In Romans 14 and the first part of chapter 15, the apostle Paul addresses the believer's behavior. His focus is on "doubtful things". These are those daily decisions that don't necessarily fall under the "sin" category or the "spiritual" category. While some behavior's fit neatly into the category of the believer's flesh or the believer's faith, these behavior's fall into the category of the believer's freedom. For the church in Rome, these behavior's involved diets and days but for us today, the static tension between legalism and liberty includes a number of behaviors (see attached chart & explanation at the end of the lesson).
Romans 14:12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.
So how do why know what is right when pondering "doubtful things"?
I . Our Conscience (Rom. 14:5b, 14, 22-23)
"Let each be fully convinced in his own mind (v.5b)…I know and am convinced of the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean (v.14)… Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin (vv.22-23)" (NKJV).
Throughout the New Testament the Holy Spirit is seen counseling Jesus' disciples on the best path to take, and so it is in our lives. Likewise even the natural man has a moral compass, it's not perfect but many times it is a warning that we are treading on dangerous ground.
The Holy Spirit of God convicts us of outright sin (if He doesn't, then we are not saved Romans 8:9). He may also convict us, however, of things that appear to be "doubtful". Perhaps you struggled in your lost life with lust; so now even the most mild television programming causes you to struggle and draws you to sin. Perhaps certain secular music was the soundtrack to the sins of your past; so now you avoid it completely because of the emotional memories it stirs in your soul. Every blood-bought child of God is unique and comes from a different past; they each see life through a different lens and often hold different "convictions" about certain "doubtful" behaviors. Paul says that each one must be "fully convinced in his own mind" that his behavior in these things is fit before God.
II. Our Christian Brothers & Sisters (15:1-2)
1 We then who are strong ought to bear with the scruples of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, leading to edification.
The word "scruples" in some translations says "infirmities", does anyone have some different for verse 1? Let me give you my own paraphrase of that verse.
"Those who are able, should bear with the problems of easily offended brothers and sisters, and not just accommodate our own opinions."
I am not very good at this historically at this because I was usually more focused on being right, than on being gracious.
The Christian life is not lived in isolation. One of the great joys of being a part of God's family is the fellowship we experience with other believers. Because of this, our "freedoms" often fall under the scrutiny of those with different sensibilities. Some Christians feel that wearing modest shorts is totally acceptable; while others think that ankles should be covered at all times. Some Christians have no problem drinking alcohol in moderation while others will not even eat food that has been prepared with it.
Even worship styles are extremely varied in the Body of Christ: electric, stoic, country, ancient, southern gospel, modern, progressive, classical.
There is a story that is often told of Charles Spurgeon. For years he saw nothing wrong with smoking; to him, it wasn't sin. He did it regularly in good conscience; until he found out that a tobacco firm was advertising "the brand that Spurgeon smokes!" From that day on he gave up the habit, because he felt he had given the wrong impression of the Christian life.
I wish it were easier to navigate the minefield of people's sensibilities but it's not. Sometimes we'll get it wrong. We'll follow our conscience and someone is hurt or offended. Rather than justify ourselves, or mount a logical defense, or challenge the offended brother to "get over it", we must empathize with the genuine hurt he or she feels and then respond with understanding. Afterward, we rest in grace, learn from the experience, and become wiser as a result.
The gift of freedom always comes in the plain wrapping of responsibility.
Galatians 5:13 says, "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (ESV).
If you are unwilling to surrender your liberty for the sake of your Christian brother, then your liberty has become your Lord.
III. Our Christ (Rom. 15:3)
3 For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, "The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me." (Psalm 69:9)
Things that may be no big deal to me can be huge to someone else, and everyone has those times when it seems everything is offensive, everyone is against you, and no one cares about your struggles.
69:1 Save me, O God!
For the waters have come up to my neck.
[I sometimes think David was Bi-polar because his highs and lows are so extreme. David endured some of the greatest offenses when Saul was trying to kill him; he also caused some of the greatest offenses when he murdered Uriah and stole his wife.]
2 I sink in deep mire,
Where there is no standing;
I have come into deep waters,
Where the floods overflow me.
[I didn't even know Israel has swamps but that is what he describes, he is sinking in the swamp.]
3 I am weary with my crying;
My throat is dry;
My eyes fail while I wait for my God.
4 Those who hate me without a cause
Are more than the hairs of my head;
They are mighty who would destroy me,
Being my enemies wrongfully;
Though I have stolen nothing,
I still must restore it.
5 O God, You know my foolishness;
And my sins are not hidden from You.
6 Let not those who wait for You, O Lord GOD of hosts, be ashamed because of me;
Let not those who seek You be confounded because of me, O God of Israel.
[He confesses his fears, he confesses his sins, and here he confesses his hope that no one who seeks the Lord would be weakened because of him.]
7 Because for Your sake I have borne reproach;
Shame has covered my face.
8 I have become a stranger to my brothers,
And an alien to my mother's children;
9 Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up,
And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.
[Sometimes we are the offender and other times we are the offended. If we keep that in mind then you can see why this attitude of grace toward each other is so important.]
IV God's Purpose (Rom. 15:4-6)
4 For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. 5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus, 6 that you may with one mind and one mouth glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So, when faced with a decision that falls in the "freedom" category of Christian behavior we should ask ourselves, "Is this wise?" "Does this behavior feed my flesh or my faith?" "Does it exalt me or God?"
Questions for Discussion:
- Are there any matters of conscience that you are currently wrestling with?
- Is there a particular behavior that you treasure more than the encouragement of your brothers and sisters in Christ? If so, are you willing to lay it down for their sake (just as Christ laid down His rights and privileges for us)?
- How do you deal with a professional "weaker brother" (a legalistic person who is offended by almost everything you say and do).
Hand out explanation:
The title of the hand out is "The Believer's Behavior". It's important to remind everyone that our salvation is NOT earned; it is GRANTED by God's grace.
There are behaviors that clearly land in the "sin" column and feed our flesh; and there are behaviors that clearly land in the "spiritual" column and feed our faith. There is a grey area that exists between "sin" and "spiritual" that I have labeled "????". Things that are "doubtful" or questionable can draw you one way or the other. In other words, your behavior in the "freedom" category either feeds your flesh or your faith. Our freedom in Christ must be Spirit lead, always considering others. Do the freedoms you enjoy hinder someone's faith? Do the freedoms you enjoy help feed your faith? A famous question in Christian circles is, "Is ____________ a sin?"
Remember Romans 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
So whatever you decide on the questionable things, you must exercise your Christian liberty in faith, for the good of others and the glory of God.