On my way home from church I was thinking about how some Christians say that you shouldn’t dance. The reason they give is because it might stir sexual desires, and the Bible says “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

Our desires come from within us, and external activities may steer us into or away from those desires. So it is wise to avoid activities that will inflame those desires and steer us into sin.

But the argument assumes that dancing will stir sexual desire within us, like pornography. However, I think the comparison is specious: the intent of pornography is to stir sexual desire but the intent of dancing is to express happiness, enjoyment, the flow of the heart in reaction to the music. Otherwise, why does the Bible implicitly approve of David’s dancing (2 Samuel 6:14)? Or the Psalmist instruct us to “Praise him with tambourine and dance” (Psalm 150:4?) Why does God promise that people will dance and be happy (Jeremiah 31:4, 13)?

Speaking as someone who has danced regularly for over a decade, I can say that dancing doesn’t stir sexual desire in me, nor in the people I regularly dance with, almost the entirety of whom are not Christians.

That isn’t to say dancing might not stir sexual desire in someone. In that case, they are wise to avoid dancing; or that style of dance. I can see how lust could be stirred by the lambada; in that case, try some kind of solo dance, like tap, jazz or contemporary. Even liturgical dance, if you must.

But don’t restrict the freedom of other people to do something wholesome and fun. This is to fall back into the law of sin and death (Romans 7). By seeking to do something admirable – protect people from lust – a wall has been set up, preventing people from doing something that in itself is innocuous. This is the kind of wall about which Jesus said, “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:8). Paul also had something to say on this: “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

However, having said this, if an activity hurts the conscience of a Christian brother or sister, we should restrict ourselves from that activity. Paul also wrote, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble” (Romans 14:21). This is the balance of freedom and responsibility that God gives us.

So, the question I pondered was: how do we distinguish between what causes someone to sin, or offends their conscience, and what is simply human tradition? I think the answer is their reaction. Speaking broadly, I think if they feel guilty, it’s their conscience. If they become stern or angry, it’s their tradition.

If an activity offends someone’s conscience, we’re responsible to avoid it for their sake. If it’s tradition, then we can use our freedom wisely; it doesn’t mean we can tell them to stick it in their censer and smoke it. We’re also responsible to not offend people needlessly.