Have you ever tried to debate a 5-year-old? It’s next to impossible to win an argument with an utterly convinced kindergartner. I feel like that’s what Dante had in mind in the Inferno as he wrote the words inscribed on the gates of hell: “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.”
There’s no appeal to reason or rationality with their little brains. You can spend hours demonstrating exactly why they’re wrong, but it will not matter. If they believe they know something to be true, nothing you say or do can change their mind.
Would you consider that strength or stubbornness? When thinking about young kids, it’s almost always stubbornness. In most cases, they haven’t gained enough knowledge and experience for the unquestioned defense of their beliefs to be considered strength. But what about in adults? When does strength (a positive attribute) become stubbornness (a negative one)? For the follower of Christ, we need a way to affirm and develop godly strength in our hearts, while rejecting and correcting sinful stubbornness.
We can’t simply reject all stubbornness, however, because strength can often require a stubborn refusal to give in to external (or internal) pressures. This does not mean all stubbornness is strength, but we cannot and should not fully separate the two.No matter your tone, no matter how friendly and loving you are, holding to biblical orthodoxy will generate hate and rejection from some. Click To Tweet
Christians need to hold fast to biblical positions. This will inevitably be unpopular. No matter your tone, no matter how friendly and loving you are, holding to biblical orthodoxy will generate hate and rejection from some. Jesus was the most loving person in history, and they nailed Him to a cross. In John 15, Jesus reminds us that because the world hated Him, the world will hate His followers. If we were part of the world, the world would love us, but since we belong to Christ, there will always be animosity between us and the world.
Unfortunately, because stubbornness and strength are inextricably and correctly linked, we can confuse the two. Instead of seeing stubbornness as an occasional aspect of strength, we can assume stubbornness is strength. We can believe we are being strong and courageous when we are simply being stubborn and cantankerous. Yes, we must hold to biblical positions in the face of opposition, but we must always do so in ways that honor Christ. There is nothing praiseworthy in being a “Jerk for Jesus.”Yes, we must hold to biblical positions in the face of opposition, but we must always do so in ways that honor Christ. There is nothing praiseworthy in being a "Jerk for Jesus." Click To Tweet
So yes, Christians need more convictional strength and less pure stubbornness, but what separates the two? When are we boldly declaring like the apostles that “we must obey God rather than people” (Acts 5:29) and when are we the stubborn kid who refuses to believe their parent? One characteristic observed in at least three ways can help us differentiate between the convictional strength and stubbornness.
The heart of convictional strength
The core difference between stubbornness and strength is the core difference in many expressions of Christlike character and selfish character—humility. Convictional strength will be humble. What we may deem to be biblical strength in our actions is often pure stubbornness if it lacks humility. We can see how humility allows strength to remain firm while not drifting into pure stubbornness in at least three ways.
A simple, but wrong way we often judge whether someone is strong or stubborn is by evaluating how much a person or their argument aligns with us and our views. Without humility, we will simply assert those who agree with us are displaying strength while those who disagree with us are just stubborn. Obviously, that’s not an honest way to draw a distinction.
Convictional strength will acknowledge that someone we often agree with can be wrong, but more importantly, it will also allow that someone we often disagree with can be right. The goal of convictional strength is to seek and affirm truth, even if it is shared by someone on the “other side.”
While a stubborn person will often have difficulties admitting they’re wrong about any issue, a strong person can admit their imperfections. Strength does not mean never admitting you were wrong. Sometimes strength requires we acknowledge our failings and finitude. We make mistakes. It is no sign of godly strength when we refuse to acknowledge that, instead it’s a symptom of sinful pride.It is no sign of godly strength when we refuse to acknowledge our failings and finitude, instead it's a symptom of sinful pride. Click To Tweet
We’ve seen politicians spend their entire careers refusing to ever admit they’re wrong. Many have “succeeded” but only from a worldly perspective. They’ve hung on to power while relinquishing principle. That is not the type of strength we see modeled in Scripture, and it’s not the type of strength we need in the church today.
A lack of humility in our strength can also be manifested in how forceful we are in our advocacy. I’ll show you how strong this belief is by advocating for it in the most aggressive manner possible. It’s using legalism around an issue as evidence for its truthfulness. This position is so strong it has layers and layers of protection around it to prevent you from even getting close to violating the rule.
Convictional strength measures the strength of a position by its truthfulness. No matter what we say or do, we cannot add anything to the strength and truthfulness of a biblical position. Our stubbornness does not contribute to the truthfulness of Scripture.
The idea of convictional strength is challenging to everyone. Those opposed to the church would rather Christians display no strength whatsoever about our convictions. Many would prefer if we simply sank quietly away, but if God’s Word is true, it requires us to speak up. If we are driven by convictional strength, we will want to speak up in part because upholding those values will contribute to human flourishing for everyone.
There are also those within the church who may object to the concept of convictional strength as I’ve laid it out in this post, particularly in the distinctions between it and stubbornness. Among that group, there exists two primary objections: This is a special moment that requires outright stubbornness and Sometimes strength means we should forsake kindness.
In the next two articles, I want to respond to each of those in-depth. Why do the current circumstances not give us an excuse to embrace stubbornness as opposed to convictional strength? Why must our strength always be exercised with kindness?
Second post in the series: The Christian’s Need for Strength Is Not New
Third post in the series: Convictional Strength Requires Kindness