Apr22WedApril 22, 2020
With all the “gospel-hyphenated” words that have come out over the last 10 years and after reading the sixth chapter of Conscience, we should add one more word to our gospel-lexicon, and that word is gospel-flexibility.
Gospel-flexibility is not a term that either author—Naselli or Crowley—uses but we have freedom of conscience to do such a thing.
Understand, gospel-flexibility does not speak to the limberness or stretchiness of the gospel itself, but rather to the flexibility of those who are ambassadors of the gospel. The authors define Christian liberty as “the freedom to discipline yourself to be flexible for the sake of the gospel.” Hence the idea of gospel-flexibility.
Gospel-flexibility is necessary for all believers at all times, however, the necessity for this posture becomes increasingly evident the farther we get from our own cultures. The authors look to Paul, arguably Christendom’s greatest missionary, to understand the why and how of being flexible for the sake of the gospel particularly in cross-cultural missionary contexts.
Paul was flexible for one reason which the authors demonstrate by emphasizing specific words in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23. Here is their presentation of that passage:
For though I am free from all [people and their cultures], I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9: 19– 23)
The authors also share a helpful chart on how they break down these verses:
Paul practiced gospel-flexibility for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of those to whom he proclaimed the gospel. This is what Paul meant when he desired to be “all things to all men.” Paul was willing to deal with his conscience in such a way so as to be clear on “what was truly a matter of right and wrong and what was more a matter of preference or opinion” (129). He would hold on to what was right and wrong, but he would flex in regards to things that weren’t truly a matter of conscience.
I’m sure most of you would recognize how hard this sort of conscience work would be. Naselli and Crowley make the difficulty of such endeavours clear: “It’s not easy. It requires years of carefully tending the garden of your conscience. Or to use our original metaphor, it requires years of calibrating and recalibrating your conscience. It requires spiritual maturity, theological conviction, Christian love, personal discipline, and an unswerving commitment to the gospel” (131).
This sort of Christian liberty that results in gospel-flexibility is imperative for life in the body of Christ and equally so in the broader world where so many people from so many different cultures desperately need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ.
This flies in the face of much of what we have believed about Christian liberty. We have often thought of Christian liberty is the freedom I have to do whatever I want so long as the bible doesn’t command otherwise. Christian liberty has often been about getting and doing what I want. The authors clearly don’t agree with this position indicating “Christian liberty is not about you and your freedom to do what you want to do. It’s all about the freedom to discipline yourself to be flexible for the sake of the gospel and for the sake of weaker believers” (132).
As I have said so often over the course of reading this book together, this is great stuff. Great stuff for me as I am conformed to the image of Christ; great things for our churches as we learn to love each other in more Christ-like ways; great for our witness as we share the gospel to many who are still in darkness.
Thank you for taking this journey with me as we have tackled Conscience together. I pray that you would continue to apply the lessons of this book to your life even as you pray for me to do the same.