“For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:7–12 ESV).
Who is the Priority?
The mature Christian lives verse 8, “So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8). We could easily call this the All About Him approach to Christian liberty. Weak in faith, don’t judge the strong because Jesus is judge. Strong in faith, don’t despise the weak because Jesus is their Savior, too.
The glory of Jesus Christ is our prime directive, and we must approach these otherwise divisive issues from his perspective. What’s best for Jesus’ name? Jesus’ fame? Jesus’ glory? This isn’t about me. It’s not about bacon or vegetables, Sabbaths or not, wine drinking, or a host of other secondary matters.
“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” (Romans 14:17–19).
When people elevate eating and drinking to some kind of measure of maturity or spirituality, the wrong thing is in the wrong place. What does maturity look like in these non-essential issues? Is it the freedom to do something that makes you mature? Listen, this is another legalism trap, particularly for weaker-conscience Christians who find some freedom in an area. They discover freedom and begin to bask in it, then look down on others from their background who still don’t enjoy this thing, and think, I am more enlightened and godlier than they are.
There are two kinds of legalists: those who think they are godly because they don’t, and those who think they are more spiritual because they do. Both are in bondage. True freedom is when you are free NOT to express your freedom for the sake of peace and unity.
I’m going to sit on this because I have seen this over and over. I have preached this type of message many times and we have often said we want the Bible to draw the lifestyle lines for us. Many of us, myself included, came out of a Christian background where the lines were drawn more conservatively than the Bible and consciences are often aligned with the man-made lines more than the Bible-made lines.
So, people with a weaker conscience come to our church and some of these lines are challenged and perhaps even changed. This is good, except when it isn’t. I have observed the swing to the other side where there easily is a kind of pride in their freedom and even a flaunting of it. Some become obnoxious about it to the annoyance and hurt of their legacy family and friends. They will post on social media their participation in this new freedom. They insist on their new freedom at the family Thanksgiving meal. They talk about it openly. It takes mature eyes to see what is happening. They have traded one false measure of godliness for another.
What is true Christian maturity? What is true freedom? It’s not the freedom to do something or not do something, but the freedom to do it or not is based on what is in the best interest of Jesus’ church and his people.
What am I really saying? This:
Jesus ≠ Me
Jesus = Others
The question is not first, do I have liberty? but rather who is my Lord? Who is the functional priority for the choices I make in community with other Christians? We can’t say Jesus is our Lord and trash the church for the sake of our preference! The kingdom of God isn’t about the preferences! When we go to war over a preference or some secondary matter, we are placing ourselves on the throne and denying Jesus his rightful place as Lord of the church.
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
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