Again, no expert here, but God has definitely been dealing with me in this area.
One of the first things that plagues me in this area is the question: Is this Biblical? In other words, am I just preferring this, angry at someone or something, or is this actually backed up literally in Scripture (not can I take something out of context here or a random verse there, but does the whole council of God found in Scripture support what I'm feeling convicted about). The last thing I want to become is caught up in legalism (Titus 3:9 ). I want to enjoy the freedom I have in Christ, but only if it edifies my brothers and sisters in Christ and furthers the gospel (1 Corinthians 10:23 ).
I hope this is a way to avoid that trap.
I have found that there are certain things God convicts me of, because they pertain to my personal sinning, but that He might not convict of others. Let me explain a little if I may. One area of my life that God has dealt with me almost since I was saved is the area of immodest clothing.
One area that was controlled as a teen was how I dressed, because I was blessed with very vigilant and loving parents. But when I was on my own in college and even after getting married, I started to dress more and more like my peers. I don't think most people's standards would've said I was extremely immodest, but I knew I was. And worse, I knew why I was dressing that way. I wanted to entice lust in men. I thought it gave me power over them and over other women. I was sinning against my God, Creator, and Savior, as well as my husband, my parents, and my own body. There was a period of time where I was so ashamed and disgusted with my sin that I wouldn't even wear makeup and felt as though any heels would be sinful. After much prayer, study of the Word of God, and time, I knew that my heart had been sinful and not the things. I became convicted that I was now dressing in an unfeminine way(Deuteronomy 22:5 ). I realized that dressing modestly didn't mean I needed to forego anything that might be beautiful and that I could never fully hide that I was female. God's Word didn't forbid me to be beautiful or feminine and to seek that beauty for my husband's enjoyment, it actually celebrates it in marriage. I also realized that true beauty was in my being a woman who seeks God and serves others for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ(1 Peter 3:1-6 ).
The point is that for me, how I was dressing was directly hindering the gospel in that it affected my witness and testimony to others. Yet, I can't and wouldn't tell others that wearing heels for example is a sin. I couldn't wear them for a period, because God was dealing with me over my sin. There's nothing sinful in heeled shoes when they are paired with modest clothes. My conviction wouldn't allow me to wear them, and my conviction was founded in Scripture, because I knew my heart's sinful desires to entice lust in others was keeping me from being able to share the gospel in a God glorifying way. The conviction was legitimate, but didn't necessarily apply to others and didn't even apply to me forever (I do wear heels now, they're just with modest skirts and dresses). I could not and should not impose this conviction on others, because the Bible doesn't expressly forbid heels, only immodest apparel.
The focus has to be: Is the gospel being hindered/ hurt by this? Whether that be something that is personally harming it through the sins of myself or of others. But, if it pertains to only my sinning than I cannot and should not impose the convictions and or restrictions that God has led me to place on myself onto others. They may not struggle with that sin or God may protect them from that temptation in another way.
Albert Mohler (one of my favorite speakers and authors, check out his blog ) puts the emphasis much better than I ever could in his book "The Disappearance of God: Dangerous Beliefs in the New Spiritual Openness". He calls a need for a "theological triage". I used to work as a respiratory therapist and if you've worked in any medical setting or just watched a lot of medical tv, you will know to triage someone is to, through a series of protocol procedures and questions determine the severity of their illness/injuries and the necessary treatment as quickly as possible so that the patients whose condition is the most critical can be treated first. Dr. Mohler suggests that we should do something similar for convictions over theological matters.
He breaks it down into three distinct levels with the first level being the most serious.
"First-level theological issues would include those doctrines most central and essential to the Christian faith. Included among these most crucial doctrines would be doctrines such as the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith, and the authority of Scripture."
These are truths that someone can't deny and be a Christian. They are the gospel in and of themselves, to deny them would be to deny Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit. These are definitely worth fighting and dying for, they should cause divisions.
"The set of second-order doctrines is distinguished from the first-order set by the fact that believing Christians may disagree on the second-order issues, though this disagreement will create significant boundaries between believers."
This level includes things like the meaning and mode of baptism. Again, Dr. Mohler, "Standing together on the first-order doctrines, Baptists and Presbyterians eagerly recognize each other as believing Christians, but recognize that disagreement on issues of this importance will prevent fellowship within the same congregation or denomination. Christians across a vast denominational range can stand together on the first-order doctrines and recognize each other as authentic Christians, while understanding that the existence of second-order disagreements prevents the closeness of fellowship we would otherwise enjoy. . . . Many of the most heated disagreements among serious believers take place at the second-order level, for those issues frame our understanding of the church and its ordering by the Word of God."
Disagreement over these things does not mean that one is saved and the other is not. They are true convictions derived from the Bible and do not completely break fellowship, but a church cannot properly function as one body with these kinds of disagreements in them. These are the convictions that often lead to our being in a particular denomination or church as opposed to others that are just as faithful in preaching the Word of God and are focused on the gospel of Christ in a biblical way.
"Third-order issues are doctrines over which Christians may disagree and remain in close fellowship, even within local congregations. I would put most of the debates over eschatology, for example, in this category."
I may not agree with my family in Christ on every little detail, but the essential parts of the gospel and who God truly is, and the authority of Scripture are not debatable. They define who we are as Christians and who we are in Jesus Christ. They tell what salvation is and isn't and how and who it is that effectuates that salvation.
I know this is long, but I hope and pray that it will help myself and others to think these things through very carefully before I say or do something I will regret. There will be a third installment in this series, so bear with me graciously.