There Is a Line I Will Not Cross

Sometimes I think that if I had another life to live on this earth after this one, I would choose to follow my musical inclinations. I really love music and, at various times, have taken piano lessons, achieved first-chair trumpet status in my high school band, followed by learning how to play the guitar.

All of those “talents” have fallen into disuse over time, but I have music playing constantly when I drive, both Christian and “secular.” I put secular in quotes because really good music is from God, regardless of the intent of the writer of the song. He gives mankind the ability to create it.

Some songs combine insightful lyrics with a tune that stays with me. A prime example for me is one titled “There Is a Line,” sung by Susan Ashton. The first time I heard the lyrics, I was gratified by the solid philosophical understanding of where Christians need to be in their response to the decaying culture around us.

The song begins with this:

It’s hard to tell just when the night becomes the day
That golden moment when the darkness rolls away
But there is a moment none the less

In the regions of the heart there is a place
A sacred charter that should not be erased
It is the marrow; the moral core that I can not ignore

The second stanza continues the theme:

Ask the ocean where the water meets the land
He will tell you it depends on where you stand
And you’re neither right or wrong

But in the fathoms of the soul that won’t ring true
Cause truth is more than an imposing point of view
It rises above the changing tide
As sure as the morning sky

The chorus then zeroes in on the stance a Christian must take:

Within the scheme of things
Well I know where I stand
My convictions they define who I am
Some move the boundaries at any cost
But there is a line, I will not cross
No riding on the fence – no alibis
No building on the sands of compromise
I won’t be borrowed and I can’t be bought
There is a line, I will not cross

Those words resonate in my soul: my convictions define who I am; I won’t be borrowed and I can’t be bought.

There is a line I will not cross.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the song, have a listen.

Find your moral core in Christ. Don’t be bought. There is a line we never should cross.

Convictions in an Anti-God Culture

Thomas FactorI’ve been reading evangelist Winkie Pratney’s book The Thomas Factor: Dealing with Doubt. Although it’s not necessarily intended as a devotional book, that’s the spirit in which I’m reading it, and so many of his comments and explanations have served to confirm what I already know and have challenged me to remain committed to the Truth.

I was particularly impressed with his treatment of what it means to have deep conviction of belief. Here’s a sample:

We are to take truth and personal convictions seriously. How do you know if you really have convictions? . . . No conviction is truly your own unless you’re prepared to hold it even if all others are against it. I’ve sometimes told young Christians, “You need to follow Jesus even if everyone you know who is supposed to be a Christian turns his back on both Him and you.”

Nebuchadnezzar StatuePratney then expounds on the well-known Biblical example of the three Hebrews who refused to bow down to the statute of King Nebuchadnezzar. They stood out like the proverbial sore thumbs while everyone else bowed. Nebuchadnezzar was irate and gave them one more chance: either bow down or go into the fiery furnace. Pratney then invites us to be one of those three and think about how we might have rationalized our disobedience to God:

What would you do? Would you smile and, so as not to offend, go ahead? Would you bow (certainly not enthusiastically) and mutter to yourself: “Well, God knows I am not really bowing ‘in my heart.’ After all, He has gone to all this trouble to put me in a place of some leadership and influence with these ungodly pagans and He certainly wouldn’t want all that to come to an end now because of some silly little external show. I’ll bow (outwardly only, of course) just to please the king, but God knows that it is all only an outward appearance. In my heart of hearts, am I not still following God?”

If those rationalizations sound familiar, they are. They’ve been used time and again throughout history to sidestep real conviction and try to convince oneself that disobedience really isn’t disobedience. The three Hebrews knew what awaited them, yet they stood firm. Pratney continues,

These boys knew who God was. They knew something of His wisdom, His character, and His power. They knew what He could do. They also knew some way or other, in life or by death, they would shortly be out of the king’s power. They knew God could intervene. But they did not know, for them, for then, if God would. And knowing the king as they did, knowing that he would do exactly as he said, knowing fully the consequences of a polite but firm refusal, they refused anyway. “But if not, we will not bow down.”

That’s conviction. It has to do with commitment—even if you don’t understand the whole thing, even if you don’t know what’s going on , even if you don’t know what is going to happen to you.

In our day, with the culture rapidly slipping away from even tolerating Biblical convictions, will we stand firm? If we rationalize our disobedience, it doesn’t change the fact that it is disobedience. The Lord is looking at each heart, seeking those who will remain faithful under trial.

The Pilgrim Story: Convictions, Not Preferences

You’ve heard the cliché “actions speak louder than words.” The New Testament book of James puts it another way when it says that faith without works is dead. People may say they believe something, but you don’t know if it’s a real belief until you see if, under pressure, it holds solid. A few days ago, I began an examination of the English Separatists who eventually became known as the Pilgrims when they settled in America. How solid were their beliefs? What indicators show the genuineness of their faith?

Pilgrims Going to HollandDue to their belief that the Anglican church should not speak for everyone, and that they should be free to set up churches apart from the state, they were perceived as traitors to the nation. One simply cannot reject the church without rejecting the head of the church—the king or queen of the realm. Taking that stance put them in peril, so much so that many Separatists throughout England sought to leave the country for Holland, where they would not be punished for pursuing their beliefs.

The little group of Separatists that ultimately found their way to the New World tried twice to leave England. Twice they suffered for the attempt. They had to make arrangements in secret so the government wouldn’t know, since they didn’t have permission to emigrate. On the first attempt, the captain of the ship betrayed them to the government, which paid him for the betrayal. He was in it only for the money. Consequently, they ended up in prison for a time.

Pilgrim Women & ChildrenDiscouraging, right? Why try again? Yet they did. As the men were loading all their goods on the ship, suddenly soldiers appeared on the horizon. Somehow word had leaked about what they were doing. The captain of this ship, not wanting to experience the same fate as his erstwhile passengers, pulled up anchor and took off with the men; the women and children were still on the shore waiting their turn for boarding. Now they were left alone. The soldiers dragged them away, where they suffered in prison, this time without their husbands. Meanwhile, the men on the ship were in the deepest distress as they took off for Holland without their families. To add to the distress, they sailed straight into a terrible storm that almost sank the ship.

Eventually, everyone arrived in Holland—men, women, and children—but the ordeal had been harrowing. One has to ask why they would go through such stress when all they would have had to do was outwardly submit to the authorities, put on a show of external obedience, and quietly gone their Separatist ways. Why subject themselves to this potential punishment when they could have lived in peace?

The reason they didn’t submit, of course, is that they wouldn’t have been at peace in their spirits. Their reading of Scripture convinced them of the rightness of their beliefs; they would have violated their consciences if they had disobeyed what they felt God was calling them to do.

Conviction vs. PreferenceI like to explain it this way: for some people, their “beliefs” are no more than preferences; they lack the conviction to follow through on what they say they believe. A preference is not a conviction. A preference isn’t even a real belief. These Pilgrims showed integrity in their steadfastness through trial. They were the real deal.

Just getting to Holland, however, did not signal the end of their trials. More hard times awaited them, more instances when they had to make decisions based on their heartfelt convictions. I’ll continue the Pilgrim story in upcoming posts.