Sermon

God's Word Faithfully Preached from the Pulpit

Christian Liberty and Grace (Isaiah 45:22-23 and Romans 14:1-13)

When I was in my previous church and I was already at the brink of leaving our denomination due to issues about doctrines, one of the statements used by our minister to convince me not leave is the statement “Do not major in minors”. And when we transferred to our next church, which we also decided to leave due to doctrinal issues, one thing that I remembered our pastor was saying is that there are essentials and non-essentials in the faith, and not all faith issues are worth dying for.

Later on, I realized that what they said is right. There are really matters of faith that are not that essential and should not be a reason for the church to divide. However, what I don’t agree with my previous churches is their determination of what is essential and non-essential. Churches nowadays have a tendency to automatically consider things that are not directly related to salvation as non-essential. This is why many churches allow female pastors, the use of unbiblical songs in worship, unbiblical programs, unbiblical doctrines and etc., because only the doctrine concerning our salvation is important, and other aspects of our Christian faith may only be subject to our own preferences.

Certainly, this view is not right. As believers who believe in the authority of the Scriptures, we should not be selective in giving importance to the doctrines enunciated in this book. Every aspect of our faith and practice must be governed by the Scriptures and not just our salvation.

However, we also believe that there are matters that are really not essential in faith. These are matters in which the Scriptures is either silent or unclear. Differing opinions over these matters should never be a reason for believers to be divided, and must always be approached with a spirit of graciousness.

 This morning we will be taking about the matters that are not essential to faith and relate it to the freedom that we have in Christ. We will also learn how we should treat our brothers whose views are different from ours. In order to do that, we will be studying Romans 14:1-13 and divide our discussion in to three sermon points:

  1. Receiving the weak in faith;
  2. Being fully convinced in our own mind and;
  3. Not being a stumbling block to others  

Receiving the Weak in Faith

14 As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 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. -Romans 14:1-4

Verse 1 tells us that we should receive the one who is weak in the faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. The weak in the faith that is being referred to here is a believer who is not necessarily having difficulty in grasping the Christian faith nor an immature or sinful Christian. The person who is weak in faith here refers to believers who are weak in their knowledge of the branch of the doctrine of faith which concerns Christian Liberty.

The doctrine of Christian Liberty states that if the Scripture (or a truth legitimately deduced from it) does not address a particular ethical issue, the Christian is at liberty to decide and his conscience cannot be bound by anyone. Thus, the Christian is protected from the tyranny of human authorities or opinions.  This doctrine guards against the unlawful usurpation or abuse of authority by people or institutions over the conscience of God’s people. 

The areas of liberty to Christians are described by theologians as adiaphora or matters that are not essential to faith. The word adiaphora came from the Greek “a” – a negation and “diaphora” meaning “differentiable”. Putting them together, adiaphora means “not differentiable”. Because matters that are considered adiaphora are not covered by any moral mandate from the Scriptures, they are subject to the believer’s preferences.

The example of adiaphora that was mentioned in Scripture text are dietary preferences, whether a believer can eat anything, including food that was previously offered to idols, or they may only eat vegetables. This is considered adiaphora because there are no laws in the New Testament that are expressly prohibiting the eating of certain kinds of animals, even those previously offered to idols.

Although it is true that the Mosaic Law contains provisions on dietary restrictions, with the transition of the church to the New Covenant, those dietary restrictions have been abolished already. To prove this let us read Acts 10:9-15:

The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”  And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.”

Timothy 4:3-5 also says, “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.

            Apostle Paul also discussed in his letter to the Corinthians that a person who eats food that was previously offered to idols is not sinning because these idols actually do not exist. In 1 Corinthians 8:4 he said, “Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” And in verse 8 he said “Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.”  

            In short dietary preferences in the New Testament is adiaphora because there are now no laws prohibiting the eating of certain food nor mandating them. However, we should still be careful because even though the choice of food is not essential to faith, lack of self-control in eating or gluttony is still considered as a sin.  

Another example of adiaphora in our text is the esteeming of days where one person esteems one day better than another, while another esteems all days alike.  With the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant, the Jewish festivals and holidays have been abolished because they are mere foreshadows of the things that they represent in the New Testament, and they have already fulfilled their purpose. Now, with regard to the observance of the Sabbath, we know that this is not only ceremonial in nature but also moral because it is included in the Ten Commandments. And since the observance of the Sabath is a moral law, we cannot say that it has been abolished like the other Jewish holidays which are mere ceremonial in nature. Now, we are still observing the Sabath but it is not the same Sabath that the Jews are observing, rather we give importance to the Lord’s Day which is the fulfillment of the Sabath in the New Testament.

If we are still observing the Lord’s Day, then why is the esteeming of days considered as adiaphora? Well, as long as you esteem the Lord’s Day as an important day for worship, then there is nothing wrong if you want to esteem other days as important for worship as well. For example, if you are dedicating Sunday as a day where you rest in the presence of God, enjoy fellowship with the believers, listen and meditate in the Word of God, you are not sinning if you will also do that in other days other than the Lord’s Day. However, if by making an excuse that you are esteeming all days alike for worship, you made the Lord’s Day as common as the other days then you are actually sinning by violating the fourth commandment in the decalogue. Also, if you esteem other days as important for worship than the Lord’s Day, then again you are violating the fourth commandment.

    In the same way, although the Jewish believers are no longer required by the law to observe the usual Sabath and the other Jewish Holidays, if they still esteem those days as important in worshipping the Lord then we cannot say that they are sinning. That is because although the observance of these holidays is no longer mandatory, they are also not expressly prohibited.

In the modern church, there are also practices that are considered adiaphora but are being taken seriously by other believers. Common examples of these are whether believers can drink alcoholic beverages, or whether a believer can smoke, or have a tattoo or have their hair colored with purple. These practices are not prohibited in Scriptures neither expressly or by good and necessary inference. However, even though these practices, in and of themselves are not sinful, if we take them to the extreme then they can be considered as a sin. For example, even though drinking of alcohol itself is not sin, the Bible says that drunkenness is a sin. So it is important that we apply discernment when practicing things that are adiaphora in order not to convert these practice to sin.

 The Scriptures tells us that we should receive the brother who is weak in faith and not quarrel over opinions. We are commanded to receive the weak in faith because after all, despite their inability to grasp the doctrine of Christian Liberty, they are still our brothers and sisters in Christ. The basis of our unity is Christ himself and our membership in His body. A Christian need not be perfect in his understanding of the whole of Christian faith in order for him to be received in to fellowship. Although we should make sure that a person is able to grasp the fundamentals of the Christian faith before he is admitted into the church, we should never refuse a believer from joining us just because we differ in our opinion over matters where the Scriptures is silent.

It is not wrong to instruct our fellow believers who are weak in faith about the freedom that we have in Christ in matters that are considered adiaphora. However, what the Scriptures is warning us from is the tendency to quarrel over opinions. In the subject of Christian Liberty, there are always two kinds of Christians, one is the stronger brother and the other is the weaker brother. The stronger brother is the one who understands his freedom in Christian and whose conscience is not burdened by things that does not have moral or ethical bearing. On the other hand, the weaker brother is the one who does not understand his freedom in Christ and whose conscience is weak.

Between the stronger and the weaker brother, we know that the one who is right is the first one. However, not because the stronger is right does it automatically mean that the weaker is sinning. The weaker brother, although wrong in his understanding of the Christian liberty is still not sinning if he is acting in accordance with his conscience. That is why, even though the stronger is right, he should not quarrel with the weak because the latter, although wrong, is not actually sinning. And again, it is not wise to argue over things where the Scriptures is silent. There are hundreds of things that divides believers right now, so let us not add things that are not essential to faith as reason for our further division.

So let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, or in other words, let not the stronger brother despise the weaker brother. I know almost all of us reformed Christians have experience how to be in the cage stage. We see ourselves as former victims of the Arminian doctrine that’s why we become too passionate in explaining Calvinism to other believers to the point of being rude. Most of the time, when the person we are reasoning out with does not get what we want to say, we despise them for being slow in understanding or intellectually inferior. Being in cage stage with regard to the doctrines of grace, although wrong, is understandable. However, what is worse and inexcusable, is to be in cage stage over matters that are adiaphora.

On the other hand, the weaker brother also has a tendency to pass judgement over the stronger brother. Those who have weak conscience often times accuse the stronger brothers of being too liberal and sometimes even antinomian. Both the stronger and the weaker brother must be gracious to each other. God welcomed both the stronger and the weaker brother in His kingdom despite their sins and their deficiencies in understanding. For this reason, we also ought to accept one another.

Since both the stronger and the weaker brother serve God as their master, God is the one who is the proper judge of their actions. Believers have no business judging one another because all of them are servants, no one is higher than the other. All of them answers to God. However, this does not mean that the church has no power to pass judgment over its members and exercise church discipline when they commit deeds that are patently and obviously contrary to the Word of God.

 Sometimes, in order to justify our act of despising or passing judgment on our brother, we use as an alibi the statement “I am just concern about him.” We think that if the person will not understand his liberty in Christ immediately, soon enough they will be crushed by the things that burdens their conscience and they will eventually fall from the faith. So, we force our views upon them even if they are no longer comfortable with our nagging and justify that by saying “concern lang ako sayo.”

But we don’t have to be too concern about whether our brother will fall away from faith because of these things. At the end of the day, it is before our master that we rise and fall. A believer, if he is indeed a true believer, will be upheld for the Lord is able to make him stand. It is God who sustains the believer, not us. So let us not have this mindset that if we will not be able to convince our brother, he will fall away from faith. Like them, we are also wretched sinner who were saved by grace. We are not each other’s saviors so let’s trust God to uphold them and not think that we can assume this task.           

Being fully convinced in our own mind

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. 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. 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. -Romans 14:5-9

The reason why the weaker brother, even though he is wrong about Christian liberty, is still not sinning is because the things that he does, in this particular text, he does in honor of the Lord. As stated in the text, the one who observes the day, he observes in honor of the Lord; the one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord and; the who who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord.

In my past sermon I already mentioned that a good work, in order to really qualify as a good work to God must include three things: first the act must be in accordance with the laws of God, second it must be done with faith and lastly, it should be done with an intent to glorify God. Any thing lesser than that is already sin.

Now, an act that is adiaphora, since the Scriptures does not prohibit it, can be considered as still in accordance to God’s law. And if the person doing it is fully convinced that He is doing it to honor God, then he is doing it with faith and with an intent to glorify God. In other words, the thing that he does is still a good work.

I think this is a useful standard that we should consider when evaluating ourselves in doing things that are adiaphora. Even though adiaphora are morally neutral, if you are not fully convinced in your mind that its is not a sin, then you are not doing it with faith. That is why it is very important that whenever we exercise our Christian Liberty, we must be fully convinced in our own minds otherwise we will violate our own conscience.

There is a great danger in violating our own conscience. Our conscience is like an inner mechanism that prevents from committing sin. Our conscience may not be right all of the time as it may be burdened by things that are morally neutral. However, if we ignore our conscience in things that are morally neutral, we will have a greater tendency to ignore it in matters that has moral implications. Wounding our own conscience and the conscience of others is a sin against Christ. 1 Corinthians 8:12 says “…thus, sinning against your brothers[e] and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.”

When we do things that are adiaphora or when we consider our brethren who may not approve the practice of it, let us take into consideration what the Apostle Paul said in verse 7 to 8, “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.

  When we are tempted to judge or despise a brother, who for example does not go to movie theaters because he thinks that by doing so he is sinning, let us remember that he is doing that not for himself, not for the people around him, but for the Lord. A believer will not impose a restriction or inconvenience upon himself unless he is fully convinced that he is doing it for the Lord. So if he is doing it for the Lord, then let’s not bother him. Let us not force him to violate his own conscience even though we are correct.

In the same way, when we exercise our Christian liberty, let us do it unto the Lord and not for ourselves. Our freedom in Christ is supposed to give us more leeway in serving him and is not intended to give us license to do whatever we want to do at the expense of the stumbling of our brother. We are not supposed to flaunt our freedom in order to gratify ourselves. We have to be considerate and sensitive with the others specially those who has a weak conscience.

For example, even if you know that its is not prohibited in the Scripture for a Christian to drink beer, it is not gracious for us to take photos of ourselves having a drinking spree with friends and post it in social media, when we are aware that we have brothers and sister who may be offended by our post. What is saddening is that there are Christians who actually do this and when they are called out by a brother who is weak in faith, instead of being gracious, they argue with the brother about their Christian liberty in a rude and arrogant way.    

Friends, if we really consider ourselves as Christians, then we should not just live for ourselves anymore. We do not belong to ourselves but we belong body and soul, both in life and in death to our faithful savior Jesus Christ. So let us not use our freedom to gratify ourselves, but instead we should exercise it unto the Lord and we must be willing to regulate it for the sake of our weaker brothers and sisters.        

Not being a stumbling block to others

10 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; 11 for it is written,

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
    and every tongue shall confess to God.”

12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.

13 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. – Romans 14:10-13

As mentioned previously, we should not judge our brothers especially in matters where the Scripture is silent or unclear. Judging the works of believers is a task that is reserved to God and not us. In the last days, we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, not for Him to decide whether we will go to heaven or not because this has been decided by Him already even before the foundation of the world, and because the Scriptures also says that there is now no condemnation in Christ. But we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ for him to evaluate our works and determine our rewards. Those who have done good will receive rewards while those who are not faithful in their service to Christ will suffer the loss of their reward but will nevertheless be saved but only as through fire.

So even though we are already saved by grace, we will still be judged according to our works, and this includes how we treated our weaker or stronger brothers. So instead of being too concerned about how we will fix our brothers, we must be more concerned about the fact the we will soon give an account of ourselves to God. I am not saying that we are not supposed to encourage, correct or exhort our brothers. Certainly, if our brother committed acts that are clearly against the moral standards of God, we must be ready to confront and correct them with love. But on matters that are not clear in Scriptures, we must leave the judging to God.

We must decide not be a hindrance or a stumbling block to our brethren. We must never be the reason why a person would no longer want to be a Christian or refuse to subscribe to the reformed faith.

There are many ways by which we become a stumbling block to our brethren. In this particular text, we become a stumbling block to others when we fail to show grace and consideration to the weak in faith. When we become too critical and judgmental to them, and we despise them for lack of understanding, we present a distorted picture of Christianity to weaker brethren that is devoid of love and grace.

Also, when we offend their conscience by flaunting our freedom or when we force them to violate their conscience by insisting our views on them, we drive them away from the faith. By doing this, we create a toxic environment that is not conducive for their spiritual growth. And as mentioned a while ago, when we force people to violate their own conscience, we are actually making them sin because we cause them to do things without faith.

On the contrary, although we should be gracious and considerate to our weaker brother, we must also not allow their views to be the rule in the Church. Just because the conscience of a weaker brother is burdened by something, that does not mean that the conscience of the rest of the people of God should be burdened as well. The main purpose of the doctrine of Christian Liberty is to prevent man made rules and superstitions from unduly burdening the conscience of believers. As R.C Sproul said, we should not allow the tyranny of the weaker brother to prevail in the church.

Lastly, when the tyranny of the weaker brother goes unchecked, it does not only result to the unreasonable binding of the conscience of the believer. Sometimes, it evolves to something worse than mere legalism.

In the New Testament, we are all aware about the controversy that was brought about by the Judaizers. These are groups of Jewish believers who advocates the practice of circumcision among gentiles as a pre-condition for salvation. I would like to clarify that the practice of circumcision, in and of itself, is adiaphora because it is no longer mandated nor prohibited. As Filipino males who practice circumcision, we don’t consider ourselves sinning when we do that. However, when a thing that is morally neutral is made a condition for the salvation of a person, it becomes an affront to the Gospel itself. When that thing happens my friend, we should oppose it with all of our might. This time, we are not called to be gracious, but like what the Apostle Paul said, even if the one who introduced the idea is an angel of God, we should grab him by the neck, throw him out of the church and let him be accursed. When the gospel is at stake, we are not called to exercise grace, but we are called to go to war and defend this precious doctrine to the best of our knowledge and ability.

So ZCRC Imus, when we are confronted with issues where the Scripture is silent or unclear, our response is to be gracious and considerate to our brothers. However, when a thing that is morally neutral is being used to replace the precious Gospel of Christ as a means of salvation, we must be ready defend the Gospel and destroy the false doctrine that sets itself against our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

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