Sin is the transgression of God’s law (1 John 3:4). If you or I act in a way that we know violates God’s Word, we have sinned. However, by this point in life we can recall many scenarios where we had the option to do something, or not, that God’s Word doesn’t speak directly to. Examples of decisions that may fall into this category are things like playing poker, using certain social media app, not celebrating Christmas, wearing shorts to a church service, multiple ear piercings (for women), ordering pasta with a wine sauce, or deceiving your fiancée so she doesn’t know the proposal is coming. Often faithful Christians who desire to please God have different opinions about the rightness or wrongness of specific issues that are not clearly matters of sin.
When I was a teenager, I had a crisis of conscience. A family at our church at the time had season passes to Busch Gardens, an amusement park a few hours from where we lived. I had never been, but they had extra tickets and invited a few people, including me. We were to leave the house before sunrise the next morning to make it as the park opened. The next morning as I was getting ready, it occurred to me that Busch Gardens, was, well, part of the larger Anheuser-Busch corporation. I suddenly began to have second thoughts about giving a six-pack my time and money.
Romans 14:23 provides a good “rule of thumb” for whether you and I should participate in activities that faithful Christians don’t agree on, like in the example from my story. Romans 14:2 summarizes the scenario God addressed through Paul: “one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs.” It seems that conflict between meat-eaters and vegetarians is not new. The point of Romans 14, however, is not to settle the matter. Instead, Romans 14 reminds the Roman church, and us, that each believer is personally accountable to God for his behavior. “For none of us liveth to himself, and no man dieth to himself. For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die unto the Lord.” (v. 8). “For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ” (v. 10). “So then every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (v. 12). We answer to God.
Because the Lord is our judge, our decisions are made first before him and then before others. “For as it is written, ‘”As I live,” saith the Lord, “every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God”’” (v. 11). He is our Master; we stand or fall before Him (v. 4). When we make decisions, then, we make them based upon whether we anticipate God will be pleased with our choice.
What if you are faced with a choice, and your conscience will not allow you to be convinced that God approves of one of the options? Then you cannot choose that option. Romans 14:23 says it this way about the issue of eating meat. “He that doubteth [about whether God approves of his eating meat] is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith. For whatsoever is not of faith is sin.” The last line is emphasized because it is the “rule of thumb” in debated matters. If you or I cannot act believing that God approves, we should not act. While “damned” in verse 23 does not mean the Christian is consigned to hell, it does mean that the person is pronounced guilty by God’s law. Verse 20 says that “it is evil” to eat meat, or to do anything else, if I believe to do so is sin. The contrast is, of course, that “happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (v. 22). In other words, there is happiness in staying within the boundaries of what my conscience will allow.
The point, lest we miss it, is that I must believe that, in whatever thing I am doing, that I can do this thing and please God. If I cannot believe that God is pleased, I ought not to do it.
Romans 14 presents an additional point concerning of Christian harmony. “Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him which eateth not judge him that eateth” (v. 3). Our decisions made out for conscience’ sake are not binding on another believer. Why? “For God hath received him” (v. 3). Each of us is personally accountable to God in matters that are not sins in themselves. What matters ultimately is not the issue itself, but the kingdom of God. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost” (v. 17). “For meat [for meat’s sake] destroy not the work of God” (v. 20). God’s work through Christ is bigger than a single debatable issue, so we should make minor matters less important than gospel matters. Righteousness, peace, and joy are available to believers who obey God by faith, in matters both clear and according to conscience.
The above article was written by Jonathan Kyser. He is a pastoral assistant at NorthStone Baptist Church in Pensacola, FL. To offer him your feedback, comment below or email us at email@example.com.
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