A religious tradition is good if it helps you to grow closer to Christ. I have many friends that observe Lent and so, I decided one year that I would give it a try myself. The idea behind Lent is to deny yourself something that you enjoy for forty days to remind yourself of Christ’s sacrifice for us and to desire God more instead of the material thing you have given up. I am a bit of a smartphone addict so I stopped using my phone for forty days. It was a good experience—when I wanted to use my phone I tried to pray instead (I prayed a lot more during those forty days), and I was better about getting things done at home and making conversation. However, it is important to remember that observing traditions like Lent doesn’t make a person any more holy and God does not love us more than He already did before. If a tradition helps bring you closer to Christ then it is good, but if you are doing it because you think it makes you better than other people or because your mom says that you have to then it is not good.
Rules can help us to avoid sinful things that tempt us. They are not codes of conduct that help us earn our salvation. Some believe that any drinking of alcohol is sinful, but this is puzzling to me since Jesus’ first miracle was to create wine. However, if someone is an alcoholic or fears they will become one, then they absolutely should have a personal rule not to drink alcohol, and their friends should support them in keeping this rule. Jesus says in Matthew 5:30 that “If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut if off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” As a nerdy example from my own life (which is itself a list of nerdy examples), I remember the release of the video game World of Warcraft when I was a teenager. It looked like a lot of fun, but I knew that I have a hard time putting things down when I start them and that the game is designed to never end. While most people could play the game a healthy amount and then move on, I thought it might become too much of a distraction for me. So I made a rule for myself not to play any game that doesn’t have a clear ending. We must each keep our own weaknesses in mind and take steps to avoid them, but we can’t allow rules to replace Christ. The person who avoids alcohol shouldn’t look down on the person who can drink in moderation, and I shouldn’t look down on the person who can play World of Warcraft in moderation!
The key, Paul says, is to draw as close as possible to Christ, to take root in Him, and to build our lives on Him. The better our relationship with Christ, the more we will trust Him when life gets hard, and the more we will work to help others to know Him. If we strive to appreciate what Christ has done for us, then our lifestyles will reflect gratitude for our salvation and we will do whatever we can to bring others to Christ. Any traditions and rules we develop in relationship with Christ should be there to nurture and protect this relationship, not to help us feel as though we earned our place with God.
If you missed out on this week's sermon, check it out here.