The rallying cry of the apostle Paul in the book of Galatians is Freedom!
He saw the converts of Galatia, both Jews and Gentiles, submitting themselves to the demands of the Law of Moses, including the act of circumcision, in order to earn righteousness in God’s eyes.
He goes on to say that circumcision is irrelevant when it comes to walking in relationship with God. It is a non-essential.
One student of the book has written that legalism is, “…treating that which is good as though it were essential.” He goes on, “Whenever Christians turn something valuable into something ultimate, legalism is at work and freedom is forfeited…we preserve our freedom in Christ when what is essential to God is essential to us, and everything else is kept in place.”
I like that a lot.
So I decided to make a list of non-essential things that in my experience as a Christian have been put forth as an essential of the ‘true’ faith. I follow my list of non-essentials below with a few true essentials of the faith. What would be on your lists?
- Mode of Baptism (sprinkled? dunked? poured?)
- Speaking in tongues
- Particular view of inspiration, eschatology, evolution/creation
- Political party or ideology
- Abstinence from tobacco or alcohol
- Diet – vegetarian, vegan, paleo, etc.
- Exercise – keeping one’s temple in top shape
- Education – spiritual people can read/write well
- Sexual identity – can a gay or transgendered person be righteous?
- Whether one is mentally ill or mentally fit
- Whether one is physically ill or physically fit
- Whether one is single or married
- Whether one lives under a bridge or in a nice home
- Being pro-life or pro-choice (I am pro life, but I believe one can be pro choice and go to heaven, therefore this stance as a non-essential)
- Wealth or poverty (both have been touted as more spiritual than the other, or even necessary for true spirituality)
- Views on virginity, masturbation, divorce, remarriage – these matters speak to character, not Christian essentials
- Playing, or not playing: board games, card games, dice games or games of chance
- Long or short hair, long or short skirts, and long or short sermons
- Loving God and loving one’s neighbor. Actually, we can stop here. (Matthew 22:34-40; Mark 12:31; Luke 10:25-37)
- Walking in a trusting, prayerful, Spirit-led, flesh-crucifying relationship with Jesus. (Romans 8:5-17)
- Walking in unity, humility and peace with all those who profess Christ (John 17:20-23; Romans 12:18; Phil 2:1-5)
- Forgiving those who harm us (Matthew 6:9-14; 18:15-35)
- Bearing witness to Christ and making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20)
I think it is a great exercise for each of us to make a list of non-essentials that we have submitted to, or have seen others submit to that were harmful, as well as developing a short list of essentials.
Something else here is critical — We should not judge one another in the matter of non-essentials. We should set people free to follow the Spirit in these matters…even if we believe they are in error.
This will also set us free from a judgmental spirit…which is also a form of spiritual slavery. Can you shout it with me? FREEDOM!!