Rooted in Freedom #4
Our series is entitled, “Rooted in Freedom” and we are looking at Christian liberty from a number of different perspectives. So far, our study has been focused in the book of Galatians as liberty in Christ is the key theme of that book. In chapters 1-2, we looked at freedom from a theological perspective. We learned that the Gospel must be kept free. We are not to add anything to the simple message of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. In chapters 3-4, we looked at freedom from a sociological perspective. We saw how this good news of God’s salvation is free for all. No one is to be excluded from God’s kingdom on the basis of his or her nationality, ethnicity, social class, or gender. Last week, we started looking at our freedom in Christ from a practical perspective. We discussed what it means to walk in the Spirit, not by law, which I defined as abiding in Christ, renewing our minds, and walking in obedience. These things produce the spiritual fruit of love, and if you’re walking in love, you’re walking in freedom.
There are two other key passages in the New Testament that address Christian Freedom from a practical perspective. They follow naturally out of the conclusion Paul brought us to in Galatians 5:25-26 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. One is Romans chapter 14, which we will look at today. The other is 1 Corinthians chapters 8-10, which I preached through last fall. I have provided notes from those sermons for you if you want to study it in your devotionals this week. Today, we are going to look at Romans 14.
This passage is part of a section in Romans that began in 12:1-2, which encourages us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Therefore, this teaching is part of renewing our minds. Remember that one of the purposes of renewing our minds is to avoid letting the world push us into its mold. To avoid this, its important that we learn how to relate to the world around us. We are instructed to dedicate ourselves to God for his service. This means that we must place higher priority on what he thinks than what others think about how we live and the choices we make. Basically, we get our self-understanding from God and not from others. Before we get into the text, lets take a minute and pray.
Romans 14:1 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. Later, in Romans 15:1, Paul says, “We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.”
Who are the weak and the strong? Joseph Aldrich has offered the following taxonomy:
1) The genuine weaker brother or sister. These are newer Christians who are susceptible to stumbling in the area of doubtful things. We are warned not to put a stumbling block in their path. Children, teenagers and new believers need careful attention. We are not to coddle them, but to help them develop their convictions. This category is not a lifetime option. It is a developmental period on the way to spiritual maturity. These believers need to understand that they will encounter many within the body of Christ who have lesser or greater amounts of freedom, depending on the issues involved. Once they understand the principle of conscience and the diversity of freedom, they have little excuse to remain a weaker brother or sister. These people need to be encouraged to develop their own convictions and cared for so that others don’t cause them to stumble.
In addition to the genuine weaker brother, you may find some counterfeits. These are not the people whom this passage is referring to. These people need to be admonished and rebuked.
2) The professional weaker brother or sister. This is a brother or sister that never grew up. Instead of seeking to understand their faith and develop their own convictions before God, he or she has taken the easy way out. They have settled for a simplistic view of spirituality: Gray doesn’t exist for him; the world is black and white. He can’t articulate his convictions, because “that’s just the way it is.” He has ossified opinions. His spirituality is boiled down to “do’s and don’ts”: If I can get my Christianity boiled down to a list, then I never have to think about it again. He expects all others to follow his list: This is most dangerous. He becomes the standard for what proper Christian living looks like rather than Jesus.
3) The immature, participating believer: Like the professional weaker brother or sister, this person has also never truly sought to understand his or her faith or develop personal convictions, but instead of putting up tight boundaries he may remove them altogether. This person proclaims freedom without responsibility, becoming a champion of liberty and trying to sway others to his cause. These folks are often very arrogant, calling everyone else legalists while causing little ones to stumble by not encouraging them to develop their own convictions – for in their mind, who needs convictions anyway?
So if those are the weaker brothers, who are the stronger ones:
4) The mature brother or sister: He or she has nuance, developed convictions before God and a mature understanding of Christian liberty. He or she is consistent in applying his or her freedom in Christ. He or she can explain to you why or why not she chose to participate or refrain from participating. When this person participates, it is in a quiet, non-threatening way which attempts to avoid confrontation or offense. When the person limits his liberty its for one or two reasons. Either they don’t have freedom in a particular area. Maybe they struggled with a sin in their path which limits their understanding. Or, They intentionally limit their freedom. Even though they could do a particular activity, they choose not to do it. They are learning to get beyond right/wrong thinking (now don’t get me wrong, right wrong thinking is still legitimate) to wise/unwise thinking.
How do I welcome my weaker brother?
1) Welcome Who God Welcomes: Romans 14:1-3 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions . . . for God has welcomed him.
We looked at this a couple of weeks ago. What is the basis of our fellowship? Christ. What do we do if we add anything to Christ as the basis of our fellowship – add to the gospel. So first we understand that God has welcomed them. Have you been transformed by the Gospel? I welcome you. This takes discernment in recognizing who are the weak and people like the ones who had invaded the church at Galatia who Paul says “trouble you and wish to distort the gospel of Christ” (1:7). Notice that the weak have opinions about things, but have not developed strong convictions. False teachers on the other hand have strong convictions about things that detract from Christ or direct the body away from him. We don’t welcome them. We kick them out.
2) Turn Opinions into Convictions
One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.
If someone comes in and they believe in Christ but have a different opinion over secondary matters, we don’t tell them to beat it. We don’t act arrogantly and despise them for their lack of sophistication in their beliefs. But we do want to help them work through their beliefs and develop Biblically sound convictions. They need to be taught that it is their responsibility as a Christian to base their conviction on the word of God, for they will someday need to give an account of themselves before God.
Romans 14 then puts the onus on us to wrestle with God’s word under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to develop personal convictions. Can you explain to others (and stand before God) and explain why or why not you believe or do what you believe or do? This is the definition of maturity. Do it because you will have to one day stand before God and explain to him why you did what you did. As 14:12 says, “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” We are to strive to become strong in the faith and not remain weak.
This approach to disputable matters is so much different than what our culture says to do. Our culture tries to get us to lesson our convictions, for if we all had no convictions then we’d all get along better. The Bible on the other hand, instructs us to become more sure of our convictions in order to live in harmony with one another. How does that help?
In order to develop you personal convictions, it takes time to learn the issues and learn God’s word and wrestle with them. That process of wrestling with these difficult issues and finding the right application, if it is done under the sensitivity of the Holy Spirit, should lead you to become more gracious toward others. Because you have struggled with the complexity of the issues, you can understand at least how another person might have come to a different conclusion. Although you still think they are wrong, you have at least seen how they could come to that conclusion. So I might think you’re dead wrong on your millennial position or think that tithing laws were rescinded in Christ, but if I’ve honestly struggled through these issues, I am going to at least see where you’re coming from when you disagree. Also notice that this turning of opinions into convictions happens within the context of a local body of believers. We are learning and growing together (or should be). So together we should be sharpening one another to be developing shared biblical convictions rather than just opinions.
3) See God at Work in Your Brother:
At the end of the day, however, we still may not disagree, even after we have both sincerely studied the scriptures. Is all lost? No, for in verse 6 we find the remarkable observation that if we are acting out of our convictions we can glorify God even though one of us is wrong.
The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
How can this be? One of you is wrong – how can you bring glory to God?
a. Attitudes Speaks Louder Than Words: Simply put – regarding these secondary issues, righteousness takes precedence over being right. If you’re right and your unrighteous in your attitude toward others, you are wrong. Romans 14:17-19 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
b. Faith is Subject to Conscience: Romans 14:13-15, 22-23
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean . . . The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
The key to glorifying Christ through our lifestyle choices is to live by faith. You form convictions and by faith you live by them to God’s glory. God does meet us where we are at and expect us to follow him according to the light he has given us. Therefore, the key is living by faith according to your convictions. If a person has done the work to form his convictions based on the word of God, and believes in his heart that he could stand before God and give an account of his life, then I can concede that he’s glorifying God by acting upon his convictions in faith, even if I disagree with him and think he is wrong.
4) Build Up, Not Tear Down Romans 15:1-2
Romans 15:1-2 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.
So here’s what we do. We do not put stumbling blocks or hindrances in front of our brothers or sisters. For our weak brothers who have not yet developed convictions, but only opinions, we do not tear down what the Lord is patiently building in them but help them develop their convictions. Let me give you some examples of what this might look like:
a. The Tither: A weak brother may have heard that Christians are supposed to give 10% of their income and so does it. The strong brother realizes that we are free to give generously as cheerful givers. It would be irresponsible for the stronger brother to tell the weak brother that tithing is unnecessary without also teaching him the principle of generosity.
b. The Dry Drinker: A weak brother may have heard that Christians are not to drink any drop of alcohol. The strong brother understands the principle of moderation. It would be irresponsible for the stronger brother to tell the weak brother that he can drink without also teaching him the principle of moderation.
c. The Bible Reader: A weak brother may have heard that Christians are to read a chapter of the Bible every day. The strong brother understands that there are many different methods by which you can meditate on God’s word in a quiet time. It would be irresponsible for the stronger brother to tell the weak brother that he doesn’t need to read a chapter of the Bible everyday without teaching him these principles of devotion.
In all these cases the strong brother can help the weak brother not by tearing down his opinion or his faith, but by teaching him more about Christian freedom. We are not destroying opinions, but adding principles. Instead of saying, let me show you where your wrong, go to the scriptures and seek what is right and then allow the Holy Spirit to apply the truth to their opinion to grow it into a conviction. You don’t win an Arminian by disparaging human responsibility, instead you teach him God’s sovereignty. And you don’t win over a Calvinist by tearing down sovereignty, you remind him of human responsibility. As we add Biblical principles, applied by the spirit by faith in community, we will develop stronger convictions and become a strong and vibrant community of faith.
Romans 15:5-7 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.