Q: Should Christians avoid secular things (i.e., abstaining from birth control, television, music, movies, etc.) to get closer to God?
A: The Bible makes clear that our righteousness is not obtained through our personal works. It is imputed to us by our faith in Jesus Christ. As Paul says:
Romans 4:4-5 (NKJV)
4 Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
5 But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness,
Therefore, if we have Christ’s righteousness credited to us by faith, then no work we do can add to our justification. Furthermore, the Bible says the Christian has liberty in many areas of life since we do not have specific restrictions or laws that can ensure our righteousness. Our faith alone in Christ alone assures us of Christ’s righteousness.
Obviously, our liberty cannot become license to engage in sin. Instead, the Christian is called to restrain the flesh and walk in the Spirit so as to please the Lord. Asceticism is a practice of self-discipline or avoidance of indulgence to please God through a denial of the flesh. Depending on an individual’s motivation and purpose in this practice, it could be appropriate for a Christian in some forms.
For example, if a Christian is led by the Spirit into a period of fasting, then this form of asceticism would be biblical. On the other hand, if a person practiced abusive treatment of the body to put an end to sin and please God, such a practice would be both wrong and useless as Paul teaches:
Colossians 2:20-23 (NKJV)
20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
As Paul taught, self-abasement and severe treatment of the body is not a means to self-discipline or pleasing God. Instead, we must focus on biblical ways to strengthen the spirit, not waste time trying to degrade the flesh.
Concerning the specific practices you listed (e.g., abstaining from birth control, television, music, movies, etc.), these choices fall into the realm of liberty. Each Christian has liberty to do as he or she feels led in these matters, and no Christian may stand in judgment over another Christian’s choices. As Paul wrote:
Colossians 2:16-17 (NKJV)
16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.
There is no inherently right or wrong way to live in these areas, apart from our requirement to seek for godliness in everything we do as Paul directed:
Philippians 4:8 (NKJV)
Meditate on These Things
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.
However, if a Christian is pressured into acting contrary to his or her conscience in matters of liberty, then that Christian will have been made to stumble by excessive liberty, as James taught:
James 4:17 (NKJV)
17 Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.
We must take care not to intrude on the personal decisions of others in matters of liberty and thereby to cause them to stumble in their conscience. Leave room for differences without judgment, as Paul commanded:
Romans 14:10-13 (NKJV)
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written:
“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”
12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.
“©2017 – Verse By Verse Ministry International (http://www.versebyverseministry.org). May be copied and distributed in its original, unedited form, including this copyright statement, and no fee is collected for its distribution.”