The Danger of “Rules” Without the Gospel

Pretty much everyone knows that American popstar Katy Perry, or Kathryn Elizabeth Hudson, used to be a gospel singer.  Raised in a pastor’s family, gospel music was all she knew; she was evidently not allowed to listen to big bad secular music when she was growing up and thus listened to, and eventually sang, gospel songs.  One such song is quite ironically titled “Faith Won’t Fail,” and here is the chorus from that:

For He’ll prevail
In the midst of all my trials and tribulations
And He’ll prevail
In the midst of all my sin and temptations
He’ll prevail
When I fall and He will pick me up
For time and time again
My faith won’t fail
Time and time again
My faith won’t fail

Cheesy, perhaps, but true.  Far more meaningful than the following, anyway:

We drove to Cali
And got drunk on the beach
Got a motel and
Built a fort out of sheets
I finally found you
My missing puzzle piece
I’m complete

Let’s go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love
We can dance, until we die
You and I, will be young forever

[Chorus]
You make me feel
Like I’m livin’ a
Teenage dream
The way you turn me on
I can’t sleep
Let’s run away and
Don’t ever look back,
Don’t ever look back

That’s from Katy Perry’s “Teenage Dream,” a song about how she’s living a teenage dream when she’s in her late mid-twenties.  There is much to ridicule in this song, but while I do love me some good mockery, I do not wish to unpack what “teenage dream” probably means.  Maybe some other time :).

Katy Perry has gone on to marry the very unfunny, promiscuous, and frankly pretty creepy-looking British dude Russell Brand in a Hindu wedding ceremony, a marriage that I would be surprised lasts more than five years (high five for cynicism!), and she has generally embraced the image of a sex symbol and pop idol in American culture.  She’s rich, she’s famous, and she has obviously departed from her strict Christian upbringing.

Perry could be viewed as the poster child of supposedly Christian kids growing up and embracing the secular world instead, but it’s really not all that uncommon.  Not only could you point to other celebrities who have gone down a similar path (such as Jessica Simpson), most Christians know people in their lives who have experienced the same change.  That girl in sixth grade who was the straightest arrow at youth group might now be the craziest coed at the local frat party a decade later.  It, of course, isn’t always that stark of a change, but the fact of the matter is, many kids grow up in conservative Christian households and then abandon the faith they grew up in at some point in their early adult lives.

Most Christian parents are afraid that this might happen, at least in the back of their heads, and they obviously want to stop their kids from abandoning Christianity.  As parents, they obviously should care about their kids’ spiritual walk and take some responsibility in leading it, as Deut. 32:46 says:  “[Moses] said to them, ‘Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day, so that you may command your children to obey carefully all the words of this law.'”  Deuteronomy warns about the dangers of falling away from God and beseeches parents more than once to instruct their children in obedience, and that, along with some other verses, provides a strong biblical case for parents teaching and discipling their kids in a godly manner.  However, do all parents–and youth groups, for that matter–actually do this?

Unfortunately, it is often the case that parents, particularly at many Asian churches, just try their best to make sure their kids outwardly behave, do well in school, and go to a good college so that they do not embarrass the family.  In doing so, they emphasize the avoidance of certain activities–drinking, smoking, partying, making out, etc.–and stress that the kid play piano for church and sing in the church choir or something like that.  None of these are wrong in themselves, obviously, but unfortunately, much of the time kids grow up not entirely understanding WHY they should not have premarital sex and why they shouldn’t smoke weed.  They just don’t because it would tick off and humiliate their parents.

The problem with this is that it most likely will not last.  When those kids go off on their own, they will (rightly) ask and wonder about they “why” question… and if they don’t have that center in the Gospel, they won’t have a good answer for it.  What they were unfortunately taught, unintentionally or not, was a works-righteousness:  If they don’t do certain things, God won’t be ticked off at them and they’ll go to heaven.  Rather than understanding that they must walk in righteousness because of the Gospel and because Christ has saved them, they think they have to somehow earn God’s favor.  That will eventually lead to one of two things:  Rebellion, because they don’t have that true relationship with God and therefore don’t have any reason to keep pretending to live like a stereotypical Bible-thumper, or self-righteousness like the Pharisees as they may be moderately successful at keeping some rules and looking good.  Neither of those are consistent with the Gospel.

This is, of course, not only important to teach kids but also to everyone who wants to learn more about Christ.  We have unfortunately developed our own Christian bubble sometimes that tries to shield people from the big bad outside world.  The intentions are sincere but the effect is that people think that to be “in” Christianity, they have to speak and dress a certain way and listen to a certain type of music, and therefore they have no true idea what the Gospel is and how to reach people who are outside the faith.  Eventually, they will develop this idea that God is some Cosmic Killjoy who just wants to spoil their fun and freedom, rather than understanding that they are sinners saved by the love and grace of God and whom they owe everything to, including their very lives.

I am in no way stating that we should let people do anything they want, because that cheapens grace; I am saying that the above represents a type of legalism that fools people into believing that they are living the Christian walk when they are not.  There are many activities that Christians should rightly avoid, but not because that earns them brownie points with God; it’s because they are being obedient to the One who saved them.  Frankly, keeping your kid away from all that evil secular music and forcing him/her to only listen to gospel songs is not teaching them true Scriptural truth.

  (?Complete lyrics: http://www.directlyrics.com/katy-perry-teenage-dream-lyrics.html

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