I have noticed that there are many people on Face Book who post memes with Bible verses telling people to, “Like and share if you’re not ashamed of Jesus”. Then on the same page this same person shares some off color joke or obscene post.    

I try not to be judgmental, but it got me wondering, do people who profess to be Christians actually know what that means? Do they even know what they believe? 

If you asked them, “Well, why do you believe that?” Or, “Can you show me that in the word of God?” Some may reply with, “I heard my pastor say that and it seems right to me.” The problem with this answer is that feelings change and as a consequence, a hunch or a feeling, or “My pastor said” or “It seems right to me” will not hold up under cross examination. 

We have all heard the saying, “If you were accused of being a Christian would there be evidence to convict you?” But if a Christian stands to defend his beliefs in an actual court room, their testimony becomes quite critical. Because the court has said that a person cannot hold to their beliefs if they cannot describe them. Their belief cannot be a hunch or a feeling. In a court of law, a defendant must be able to state their beliefs from the Bible orally.

The court does not expect eloquence, but it does expect the defendant to be able to explain his or her beliefs in a simple and concise manner. This becomes important because often we like to hide behind a title. We may claim to be a “Fundamentalist” a “Messianic” or an “Evangelical Christian,” which are descriptive of what group you belong to, but not what you believe personally. In the matter of beliefs, the court realized there must be a test to determine which beliefs are upheld and protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. 

Below are excerpts from his book, Conviction vs. Preference, by Attorney David C. Gibbs Jr., Christian Law Association, Conneaut, Ohio. These are actual incidents that have occurred during court proceedings. 

In 1972, the court came down with such a test. (Wisconsin v. Jonas Yoder, 406 U.S. 205) Ironically, that test case involved Christian education. An Amish man who lived in the state of Wisconsin by the name of Jonas Yoder told the state that he would no longer send his children to the state school. The state of Wisconsin advised him that he must, to which he replied, “I don’t think you hear me. I am not going to send my children to your school.” Mr. Yoder was threatened with being sued if he refused to comply but still he refused. He was warned that if he was sued and if the state won the case, he could go to jail. His only response was that he would not send his children to the school. Even under the threat of losing his children, he refused to change his mind, explaining that his religious beliefs prohibited him from complying with the demand.

Mr. Yoder did not fare very well in court. He lost the case and was told that now that he had had his day in court, he must comply with the ruling. He still refused, never altering his position and he found out something very interesting. After losing his appeal, his case went to the U. S. Supreme Court, where Mr. Jonas Yoder was told that the First Amendment protected him and he was not required to send his children to the state school. This case laid down the test that was to be used for all subsequent cases to determine which beliefs are to be protected by the First Amendment and which are not.

The first definition the court made was, “Every religious belief is one of two types. It is either a conviction or a preference.”

Most Christians carelessly use the word conviction. In reality, the test of whether or not a matter is a conviction is a very severe one and not to be taken lightly. It will be seen here that most of us possess only preferences. 

WHAT IS A PREFERENCE?

A preference is a belief that is held with such intensity that a person can go into full time service in the name of that belief. He can be a minister of the gospel, a Christian schoolteacher or a missionary. He might even give all of his wealth to it and the court decides he still has only a preference. His belief may energize him to stand on a street corner and witness and proselytize, but it would still only be a preference. If a belief can change under some circumstances, the court calls it a preference. True conviction cannot be changed! When a man knows what he believes is right and allows the pressure of others to cause him to bend, the court calls the belief a preference. 

Lawsuit pressure causes many people to change their beliefs. There have been many men who say, “I am for this, but I am not going to get sued over it because the news media makes us into villains.” If you avoid taking a stand that will cause you to get sued because you do not want to see your church membership drop and that causes you to change your beliefs, then your belief was a preference. 

Jail pressure causes many people to change their beliefs. The incarcerated are isolated from their Christian influence, friends and family. And they are thrown into the middle of often-brutal men who normally relish the thought of breaking a Bible-toter. The court says if you change your beliefs for fear of going to jail, then your beliefs are preferences. 

Death pressure causes most people to change their beliefs. The court will ask if you are prepared to die for your belief. The court says that for a belief to be a conviction it will not change, even in the face of death. Why? Only a belief that is God-ordered is a conviction. Therefore the court must first decide if your belief is a conviction or a preference. Only a conviction is protected by the Constitution. 

WHAT IS A CONVICTION?

A conviction is something that you purpose in your heart, as a fabric of your belief system. It is one that you will not change due to any circumstance—It says, “When you believe that your God has required something of you, you will withstand all of the tests put to you.” It has been said that a man is never made by a crisis. The crisis exposes the man for what he already is. 

A conviction is a personal belief. The court says that if you require others to stand with you to maintain your beliefs, then your beliefs are preferences and not convictions. There have been preachers willing to stand on their belief only if they have the backing of a certain college or group to stand with them. That doesn’t go over in a court, for your belief must be a personal conviction regardless of what anyone else thinks or does. 

A conviction is non-negotiable. The court says if you can discuss the negotiation of your faith, it is a matter of preference. Why? How do you negotiate what is God ordered? Recall what the three Hebrews said because it illustrates the last point the court chose. “King, we believe that our God can deliver us, but even if you throw us into that furnace and God does not deliver us, we are not going to bow” (Daniel 3:16–18). In the case of Jonas Yoder and others the Supreme Court has ruled that the test of conviction is if there is a consistent lifestyle of one’s beliefs. A good part of every court case is about whether what you say with your mouth is consistently being practiced with your life. (End of excerpts)

A conviction can also be misinterpreted and misguided. Many of the suicide bombers had such a strong conviction of their beliefs that they were willing to give their lives for it. And yet, even among terrorists there has been instances of their beliefs being a preference rather than a conviction.

Take for example, Hoda Muthana, a young woman from Hoover, Alabama who traveled to Syria to join ISIS. Five years and three husbands later, she says she regrets what she did and is now begging to return to the US. In a recent handwritten note obtained by CNN from a family representative, she writes, “When I left to go to Syria I was a naive, angry, and arrogant young woman. I thought that I understood my religious beliefs.”  As it turns out those religious convictions were actually her preference at the time. And those preferences changed when pressured by outside influences. 

On the other hand, Christians in Nigeria and other countries have given up their lives rather than deny their Lord and convert to Islam or some other religion not grounded in the Word of God—even when it would be much easier and safer to comply with their torturers. Their beliefs were obviously a conviction.  

So are your beliefs a conviction or a preference? 

When Jonas Yoder went to trial and lost, he still won. When he appealed and lost, he won. And when he went to the Supreme Court and the judges unanimously said he was right, he knew he was right all along. He stood in this country when no one else stood with him. But when all the tests of preference and conviction were applied, he passed.

 Pressure from friends and family members, threat of lawsuits, jail or death will decide if your beliefs are a conviction or a preference. It is a conviction of Christians that pornography should not be viewed, that obscenity should not be spoken, that nudity should not be viewed. It is a conviction that unrighteous themes should not be exalted or promoted. Most would agree that these are the convictions of a Christian because the Bible requires it. Is it a sin to do otherwise? I believe that the answer is a resounding yes.

So how is it that so many who profess to be Bible believing, God loving, Jesus following Christians show no consistent lifestyle? Perhaps it is time to place ourselves on trial to see if we really believe what we say we believe. Are we really living consistently by the things that we say are convictions? It is unlikely that we will ever be put on trial for our beliefs, but whether or not you are ever brought into a courtroom and put on trial by men, you are on trial every day before your God. He demands holy living and consistency of life, not just in words. Anyone can say they believe in certain things, but as a child of God we ought to live a life consistent with what we say we believe. God help us to make it so.

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Comments
  1. Lisa Beth says:

    Excellent and timely message! We need our hearts stirred and this moved mine. Thank you. Newsboys video a good match too.

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