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How do we decide what things to avoid?

Defining sin: Susanna Wesley (1669-1742) on practical Christian living

Questions often arise in class about specific lifestyle issues ("standards" as they have sometimes been called).

College students struggle with deciding how to make decisions that will enhance rathern than weaken their commitment to a holy life. Questions come up such as "Where in the Bible does it say it's a sin to drink beer?"

I like the advice John Wesley's mother gave him on how Christians can decide what habits and lifestyle patterns they should avoid or eliminate. Susanna Wesley is often called "the mother of the Methodist movement." When her son John was 22 years old, she him wrote a letter in which she said:

"Take this rule: whatever weakens your reason, impairs the tenderness of your conscience, obscures your sense of God, or takes off your relish of spiritual things; in short, whatever increases the strength and authority of your body over your mind, that thing is sin to you, however innocent it may be in itself."
   — Susanna Wesley (Letter, June 8, 1725)

John Wesley's working definition of what constitutes sin (although he did believe that all transgressions of divine will need God's forgiving grace) became "a willful transgression of a known law of God"

Check out the self-examination questions used in discipleshiop groups spawned by John Wesley's Methodist movement.

The official Nazarene doctrinal statement defining sin includes these words: "We believe that actual or personal sin is a voluntary violation of a known law of God by a morally responsible person. . . . We believe that personal sin is primarily and essentially a violation of the law of love; and that in relation to Christ sin may be defined as unbelief."
   — excerpt from the Articles of Faith of the Church of the Nazarene

Discussion starter questions suggested by a student group discussing how to define "sin"

  1. Is murdering someone more of a sin than harboring ill-will toward a person and delighting in their suffering?
  2. Which is more sinful?
    1. Committing adultery
    2. Having lustful thoughts toward someone
  3. If we claim to keep the Sabbath, but do not fellowship with other believers, have we fulfilled God's wishes?
  4. Are those — such as airline pilots or businessmen on international travels — who are not able to regularly keep the a traditional weekly Sabbath by worshipping on Sunday with other believers to be classified as transgressors of one of the Ten Commandments?
Painting of Susanna Wesley
Susanna Wesley painted by an unknown artist (Epworth Rectory)

John Wesley's criteria for a right heart

John Wesley composed a set of questions to help believers self-evaluate their heart condition. Here they are:

  1. Do you believe in God? In His wisdom, power, justice, mercy, and truth? Do you walk by faith and not by sight?
  2. Do you believe in Jesus Christ and are you found in Him?
  3. Is your faith filled with the energy of love? Has love for God cast out love for the world?
  4. Are you doing the will of God with an attitude of "not my will, but Thine be done"?
  5. Is your heart right toward your neighbor? Do you love your enemies?
  6. Do you show your love by your works?

What's your level of commitment?

After an African pastor's martyrdom, those packing up and disposing of things in his home found a statement he had written expressing his commitment. [ read more ]

     -- Howard Culbertson

Wesley's self-examination questions   Making entertainment choices   Christian Thought course resources   How entire is Entire Sanctification?   Fate of unevangelized -- Answers to an oft-asked question   World Missions and End Times   Is Satan real?   Questions / Answers   Salvation   Reflections on tongues-speaking   What we believe and teach at Southern Nazarene University   Case study: To drdink or not to drink?

10/40 Window explanation and map    Seeking God's will?    Mission trip fundraising   Ten ways to ruin mission trips

World missions course materials and syllabi

Cultural Anthropology    Introduction to Missions    Linguistics    Missions Strategies    Modern Missionary Movement (History of  Missions)    Nazarene Missions    Church Growth and Christian Missions    Theology of Missions    Traditional Religions    World Religions
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Howard Culbertson, 5901 NW 81st, Oklahoma City, OK 73132  |  Phone: 405-740-4149 - Fax: 405-491-6658

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