The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10
Welcome, Young Believer!
This is often a question that is more easily answered by those who are newly saved. They didn't grow up in the church and they tried a lot of the things that Christian young people think that they might be "missing out on." I think it's safe to say that if we asked these new believers if we're missing out, they would tell us absolutely not. Exchanging our earthly desire for God's desires for us doesn't constrict our lives, it frees them. However, for those of us that did grow up in the church, there is especially now a big movement to relax the rules and excuse a lot of things we would've called sin before.
Purity culture goes really high on this list. It is not socially popular or even in some cases acceptable to have made the commitment to wait for marriage. Imperfect people trying to teach the value of sexual morality and the importance of honoring God by waiting for marriage caused a great deal of harm to young people. Just like what we talked about in our exploration of what it means to honor God in our marriages with the church in Corinth, these young people began to think that sex was bad altogether and felt deeply uncomfortable sharing that intimacy once they were married. Others felt the burden of too many rules and quit trying altogether. Let's go once again to Paul's letter to the church of Corinth for some clarification.
“Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will do away with both of them. However, the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 (CSB)
We've addressed the Corinthians who were abstaining from sex all together in their marriages in our post on honoring God in your marriage. So let's focus on that other half of people who feel the weight of all the "rules" and end up giving up following God because of a lack of grace among Christians.
Usually, I use the English Standard Version for the translation that we study, but the Christians Standard Bible actually had the wording that I remember memorizing this time and I prefer it. However, what the other translation makes much more clear is the fact that the statement, "everything is permissible for me," is a statement that the Corinthians would have used not a statement that Paul himself is endorsing. This is also the case with the statement, "Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food." My English Standard Version Study Bible includes in the footnotes that these two statements were probably common cultural sayings among the Corinthians that the Corinthian Christians had simply carried over into their views about sin and the body.
This can be difficult to spot as Christians when we are influenced by our culture from birth to view love, relationships, sex, language, substances, and sin in general through our social lens. In America, this is often the lens of Disney movies, rom-coms, spicy romance novels, and even how we learn to interact with others at school. As you grow as a Christian, you often begin to realize how deeply these cultural norms have skewed how we behave as a church. Paul points out that Christians are actually supposed to put some thought into their behavior. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should do something. Sin is certainly not beneficial for anyone much less a Christian. But the second reason I like the CSB translation's phrasing of this is that it reminds me of what God said to Cain after his sacrifice was found unacceptable by God.
Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you furious? And why do you look despondent? If you do what is right, won’t you be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Genesis 4:6-7 (CSB)
In other words, sin's desire is to master us. We are slaves to it before we are redeemed by Christ. For Christians, then, this should be a clear indication that anything that is mastering us or ruling over us in our daily lives and behavior such as sex, alcohol, drugs, lies, toxic relationships, the pursuit of money, etc... are things that we should not be mastered by. These are things that we need to rule over or have self-control.
The Corinthians had taken the idea that "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food," and expanded it to other areas of their lives. They were busy fulfilling the desires of their flesh with no thought to how it dishonored God. Paul reminds them that in the end, God will do away with both stomachs and food or rather the need for hunger because our bodies will no longer need food to be sustained. However, in eternity we will be resurrected in Christ just as He went before us, so it is very important how we treat our bodies today but even more important how seriously we take our sin.
Paul returns to this subject again later in his letter, making a very thick sandwich in between about marriage, living as we are called, how we are to treat our fellow believers, and the laws for consuming food that Christians should still follow.
“Everything is permissible,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible,” but not everything builds up. No one is to seek his own good, but the good of the other person. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 (CSB)
Again he quotes this saying, "everything is permissible," followed by, "not everything is beneficial." At the beginning of this sandwich, his second statement had to do with the individual Christian not allowing sin to master them. This time Paul points to how our behavior affects others both our fellow believers and those we are trying to witness to. "Everything is permissible," but not everything builds up. How often has the sin of someone else caused you harm or discouraged you?
Think about it this way, if you have a friend that has been struggling with alcoholism and they finally begin to get help and remain sober. You don't have the same addiction so having an alcoholic beverage with dinner doesn't master you or cause you to sin. However, you're going out to dinner with this friend, in this case, ordering that alcoholic beverage could tear down all the progress that your friend has made on the path to healing. In the day of the Corinthians, it would bother some to consume food that they knew came from sacrifices to idols, but others in the church were not bothered because they were not participating in the sacrifice itself. Paul encourages the church to live in freedom being thankful for God's provision rather than letting their consciences be bothered by where the meat in the market may have come from. However, he gives the same caveat as our example, if the person you're eating with knows that the meat came from an idolatrous sacrifice then for the sake of that person's conscience you shouldn't eat it.
You may be thinking then that this makes the standard for what Christians are allowed to participate in rather ambiguous. In the 90s youth pastors tried to help by giving us the question... What would Jesus do? There is only one problem, we're not Jesus!
However, I think that Paul has given us a pretty good road map in this "what is permissible?" sandwich. So if you're struggling to decide whether you should participate in something or not ask yourself these questions...
- Is this going to be beneficial for my growth as a person who wants to honor God?
- Am I allowing sin to rule over me by doing this?
- Would this uplift or discourage my (person you respect as a Christian)?
- Would my example in doing this cause someone else to sin?
- Does this glorify God?
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or Greeks or the church of God, just as I also try to please everyone in everything, not seeking my own benefit, but the benefit of many, so that they may be saved. 1 Corinthians 10:31-33 (CSB)
Those questions may not be quite as catchy as WWJD? but I think that they offer us a clearer path toward honoring God with our lives and knowing where the line is between what is acceptable and what is sin. If that's our road map and we're still asking the question, "Are we missing out because we're following God?" We're probably facing something that strongly tempts us, something that would rule over us to our destruction if we participate in it.
It reminds me of the two women in Proverbs 9, the first woman is called Wisdom and the second is called Folly. Both women gave an invitation to the young people passing by in the street.
Wisdom has built her house; she has carved out her seven pillars. She has prepared her meat; she has mixed her wine; she has also set her table. She has sent out her female servants; she calls out from the highest points of the city: “Whoever is inexperienced, enter here!” To the one who lacks sense, she says, “Come, eat my bread, and drink the wine I have mixed. Proverbs 9:1-5
Folly is a rowdy woman; she is gullible and knows nothing. She sits by the doorway of her house, on a seat at the highest point of the city, calling to those who pass by, who go straight ahead on their paths: “Whoever is inexperienced, enter here!” To the one who lacks sense, she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten secretly is tasty!” Proverbs 9:13-17
Notice that the invitation of both women is uncannily similar. They call out to the inexperienced and those who lack sense. However, what they offer is drastically different and so too are the consequences for their guests. Wisdom offers what she has prepared by the work of her own hands and the sweat of her brow. Folly offers what is not hers to begin with and requires her guests to commit crimes to obtain it. Each guest eats and drinks to their heart's content what they have been offered.
Leave inexperience behind, and you will live; pursue the way of understanding. The one who corrects a mocker will bring abuse on himself; the one who rebukes the wicked will get hurt. Don’t rebuke a mocker, or he will hate you; rebuke the wise, and he will love you. Instruct the wise, and he will be wiser still; teach the righteous, and he will learn more. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. For by me your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. If you are wise, you are wise for your own benefit; if you mock, you alone will bear the consequences.” Proverbs 9:6-12 (CSB -emphasis added my own)
But he doesn’t know that the departed spirits are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. Proverbs 9:18 (CSB)
Wisdom's guest is promised longer life, increased understanding, and discipline when they are in the wrong. This guest is called righteous and the beginning of the guest's wisdom is that they fear the Lord and know God. Meanwhile, the guest of Folly is led to his own death and into the very depths of Sheol, or what we Christians call Hell.
When we choose to follow God, glorifying Him with our lives, what we miss out on is continuing to live enslaved to our sin destined for terrible consequences when we stand before Him and are judged for that sin. We also miss out on learning many of life's lessons the hard way when we choose wisdom's path. I want to encourage you Christians that we are not missing out, but those who do not follow God certainly are! This should motivate us all the more to share the Gospel with them and live in such a way that they see the blessings of living to honor Him.
If you have more questions about what you are or are not missing out on by choosing to follow God please place those in the comments. We would also love to hear from you in the chatbox if you're needing prayer about one of these situations in your church. I also highly recommend, as always, that you find a mentor in the faith that will help to walk you through these issues as you grow in your faith. This one journey you were never meant to take alone!