Questions For Convictions (Romans 14)

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MOTIVATE

  • Christian, you are free.
  • Jesus has set you free from religion and rules, to a living faith relationship with God.
  • By grace through faith, Jesus has set you free from sin never to allow the past to haunt you.
  • You are free with options and preferences in the riches of Christ.
  • Daughter of Eve, you are free to work from home or choose a career of your talents and passions.
  • Son of Adam, you are free to work blue collar or white collar jobs.
  • Parents, you are free to choose public, private or home schooling (or combo) for your children; each child is unique in learning; each family has its own context and conviction.
  • Christians are free to remain single or marry.
  • We are free to drink in moderation or abstain entirely.
  • You are free to eat salad, while I enjoy meat.
    (Save the plants! If you’re saving the animals why are you eating their food? Besides, animals can defend themselves, plants can’t… Enough!)
  • We are free to celebrate a holiday like Christmas, even though Christ was likely not born in December.
  • You are free to eat from any tree in God’s generous garden, but don’t eat the fruit leading to folly.
  • Christian, you are free to be a bible-believing, gospel-centered, Spirit-filled, church-member of any choice (I prefer baptistic and partial to spbc)… but you are not free to be a bible-selectivist, gospel-universalist, Spirit-quenching, church-consumer.
  • Christian, you are free but a bondservant to God.

Today’s message continues last weeks about knowing and doing the will of God. Then we noted we know God’s will by being available to the gospel and adaptable to God’s word; not being conformed to the pattern of this world. In other words, there are beliefs and behaviors that we must hold dear and, if necessary, divide over. We could call those closed-handed doctrine: Trinity, Bible truth (inerrancy) & accuracy (infallibility), Imago Dei, Gospel exclusivity, Eternal Heaven/Hell… (yes also hetero-marriage), and then there are open-handed interpretations: creation timing, eschatology, and a host of minor issues that have no bearing on salvation or the Bible’s trustworthiness.

Our text today is Romans 14:1-15:7, which will provide us with questions to make our decisions and hold our convictions.

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EXAMINE

Rome was one of the greatest empires and cosmopolitan cities. The expression, “All roads lead to Rome” was and is true because the Romans built its roads stretching from Italy through Britain, Spain, and Northern Africa.[1] The city was a melting pot of people mingled from different cultures, backgrounds, and experiences. Representatives from all the stretched out corners of Rome, along with the captives of war created a very diverse city.

So, when Paul writes to a growing faith community in Rome, he is writing to a church with variety of opinions and complex differences. In reading Romans, one can see at least these group differences in this church:

  • Knew Paul & Unfamiliar with Paul (Rom 1:1).
  • New believers & Seasoned Christians.
  • Circumcised Jews & Uncircumcised Gentiles (Rom 1:16; 2:12 – 11:32).
  • Weak in faith & Strong in faith (Rom 14:1; 15:1).
  • Vegetarians & Meatatarians (Rom 14:2-3).
  • Special day celebrators & non-partiers (Rom 14:5).
  • Alcohol drinkers and Abstainers (Rom 14:17, 21).

In Romans 14, Paul exhorts believers to love and accept spiritually different/weaker believers. Paul identifies those who discern secondary issues as non-divisive as “strong,” while those who were confused and divided over lesser issues were identified as “weak.”

Introduction

  • The weak are not inferior. They are to be received and not rejected by others, because God welcomes them (Rom 14:1, 3). Yet, the weak in faith have room to grow in faith (Rom 4:19-25).
  • The strong are not superior. While they are free to act in certain ways, they are not free to judge the weak or become a stumbling block (Rom 14:3-4, 13; 15:1).
  • All Christians are to glorify God and love each other in Christian unity and diversity (Rom 15:5).

Summary leads to questions to inform our decision-making; what is God’s will about _____. When we face issues that are not directly defined or minimally discussed in Scripture, how should we form convictions?

 

Will my choice worship God? Romans 14:6-8

Paul has previously written to Christians to be a living sacrifice to God. He takes the next chapters to define that with 31 attitudes and actions for Christians (Rom 12:9-21)[2], instructions about honoring civil authorities and being honorable citizens (Rom 13). Now, in chapter 14 Paul is further defining what it means to be a living sacrifice in how Christians relate to one another, especially on secondary issues.

Paul starts by discussing two issues

  • vegetarians and meatatarians
  • special day celebrators and all days equal

Paul recognizes that both issues are not innately spiritual. We can use means (food and parties) to worship God, but we should not promote the means above its purpose in glorifying God. Paul says, “So whether we live, or die, we are the Lord’s” – or – glorify God in all your life choices.

We may or not argue over these issues, but we can be tempted to turn means and methods into idols of worship. It is often too easy to misplace focus on styles over content and preferences over essence.[3]

Jesus warns against turning secondary issues into idols.

  • Worship is not at a geographic place but a Person – “in spirit and truth” (Jn 4:21-23)
  • Worship is not religious motions but relational attention and affection – “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mat 15:8-9)
  • “Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1Cor 10:31)
  • “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Col 3:17)
  • We worship God because He is worthy… not to sing our songs, share our sermons, heal our hurts, attract crowds, fundraise our cause, or platform our passions. True worship is satisfied in God because He alone can satisfy.

When it comes to decision-making, we must ask ourselves if the choice is to glorify God or to comfort and gratify our desires. Further, we must discern the difference between needs and greeds. When our choices are advancing the cause of the gospel and drawing attention to God more than our stuff and selfish desires, then we know we are making a God-glorifying decision.

Some estimate 95% of our decisions are spontaneous[4] – picking clothes, opening a fridge to select item to eat, picking a coffee cup out of cabinet, driving fast or slow, working hard or hardly at all, etc. These decisions just spill over from what’s inside of us. The 5% of decisions that we pause to ponder and pray about are often life-altering – who to marry, pursue this job or that one, should I take chemo or alternative treatment, how much should I save for retirement and when do I start withdrawing, etc. In all these decisions, we are learning to look more like Jesus in our character and be confident of His grace at work in our life when we see Him eye to eye. All of this occurs through the discipline of walking with God.

  • Are you walking with God? How does your worship of God have impact on the rest of your week? 
  • How do you know your choices are aligned with God’s word if you aren’t reading it and if you aren’t in community with other Christians to affirm or refute such?

 

Will my choice weaken others? Romans 14:9-15

Those who ate meat or celebrated certain days were not sinful, just as much as those whose convictions it was to not eat meat or not celebrate certain days thought it was sinful. The “weaker” individuals feared participation in certain activity would corrupt their Christianity and expose themselves to worldly evils. Indulging in actions like the world has the potential to lead them astray – so they refrained and preferred alternate choices.

Paul identifies the weaker Christian as

  • Vegetarian (Rom 14:2, 21)
  • Honoring special days (Rom 14:5)
  • Abstaining from wine (Rom 14:21).

However, Paul also identifies the truth

  • “nothing is unclean in itself… everything is indeed clean” (Rom 14:14, 20; cf. Acts 10:15)
  • “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17)
  • Jesus said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15)
  • 1Cor 8:8 “food will not commend us to God; we are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better if we do eat.” (cf. 1Cor 10:25-26).
  • Colossians 2:16-17 “Therefore let no one disqualify you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.”
  • 1Tim 4:4-5 “For everything created by God is good and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”

The weak believed the strong were loose and licentious, while the strong viewed the weak as legalistic Pharisees. But, Paul exhorted both to refrain from such judgments as these were matters of conscience and Christian liberty; we should avoid elevating human opinion to equal status of divine command.

But, when does a choice cross the line to sinful? The reality is there is a fine line between sinful and selfishness. Sin is more than just actions of do’s and don’ts; it’s also our attitudes and motivations. A person can do the right thing in the wrong way and still sin.

  • In Gen 4, Cain’s offering was not accepted… perhaps bc it wasn’t a blood sacrifice, but we don’t know that for certain. But we do know his countenance was despondent and angry.
  • One of Satan’s successful tricks is to limit our Christianity to a checklist. When we follow our checklist, we gain a foolish confidence in our flesh rather than faith in Christ.
  • In all, sin may include an action or attitude against God’s will of desire (command), and/or simply an action/inaction based from selfishness.

Common examples include

  • Watching R movies
    • Not with a child: language, violence, messaging, sexuality are dangerous influencers on young minds & hearts.
    • Conscience… Leas home (not even Braveheart!)
  • Drinking alcohol
    • Never before an alcoholic.
    • If I’m out with friends, I always say up front – you have freedom to drink your choice/conscience.
  • Materialism
    • God blesses His children, but lavish lifestyles can be in excess and exemplify greed more than humility and generosity for the sake of the gospel.
  • Politics & Issues
    • Every Christian should be a good citizen to vote their values and be a voice as salt and light in their community. However, certain issues and politics can become a distraction more than an attraction to the gospel. Again, are your political preferences or views on earthly kingdoms a stumbling block, or is the gospel?
      • Social media posts are the biggest culprit.
      • We catch more flies with honey than vinegar.
    • We have grown to be a society that divides over disagreement.
    • We cannot hate the same people God expects us to reach.
  • Bibliolatry
    • Bible study and love for God’s word is essential and priceless. But, when our Christianity prioritizes accumulation of Bible study at the expense of obedience and outreach to a lost world, we have misunderstood Christianity.
  • Ask spouse and close family & friends if there are any stumbling blocks you are building, and how you could begin to tear down those walls.
  • Assume the best of Christian brothers/sisters; they are family. We should be very careful of making judgements about those God has already judged as loved, righteous, and welcomed (Rom 14:3). That doesn’t mean we cannot hold each other accountable. Paul (and Jesus) were never one to back down from a theological fight or boldly condemn hypocrisy or legalism! But, our approach should always be truth in love; constructive rather than destructive (Eph 4:29).
  • Embrace diversity in the gospel. Christians are to have unity in essentials while cherishing each other’s differences. A strong brother/sister should show the same warmth to a weaker brother/sister; one should not be made to feel inferior, uninvited, or useless.

 

Will my choice widen faith? Romans 14:16-23

Paul rounds this discussion with “everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). He has noted that secondary issues are a matter of personal conviction but should be without judgment for others. When the Bible does not explicitly address an issue, we must use the above questions in glorifying God and loving others.  Ultimately our decision must be based on our personal faith for what we believe God’s will of direction is for us. Each person will be held accountable for the decisions they make.

Further, Paul’s heartbeat is God’s kingdom.

  • “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Rom 14:17)
  • “Do not, for the sake of _____ (food), destroy the work of God.” (Rom 14:20)
  • “We who are strong, have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves” (Rom 15:1).

We can insert any substitute for the word food. How unfortunate and ill-fated would it be for us to enjoy our Christian liberty while lost souls have the gospel clouded and confused?

While a Christian may be free to make certain choices, they are also an example to others. A Christian should not flaunt their freedom if it means the expense of another to fall (cf. Rom 14:15-16, 21). Instead, a Christian should model faith, spiritual growth, and holiness for others, especially to those who are new or immature in their Christianity. Our actions can help or hinder others from faith in God, so we must be careful not to cause others to fall. The only stumbling block, or excuse, for people to not move towards God should be the gospel itself (1Cor 1:23).

  • Love the lost more than your likings and leanings.
    “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them… I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1Cor 9:19-23)

 

APPLY/THINK

  • God is God, and I am not. I/you are not 100% right about 100% of issues. Further, God blesses people I/you differ and disagree with, and that’s just fine.
  • Judge not except where the Bible judges. “The only thing worse than a Christian who is judgmental is a Christian who really doesn’t make biblical judgments… you can’t condemn judgmentalism without, you’re there already, making judgments.” @albertmohler
  • Start in your life/home. What convictions – sold out passions – do you have for faith and God’s kingdom? Psalm 16:6 “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”

– – – – – – – – – – – –

 

[1] Interesting research about Rome on all continents found here: http://roadstorome.moovellab.com/

[2] https://growinggodlygenerations.com/2017/09/18/we-are-family-romans-129-21/

[3] See John Piper, “Brothers, Focus on the Essence of Worship, Not the Form” in Brothers We Are Not Professionals, p.256, ff.

[4] https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-gods-will-isnt-always-clear

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