A Thought For Your Christian Journey:


Command vs Conviction

by Dr. Walter D. Huyck Jr.

One issue that every maturing Christian will eventually have to deal with is the difference between command and conviction. Some, very sincere, Christians never develop a working understanding of these issues and as a result develop some spiritually unhealthy characteristics; such as legalism or liberalism.

Many that fall into the legalistic camp have erroneously made their personal convictions into the unwavering, and unchanging commands of God. On the other hand those that often fall into the liberal camp have erred just as gravely in the opposite direction. They have surrendered the clear commands of God to the unstable realm of personal opinion.

The Commands of God

So, just what are the commands of God for Christians today? Many would piously hold their Bibles in a raised hand and loudly proclaim, "this is it!" And indeed it is, but perhaps not on the same level that they might be insinuating. You see we all recognize that the Bible is God's Word, written to reveal God to a fallen mankind. We also know that within God's Word there are many commands. Where we possibly differ is where we identify which of these commands pertain to us today. This difference can only be settled within the pages of the Bible itself. We must look at the whole of God's Word to find the truth.

God gave His commands in the Old Testament in three distinct types of law. Most recognize these as the Moral Law, Civil Law, and Ceremonial (Leviticus) Law. The Moral Law encompasses what we all know as the Ten Commandments (Exo 20); it describes how we ought to conduct ourselves toward our fellow man. The Civil Law is given throughout the book of numbers and was the foundation for the laws that would develop the Jewish government. The Ceremonial Law, given in the book of Leviticus, directed the Jewish Priesthood in the execution of their religious practices.

The Old Testament Civil Law and Ceremonial Law were given to the Jews. While the civil law would indeed provide a great foundation for any society, the truth is that it ceased to be in force when Israel and Judah ceased to be sovereign nations. The Ceremonial Law is obviously only good for the religious practices of the Jews. It is important to note that the New Testament doesn't reiterate any of these commands as laws in force for Christians.

However, the Moral Law is fully supported in the New Testament. Jesus Himself reiterated each of the Ten Commandments, with the exception of the one pertaining to the Sabbath. Where we consider the Sabbath we find that Jesus fully supported the Sabbath in His life, but from the perspective that it was made for man not man for it (Mark 2.27). Then we find that Jesus added two New Commandments for Christians, that we love God and also love one another (John 13.34).

Therefore, the Moral Law does apply to us as Christians while the Civil and Ceremonial Laws do not. We also learn that the best way to fulfill God's law is to simply love (Rom 13.10).

Conviction is not law

Standing in support of, and sometimes in contrast to, God's commands are our convictions. Convictions are those standards that we adopt for ourselves, whether by experience or tradition that help us to live in keeping with those things that truly matter to us.

Convictions obviously change from person to person. Each individual will develop and adopt their own convictions in keeping with their experiences. Some will establish very strict and high standards while others seem to live by apparently no standards at all, yet both hold their own personal convictions.

For Christians our convictions are those standards that help us to be what we believe God wants us to be. Many of our convictions developed to help insulate from sin, which almost always is the result of our own weaknesses when enticed (James 1.14). We probably fell or nearly fell to some temptation and then developed a conviction to help protect us from making that error again.

The truth is that our convictions are very healthy for us, spiritually speaking. However, our convictions can become detrimental to our spiritual well being if we fail to properly understand them.

Convictions are expressly personal in nature. The mistake that many well-intentioned Christians make is that they insist that everyone else hold their convictions as though they were God's Word. Some even go as far as refusing to have anything to do with people that will not hold to their personal convictions. These people have elevated their personal opinions into the realm of Scripture. By rejecting multitudes of sincere Christians they deny themselves the benefit of their fellowship as well as their ability to influence them in return.

For example: I have known of Churches that believed that women ought never to wear pants, even if they were made expressly for women. They felt that they could back up their belief with scripture, and went as far as to put a placard on the front door of the church that said "Ladies if you are wearing pants, please don't come in." Thus they turned away many new Christians before they even had a chance to grow in Christ or to understand their conviction.

Now, some would accuse me of an ultra liberal attitude that will accept every sin under the shadow of personal conviction. On the contrary, there are very clear commands in God's Word and I would never excuse any clear violation of them. However, I also recognize that their are the unchanging, eternal, truth's revealed by God, and then there are also my convictions concerning them. I can agree with my fellow Child of God concerning God's clear commands, while holding differing opinions about how to keep them.

Christians must understand that there are distinct differences between commands and convictions. While it is not wrong to share our convictions with others, we do damage to others and ourselves when we strive to force our convictions upon them. I have seen seasoned Christians literally drive Babes in Christ (new Christians) from their church by their demanding convictions.

Therefore, I challenge you to carefully consider and compare your convictions to God's Word, recognize the difference, then live and share your faith in fellowship with God's people. Remember that God calls us to unity not to division. Refuse to be divided over your personal convictions, but stand immovable upon God's unchanging Word.