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 choices ("standards" as they have sometimes been called).

College students struggle with deciding how to decide what behaviors would weaken their commitment to a holy life rather than enhance it. I have fielded questions 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. Since the Methodist Church was born out of the ministry of Susanna Wesley's son John, she 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)

Although John Wesley did believe that all transgressions of divine will need God's forgiving grace, his working definition of sin was "a willful transgression of a known law of God" [ more on Wesley ]

Sin's seat: The heart

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

What do Nazarenes believe about sin?

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 worshiping on Sunday with other believers to be classified as transgressors of one of the Ten Commandments?
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?

Entertainment: Biblically-based moral choices

The following material has been adapted from the contents of a publication by Focus on the Family.

Some years ago Francis Schaeffer wrote a book titled How Should We Then Live? The question that book title asks is a good one. If we believe what we say we believe, then how should we live, particularly as it involves our entertainment choices?

A good starting point:

How would I feel if Jesus were to physically show up at my dorm room or home? Would I feel pride or embarrassment at having Jesus see the movies I watch or see my video games collection?

Here is some guidance

"I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it." -- John 17:14-16

What's your level of commitment?

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

    -- Howard Culbertson

Wesley's self-examination questions    Is swearing a sin?     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 about Doctrine     Salvation     Reflections on tongues-speaking     What we believe and teach at Southern Nazarene University     Case study: To drink or not to drink?

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