Today is Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday. I remember going to Mardi Gras back in 1985 when I was in the Navy, stationed at Meridian, Mississippi. These were crazy times. As a 19- year-old gal, I could legally drink some things in some states and not at all in others. I can remember the thrill my friend and I had of going to New Orleans for the weekend on "liberty" with our Marine boyfriends. Total freedom after complete restriction. We had just finished boot camp in Orlando and the first eight weeks of our training at our "A" school at NAS Meridian. After not being able to wear civilian clothes, go off post or do anything without being within earshot and full view of some petty officer, having a full four days of liberty... in New Orleans... during Mardi Gras was just too much for a couple of young chicks like us to handle. We didn't get in any real trouble per se, but my friend and I were ill-equipped to handle the decisions and experiences we were about to encounter. Neither one of us had ever been away from home on our own before boot camp, and now here we were with two 21-year-old dudes who were more than willing to introduce us to the wild world of Mardi Gras. Within a few days, we would be back in our highly structured and restricted environment again where every word and deed would not go unseen.
So what does this story have to do with my blog? It's about Christian freedom and legality.
Paul writes that as a Christian (1 Cor. 6:12a)"everything is permissable for me, but not all things are beneficial" and "to the pure, all things are pure"(Titus 1:15). Some would take this to the absolute extreme on Mardi Gras, so that the next day they can begin a fast of some sort leading up to Easter when we celebrate Christ's resurrection. It's a sort of reward for enduring the harshness of giving up things that our hearts really long for secretly, but we are willing to white-knuckle it for a while, waiting for the day that we can pursue our various and sundry idols without the heavy guilt inflicted by our consciences. As if God closes His eyes for a day just so we can "Get it all out of our system." Then the following day, we get back on the treadmill of performance, doing all the "things" that we think will earn His approval and make us acceptable to be in His presence. Of course this kind of legalism is wrong, and it doesn't only happen at Mardi Gras and Lent. Right?
Moreover, the licensiousness of Mardi Gras is also not Biblical. In 1 Cor. 6:12b, Paul continues, "'Everything is permissible for me'—but I will not be mastered by anything." What this says to me is that if we create days or situations for ourselves whereby we indulge our flesh as a reward for legalistic performance or as an outlet for dealing with emotional stress, this is a form of idolatry. The behavior, thought, thing, food, drink, whatever, in which we long for the opportunity to indulge has mastered us from the inside. The bible says our hearts are idolatrous this way, always looking to dethrone our Creator, replacing Him with the things He has created for us. John Calvin said that our hearts are essentially idol factories that can manufacture things to put in God's place. To use a more modern illustration of how we think of this, I submit to you: "Whack a Mole"
Just as soon as we put a stop on one idol, a new one pops up in its place. The more idols we whack or beat down, the better we feel about ourselves on the outside. Meanwhile, on the inside, Christians can't help but sense the compiling of sin and idolatry that is going on. This is the nature of our depravity since the fall.
Recognizing our idolatry is not a condemnation, however. It is moment to fall at the foot of the cross and look on Jesus Christ, who is sufficient to forgive us. To surrender our wiles and wims to him and to find our complete rest and trust in Him. To have our hearts abide in His work on the cross and His unending love for us as children of the most High God. If we find our rest in Him, we will find that His Holy Spirit will keep us off the Mardi Gras/Lent treadmill and basking in the light of His Word.
Amen and God bless.