Excerpt: We all see the problem of government attaching bad laws to good ones, or having to buy a variety pack of items when we really only want one of them. But in what ways do we practice this mixing of things, people, or beliefs on a daily basis?
People like to put other people in boxes. If someone holds one belief we oppose, we tend to assign a whole package of unacceptable beliefs to that person. Many believe that all who are politically conservative are automatically racist, or that all who are politically liberal are automatically drug abusers. Those who enjoy being self-sufficient are labeled terrorists, those who believe in God are labeled flat-earthers, and those who doubt that mankind causes alleged global warming (or cooling, or chaos) are labeled science deniers. Regardless of topic, we like to think that one belief or trait must necessarily be part of a whole collection of them.
But perhaps of greater concern is the phenomenon of people having "packages" with incompatible or contradictory contents, like a suitcase packed with both swimwear and a winter coat. Certainly most of us have this condition, to one extent or another. For example, we may oppose war yet pick fights with the neighbors; we may object to welfare yet demand free entertainment; we may oppose death for murderers but support death for unborn babies. Or we skip merrily through life believing that there is no such thing as free will, while spending many hours debating the subject.
This is no less true, or less tragic, within the Christian community. Some congregations or denominations teach the Gospel accurately, but then openly condone popular sins; others do a great job teaching about prophecy but completely miss the mark about spiritual gifts. And when such a group or individual has a large following, the errors tagging along with the truth can become a serious problem. Too often, we refuse to see the errors because of the truths; we tend to not believe bad reports about people we like— or good reports about people we don’t like.
What this all boils down to is discernment, which means to judge between good and bad. But this very concept has come under increasing condemnation among us. Many believe that practically the only thing qualifying as sin anymore is standing on principle, such as speaking out against sexual sin or citing the Bible’s instructions on what to do with those who live in sin. Negativity has been deemed evil, and failure to accept and affirm any and every "lifestyle" has become heresy.
It is easy to completely shut out anyone who crosses the lines we set, but as Christians we must set the lines according to scripture rather than personal preference or popularity. And as the wise saying goes, "start with Jesus"; the highest bar is set there. We should certainly completely shut out anyone denying the basic tenets of the faith, such as Jesus being our God and Savior who became human and then rose from the dead. But use caution in either approving or rejecting people on any other basis.
What each of us must do is first of all know the Bible; we cannot discern based solely upon the voices in our heads or the opinions of others who haven’t read the Bible either. Principles don’t come from our fickle emotions or the winds of change, but from Jesus and the Word he gave us. Then, when we are properly grounded, we must be careful who we listen to, and who we recommend to others, so that we don’t become unwitting partners in the spread of falsehood. We must be specific about the topics a group or teacher is right about, without giving blanket approval of everything else they may teach. We shouldn’t overlook the faults of those we like, or condemn without a trial those we don’t like.
Do your homework; research any group or person you’re about to recommend. But most of all, examine your own beliefs. Are you acting and believing consistently, or are there serious contradictions? Do you really practice what you preach? Do you speak of loving everyone, yet engage in mockery of those who hold a secondary belief you disagree with? Do you object to being stuffed into a box, yet quickly stuff others into boxes? Stop and think about what you believe and how you behave, before claiming the right to assess (judge!) the beliefs and behavior of others. Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for those living on double standards, who said one thing but did another, and who claimed to know the scriptures but failed to practice them.
Being born again is only the beginning, not the end, and spiritual growth requires spiritual food and exercise. Don’t be like the couch potato who critiques athletes, or politicians who exempt themselves from the laws they make. But also don’t be like the toddler who thinks the pretty liquid in a bottle of dish soap looks like fruit juice. Discern what a teacher or group says and does, using the Bible as the standard, and think about whether the teachings make sense or are consistent with scripture. As Jesus put it, treat others as you wish they’d treat you, and remember that God will judge us by the standard we’ve used to judge others. Don’t be quick to judge by appearances, or fail to judge against error and sin. Judgment, done scripturally, simply means to separate good from bad by God’s standards. And if we do this, we will free people from their boxes, yet keep the lid locked tight on sin and falsehood.