We enjoy an amazing degree of freedom in Christ. For example, Paul wrote that we could even eat at a pagan temple, as long as it doesn’t lead a brother to defile his conscience:
· For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. (1 Corinthians 8:10-11)
Although we have this freedom along with the freedom to eat all foods, even if they happen to be offered to idols, we should not allow this freedom to lead our brethren into anything that might wound their conscience.
Later, Paul wrote that any objects could not defile us. Nothing that impacts us on the outside can tarnish our relationship with our Lord (Titus 1:15):
· “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.” (1 Corinthians 10:23-26; 6:12; Luke 11:39-41)
Things themselves cannot defile in God’s sight. Why? Because all things come from the Lord! However, we use things wrongly if they are not used in love.
Jesus further explained that we are not made unholy by things that impact us from the outside or go into our stomachs:
· And he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone.” (Matthew 15:16-20)
What does make us unholy are the sinful temptations that arise from our hearts and minds – those temptations that we embrace. They will then grow into words and actions.
Of course, this teaching is opposed to those found in the laws of Moses. These taught that contact with the dead, disease, or eating non-kosher foods would defile us. Why the opposition between Moses’ laws and the teachings of the New Testament? Paul explained that certain laws were merely “shadows” or representations, which had been fulfilled by Christ:
· Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
As signs, shadows, or representations of Christ, they had been fulfilled at the Cross. What remains is the substance, the reality, what is of Christ. Thou shall not murder, steal, and commit adultery remain because they are the substance of Christ Himself, His righteous nature.
And so we are free to eat all foods as long as we conduct ourselves in love. We are also free to perform yoga stretches and even to submit to acupuncture. These are things that do not come from our heart and will not defile us.
Instead, there is a danger that these practices might serve as a gateway drug, like marijuana leading to heavier drug use. It is possible that these and similar practices might expose us to the temptations of Eastern philosophy, which might affect our beliefs. It is these that guard our heart and mind.
Similar questions arise regarding circumcision, since Paul seemed to teach that if we get circumcised, our life in Christ might be jeopardized:
· Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4)
How is it that an external surgical procedure could put our relationship with Christ in jeopardy? It can’t! Instead, it is matter of what we believe about circumcision and not the physical act.
Paul had been concerned that believers might be lured into placing their faith in circumcision to become a Jew and, to some extent, believe that they needed to earn God’s “free” gift by following the law. Clearly, Paul wasn’t concerned about the physical act of circumcision. He even had Timothy circumcised (Acts 16:3). However, Paul had him circumcised, not to save him, but to enable him to minister among the Jews. Had Timothy not been circumcised, the Jews would have rejected him.
There is a similar confusion about eating foods offered to idols. As many verses indicate, we are free to eat any foods (Romans 14:14, 17), whether they have been offered to idols or not (1 Cor. 10:25-26; 8:8). However, it might seem that other verses contradict this freedom:
· But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. (Revelation 2:14, 20; 1 Cor. 10:21)
However, this is different from just casually eating food that had been offered to idols. Instead, these false teachers were teaching the church to proactively seek to eat these foods, presumably for spiritual benefit. This represents a form of spiritual adultery, a compromise of the faith and hope we have invested in Christ.
This is my problem with mystical practices to achieve an experience of God. While there is nothing the matter with closing our eyes and allowing our minds to drift to beautiful and relaxing scenes, it is another matter to imagine these relaxing scenes in faith that this practice will open for us a path to God.
Likewise, there is nothing the matter with jogging in order to relax our minds. However, if we believe that physical exertion will open for us a highway to the presence of God, then we are ignoring the priorities that God has clearly set forth for us – faith, obedience, confession, Scripture meditation, and prayer. Instead, faith in physical manipulations represents a lack of faith in the teachings of the Word of God. Rather, He claims:
· Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Timothy 4:7-8)
Misguided Christians have also placed their faith in asceticism – various forms of self-depravation – thinking that these would make them more spiritual, worthy, or more able to hear the “voice of God.” However, Scripture warns against such a hope:
· These [“human precepts and teachings,” verse 22] have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:23)
Paul, therefore, had warned against submitting to such “regulations” (verse 21). It is a matter of placing our hope in the wrong thing instead of in Christ. However, to trust in depriving yourself of dessert in order to lose weight does not violate our faith in Christ.
However, some “Christians” are attempting to bring bodily practices into the church, not only for health reasons, but for spiritual reasons. Brooke Boon has claimed that yoga brings “mind and body” together so that:
· “we become more authentic people, able to hear God and experience Him in previously impossible ways.” (Christian Research Journal, Vol.3, #4, 2008).
The same article reports that Susan Bordenkircher claimed that:
· “Ultimately…the pain and discomfort you may feel in your skin can be the cause of division between you and God.”
If “pain and discomfort” can cause a “division between you and God,” we should live insulated lives. However, this isn’t the message of Scripture. Instead, we are assured that we overflowing with the riches in Christ:
· See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (Colossians 2:8-10)
How can we guard against being taken captive by alien philosophies? By praying and meditating on Scripture day and night (Psalm 1).