I have three questions for you
Do you live by the moral absolute standards of behavior of what is right and what is wrong that the Holy Ghost has brought into your life through the means of convicting your conscience?
Or do you live by the standards of behavior that other people have placed upon you that are convenient to you or consequently right or wrong to you?
Do you know the difference?
The truth is - most Christians will answer yes to both questions, but there is a big difference in the two choices.
The Bible says that the Holy Spirit will convict our conscience for us.
"Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away , the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart , I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment:" - John 16:7-8 (KJV)
What do I mean when I say we live by the standards of others that are consequently right or wrong? This is when we do something that the Holy Spirit has not convicted us of, but instead we do it because we know we will experience consequences, either good or bad, because of our decisions.
When the Holy Spirit convicts the conscience, He brings in a clear standard of behavior that determines what is absolutely morally right and absolutely morally wrong in our lives.
Let me try to explain the difference with a few examples. I like to drive the speed limit, but only because I do not want to get a speeding ticket. I think the speed laws are ridiculously slow, and I am usually in a hurry! I will obey the speeding laws, not because I have been convicted of speeding, but because I realize the consequences of speeding will result in me getting a speeding ticket.
This thinking resides even in animals. My dogs know just what to do to solicit a treat from me each day, and they also know what will get them a whipping. We operate in a “smack wrong, treat right” environment. Everyday when I drive my car into the garage, Gracie and Mercy, my two Australian Shepherds will stick their nose in the door of the car as soon as I open it and act very excited to see me. When I exit the car they will show tremendous affection toward me and demonstrate extreme excitement that Dad is home. Then I will pet them and say, “let’s get a treat.” They will immediately go over to the workbench in the garage and sit side by side in picture perfect order and quietly wait for me to give them each a treat. Even the dogs know that a certain behavior will result in a reward. They also know if they do bad things that I will fuss at them and maybe even get a rolled up newspaper to give them a spanking. This is what I mean by living in a “smack wrong, treat right” environment.
Many of the children in Christian society are trained like we train our dogs. They know what they must do to get the parents approval and blessings, and they know they will get punished if they do the wrong things. But you can take many of these children out of the Christian home and send them to their freshman year of college and they go hog wild, because the parents are not there to reward the good behavior and punish the wrong behavior. Obviously, these kids were never convicted in their conscience by the Holy Ghost about these particular standards of behavior - as soon as the consequences were removed from their environment, their behaviors changed.
Many adult Christians will behave within a certain code of conduct within religious organizations, not because the Holy Spirit has convicted their conscience, but because they know they must dress a certain way and act a certain way to “fit in” or to be socially accepted within the confines of the religion they adhere to. But if a circumstance causes them to leave their religion, then these standards they use to embrace and adhere to are thrown out the window because they were simply acting like the dogs, or the kids, or like me driving the speed limit. The Holy Spirit had never convicted their conscience and there behaviors were simply convenient to them as they were consequently right or wrong.
When the Holy Spirit convicts a person of something in their life that is not pleasing to God and the Christian changes their behavior because of such a moral conviction, then the Christian knows that this is absolutely morally right or wrong - not because a person had set some standard for them, but because God, by the Holy Spirit, has shown them this by the conviction of their conscience. This is entirely different from someone holding to a standard because it will make them socially accepted in their religious environment.
As a Born Again Christian for over 27 years, the Holy Spirit has convicted my conscience of many things all along in my spiritual journey. There are many absolutes in my life that I have no doubt are absolutely pleasing to God and some things that are absolutely not pleasing to God. I know this by the conviction of my conscience by the Holy Spirit.
To ask me to place my convictions upon others, I believe, is not the way of the LORD. When a minister places his/her personal convictions upon the congregation this creates a culture where the people will adhere to the standards. They may do it out of convenience because they know things are consequentially right or wrong - this will not bring any lasting or eternal change in the Christian's life.
Since starting Return Ministries, many people have come to me and asked me to give them a list of do’s and don’ts, or to give them a list of rules, or a code of conduct they should adhere to. What they are really saying is, "Where is the fence?" Because they want to make sure they are in the fence of the culture of Return Ministries so they can insure they will be socially accepted in the congregation. But this type of thinking will create a works-based religion instead of a culture that is conducive to the believer growing in a good and healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.
If we preach the Word of God to people, and if the Holy Spirit moves in our midst to convict the person of what God calls right or wrong, then we have a wonderful culture of Grace and Truth where the person develops a personal intimate relationship with Jesus Christ. They do things or don’t do things based upon what the LORD, through the Holy Spirit, convicts their conscience of.
One more example: I know a man that God has convicted him of drinking coffee. He was a huge coffee drinker and one day the Holy Spirit convicted him of this and he stopped drinking coffee. I totally get that, and I highly respect his relationship with Jesus and there is no doubt in my mind that God convicted him and he stopped drinking coffee to please the LORD. That is a beautiful thing.
But I am a coffee drinker and I enjoy a few cups of coffee each day. In fact I enjoy drinking several different kinds of coffee and am always looking for a better one. The Holy Spirit has not convicted me of drinking coffee. I could quit so this man would think I am as spiritual as he is, but that would be quitting for the wrong reason. If the Holy Spirit ever convicts me of drinking coffee, I hope I have the faith to stop it at once, but so far, thank God, he has not asked this of me.
You see, what is morally right for one person may not be right for another. Our Christian walk is a personal walk with Jesus Christ and as we grow in God, the LORD will at times put His finger on things in our lives that he did not require out of us in our earlier Christian experience. This is why we need to treat new Christians differently than the mature Christians. We should not judge or condemn new immature Christians if they are not living up to the standards that we are living up to, because it is quite possible that the Holy Spirit has not convicted them of all of the things that he has convicted us of.
God does not ask us to give up everything all at once, but our salvation experience is a progressive one. We are saved from the penalty of sin on the day we first repent of our sins and ask Jesus to forgive us and to come into our hearts. But we are saved from the power of sin and from the presence of sin in our lives each day that we go forward in our spiritual journey. This is what I mean by the term progressive salvation.
In fact some of our greatest revelations of our flesh come much later in our journey, instead of on the first day of our salvation. When the Holy Spirit starts to convict a Christian it is like a bright light coming into a dark room. Before the bright light came into the room, we thought the room was clean, but when the light shines we see the filth everywhere and realize that the room needs some serious cleaning up.
There are many things like drinking coffee that are not clearly spelled out in the Bible as being right or wrong. And anything that is not found in the Bible that you believe to be right or wrong needs to come from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit should convict your conscience before you believe it or state it to be absolutely morally right or wrong, instead of coming from a minister stating what he/she believes to be right or wrong.
If you want me to give you a list of rules, or a code of conduct in order to be socially accepted at Return Ministries that are outside of the fence found in the Word of God, then I should tell you now, that this simply will not happen. If I impose my standards upon others this will only create behaviors that are driven by the convenience of being consequentially right or wrong, and that will not change anybody.
Instead, we are going to preach the Word of God and trust the Holy Spirit to do His work on the body of Christ at Return as He convicts peoples conscience. I know that this will bring about lasting change in the believers life as they go through the process of being conformed into the image and likeness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What is right and what is wrong you might ask? Go to your Bible and you will find out 99% of God’s moral absolutes are clearly defined, for the other 1%, go to your knees and ask the Holy Spirit to convict you of anything in your life that may not be pleasing to Jesus. This is how to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.