I have Republican leanings and was homeschooled for 12 years. Don’t throw Molotov cocktails at my house until you at least read this post.
Every church has things that are assumed to be godly. Or at least godly-ish. These things aren’t explicitly in the Bible but have still been infused with a sense or feel of godliness.
You know what I’m talking about. Maybe there’s an underlying assumption that homeschooling families (and their giant vans) are more spiritually mature than those that send their kids to public school.
Maybe Republicanism is next to godliness, and all true God-fearing families display their patriotic/Jesus allegiance through their bumper stickers and guns racks.
Maybe everyone is into essential oils or eating organic or not watching television or a certain method of evangelism. Really, it could be anything. Sometimes this zeal is found throughout the entire church and sometimes it’s found in certain circles.
And while none of these things are wrong, per se, they all have the potential to create one, massive problem…
I’m not talking in groups like you had in high school. This isn’t about wearing a puffy Starter jacket or the newest pair of JNCO jeans.
I’m talking spiritual in groups.
C.S Lewis called these groups “inner rings”. He said:
A thing may be morally neutral and yet the desire for that thing may be dangerous. . . . Unless you take measures to prevent it, this desire is going to be one of the chief motives of your life, from the moment you enter your profession until you are too old to care. . . . If you do nothing about it, if you drift with the stream, you will in fact be an “inner ringer.”
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There is nothing wrong with any of the things mentioned above. In fact, many of them have really good elements.
But few things kill gospel freedom and godliness in a church like spiritual inner rings.
The Appearance of Godliness
The church in Colossae found itself being overrun by inner rings. False teachers were insisting that true, mature Christians had to be circumcised or observe certain festivals or refrain from eating and sex or have grand spiritual visions.
If you didn’t do these things, you were on the outside. An immature Christian. Less godly. Maybe not a Christian at all. There were those who were in and those who were out, and you really didn’t want to be left out.
Paul would have none of this. He knew that inner rings were in direct opposition to the gospel and were directly from Satan, which is why he wrote:
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 3:20-23)
Every inner ring – education, diet, patriotism, politics, worship style – is a sham. They have the appearance of wisdom but do absolutely nothing to promote true godliness. They can’t help people put sin to death. They don’t promote an atmosphere of gospel freedom. They are nothing more than human precepts and teachings that become millstones around the neck.
When a good thing becomes a moral thing it becomes a demonic thing.
I know this seems extreme, but it’s true. When inner rings form, we are acting as we are still alive to the world. As if we haven’t died with Christ and risen to a new glorious life. As if we are still ruled by human regulations and the old law.
I’ve been guilty of turning good things into moral things and I deeply regret it. It always creates heartache and suffocation. It never truly helps people grow in grace.
The Gospel Obliterates Inner Rings
The beauty of the gospel is that it obliterates inner rings. In Christ, we are all forgiven, adopted, and heirs with Christ. We are all priests to God, being built together into the church.
We are feet, eyes, hands, and ears, all totally dependent on each other to grow in Christ-likeness. The Holy Spirit is given liberally to all, and every one of us has spiritual gifts which must be shared with other believers.
When we create inner rings, we trample the gospel. We smear legalism all over it. We exclude those God has welcomed.
The gospel is beautifully broad and beautifully narrow: when we are in Christ, we are welcomed by God. That’s it.
Let’s not make the gospel narrower than God makes it.