engagement to the mysteries of your own life. My wife and I, for instance, often watch movies with different goals in mind. She is very deep (and in a lot of ways smarter than me) and we love the same books and movies, but sometimes after a long day with the kids she just wants to unplug and enjoy a fun romantic comedy. Me on the other hand, find it hard to relax and enjoy a romantic comedy. I feel like much of the tasks I do throughout the day make me feel disconnected from my inner life, and so when I watch a movie I want it to help me re-engage with my own life. I want it to remind me that stories are important, that maybe even my story is important. I want to see again that in the midst of the all that’s ugly in the world beauty can still flower in unexpected places. I want to cry, to feel, to be challenged to see the world differently. I want to be afflicted. I want to be moved.

    I know that’s not how everybody feels about entertainment – and that’s cool. I don’t expect everyone to be as neurotic as I am about movie preferences. But if you go to movies for enjoyment or escapism then I think vulgarity is offensive. I hate when people use obscenities to get a cheap laugh. However, if you watch movies with the hopes of engaging your own life or Life with a capital “L”, then vulgarity and obscenity become secondary to the heart of the story. David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba makes for less than edifying escapist entertainment, but as a story that helps us engage with the truth of God’s grace in the face of our failures, then it becomes beautiful. Depending on how you look at it, Paul saying that he wishes the circumcision group would just go and immasculate themselves is either a crass joke or a bold declaration of the foolishness of trying to please God with our feeble and often misguided attempts at holiness.

    I’m offended by all the obscenities and violence in movies like “The Ladykillers” and “Pulp Fiction”, but not so much in movies like “The Passion” and even “Magnolia” or “The Shawshank Redemption” because there’s a context that justifies it.

    One last example. I have a friend who refuses to watch violent movies and so will not watch “the Lord Of The Rings”. I feel bad for all the beauty, courage, hope and redemption he misses out on because of a conviction that in my mind is a perhaps a bit overzealous. However, it’s his choice to make. My only problem with it is I wonder how he can justify reading his bible with it’s passages of dashing baby’s heads upon the rocks, etc.

  25. jennifer

    Our biggest sin as believers is “trying to do good” and “trying to be like Christ—-

    I agree..b/c if “we” are trying to do good and “trying to be like Christ” then we’re not living in faith, not “faithing” and not totally allowing Christ to live and be in us, to lead us. Having Christ indwelling in us will be how others can see us “doing good” and “being like Christ” b/c it’s not us at all that are doing these things, its Christ.

    Good discussion =)

  26. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    That’s definitely a relevant comment. I mean this post in the context of “looking for food” in movies, not in mere escapist entertainment (which of course has its proper place and is not bad in and of itself).

    I was on a bus reading when Pulp Fiction was on, and I hated every moment of it. Movies with a purpose (a purpose other than to spread a nihilistic view of life) – I just pare off the violence, sex, cussing, whatnot, and eat what is good in the movie. If a scene is too intensely violent and graphic (like a couple of scenes in Pan’s Labyrinth) I just close my eyes or get a snack.

    Regarding cussing in everyday conversation – it’s lazy speech, similar to “Like, he was all, like, going, “{facial expression},” and stuff.” One of the things I love about the BBC versions of the Jane Austen novels is the precise use of language. Also, the Civil War series by Ken Burns contains some beautifully poetic letters written to their wives or families by ordinary soldiers on the battlefield. Precision in language is an art that is quickly dying out in many quarters.

    Like I’m all, like, going, “Know what I mean?” And stuff and everything.

  27. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Forgot one more thought, Jason –

    There are not only violent passages in the Bible, but if you want to see some of the strongest sexual language in existence its from God in Ezekiel upbraiding Israel for their spiritual adultery. Talk about graphic – I can’t even describe it here; I’d have to blush.

    So – even graphic language has a right use. God sometimes chooses words for shock value in order to make an indelible impression.

  28. David Kern

    This is certainly and interesting discussion. It’s one I wrote about the last two weeks over at Into the Hill (intothehill.com).

    It’s interesting to me that no one has brought up the nature and value of art itself – particular the cinematic art form. Art has a great, transcendent value to depic truth even through the most brutal or or dark or “worldly” image or language or sound. Lewis, in “An Experiment in Criticism,” wrote about how we ought to allow ourself to be worked on by an piece of art rather than to determine how the art works for us. He suggested that our role as viewer of art was to experience, to let it speak to us, rather than speaking to it. When this happens the truth of the image or sound or language will seep into us and change us.

    Of course, there is a place for discernment. But that must not come through rash judgements about common sins that make us uncfomfortable but rather through careful thought and consideration about what makes a piece of art excellent – and thus, worthwile. Of course, if we are to think carefully about what makes art excellent than we must be willing to study it and put in the work. But If a piece of art bears the truth and beauty of God, if it bears that blessed imago dei, despite a few depictions of otherwise wrong behaviors, then perhaps it shouldnt be simply dismissed – it may still be excellent. Someone else said i think that there could be a lot to learn from a depiction of sinful behavior. To an extent I have often found that what keeps me from sinning more than anything is an honest and realistic depiction of a sin itself and the repurcussion thereof. Fear and Beauty as Wordsworth wrote….

    On the other hand there are poorly crafted depictions of sins (sex and violence typically) in film that do seem to celebrate the sins…this is an entirely different issue. But probably less complex.

    Anyway.

    I think it was Buechner that said (and correct me if i’m wrong about that) that the world speaks of the holy in the only language it knows – a worldy language.

  29. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    David,

    Great comments – Experiment is one of my favorite Lewis books, and really improved my reading and ability to “receive the work.”

  30. Stacy Grubb

    Jennifer,

    Thanks for your response. I think we may be on the same page more than we realize, but with different attitudes. For me, the “trying to do right” isn’t so much an effort as it is trusting God to wipe out my desire to do things that would reflect poorly on Him since I am open with my Christianity. It’s not necessarily a struggle for me to be a good example, in other words, because over time, I’ve learned to allow God to work through me until the “good example” in me occurs more and more naturally. I’m still shaking my vices one at a time, though haha.

    If for one second I’m iffy on whether a certain action will reflect or deflect God’s Word, then perhaps that’s God moving through me, leading and guiding me. For whatever reason, I’m sensitive to the fact that me hanging out in a bar will have people saying, “Oh, real nice…she’s in a bar on Saturday night and will be in church Sunday morning.” But then, I’ve heard that sort of banter in the car if, say, the driver is cut off by another driver with a religious bumper sticker on his car. It seems to be that the first thing others want to attack is a person’s role as a Christian. Naturally, I’m not suggesting that it’s the burden of a Christian to obsess over such things, but instead to “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15). A preacher friend of mine gave the illustration of a cat walking a fence post and on either side of the fence are hungry dogs just waiting for the cat to falter and lose its balance so that they could pounce on it – the cat, of course, representing a Christian in the world and the dogs representing those who rejoice in seeing a Christian stumble. It’s because we understand that our Salvation is the gift of God and given to us by grace through our faith that we recognize the futility of “trying to be good” on our own merit. Mark 10:18 And Jesus said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God. I cannot be good on my own. I have to allow God use me to do good. My “effort” is in the choosing…Will I allow it or won’t I? Am I for or against?

    Stacy

  31. Stacy Grubb

    Ron,

    It would be an interesting study to see if the valley girl-ese would produce that same decline in brain function that cussing produced.

    Stacy

  32. Dan K

    Our biggest sin as believers is “trying to do good” and “trying to be like Christ.”

    That’s a very wide open statement, biggest sin, trying, doing good, be like Christ.

    Ron please put some scripture to this. I’m very interested in hearing this out.

  33. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dan,

    I’d love to dig into this – I’ve got to get packed for a trip tomorrow, but I’ll put up some comments tomorrow evening. I figure that’s better than ripping off a half-baked reply.

    Best,
    Ron

  34. Greg Sykes

    Sorry to address one of Ron’s positions while he’s traveling, but I felt it necessary to respond to the idea of rejecting “fence laws.” I have to think that you’re perhaps creating a principle for others from your personal experience. That can be dangerous. I’m certain that God has worked in your life to deconstruct your “fence laws” and you are living in obedience to him in your conduct and behavior.

    But I don’t think Scripture supports the idea that no one should have fence laws. In fact, I believe we could easily quote numerous Scriptures that teach us to put a hedge around us, and I think you could make a strong case that Christ’s words regarding, “if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out!” is actually an encouragement to explore so-called “fence laws” when they are necessary.

    Are they necessary for Ron at the present place in his spiritual journey? It doesn’t seem so. But are they prohibited in Scripture? No way. Are they sometimes encouraged? I believe so. Which approach is best? I’m not certain I’m qualified to answer that question. But what is currently best for Ron is not necessarily what’s best for everyone else. Should some follow his lead? Certainly.

    To imply that “fence laws” are just legalism and border on a works-based faith seems a bit of an overstatement. I have a personal conviction that one should tithe (and give offerings over and beyond the tithe) based on gross rather than net. But I’m not going to go preaching and teaching that principle because it’s personal to me . . . I believe God has challenged ME to live this way and its best for me. But it doesn’t mean everyone has to live this way; the Scripture gives latitude on this issue.

    Anyway, that’s my two-cents worth. Like many have said before, I’ve really enjoyed this discussion and it’s tenor and heart, despite the fact that I have generally felt uncomfortable with occasional thoughts or statements.

  35. Mike

    Author Dudley Hall in his book Grace Works talked about the two trees in the Garden of Eden. He called them the “Do to Be Tree and the Be to Do Tree. In most of his epistles Paul told the recipients of his letters who they were in Christ before he ever told them what to do. Maybe, ( I would never attempt to speak for Ron Block) the idea that our worst sins are “trying to be” instead of just being. As for “trying to be like Christ” why would we need to? We have him living inside us. We have been crucified with Him, it is the Christ within me that will change the world. We need to just let Him do what He came to do. Our deepest need is knowing Him not becoming real good at acting like we think He might be.

    My take anyhow!

  36. Stacy Grubb

    Just so I’m clear, this isn’t an attempt to speak on Ron’s behalf or put words in his mouth, but my own interpretation of what he did say already.

    As I thought about it, it really made sense to me that the presence of a fence serves to really draw attention to what it’s guarding. If I imagined myself standing in an open field where there was nothing but flowers and freedom for miles around, I would likely take the beauty of that scene in as a whole. If, however, there was a spot there in that open field that had a wall, it would serve as an eyesore; something to look at and be drawn to. I’d focus on it. I’d likely hang out around it and feel tempted to peer over that wall and see what was on the other side. I wouldn’t be able to run freely through the field without being aware that there is a big wall that blocks my access to some parts of the field.

    For me, it isn’t the fence that creates the struggle, it’s the allure of the taboo on the other side. The fence only makes any given taboo more special.

    The need for a fence, though, goes back to the statement that every individual is at their own place and deals with their own convictions. Therefore, for many people, fences are a useful tool. But maybe they’re not meant to be permanent fixtures. Maybe as we grow, we should challenge our need for fences. My concern for myself is that permanent fences may lead to a certain amount of stagnation, fear, and avoidance, and even serve to give the sin power over my faith.

    Stacy

  37. Stacy Grubb

    “For me, it isn’t the fence that creates the struggle, it’s the allure of the taboo on the other side. The fence only makes any given taboo more special.”

    Not to be all vain in quoting myself, but I thought of a clearer way to illustrate what I was trying to say with that statement and that is to say that, I think, if you don’t challenge yourself to tear down fences, the risk is great that the fence eventually becomes more of a velvet rope than anything. It allows you to be in a situation where, even when you’re far removed from that fence/velvet rope, you still think about it and know it’s there. It reveres the sin by giving it strength and mystique. By all means, if I need a fence, I’ll build a fence. But all the while, I need to be aware that I need to overcome it before it gets to velvet rope status.

    Maybe that’s not clearer, afterall….

  38. Jennifer

    I think you’re right as well…I love Stacy’s description of the field, that’s what I saw in my mind as well.
    I think that the fence does draw more attention to what it’s guarding. I think it depends on each of us individually, where we are all in our “walk” w/the Lord as to how we can deal w/these fences.
    I think the simplicity of ALL of this is the basic idea, If you surrender all, give it to the Lord, see yourself as the cup and allow the Lord to live in you, work through you and be indwelt in you, then its not YOU at all, its the Lord that is leading, guiding and directing you, not you of your own good deeds or works. As Ron said in the orig. post,
    “All that to say – some cuss-words in movies aren’t going to destroy or weaken the infinite power of Christ living in me. But if a person’s faith in that indwelling Power is weak, cussing in movies may help weaken his faith even more, because the bottom line is we may be trying to live by a point system rather than walking in the Spirit. “What exactly is sin, and how do I avoid doing it? What exactly are the boundaries for seeing sin in movies? Can I wear a skirt this short? Is it ok to drink a beer?”

  39. Jennifer

    And as I was thinking some more, I think that we should also remember that the old us, our old ways are dead once we surrender to Christ and allow him to work through us, that’s why works based faith is dangerous. If we rely on Christ to guide us, then the fences will only stand in our way. We need to allow God to be our discerning spirit, to give us that discerning spirit for each situation, whether it be our personal conviction or not. I can’t locate that scripture b/c I have two fussy kids wanting my attention now, but you all know which one I’m referring to..Hope I’m not rambling =)

  40. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Greg –

    To quote myself from an earlier comment I made on this page:

    “Now, I’m not saying “Start going to bars and R rated movies to break down our fence laws.” There is Someone who will break then down for us. All we have to do is offer ourselves to Him, ask Him to work His will in our lives no matter what the cost – to make our outer actions conform to that inner Person of Christ.”

    The thing is God had to break down my fence laws. There was no way I could have done it myself. He brought into my life the perfect people and the perfect situations to do it. Nowhere am I recommending any kind of jumping into sin to prove anything. That should be obvious.

    But as for the fence laws themselves – I don’t find them beneficial at all. They were sources of pride and fear for me – and sources of sin. They did not keep me from sin, except maybe in a merely outward way. Set a cookie jar in the middle of your table and tell your kids, “Now, I don’t want you to think about these cookies. You can’t have any. They’re not for you” and then see what happens to their psyche. That’s a fence law in action (not on something sinful, though).

    I’ll also say that fence laws seem safer. But they’re not. They’re human constructs that keep us from experiencing everything Christ has for us. Again, I’m not calling for people to start immediately dismantling their fence laws – that’s something that God has to do. All we do is ask Him to work His will in our lives no matter what the cost, to show us any hidden attitudes of unbelief in ourselves that keep us from walking totally in the Spirit.

    And Stacy, the fences do just exactly that – they draw attention in our minds to the sin. They give sin strength and power over us, mystique. As Paul put it, “…the power of sin is the Law.” The Law brings that alluring idea of “Me working to improve myself and become like Christ” which is the very attitude that gives sin power over us. “Me working” is not the same as “Me relying on Christ working through me.” One is of works – the other is “the obedience of faith.”

  41. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dan, I’m going to post some ideas on “trying to be like Christ” soon – they’ll likely be in the Trails section and we can continue that part of the discussion.

  42. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    I do want to say to everyone that this is the kind of light that can be shed if everyone keeps his head and doesn’t get caught up in arguing, but instead continues to discuss, to disagree, to agree where we can – to see the good in one another and not malign anyone else’s motives. Because each one of us in the deeps has Christ at the center of our being – and our motives are to be everything He means us to be. Great discussion.

  43. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dan, you mentioned, “To imply that “fence laws” are just legalism and border on a works-based faith seems a bit of an overstatement.”

    We can trust God in total reliance in one area and not in another. For years I’ve trusted God for my finances (I believe solidly in tithing on the gross as well, btw). I watched Him again and again come through for me. And then He opened up some areas where I wasn’t trusting Him and had fence laws. Wanting the approval of others. Thinking I needed validation before I could move forward and be who I’m meant to be. Getting self worth through music. You’re totally right, Dan, that this is a process, and at no time did I say, “I’m going to take down my fence laws.” All I have done is open my life to Christ in such a way that as far as I know I’ve not held anything back. “Do whatever you have to do to my life to make my outer attitudes and actions reflect the life of Christ in me.” God is the one who does the changing, and He has done it progressively. Doubtless He’s giving me a rest for now until He brings up the next issue of unbelief in me. My point in all this, and in fact in all the writings on my website, is to get anyone who reads the ridiculous amount of words per article to question the status quo of their current spiritual state. I don’t mean question their salvation, of course, but to be prompted to desire more and more of Christ and His power to live through us in ways we have not yet even imagined.

    .

  44. Greg Sykes

    Ron, Stacy, Jennifer, etc. . .

    You’ve combined to flesh out your point very well. You’re certainly describing a Biblical progression and one I’ve even experienced in my life. So please don’t think I’m just trying to be the devil’s advocate (that’s difficult on a Christian site, huh?) on this subject. We agree, it’s just I have a few reservations.

    The process we’re discussing involves the Holy Spirit, a denial of the flesh, and an honest desire to please God and be like Christ . . . unfortunately, I don’t think too many of us who call ourselves Christians have arrived there.

    Maybe I’m thinking about how someone who wanted to justify their sin could take these arguments and run with them. My glass-half-empty approach probably isn’t helpful in this kind of a forum, but that’s how I think. I minister every day to folks (including my own internal wrestling, sometimes, I guess) who would rather justify sin than defeat it. So I can get a little nervous with discussions like this, especially when I’m not personally connected to the folks who are pressing the envelope.

    I hope that makes sense. The more I read your entries and hear the tenor of the discussion, the more convicted I am of everyone’s love for the Lord and desire to imitate Christ. So I apologize for poking and prodding, and I certainly hope no one has been offended. But I also don’t think it’s ever harmful to consider how our arguments can be used against us . . . as someone who preaches and teaches a lot, I guess I’m forced to always consider how an argument can be bent, misshapen, or distorted and then turned against me.

    True Christianity is reckless and bold and really beyond description in both its sweetness and depth, and I appreciate how you are all attempting to paint that picture. Paint away and I’ll quit muddying the picture!

  45. Stacy Grubb

    Greg,

    On the contrary, you are not muddying the picture for me. I have a tendency to not question things, consequently I miss out on my own opinion. You questioning the fence laws, however, prompted me to explore the way that I feel about them and gain a deeper understanding of how they can hurt me as an individual. I’m a believer in pure absolutes, which I was reminded of when Ron said, “We can trust God in total reliance in one area and not in another.” Therefore, if I trust him to change me in one area of life, then I must trust him to change me in other areas rather than rely on a fence that I myself have put up. I’m not saying that a former alcoholic needs to confront his fences head on and barge into the nearest disco, but he does need to allow God to lead him through abandoning a conscious awareness of his need to abstain from alcohol. If he’s always aware, then he’s always struggling and, really, that’s just not a good, productive, faith-reliant place to be. It’s stressful and it makes us feel weak. For me, though, the important thing is being able to recognize my own ability to lean on faith so that my self-effort fences can be thrown away. I always think of Abraham when considering the power of faith. God knows our hearts, therefore, God didn’t test Abraham so the He could know Abraham’s power of faith. He tested him so that Abraham himself could know his own faith. Abraham had failed to trust in God before, but it’s obvious that he had changed by the time God commanded him to sacrifice Isaac. I can imagine that, through all those years, Abraham was full of self-doubt because of the mess he’d made in taking matters into his own hands to get a son. It could be that God wanted Abraham to let go of his guilt and move on from it. That guilt and regret could’ve been the fence that God wanted Abraham to tear down. Of course, that’s only a theory and I never would’ve even thought about it without this discussion, so challenging another’s opinion is a good thing!

    Stacy

  46. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Greg –

    Discussions like this need honesty and the boldness to disagree. As long as love is maintained – seeing the other guy as having Christ inside him – there’s no problem, and in fact you’ve made the discussion much better than if we all had agreed in the beginning on every little point. You help me clarify my position, make sure I am covering all the facets of what I mean, and keep me from being myopic or one sided or giving the wrong impression.

  47. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    Well, I might be opening a can of worms here or inviting criticism, but I love worms. Especially how you can cut ’em in half and they keep squirming… but I digress.

    On this matter of fence laws, personal experience, etc. I believe – sincerely believe – that the Lord led me to take a break from reading the bible for the better part of a year about 12 years ago.

    I rarely tell people about this because I know how I’d feel if someone told me that. All the same, I’m persuaded that God led me to fast from the word for a season. Why would he do that? I had grown up and later worked in a very fundamendalist legalistic church. It was damaging to me, and especially to my marriage as I was surrounded by church culture that modeled keeping a woman in her place.

    All of my reading was colored by the theology of the environment I was in. I couldn’t read the word witout bringing my own baggage to it. For some reason I couldn’t hear the word in and of itself. Even after I saw the cracks in the foundation of the theology I was under, it’s austere and shrill voice still yelled at me every time I opened the word of God. Does this make sense to anyone? I hope I’m communicating this clearly. Anyway, I’d read the word and just get angry all the time. I needed a new lens.

    My fast from the Bible was less about the word itself and more about a kind of detox. A re-set. I read some wonderful books about grace at the time and when I did eventually pick up my bible again, it was like a revelation. It was fresh. It was healing. It was transformational again.

    Anyway, this is an experience and a conviction that I would never put on anyone else, but it was a significant event in my life. I guess it seemed pertinent to me here because I resisted it for a long time because of what may have been a legalistic fence law that said I had to read the word everyday no matter what or I was liable to become a reprobate.

    Still, I know this could be regarded as a dangerous propostion, and I don’t want anybody to think that I’m in any way detracting from the virtues of a discipline of regular bible reading.

  48. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Jason,

    When we grow up in the church, esp legalistic ones, we have that framework of theology, that lens over our eyes (isn’t that an old country song, “These dung-colored glasses, that I’m looking through, see only commandments, and hide all the true.” Ok, so I paraphrased. But now I’m digressing…).

    Think of eating. If we eat all the time without exercising, we get fat.

    Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.

    With that lens, we come to the Word and already know what it says. “This means this, that means that, blah-de-blah-de-blah.” We’ve “got it.” And since we’ve “got it” we can’t get it. “Always learning and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.”

    It takes the mind of a child. “Lord, I think I know what this means. But only You fully know all the depths and shades of what your Word means. Show me.” That’s the beginner’s mind, the child’s mind. Father and child.

    The other mindset is a barrier to growth. We take self-worth, comfort from “my theology” and fight anything that might make us humble and receptive to seeing what God means by the Word.

    Like you, Jason, I had a similar framework. God crashed it all in the mid-nineties and I finally came to the Word as a babe. He began to show me who I really am in Him, all those amazing and powerful statements of identity that the Word holds. So I went through a long phase of eating the Word – and then, several years later, I took a hiatus from it, just like you, though for different reasons. Then, after quite awhile (I don’t remember exactly how long), I began to pray, “Lord, give me a desire to dig into the Word again.” And He did. He leads. It’s the “independent I” that wants to make Bible reading, something that is meant to be beautiful and fascinating, into a read-the-bible-through-in-92 kind of legalistic chore.

    Once again, I say to anyone reading that this is not a prompt to stop reading the Bible. It’s really a call to go straight to the Father and say, “Lord, show me what Your Word means, no matter what the cost.” (God likes that little “no matter what the cost” phrase. It says to Him, “I love you more than anything in this world”)

  49. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    For anyone who’s interested I’ve posted thoughts on my earlier statement that the biggest sin of Christians is trying to be good and trying to be like Christ. The post is under Trails and is called Electricity.

  50. Profile photo of Jason Gray

    Jason Gray

    @jasongray

    I had a friend who told me quite emphatically that he would not read any other books than the bible. I felt a little sad for him since he was his only filter then. I know the word of God is alive and any time anyone reads it the potential is there for God to break through our pre-conceived notions, etc, but my life has been so enlarged by the great books of men and woman who are hunting down the same mysteries I am that I couldn’t help but worry that his inner dialogue that he brought to the scriptures might be a little impoverished…

    Different strokes for different folks, maybe.

    JG

  51. Mike

    Wow, Jason and Ron, I thought something was wrong with me because I found myself not wanting to read the bible because I already new what it said. The problem was that as a sometimes bible teacher I only read it to find passages to suit my theology. A kind of pick and choose. Then I realized that there were major passages that I had never heard read or preached from. Seems that many a preacher I sat under did the same thing that I was doing. Then like you Ron I prayed for the truth at all cost. It is simply amazing what the Bible really says when you read it. Also Ron I love your take on the old John Conley song. I started reading Matthew and it is fresh and new and alive. I had no idea the depth of the Word when read looking for Jesus and not so I have something to say about Jesus.

  52. Dan K

    I think this may be my last post on this whole topic as it’s time to bury the horse along with the hatchet. I need to go back to lurking for awhile.

    I have come from the opposite background mentioned by the past few posts. A biblical vacuum and as I have grown in faith I have come to appreciate sound theological thinking. In order for it to be sound it must be Biblically based. Which is why I asked Ron to supply scriptural support (Thank you, I think most common sin might be better than biggest). I think the church lately has forgotten how to think hard and True about things. I enjoy old
    hymns for the rich theology meeting with artistic verse. I read scripture the same way.

    I think thru Christ in me I’ve constructed more fences than I’ve had to tear down. I didn’t really have them before. I’ve given up somethings that weren’t defined “sins”, just me holding too tightly. Nowadays I find fences like the bumpers for kids bowling, preventing my life from getting off track when the real goal lies straight ahead. That’s the best I had off the top of my head & all analogies limp.

    I think we can all agree on this. We are not called to be fence builders, or fence minders. They will rise & fall enough in your walk and shouldn’t be the focus. A call to holiness & discipline has to be God’s call on you (Hebrews 12:14, 1 Peter 1:13). Being holy (set apart) in the eyes of men isn’t worth the dust we are made from; if that’s the purpose, it’s off target. Christ working in believers will hit different believers different ways at different times. It’s not a matter of weaker, stronger, better, worse, bigger, smaller, pink or blue (my kid’s constant argument).

    Ron said:
    It’s really a call to go straight to the Father and say, “Lord, show me what Your Word means, no matter what the cost.”

    Amen.

  53. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Dan,

    You may have missed my comment earlier, short one sandwiched between some others – I put a post under Trails in reply to your question about Scripture for “biggest sin of believers.” I call it that because it’s the root sin through which all other sins flow – unbelief.

    Best,
    Ron

  54. Mark

    Some of the most truthful and powerful wisdom comes out of twisted, flawed, and disgusting situations and lives, just consider the crucifixion. Paul said, you are free, but don’t use your liberty as an occasion to the flesh. Personally, I have to ask myself and truthfully consider every time I watch a movie; am I watching this to fulfill a desire to satisfy my flesh or am I worshipping God through it? Is it using me, or am I using it?

  55. Profile photo of Ron Block

    Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Mark,

    Agreed. Though I’d say we rarely have to ask ourselves “Am I watching this to satisfy my flesh?” We usually already know the answer unless we’re legalistic and regularly condemn ourselves for temptation rather than replacing the temptation with affirming our real identity in Christ.

    All in all this has been a good discussion (including the AP post discussion) with very few motive-maligners. I dare say everyone on here desires to live a holy life – we can’t have Christ in us without having a deep seated desire to be everything God means us to be. That desire may be covered up by legalistic pride or self-condemnation, both from the same source – “I am an independent self who must strive to be like Christ”, which leads to self-commendation, “I’m so much better than these other people! How ridiculous they are to not agree with me!” or self-condemnation, “I’m so sinful and rotten.”

If you have a Rabbit Room account, log in here to comment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *