Thursday, September 23, 2010

Faith: Inside, Outside, Upside Down Christianity

by Dina Sleiman

In college I remember writing a poem that began with those words from the famous children's book. “Inside, outside, the whole world is upside down.” At the time I was attending a Christian university in the middle of the Bible belt South, and more often than not, what I saw was Christianity focused on outward issues.

In a way it made sense, I guess. The Christian university would have had a hard time dictating that we all put others first, have loving, intimate relationships with Christ, hear his voice and walk according to the moment by moment leading of the Holy Spirit.

It was much easier to say you had to wear skirts everyday that came to the tops of your knees (that would be for the girls of course, and I must confess, I’m cool with guys not being allowed to wear skirts.) For the guys it was daily ties, short hair, and no earrings or beards. There were rules about swearing and alcohol and mandatory church attendance. We had a student honor code and dress code and dorm rules (did I mention if you were under 22 and unmarried you had to live in the dorms). The rules went on and on and they were all focused on who we were on the outside and the sort of impression we gave the community and the all important donors.

Now there’s not anything wrong with any of those rules in and of themselves, although few had anything to do with actual Biblical principles. I’m sure they were all designed to make us disciplined individuals and productive people, but rules were not going to lead us one iota closer to Christ. In fact, in a lot of cases, the severity of the rules caused people to rebel.

You may have a hard time believing this from your friendly neighborhood free-spirited, heavy-metal-loving Inky, but I was raised to have great respect for rules and authority, and I do (God wired me as an INFJ, but that's a self-help post for another day.) There were basically three responses to these excessive rules in college: students who didn’t mind them and followed them, students who ignored them and didn’t care, and students who were in constant angst, feeling that the rules were ridiculous and unfair, but who wanted to honor God by following the rules. In other words students who wanted to live from the inside out. In other words, me.

Okay, I feel like I’m caught in the college years, kind of like when I have nightmares about wandering through campus without my schedule or being forced to live in the dorms with three kids. Let’s fast forward to today. Today, I’m raising my own teenagers. And I’m not raising them in dormitories or with upside-down Christianity that focuses on outward standards. I’m raising them to live as I long to live, from the inside out.

Outside-in Christianity is a result of focusing on law. In the Old Testament God gave us law because Christ had not yet died on the cross for us. The Ten Commandments are great and all, but did you ever stop to consider that there weren’t just ten, there were hundreds? If you want to live by the law, shouldn’t you follow them all? The law brings death. Jesus brings life. We are now living under a new covenant. A covenant with principles, not law. A covenant where God calls us to a higher standard and demands our very hearts.

* Note: I wanted to insert a scripture here, but I pretty much needed to quote at least one gospel and most of Paul’s epistles. So, you know what, just re-read the whole New Testament. It certainly won’t hurt you.

Did you ever stop to consider that for several thousand years of mankind’s history there was no law? God judged by the heart for at least 2,500 years (let’s not get into a debate over the creation date here, cause I really don’t care). Only for the last 1500 or so years before Jesus did we have the law. The law was revealed so that man would understand how far we lived from God’s standard of holiness, and that we could never, ever, meet God’s expectations on our own. We needed a savior.

And he sent one, who died on the cross to redeem us from our sin and reconcile us to himself. He now wants us to live by basic principles. The law of love. The fruit of the spirit. We need to know his word, yes. Absolutely. Not because we need to reach our daily quota of Bible reading, but because God renews our mind through his word. Because God reveals his character in his word, and we need to know him as a best friend. We need to pray, yes. Because how can you be intimate with someone you don't communicate with? We need to be in church, yes. Because we need the fellowship of other believers to help us grow in our walk with the lord. Because we are one body in Christ, and we need to function together to reach out to a hurt and dying world. We need to live a holy life, yes. Because it pleases God and keeps Satan from getting entrance into our lives.

But living a holy life goes much further than keeping the Ten Commandments. (Read those epistles one more time please. Seriously, it will be good for you.) It involves dying to self, putting others first, extending love to the world around us. No more gossip or gluttony or lust. No more worry or condemnation, bitterness, despair, or low self-esteem. We are God’s children. His heirs. A royal priesthood. His ambassadors to the world.

But we’ll never get there on our own.

We’re going to fall short. God is well aware of that. That was his whole point in sending a savior. It’s almost as if the outside-in people act like Christ saved them once, and it’s been their job to save themselves everyday since.

This simply is not what the Bible says. Anywhere. God wants our hearts. A much higher standard than the law. He is not out to zap us. He has paid the price to secure our eternal destiny. He wants relationship with us that flows from the inside out.

Just think about it, Christianity that flows from the outside in (if such a thing can even truly exist) would get stuck there. On the inside. No wonder these upside-down outside-in Christians have such little impact on the world. Christianity from the inside out flows, well, outward. Like a river of living water to quench the needs of a hurt and dying generation. Christianity from the inside out releases God’s kingdom from deep within our hearts to everyone we encounter.

So no more upside down Christianity. Let’s all live from the inside out!

Have you been living from the outside in or from the inside out? Was there ever a time in your life when you lived from the outside in? What results have you seen from outside-in Christianity?

9 comments:

  1. Dina?
    amazing.

    I love the idea of 'inside out'. I want to hang on to this and re read it and share it. I know I don't fit the mold even as much as I like rules.

    My pastor says the law is like a thermometer. It wasn't meant to change us but it's a way we measure ourselves against the holiness of God. In measuring, we learn not how good or bad we are, but how far God goes to reconcile us back into his loving arms.

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  2. Sometimes I feel like the law is mainly what was made for our own good. God wanted us to have blessings and life. Like for example, Moses told the Israelites what to eat and what not to eat, one of those things being pork, and did you know pigs are garbage eaters which means they are more likely to carry diseases and such. I do agree with your post though. It is important to live from the inside out and if you have hundreds of rules without the heart of them, you aren't going to get very far.

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  3. So last week-ish I went to Lifeway to pick up the ordered copy of Melanie Dickerson's THE HEALER'S APPRENTICE. While we were standing in line waiting for a cashier, I looked over and saw a pocket Bible with blank pages to take notes.

    Huh?

    It's a little bigger than a checkbook. Left page is script, right page is blank.

    I muttered somethign about how could be the whole Bible.

    So Matt said, "Maybe they left out the unimportant parts?"

    "Like what?"

    "I don't know. The Old Testament?"

    "Matt!"

    We then discussed the purpose of the OT.

    The OT is important because the law leads us to God and shows we need a perfect sacrifice because nothing we do will ever pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus fulfilled the law.

    The problem is many Christians trust Jesus for their salvation then live like everything else after that depends on them. Why? Because they go back to focusing on the law, doing good works because those good works helps them feel like they're earning or deserving the free gift of salvation through Jesus.

    The biggest proponant of this works-focused faith is...well, denominations. The one I participate in included.

    We could name twenty Protestant denominations and list all the laws/requirements they have to living a godly life. Many are good and reasonable laws/requirements. We should follow the 10 Commandments. We should title and attend church regularly. We should be baptized following salvation. And so on and so on.

    And most of them have scriptural basis. Paul said women shouldn't speak in church, so a denomination doesn't allow women to speak in church. No musical instruments are mentioned in the NT, so a denomination doesn't allow musical instruments in their church building.

    So instead of studying scripture and putting verses in context to who the letter was written to, we're back to living to the letter of the law. We become law-focused, instead of grace and truth focused.

    We then impose levels of sin so her mistake is sin, while our mistakes are mistakes. Since we don't want her sin to corrupt us, we shun her. Or we look at someone's life and see her doing X which we define as sin, thus we conclude she's backslidden or maybe isn't a Christian to begin with. Living under the law can lead to a sense of moral superiority.

    When we live from the outside in, we view people through our standards.

    When we live from the inside out, we view people through Jesus' standards.

    Great post, Dina!

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  4. It's funny how God made us all unique. We get saved, and try to make everybody the same.
    I mean, we know when our motives are impure, and I've had many of those, but Jesus didn't say to the woman caught in the act!! of adultery to put some clothes on. He said "Go and sin no more." Can you imagine?

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  5. Dina this was an amazing post. It made me think about what my Pastor was saying on Sunday about the Law showing us how there is no possible way that we could ever meet God's Holy Standard because we are sinners.I love how the law shows me personally what a sacrifice Christ made for me out of Love.

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  6. Okay, first, I apologize for being a space cadet. I'm so caught up in improving my novel to submit to the editors who requested it at the ACFW conference last week, I forgot it was my day, even though I remembered yesterday.

    You know what I'm seeing in a lot of these posts. We know the truth in theory, but we tend to mess it up in practice. Rules are just so clean and easy. Living from the inside out is messier and harder to define.

    Please, everyone, pass this one along. I am excited about this post and this concept. I would love to get the word around.

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  7. Hey, Dina, I'm an INFJ too!

    Great post on an important topic. What a stuggle. Just finished reading Galatians, "It is for freedom that you have been set free!" So many times I want to have rules because they feel so much safer.

    Adge had a great point about God's laws protecting us, like with eating pork. Keeping clean and not living in moldy houses is pretty helpful advice!

    Thanks, Dina.

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  8. Wow. And WOW!
    Dina, this is a fabulous post.
    We've seen, sadly, so many people who conform beautifully to the rules, but whose hearts are empty and devoid of relationship with their heavenly Father. When the rules are promoted, elevated (and preached from the pulpit) to the exclusion of developing our relationship with God, the very essence of what Jesus died for is lost.
    Excellent, excellent post.

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  9. I'm glad you guys are as excited about it as I am. I read a great book this summer called, "The True Nature of God" that inspired it. Gina, the guy was a former Southern Baptist and lived for many years in fear and condemnation of not doing a good enough job of living by the rules.

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