by Jeff Rockel
All material copyright 1996, 1998, 2007 by Jeff Rockel
This material deals with the subject of social
Added: July 27, 1997
In the following book, I present information from the Bible and from history that I believe supports the practice of nudism. I am NOT dogmatic on the positions I share about nudity. I will not defend my position on nudity with the same confidence and conviction with which I would defend Jesus' divinity. I am open to seeing other interpretations of scripture concerning nudity. But in the two years that I have been researching this topic, no one has provided a clear argument against the position I have taken. Any argument I will consider must be either scripture based or research based.
My word of warning is to those of you who choose to explore social nudity. Whether at home or at a park, society will oppose you. My warning is to keep your nudity a private matter. I give this warning with strongly mixed emotions. On the one hand, I want body acceptance to be embraced by everyone I meet. On the other hand, our society in America is so obsessed with body coverings that the opposition is dogmatic, although their arguments are emotionally based.
In our society, breast feeding an infant must be done behind closed doors or hidden under a blanket. You may be accused of child abuse if you suggest that you and your children are nude together. Your church is likely to chastise you if they learn you skinny dip. Your neighbors may call the police if you let your dog out the back door au-natural.
In short, our society is obsessed with keeping the body hidden. Yet, our society is also obsessed with sexuality and the nudity associated with it. Some people are unable to accept the concept that nudity and sexuality are separate issues. The purpose of this book is to show the distinction between nudity and (sinful) sexuality.
Some of you reading this book will hold to the belief that the writers who teach sex is a wonderful, natural thing are as wrong as I am. I will not try to change your belief. That is between you and God. I only wish to point out that what I share on the subject of nudity may be just as relevant as what others have recently taught on the subject of sex within marriage. I hope you will find the freedom that I believe God intends for you to have by accepting yourself as a wholly acceptable creation of His.
Revised: July 27, 1997
When the research leading to this work began, I set out to show that the Bible does not condemn nudity. After discovering social nude recreation in the summer of 1995, and knowing the predominantly negative view of American Christendom about nudity, I wanted to prove that God condoned nudity. This desire to justify social nudity came after my first encounters with nudity. After some initial investigation on the subject via the internet and a book entitled Therapy, Nudity and Joy, I took the risk and entered an alien world. A world where clothing was used when appropriate and set aside when desirable.
This plunge came only after much growth had occurred in my life emotionally and spiritually. In the fall of 1994, I was brought to my knees emotionally and lifted up again by the loving arms of my church family. Their unconditional love towards me compelled me to seek professional Christian counseling regarding my emotional state. On the same night that I was reconciled with my brothers and sisters in Christ, God revealed to me how He had gifted me for spiritual service. This gift was confirmed by one in the church family. The sudden realization that I was preventing God from working through me spurred me on to learn what was troubling me emotionally and what I must do to correct this condition.
By God's grace and the help of my wife, church family and several professional Christian counselors, I was able to yield to God's changing power. The change came from the inside out, as it always must to be genuine. Part of this change involved accepting myself the way God had created me. In accepting myself, I was able to overcome my fear of associating with others socially. (This was often a crippling fear at social gatherings and parties.) When confronted by a new job in a new company, I learned to seek out the help of strangers in that company, sometimes with fear, but ultimately with determination. To confirm the change that I observed in my life, I chose a final exam that many would consider very risky. I chose to meet total strangers in the nude.
My experience revealed that the people I met were more at ease with themselves emotionally than I could have imagined. This sense of self acceptance and the acceptance of strangers to their group made me want to investigate the lifestyle more. God designed the church community to be the ultimate expression of individual acceptance, participation and support. The neighborhood tavern has often been compared to the local church in the way it provides a social acceptance and support community, albeit very inadequate. In a similar way I saw a community of individual acceptance, participation and support within this clothes-free community. Because of the very positive experience I had, I obtained more information about the nude lifestyle and attempted to prove that this lifestyle was acceptable to God.
I quickly realized that my attitude and approach were wrong. What I needed to do was search the scriptures and learn what God says, good, bad or indifferent about nudity. To that end, I began searching the scriptures and conducting word studies to determine what the Bible said, good or bad, about nudity. I initially found that God says a lot about nudity and most of it appeared very negative on the surface. What I found as I studied further was far more significant to the life of the believer than nudity alone.
This work looks at the subject of social nudity from a Christian perspective. When completed, this work will include information from secular sources on social nudity. There will be a historical perspective, a therapeutic perspective and a social/recreational perspective.
In the first and second century church, many Christian groups required baptism to be performed in the nude. (This plus the fact that cold, running water was required when available made the decision to follow Christ a decision not to be made lightly.) Historically, many of the pioneers of social nudity were Christian ministers. The benefits to physical and emotional well being made this lifestyle seem to be Godly. Often their attempt was to return to the simplicity and innocence (in the presence of God) of the Garden. Throughout history, societies that practiced social nudity in some form were seen to be more well balanced emotionally and at ease with life.
In the course of making my arguments, I make many generalizations. I realize that generalizations by there very nature do not apply to all people. If you believe that a particular generalization does not apply to you, I would suggest the following. First, I accept that you may be right. If you have accepted God's forgiveness in an area of your life and have applied the freedom offered you to serve God and others, I rejoice in your growth. But I would challenge each of you to examine yourself in any area that you disagree with. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal what needs changing in your spirit. If I am wrong in any area of interpretation or application, I am willing to stand before God naked, open and revealed, accepting the instruction and correction He has for me. Above all I want to be conformed to Christ's image and serve God in freedom and truth.
You will also notice in my arguments that I sometimes refer to the use of clothing in a negative way. I do not propose that clothing should be abandoned. Clothing is necessary for protection. Clothing is beneficial for expression. Clothing is fun for decoration. The focus of all my arguments is to point out the negative aspects of our use of clothing. If used to mask or hide emotional problems, these problems must be addressed whether the clothing is ever discarded or not.
In general, the subject of social nudity raises a red flag in American Christendom. Therefore, I approach this subject with the recognition that some will be offended by the study of this subject. I realize that if we don't start with The Bible, no matter what the subject, we run the risk of erring. We must always start with The Truth and try to understand the subject at hand in His light. I hope that you will be able to grasp the concept of social nudity, especially in recreation and relaxation. I hope that you will be able to understand how some Christians are able to interact in a clothes free environment with less risk of impropriety than in a clothed environment. While you may never participate in nude recreation, I hope you can learn to accept other Christians who do. I hope that at the very least the studies below of nudity in the Bible will be of benefit to your spiritual growth.
In conclusion, I would like to share observations from my experience in a nude environment. First, I experienced a greater sense of freedom and relaxation than I ever had before. Second, upon returning to the clothed world, I saw people in a new, unexpected way. While this is hard to explain, prior to the nude experience, I saw people (especially women) as clothed bodies. My mind often dwelt on what might be hidden beneath the covering. Immediately after the nude experience, I saw people (clothed people) as unique individual entities. My mind now dwelt on who these individuals were. Who were they? What were they thinking? What did they care about? How could I get to know them individually? When the mask of clothing was removed and the mystery was gone, there was no need to dwell on the body. Instead, my mind could dwell on the person.
It was a very exhilarating experience to see people this way. Was this a glimpse of how God sees people? Unfortunately the point of view faded a few weeks after my experience. It drove me to want to learn more. I began exploring the scriptures to understand God's perspective toward this lifestyle. I pray that my efforts will be useful to you as well.
The first section of this work is largely original. I claim no special revelation in the interpretations I make of the Bible stories presented. But I do believe that the basic concepts are in line with the character of God and the teaching of His Holy Spirit. I make no attempt to imply that my interpretations are absolute, but I believe them to be reasonable and consistent with my research and knowledge of scripture. By all means, if you believe that I am wrong in what I am presenting, and you have clear Biblical evidence to that effect, then do what you need to to remain focused on God and in service to Him.
Your relationship with God is of overarching concern to me. This book is an attempt to provide insight into that relationship in an area that is mostly ignored. As Christians, we all acknowledge that God created Adam and Eve, and communed with them in the Garden. We accept that, "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." (Gen 2:25 NIV) But we then, because of The Fall, we accept that nakedness is no longer an acceptable condition. In my 30 odd years as a Christian, I have never read or heard teaching on why this is true. Furthermore, many of us suffer from poor self esteem, often linked to a poor body image.
This poor self esteem interferes with our ability to be wholly available to God as a servant. We often feel incapable of carrying out His requests. Yet, God teaches clearly that He has already equipped us in whatever way is necessary for us to serve Him. There are many good books available that can help us accept ourselves as God created us. These books can help us realize that we have great worth to God, and we have the responsibility to accept ourselves as worth while individuals.
There are also many good books available on the subject of sex in marriage. Many people suffer a lack of intimacy in marriage, again because of the belief that nakedness, or the genitals or the sex act is sinful. Here again, we are limiting our service to God, this time in marriage, because we do not accept the bodies and functions that God created for us. God did proclaim that His creation was "very good." And throughout scripture, most notably in the Song of Solomon, the joy of sex in marriage is extolled.
But there are very few (if any) books available written on the subject of nudity from a Biblical perspective. There are Christian nudist groups who will explain that the Bible does not condemn simple social nudity. But their explanations and Bible references are often weak support for their position. It was therefore my intention to conduct a personal study of scripture to see how God views nudity and clothing. The result of that study was the basis for Section One of this book.
The desire to do this study came out of my discovery of the nudity movement in America. I found that credible information concerning social nudism was difficult to come by. I came across my first reference,
Therapy, Nudity & Joy, purely by accident. The second major reference,
Nudist Society, was obtained by chance while browsing through a book store near Detroit, MI. (I don't really believe it was by chance since I ask God to lead my life.) Much of my initial information came via. the Internet which is such a conglomeration of useful and useless information that judicious sifting is required.
Therefore, I wanted to provide the interested reader with an eclectic source of credible information about social nudism. Section Two of this book is such a compilation. Much of what is written has been verbatim from the references cited. I found that use of quotation marks detracted from the flow of the writing much of the time. Therefore, I have included material from the works in three different ways. First, I use quotes when someone has been quoted in the original works. I use block (indented) quotes for large sections used from the original works. And I often include the original reference without quotes to provide better readability. To the best of my ability I have cited each reference with footnotes. It is my desire to provide credit where credit is due, and if I have inadvertently slighted someone, I apologize now.
There are a large number of footnotes that have been included in the paper version of this document. Electronic files 1..3 (The Biblical Analysis) contain electronic footnotes. The final two files, due to the large number of footnotes imbedded, have not yet been fully annotated. At the end of each file is a Bibliography listing all references cited. I hope to fully annotate the files as time permits.
My hope in providing this document without full annotation is to provide the information to as many people as possible as quickly as possible. I do not intend to slight any author, to all of whom I am indebted for the information provided in thier works.
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
--Gen 2:25 KJV
(2 Tim 3:16-17 NIV) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work
(2 Pet 1:21 NIV) For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is God's authoritative Word to the world. To say something is authoritative, we expect it to be trustworthy. We expect it to be consistent. The Bible, as a whole, provides us with all the information we need to live a life pleasing to God and beneficial to others.
The Bible does not argue itself to be authoritative. It simply states this as fact.
The Bible has been provided to instruct us in how to serve God. It instructs us in the correct manner of living. It instructs us in how to care for others.
At times the Bible instructs through direct command. At times symbols, stories and allegories are used to provide examples or pictures for instruction. But at all times, the Bible instructs through clear example in the life of Jesus and the character of God. We must always be consistent with God's character when drawing a conclusion from the Bible.
In this study of The Bible and Nudity, more weight has been given to the understanding of scripture based on the character of God than the culture of the day or the history of society. This is because culture and society's norms are based on flawed human thinking and understanding. Even when we look to scripture for a basis on which to form morals and cultural norms, we must recognize that we are interpreting the scripture based on our present set of norms. To understand the freedom we have in Christ, for the purpose of serving Him, we must look beyond tradition and historical interpretation (based on tradition and culture) and look at the character of God. Since God is consistent and can not deny His own character, what He would have us learn must be consistent with His character. Therefore, if we search scripture and our interpretation is inconsistent with a characteristic of God that is repeated throughout scripture, then we must conclude that our interpretation is flawed.
For an example of this mis-interpretation of scripture, consider what the first century Jewish religious leaders wrote about. The vast majority of their writings concerned the areas of circumcision, keeping the Sabbath and dietary laws. Their concern for these areas was to establish artificial rules and boundaries whereby they could determine who was "in the flock" and who wasn't. Now consider the New Testament teaching concerning circumcision, keeping the Sabbath and dietary laws. God is clearly saying, these things are superficial. This teaching is a manifestation of His character.
This first section of study must therefore look at God's character. The reason mankind was created must be consistent with God's character. The state of man's existence before the fall (in God's perfectly created garden) must be consistent with God's character. After the fall, God's commands to protect man must be consistent with God's character. God's action to redeem and restore mankind must be consistent with God's character.
So what is God's character? For an in-depth and life long study, I would refer you to the Bible itself. To aid in that study, are myriad's of books. Many godly, scholarly men have devoted their lives to the study of God's character. Their many books are available for us to study. But in a nutshell, I believe God's character can be summed up this way:
God loves perfectly and God judges perfectly.
It is not fair to place God's love in front of God's justice, nor vice versa. Both of these attributes of God are equally the result of God's holiness. God's justice defends His holiness. God's love demonstrates His holiness.
Our response to (or mirror of) God's justice and love is summed up in the Greatest Commandment: (we will examine the Greatest Commandment in detail later)
Love God and Love Others.
When we keep these simple truths at the front of our understanding of scripture, we should not likely go astray.
God Created Us in His Image
(Gen 1:26-28 NIV) Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."
God's intent in creating us was to make creatures that could choose to love God and worship Him out of free will. We were made in God's likeness in a moral way and a natural way. The moral likeness was sinlessness (Holiness) which we lost through disobedience. The natural likeness of intellect, emotions, and will have been retained although they are corrupted by our sinfulness.
Mankind was created in God's likeness to rule over the whole earth just as God rules over the whole universe. We were created to make decisions and control (subdue, keep orderly) all that has been given us on this earth. But the discernment between good and evil was to be God's alone. All that was given to us was good immediately following creation. Mankind was to inquire of God as to what is good and what is evil when confronted by the unknown.
God created us to fellowship with one another just as God fellowships within the trinity. When Jesus was separated from the Father during the crucifixion, we saw that the earth grew dark and trembled because God the Father could not look upon His Son. The separation nearly tore the earth apart as the Father withdrew Himself. Fellowship is part of God's character and we were created in His likeness to fellowship.
God commanded us to procreate. I personally like to think of this command in terms of "re-creating". God made the process of sexual union pleasurable for humans and hence recreation. God made the union of husband and wife a special picture of the relationship between God and mankind. This is why God commands us to make lifetime commitments in marriage and to have sexual union only with that special person. Our lifetimes are the best picture we have of God's eternity. A one on one relationship is the best picture we have of serving God alone. Sexual union is the best picture we have of Holy fellowship with God.
(Rom 3:23 NIV) for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
(Pas. 25:3 NIV) No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
(Pas. 24:3 NIV) Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?
(Pas. 76:7 NIV) You alone are to be feared. Who can stand before you when you are angry?
(Pas. 76:8 NIV) From heaven you pronounced judgment, and the land feared and was quiet--
(Pas. 130:3 NIV) If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand?
(Pas. 130:4 NIV) But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared.
The Bible says plainly that we disobey God. In Romans 3:23, the term "fall short" literally means "continually missing the mark set by God". That mark is God's Holiness and character. Our disobedience results in personal shame. We recognize our inability to live up to God's standards.
The result of shame is an attempt to hide. Our shame, the result of sin, results in an attempt to hide from God. We have learned also to feel shame towards others. When a child steals from the cookie jar, or worse breaks the jar, that child will feel shame towards the parents and personal guilt. That child will try to hide the cookie crumbs or broken shards. (Shame here means embarrassment before others and guilt means inward embarrassment.)
As we grow, that shame continues and spreads. We become ashamed of ourselves to ourselves. We set standards that we can not meet. Sometimes these are standards of performance, but often these standards reflect what we believe our bodies should look like as well. We hide our bodies from others because of this shame. Many of us hide our bodies from ourselves, never looking into a mirror without a sense of shame.
To hide our shame we wear many masks. The most basic of masks is our clothing. It is often said that "clothes make the man". In reality clothes hide the man or woman. The shame of who we are, indeed who God made us to be, is hidden first by the clothes we wear.
We also hide behind other masks. Masks of anger, fear, domination and ridicule. We hide behind false character traits. We pretend we are someone other than who God made us to be. We try to fit in with the crowd when God made us unique from the crowd. We hide behind career choices that don't fit the way we were designed. This results in frustration and misery. We hide behind the ministries we undertake within the church. If the ministries don't mesh with the gifts God has given us, we are again frustrated and miserable. Often many people are impacted by the masks we hide behind.
God made each of us with unique personalities and abilities. He has gifted believers with supernatural abilities and traits as well. God says that we each have a unique job to do, BUT we are to do these jobs together as part of one body. Just as Paul says that a hand should not say it has no need for the foot, or the ear has no need for the eye (because they are all part of the same body), we should not be ashamed of who we are. You have need of every one else, and everyone else has need of you! Accepting this fact should allow you to discard the masks you hide behind and be free to serve others as God has intended. (See Rom. 12:4, I Cor 12:12-31, Eph 4:25)
(Pas. 25:3 NIV) No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse.
(Heb 2:5-11 NIV) It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: "What is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him? You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet." In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him. But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering. Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.
We were created to be rulers of this earth. Everything was to be subject to us. In the verse above, it is man is who was "crowned with glory" and had "everything under his feet."1 As we saw before, God's intent was for man to rule the earth just as God rules the universe. But through disobedience we lost that position.
Yet now, as believers, we are in training to be able to one day regain that position. The verse above says that through Jesus' suffering, we have been restored to a position where we can once again rule over the earth. Because of sin, we have to learn how to do this. But during this process, Jesus accepts us as brothers and sisters. We are part of God's family. If Jesus is not ashamed, we need not be ashamed. We need no longer hide from God or each other. We can boldly be ourselves because God says its OK.
(Gal 4:4-8 NIV) But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, "Abba, Father." So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir. Formerly, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those who by nature are not gods.
(Rom 8:15-17 NIV) For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, "Abba, Father." The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God's children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs--heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.
As believers in Christ, through His sacrifice on the cross, we receive legal adoption into God's family. We are restored to a garden relationship where we can go to God and talk to Him face to face. We need not be ashamed; we need not fear; we need not hide; we are family.
But we are not yet complete in our ability to rule over the earth. We are children that must learn and grow and become mature.
(Rom 12:2 NIV) Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.
This growing process is better called a transforming process. The word translated "transformed" in the verse above is also used when describing Christ's transfiguration (Matt 17:2 and 2 Cor 3:18). The change is to be dramatic, unbelievable, astonishing. When Christ was transfigured, the disciples saw Him in His holy state. He was no longer confined by the mask of humanity.
Our responsibility is to be "transformed by the renewing of our minds." Our normal way of thinking, our normal paradigm must be discarded so that we can acquire the character of God. Our view of the world must be through holy eyes. We must love unconditionally and let God judge justly.
(Pas.. 103:11-12 NIV) For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
(Micah 7:19 NIV) You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.
The Bible clearly states that from God's perspective, the Father sees believers through the purity of Jesus Christ. God has removed our sin from us so that our relationship can be like it was in the garden. I am quick to recognize that there are limitations to this relationship. Moses was unable to look upon God directly as Adam did, although he was permitted a brief glimpse. From the example of Moses (Ex 33:20) we know no one can look upon the full Glory of God and live. We are too scarred by sin.
Yet our spiritual relationship with God can be as it was in the garden. We can talk with Him face to face. And, I believe, our relationships with one another on earth can be like they were in the garden. We can be free from our masks, our shame, our guilt. We can be free and open to the point of not only physical nakedness but emotional nakedness as well. We may never fully experience this freedom in body and emotion within the Christian community at large, but I believe it is permitted by God. Certainly the freedom and openness, as a general principle, is desired by God.
(Mat 22:36-39 NIV) "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
(See Deut. 6:5 and Lev. 19:18)
"Love God and love others." This is the simplest way to understand our responsibility as humans. Every decision we make, every word we speak, every thought we think should conform to this command. As we continue with this study, this command will be the focus of our understanding of what is acceptable and what is not. It will be the focus of our understanding of what God expects of us and what our liberties are to serve God and enjoy His creation.
Jesus said, "Love your neighbor as yourself." He assumes that each of us loves himself. Sadly, this is not always the case. Lack of self esteem, depression and suicidal thoughts bring patients to the psychologist's office far too often. Until each of us can accept himself as one of God's unique creations, we can not be successful in loving our neighbor.
Second only to God, our first responsibility must be to ourselves. If we are not healthy and happy we can not expect to serve others. First and foremost, each of us must accept himself as a unique creation of God, loved and prized by Him.
Think of what God has done to bring us into a right relationship with Him. First, He created time and space. Without that we would not have a world to live on. He created a unique environment on this earth for us to live in. He created this world for our pleasure and enjoyment. He created the warm sun of the day and the romantic moon and stars of the night. He created the cool breezes and waters. He created the meadows and forests and sandy beaches for us to enjoy. Can you claim for yourself the freedom to enjoy this creation unrestricted?
God chose to create you! You did not have to exist. The reasons that could have prevented your existence are too numerous to list. But God chose to create you and equip you with unique talents, abilities, personalities and gifts. Your body is unique. It is common knowledge that no two finger prints are the same. Likewise, no two people are the same genetically. But on a grander scale, no two people have the same bodies. Even identical twins develop differently as they grow older.
Our society limits our ability to compare one another to small portions of our bodies. Often only our face and hands are visible to another person. In some cultures, only the eyes, and those veiled, are allowed to be seen. Because we hide behind a mask of clothing, we want to think that we can "look like" someone else. We try to change ourselves in many ways. We may try to flatten or enhancing part of our body. We may try to loose weight or gain weight, grow or shrink (shoe height and hairdos), lengthen or shorten our legs (hem lines) or match the mask of others (same style clothing).
Please understand that the clothes we wear and the way we style our hair and adorn our bodies are wonderful ways of expressing who we are. But the expression must come from within and not be a copy of someone else. We mock God when we try to hide our uniqueness. We betray ourselves when we try to be someone else.
The truth is that each of us is unique. We can not be like someone else. And there is no one who is NORMAL! Believing that we are somehow abnormal is a deception of the truth. Unique means "one of a kind". There can be no normal when everyone is unique. I believe that the best way to see our uniqueness is to remove the mask of clothing. We will see later that this simple (yet admittedly scary) act can greatly aid in our acceptance of who God made us to be.
(1 Cor 6:19-20 NIV) Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
The Father sacrificed His Son for you. The Son sacrificed his life freely so you and the Father could fellowship. We must not understate the sacrifice that God made to redeem us. You are precious to God; you have great value! Indeed we were prized while still sinners, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8 KJV) Accept yourself the way God has accepted you.
A cause for Christians' rejecting themselves is that they feel they are not worthy of being Christians, of having God interested in them. One of the pitfalls of reformed theology is that the individual is made to feel worthless before God. What the reformers were trying to convey is that the sinful self is unworthy.2 But once redeemed, we are prized by God.
Self acceptance is very difficult for many of us. We saw this problem start in the Garden when Adam and Eve refused to accept themselves as sinners. There are good points with which we have been gifted by God, and there are bad points which are the result of sin. Our responsibility before God is to accept both these sides and allow God to begin the process of change within our lives. Change towards the good points and away from the bad points.
"Acceptance of self is the beginning point of change: The person truly accepting himself as he is will not stay that way. He will change in keeping with what he truly is. The change process will not be erratic, nor hit-and-miss. It will cause the person to respond, 'I'm glad it worked that way.'" Rejection of self will continually leave the person wishing for effective change in his life and dissatisfied with the change process working in him.
"It is difficult for one to accept himself as he is. The easier path is one of rejection, of dissatisfaction with what one is, with what one has. Acceptance of self is a process, not to be achieved on the first try. Worked with until it becomes a way of life, it sets the scene for effective change in one's personal life and has the beneficial results when one is dealing with others."3
"Some segments of our evangelical tradition suggest to us that we are not good enough as we are. We have to be what 'God tells us to be.' We've got to follow a particular standard of Christian behavior. There is a 'Christian' way that must be learned. This continually leaves the Christian with a basic discontent. He is always striving to be that which he is not. Such striving ends in a life of continual struggle and dissatisfaction, or one begins to put on a mask. The mask effectively covers what he really is, and communicates to others something that he is not now nor ever can be. The person wearing a mask comes through as a fake to others. The process of acceptance of self, and thus true denial of self, leads one on the path to Holy Spirit guidance of the Christian life through internal motivation. The change process starts from within the life and flows into every contact and association beyond."4
(Lev 19:13-18 NIV) "'Do not defraud your neighbor or rob him. "'Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight. "'Do not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block in front of the blind, but fear your God. I am the LORD. "'Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. "'Do not go about spreading slander among your people. "'Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor's life. I am the LORD. "'Do not hate your brother in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in his guilt. "'Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD.
(Rom 13:9-10 NIV) The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
(Rom 15:2 NIV) Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
The Bible is very clear concerning how God expects us to treat others. When we consider the love that God extends toward us, it should not be a surprise that He expects us to extend that same love toward others. The passage in Leviticus presents a lot of diversity. The instruction given goes beyond acts that would be harmful. Consider the command, "Do not hold back the wages of a hired man overnight." At first consideration, this command may seem extreme. If the full intent is to pay the hired man, then what difference does a day make?
Clearly all of the instruction given is to go beyond not doing that which is harmful. We must also strive to do everything possible to contribute to the well being of another in a proactive way. Consider Rom 15:2. We are commanded to do that which will build up our neighbor. The command to love others, is more to do that which is beneficial than to not do that which is harmful.
(Gal 5:13-15 NIV) You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.
"Love Others." We see this commandment again here. Our liberty must not become a license to sin. Our liberty must not become a liability in serving others. Our society and our religions have put restrictions on what is "correct behavior". Many times the commandment to love others must restrain us from enjoying our liberty in Christ. We must constantly find the appropriate balance between enjoying the freedom that God has given us through Christ, and restraining ourselves from doing that which will hurt others.
Sometimes boundaries have been artificially established. Our society has restricted us from being naked on the city streets. Our religions have restricted us from enjoying our spouse sexually. Our governments have put restrictions on when and where we can share our faith. Some of these restrictions have been enacted for "the good of the people." Often the restrictions have been enacted out of ignorance or misunderstanding of what is acceptable to God and what is unacceptable.
Often at this point in the discussion, the passage from 1 Cor 8 is presented. It is used as an argument to not engage in practices that could damage a "weaker brother." Some authors have contended that this passage serves as an all encompassing example. They claim we should restrict our actions to engage in only the most widely accepted practices so as to not put a "stumbling block" in front of others. Other authors take a very narrow view of this passage, citing the history of the city of Corinth. They contend that Paul was speaking out strictly against the practice of mixing the act of offering meat to idols with worship in the local Church.
There are many passages in which Jewish believers are taught to go against the mainstream beliefs of the day in order to serve God freely. In Acts chapter 10, Peter is taught that the laws of the Jews were superseded by the liberation of Jesus Christ. In a vision, Peter was told to eat food that was considered unclean. After three such commands, all argued against by Peter, the vision ended, and Peter was summoned by visitors from the house of Cornelius, a gentile. Peter obeys God, and shares the gospel message with Cornelius. All those who heard Peter's message, accepted God's salvation and were filled with the Holy Spirit. Peter is utterly convinced by this experience "that God is no respecter of persons" (Acts 10:34). Peter boldly defends this truth before the Jews who confront him in the next chapter of Acts.
But later, in Gal 2:11-14, Paul confronts Peter because he withdrew from eating with Gentiles when some Hebrew Christians came to visit. Even though this act of eating with Gentiles was offensive to the Hebrews, Peter was wrong in separating himself from them. In so doing, he led other Christians to question the truth that we are all one in Christ Jesus. So I ask, to whom was Peter a stumbling block? Or was he a stumbling block at all? Certainly, by separating himself from the Gentiles, he offered a bad example. But Paul claims that Peter would not have been wrong in offending the Hebrew Christians either. In other words, Peter's offense to the Hebrew Christians would have been justified because he was living the truth. This would have been an opportunity to educate on the equality of all believers.
(Gal 5:16-26 NIV) So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.
It is clear that things which society or religion says are unacceptable may be acceptable in light of our freedom in Christ. I emphasize may be, because some acts are strictly forbidden by God. Some Christians have argued that multiple partner sex is acceptable because of our freedom. But God clearly says that we are to be intimate with only one person, our marriage partner. Likewise the verses above state that we do not have the freedom to participate in idolatry and witchcraft. Drunkenness, sexual immorality and orgies are prohibited. Hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, envy? Ouch, these are harder. But these are prohibited; these are part of the sinful nature and contrary to the Spirit.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These good things start with self and extend to others. Is this fruit limited by how we look or who we are? Is this fruit limited by what we wear or what we reveal? Fundamentally no. The fruit of the Spirit is limited only by our obedience to Christ. But socially, our fruit may not be perceived if we go outside the bounds of what is acceptable in those circles. To the contrary, if we are in a social setting where a moral but disputed action is taking place, we are not wrong in participating in that activity. If we are then accused of sinning by others, we have the opportunity to educate them, in love, of our liberty in Christ.
When we look at the Biblical references to maintain moral purity in our conduct, we are easily pulled into the trap of judging others by their actions. And there is no dispute that many of the action we see others engage in are wrong. Yet we are commanded to accept the people committing these actions, just as God accepts them "while yet sinners" (Rom. 5:8). "Acceptance of the person does not imply acceptance into one's life of all that person does, says, or believes. One does not have to believe the way another person does to accept him as a person. One does not even have to approve of what the other person believes to accept him as he is as the starting point for change. In fact, it is vitally important to be wise in distinguishing between what a person is and what he does, or between accepting a person and accepting what he does. Even though we do not need to accept-believe all that a person believes, we can still accept-respect what a person believes. Accept-respect suggests that we can accept a person, whatever he believes or does, and show him this acceptance or potential acceptance in the form of respect. We communicate to him in this way that he is a real and valid person in our eyes."5
Click on footnote number to return to text.
1 (Ryrie study notes)
2 Marvin K. Mayers, Christianity Confronts Culture, (Harper & row) p. 46.
3 Ibid., p. 44-45.
4 Ibid., p. 45-46.
5 Ibid., p. 59-60.
Last revised July 27, 1997 and April 17, 2007 by Jeff Rockel