I’ve been working through how to recognize the difference between God’s standard and men’s standard of conduct. For example, I came out of a system that taught it was a sin for a woman to wear pants, and though I threw that false belief out years ago, I wonder about wearing skimpy clothing. A judgmental attitude (which I’m prone to have) is a self-righteous attitude about how others conduct themselves—usually because I don’t do it myself. And often the item or “sin” in question reflects a tradition of man rather than breaking a direct command of Scripture. Discernment, on the other hand, involves understanding the intent of a command in Scripture and applying it to myself.
One’s choice of dress falls on a continuum: from a Middle Eastern burka all the way to public nudity. What’s modest for one culture may be immoral for another.* I’m sure my upbringing in an African village impacts my confusion. Does God’s Word dictate standards of dress, or does God look only on the heart? (I can dress like a Puritan and not have a pure heart.) The other end of the continuum is harder for me to gauge. At what point does my dress choice cross into sin? Can the discussion focus on the amount of material, or should the focus be 100% on the heart?
Or what about my media viewing choices? Is there a point at which what I watch becomes sin? Or is it all about the condition of the heart? I cannot judge another’s motives, but personally, I’d prefer wholesome rather than on-the-edge. Better to hug the mountain side than the cliff side in these gray areas.
*Funny story from Stormy Omartian’s book The Power of the Praying Woman. Seems an offended missionary decided he should supply the topless natives with t-shirts. The next day the ladies showed up at church proudly wearing their new garb—with holes cut out for their breasts (so they could nurse of course). Made perfect sense to me!
2023 Update. I must have worked through these questions sufficiently as I have no emotion today when the subject comes up. I know now that I am not responsible for anyone’s heart but my own, and I can trust God to convict me when needed and guide me into all truth.
At my missionary boarding school, I was taught it was a sin to hate. Therefore, if we hated someone, we’d piously say, “Oh, I don’t hate her; I just strongly dislike her!” As if we didn’t say the words, we were not guilty of the deed.
This week the Spirit of God confronted my self-righteousness with a memory where I carried hatred in my heart. As I released that emotion, years of bondage slipped away, and I felt free. Nobody but Jesus knew that sin was there. And nobody but Jesus and the person who prayed with me for deliverance knows it’s gone. But will others sense a change in me? I don’t know. I feel the change, and I know that something is different.
My heart hurts when my children are not at peace, and my soul longs for growth and godliness for each of us. I’m weighed down by a stone that is too heavy to carry, and I drop this boulder on someone’s foot. The thought that I might have hurt someone, even inadvertently, is heinous to me. I feel helpless to make it right because, even if I apologize, and even if they forgive me, the damage is done, and it’s my fault. I feel regret and sorrow.
When I sin deliberately and someone gets hurt, I am accountable for the damage. If I sin inadvertently or unintentionally, God knows my heart. He can turn the stone into flower petals. And if I seek reconciliation and I repent and confess my part in the hurt, He can restore and bless and soften the blow.
O, Lord, bring rose petals to my family today. Open our eyes to see truth and give us courage to act upon it. Amen.
The sins of some are obvious, reaching the place of judgment ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever (I Tim. 5:24-25).
From my 2009 Journal. While meditating on this verse, I came up with the following examples:
The sins of some are obvious: Someone who yells obscenities and openly threatens a person in a parking lot.
The sins of others trail behind them: An abuser’s sins are hidden to the world’s eyes; but eventually they become revealed (in the lives of the victims and, of course, at the Judgment Day).
Good deeds are obvious: Someone gives a large donation to a charity that names a building after him.
Even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever: when I leave cookies on a neighbor’s porch with no note.
Can you give me more examples?
I’d like to be a better good-deed doer. It doesn’t come naturally to me. Though I have occasionally done something in a generous and spontaneous way, I usually have to plan, set aside time, and then do. But I’m thinking good deeds are more than giving things away or doing an act of service. Could a good deed also be offering a kind word to a frazzled checkout clerk or giving a smile of affirmation to a child or hugging a grieving friend?
I recall the time when our family stopped at an out-of-town gas station to take a much-needed rest stop. I was surprised and delighted to find fresh-cut flowers on the ladies’ bathroom counter. An uncharacteristically clean stall and a fresh odor also caught my attention.
When I emerged from the restroom, I approached the clerk behind the counter and asked if I could see the manager. Her face visibly fell. “Why?” she demanded sullenly. She looked like she’d been caught doing something wrong and went on the defensive. “She’s not here.”
“Okay,” I responded. “I just wanted to tell her how much I appreciated a clean bathroom and especially enjoyed the fresh flowers.”
The change on her face was immediate. With the fear gone, she relaxed and grinned. “I’ll be sure to tell her,” she said. “And thank you so much.” I wondered then how often this tired clerk had to put up with complaining customers. It appeared that this one kind word had made her day.
And now that I’ve told you, my deed is no longer hidden, but maybe it will encourage you to do a good deed today.