Handling Christian Liberty

Dr. Rob Green October 4, 2020 Romans 14:13-23
Outline

Philippians 2:5-8 - Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

5 actions to handling Christian liberty in a God-pleasing way

I. Learn the Thoughts and Beliefs of Fellow Christians (vv. 13-14)

Romans 14:13-14 - Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

A. So that we will not put an obstacle in another’s path (v. 13)

B. Because we all relate to the struggle of thinking certain things are wrong (v. 14)

II. Love Our Fellow Believers by Restricting Freedoms (v. 15)

Romans 14:15 - For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.

A. So that you do not harm or destroy your friends (v. 15)

B. Knowing that Jesus died for them as well (v. 15)

III. Focus on God’s Kingdom by Properly Serving Christ (vv. 16-18)

Romans 14:16-18 - Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

A. The characteristics of the Kingdom (v. 17)

1. Righteousness of the Holy Spirit

2. Peace of the Holy Spirit

3. Joy of the Holy Spirit

B. The results include (v. 18)

1. Being acceptable to God

2. Being approved by men

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 - For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

IV. Pursue Peace and Encouragement (vv. 19-21)

Romans 14:19-21 - So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.

A. So that you will not tear down God’s work (v. 20)

B. That will involve deferring freedoms in certain situations (v. 21)

V. Evaluate Your Own Heart to Ensure Your Position Is from Faith (vv. 22-23)

Romans 14:22-23 - The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

Romans 14 is a unit instructing God’s people how to properly live as “free in Jesus.” This text does not address the matters that God explicitly says are right or wrong. On those matters, there is no freedom of choice – but freedom of joyful obedience instead. For example,

  • Love the Lord your God is not the “greatest suggestion” but the greatest commandment
  • Husbands, love your wives like Christ loves the church is not qualified
  • Children, obey your parents
  • Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouths but only such as good for edification
  • During the early adult years there are questions of where to go to school, what to study, and who to marry.
  • During the young family stage, we have questions about schooling, music, or sports.
  • During end of life planning there are questions about burials/cremations, there are questions about the distribution of family assets.
  • These attitudes and demands result in conflict, strife, loss friendships, and church splits.
  • Last week we learned in part 1: do not be judgmental about the choices people make when we have freedom of choice. Why?
    • Because the Lord accepted them and so should we.
  • Because the Lord makes them stand regardless of what we think.
  • Because your motivation must be pleasing Jesus.
  • Because the Lord will righteously judge them and us.
  • How would I know that Halloween drives you crazy?
  • How would I know that you have certain dietary convictions when we share a meal together?
  • How would I know what decisions I make in your presence could damage your faith?
  • There were some restrictions that God placed upon his people in the OT. In the OT whenever unclean touched clean, the clean became unclean. However, when the unclean touched Jesus, they became clean.
  • Paul explains that the subject of cleanness is broader now and those restrictions no longer apply.
  • For Paul, and us, everything is clean because his life is lived in the sphere of Christ.
  • Our conscience is still bothered. It is that moment when we “know” intellectually, but it seems like our heart just cannot go there.
  • Later in life she is saved by the grace of Jesus and meets a Christian boy whom she marries.
  • While they were dating he never drank alcohol, but after marriage enjoys a beer from time to time.
  • She knows that the Bible says Jesus made it all clean and even turned water into wine. But the presence of alcohol results in a pit in her stomach.
    • When he takes a drink she can still close her eyes and imagine her mother screaming. She even shakes as if a drunk angry father is going to enter the room at any moment.
  • She cannot get through her mind that alcohol is ever okay. She never wants a drink in her entire life and never wants to see it in her home.
  • Maybe he never becomes the 25-year-old living in his parent’s basement, but they clearly were an idol in his life.
  • He also comes to Christ and decides that he needs to drop video games because they are easily addicting for him. But he has several Christian friends who are not equally bothered by them.
  • They find them fun, enjoyable, a way to connect with others, and decide to invite this guy to a gaming party. He knows the risk that he will be quickly drawn right back in, but he also wants to get to know these other men and have friends.
  • We are talking about helping them become ineffective believers. It is even possible that Paul has in mind that they will give up their faith.
  • It is possible to help a fellow Christ be drawn back to old idols, to old habits, and to old ways of living that make them less focused on Christ and less focused on the purposes God has for them.
  • Of course, I am happy … I did exactly what I wanted and whether I knew it or not, I was running over my friends with my liberty.
  • In those moments you viewed yourself as simply more important.
  • Paul would later say that if my brother is offended by me eating meat, I will never eat meat again. Why? Because Jesus died for my brother too.
  • Have you noticed that when I give my attention to the freedom that I want to exhibit I take my eye off my brother? This opens the door for harming him.
  • In this verse we see that when I give my attention to my freedom then I run the risk of caring more about my freedom than the kingdom of God.
  • I am not sure that I can say for sure that there are three characteristics of the kingdom that stand in contrast to our three freedom issues, but it is tempting.
  • I mean that Paul says there is freedom about the food you eat, the holidays you celebrate, and the alcohol you drink. But none of those things mean a lick for the kingdom of God.
  • If there is a choice to be made, then priority always (and yes that is a 100% word) goes to the kingdom priorities.
  • Not only that, but the initial benefit is joy. You might miss out on your filet mignon and IPA that night, but the joy and peace that comes from encouraging your brother will be so much sweeter.
  • Not only was I living a life more acceptable to God, but I was also being approved by men. When the attitude of I do not have to get my way gave way to how can I love you and serve Jesus, then things really changed.
  • He was not focused on exercising his freedom, but instead of creating a kingdom of priests of God who would serve him faithfully and accomplish all that they were given to do.
  • It would be even more tragic if exercising our freedom resulted in God’s work being torn down and God had to deploy others to rebuilding what we broke.
  • If you are celebrating Halloween, you are doing it to the glory of God. You savor each piece of candy and thank God for sugar.
  • If you make kale flavored donuts, you eat those babies to the glory of Jesus.
  • Have your conviction by faith and when you are not in the position of crushing your brothers or sisters, then have at it. Enjoy it to the glory of Jesus.
  • If one of your freedoms is inherently tied to the involvement of another person … let’s say there is a sexual issue in marriage, then that is a freedom you defer until your spouse changes.
    • Why? Because your priorities are God’s kingdom, God’s servants, and God’s work and the results are you acceptable to God and approved by people.
  • They “know” something is okay in Jesus, but they just can’t get there yet. Verse 23 explains what I do about it. I live consistent with my faith.

There is no freedom of choice – instead, there is freedom to joyfully obey.

But there are other things in life where we have freedom of choice. Romans 14 provides three specific illustrations: (1) the food we eat [Filet mignon, bacon, Kale]; (2) the holidays we celebrate [Christmas, Thanksgiving, Halloween]; and (3) the alcohol we consume. There are undoubtedly many other issues that fall under this category of “freedom of choice.”

We live in a world and in a country where people demand their own rights. We do everything from separate from one another to start wars over our rights. While that is behavior we might expect in the world, we also see that behavior in the church.

Believers are tempted to do the same thing. We demand that church decisions are what we want, ministry is done my way, people parent their children just like me, and that people are conformed to their image – little cookie cutters of them.

Thankfully, Jesus did something different. Please notice …

Philippians 2:5-8: Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Rather than demand, Christ deferred. Rather than ensure he got his, he suffered instead. Rather than enjoying his own place in heaven, he made a way for us to join him.

If Jesus had demanded his own rights, then you and I are still lost in our sins. Thankfully, Jesus’ choice opened the door for you and I be saved. He sets an example for us today.

With that in mind, please turn in your Bibles to Romans 14:13. As you are getting there please remember that

Romans 14 provides detailed instruction of what it means to follow our Lord’s example when we have freedom of choice.

Today we discuss part 2: Handling Christian Liberty. Please follow along as I read…Read Romans 14:13-23 … This is the Word of the Lord.

I would like us to consider 5 actions to handling Christian liberty in a God-pleasing way

I. Learn the thoughts and beliefs of fellow Christians (vv. 13-14)

Romans 14:13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

If you are wondering where does “learn” come in this passage, then notice …

So that we will not put an obstacle in another’s path (v. 13)

The Bible says that instead of being judgmental, we are going to determine or decide. That is the command in the text. We make a commitment in our passage that we are not going to intentionally put obstacles in each other’s way.

The obstacle or stumbling block is figurative for something that might hinder a fellow believer’s walk with Jesus.

But how would I be able to live out this commitment if I did not have some knowledge of the kinds of things that would hinder your relationship with Christ?

Unless I decide in advance that there is a possibility that exercising my freedom might result in an obstacle regarding your relationship with Christ then I will certainly not think about it until it is too late. I imagine inviting you over for dinner and putting a nice medium rare steak on your plate only to learn that you do not eat meat! That is a bit late, don’t you agree? I think that in order to carry out the command of v. 13 you must learn enough to know what stumbling blocks might exist.

Another reason we would learn is…

Because we all relate to the struggle of thinking certain things are wrong (v. 14)

Paul says in v. 14 that he is absolutely convinced that Jesus made things clean. As soon as we see the word “clean,” it reminds us of the clean and unclean distinction found in the OT.

He is reiterating the concept of freedom here. However, although we have freedom (see 14b) we know that sometimes there are certain things that we still think are inherently wrong.

For example, let’s say that a girl grows up in a home where her father is a drunkard. She goes to bed at night as a little girl and is often woken by her father screaming at her mother and hoping that he does not target her.

Friends, I want to suggest to you that this scenario could play out in a similar way over a whole host of different subjects from marriage (as here or something related to intimacy) to parenting (how children will be disciplined, how they will be educated, or the freedoms they will be allowed … can they have a phone at 7?) to work relationships to political views (Is the hope of ending abortion enough to convince you to accept other flaws?) to a myriad of other topics.

I think we can be sensitive to our fellow believers because all of us have our own struggles with freedoms based on our own upbringing, experiences, and personal likes or dislikes.

We also know that people experience growth and change through life. Based on our individual stories some things are harder than other things. This means that regardless of where we are on our spiritual journey, we know what it is like to be in a different place. That allow us to be sensitive and motivates us to learn.

We are talking about freedoms … and we are not supposed to intentionally put obstacles to spiritual growth in the path of our brothers and sisters in Jesus. In order to accomplish that we need to learn more about one another.

We also handle our Christian liberty properly when we

II. Love our fellow believers by restricting freedoms (v. 15)

Romans 14:15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died.

Verse 15 warns us that we might be tempted to run over our neighbor while exercising our freedoms rather than living according to the 2d greatest commandment to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Just for fun let’s change up the illustration. A man grows up in the video game generation. He loves video games and ultimately loves them too much.

There is freedom here. The challenge is whether love for gaming is greater than love for this brother. Do these other guys have to use gaming to bring him into their circle? The Lord is telling us, you prove your Christian love by NOT exercising your freedoms in certain instances…

So that you do not harm or destroy your friends (v. 15)

The text is not talking about physical violence. We are talking about crushing their spirit. We are talking about potentially tempting them back into sinful places or habits.

God tells us that it is possible to harm and destroy another believer with the freedom choices that we make.

Remember that Christ is the ultimate satisfaction and there is joy in doing what God wants you to do. How awful it would be if the use of my freedoms resulted in the crushing of my friends?

Exercising my freedom in front of that person is not worth that. Paul, somewhat sarcastically, says your food choice is not worth your friend’s spiritual journey. Our motivation is also …

Knowing that Jesus died for them as well (v. 15)

The Lord increases the seriousness of this situation by saying Jesus died for them. Here is where we need to read the Bible slowly and think about the implications.

I have freedom to choose. Why? Because Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection changed my situation. I am no longer bound in sin’s power or penalty but am freed by the grace of God. I am free because Jesus died for me.

So here I am, drinking in front of my friend who is crushed by my drinking … I am inviting them to play games and harming their spiritual life … I am flaunting my freedom while my friends wrestle for the next two weeks about that experience.

The Lord says, are you proud of that? Seriously? Who is the world do you think you are?

Jesus died for them just as he died for you. Their life, their ministry, their soul, their conscience is just as important as yours.

In the process of exercising freedoms in the presence of those crushed by your freedom you miss the key theological point that Jesus died for them and you miss the key application point that you did not love them.

When we exercise our freedom, we should learn and love. We also

III. Focus on God’s Kingdom by properly serving Christ (vv. 16-18)

Romans 14:16 Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.

This is the only time Paul uses “kingdom” in Romans. It is a fascinating first occurrence. It reminds us that freedom discussions are kingdom discussions. Verse 16 is not telling us to correct the people who do not see things the same way we do.

The text is saying that our freedoms will be spoken of as evil when we use them to harm and destroy our brothers. There is an alternative.

Please notice how God continually ramps up the issues at stake. First, he says, do it out of love, then he says, Jesus died for him, now he says your freedoms are not nearly as important as kingdom priorities.

In order to make that point clear he explains …

The Characteristics of the Kingdom (v. 17)

God’s people are part of a larger kingdom. Even though we do not have the privilege of living in the full sense of that kingdom, we are called to live consistent with it.

That means you ought to care a little about those freedoms and a lot about

    1. Righteousness of the Holy Spirit

Righteousness in this context would refer to right living in community. Focus on the day to day thinking and acting in righteousness within the community of believers. Using our freedoms to run over each other would not qualify.

    1. Peace of the Holy Spirit

Peace is freedom from the quarrels and fighting that can easily occur if we all focus on our individual freedoms.

    1. Joy of the Holy Spirit

Joy refers to happiness that only comes from living for the Lord. There was an interpretative decision to make. Does “of the Holy Spirit” only apply to joy or does it apply to all three? I am suggesting that righteousness, peace, and joy are all byproducts of the Spirit’s work in my life.

As a unit these would eliminate the prideful attitude of “I can do whatever I want. I will not judge you, but you will not restrict me.” Statements like that are not about righteousness, peace and joy.

In addition to the joy and peace, notice…

The results include: (v. 18)

    1. Being Acceptable to God

Wow! That is of great value right there. Choosing to defer serves Jesus and is acceptable to God. That is the way to go to bed at night – knowing that what you did that day was acceptable to God.

    1. Being Approved by men

Growing up I struggled a lot of what people thought of me. After suffering under that burden for a while I went to the other extreme. Who cares? I stopped caring about what anyone thought and I started moving down the road of not caring about anyone. Both extremes resulted in loneliness and misery.

When I started learning a little about love and serving Jesus. What happened started to blow me away.

Later Paul would later write,

1 Corinthians 9:19-23 For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. 23 I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

I love that God tells us the benefits. When you put exercising freedom on one end and serving Christ, experiencing righteousness, peace, and joy of the Holy Spirit, living consistent with the coming kingdom, being approved by God and men on the other end, then there does not seem like much competition.

I have suggested the text encourages us to learn, to love, to focus on the kingdom of God, also to…

IV. Pursue peace and encouragement (vv. 19-21)

Romans 14:19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. 20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. 21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles.

Pursue is the main verb in v. 19. This is an active idea not passive. It is not that peace and encouragement find us by chance. It is our intention to pursue them actively. There is one reason that this sermon is organized by 5 imperatives … learn, love, focus, pursue, and evaluate. Romans 14 is not a passage meant for meditation only. This passage gets us out of our chairs and functions. It is not that we just exercise whatever freedoms we want and see what happens.

We are more thoughtful and intentional than that. We actively pursue the things that make for peace and encouragement. Why?

So that you will not tear down God’s work (v. 20)

The phrase “tear down the work of God” stopped me in my tracks when I was studying for this message. I literally had to sit back in my chair and just think. Then I had to read and re-read vv. 13-19 over again a few times.

I noticed something I had never seen in this text before. Freedom of choice decisions are not simply do whatever you want … they are matters involving the kingdom of God, the servants of Christ who are acceptable to God, and the work of God.

Connect that with where I started this morning … the example of Jesus.

How tragic would it be if I got to the end of my life and the Lord said, “you know, there were a few things I would have given you if you would not have been so focused on exercising your freedoms.”

The text continues by making a similar point it did earlier. Look back at v. 16. The idea was that we should not exercise our liberty in such a way that others would say that what we did was evil. God was telling us that even though something may be acceptable it becomes wrong when it crushes others in the process, and THEY speak evil about it.

In v. 20 we see that it is evil FOR THE PERSON who exercises freedom, and is enjoying every second of it, and hurts another believer. God says, not only is the bad for the person you hurt, but it is bad for you too. Practically speaking …

That will involve deferring freedoms in certain situations (v. 21)

As we learn, love, focus, and pursue we know that at the end of the day that the priorities of God’s kingdom, God’s servants, and God’s work for whom Christ died and set an example for us will result in us deferring our freedom in some situations (I mentioned this also in v. 15).

When looked at through the lens of this entire passage, that seems like a pretty small price to pay.

I realize that sometimes the last point in a sermon can be a throwaway point. It is the final descent before the plane lands. But in this case, point 5 is very substantive and I encourage you to stay with me to the end.

V. Evaluate your own heart to ensure your position is from faith (vv. 22-23)

Romans 14:22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.

In many ways vv. 22-23 summarize the entire passage. They conclude two points made throughout Romans 14.

Last week we said that we cannot sit in judgment of others when there is freedom to choose given in Scripture. But throughout vv. 1-12 was also the reminder that whatever you do you must do for the Lord.

In vv. 13-21 we saw, however, that we must be careful about not doing things that harm God’s kingdom, God’s servants, or God’s work. If that is the case, then we defer.

Verse 22 answers the objection that could be raised, “If I always have to defer, then did I have freedom in the first place?” The answer is absolutely you do.

One more issue we must address comes in v. 23. We already highlighted that sometimes people’s consciences (which is their understanding of right and wrong at the time) do not align completely with what they know.

If you can play a video game enjoying one of God’s gifts on earth, then have at it. If you can have an alcoholic beverage in a setting that does not harm your brother to the glory of God, then have it. But if not, then don’t.

If you are at a stage where you cannot do something by faith, then the principle is “hold” or “wait.” You can train your conscience if you believe it needs trained in some way. But outside of specific conscience training, you follow your faith of what is right and wrong.

I honestly believe that the subject we covered last Sunday and this is incredibly important. It affects so many choices in our friendships, our marriages, our parenting, our workplace, and in our church.

May the Lord give us the grace and wisdom to enjoy all of his good gifts, without being judgmental against our brothers and sisters, without crushing our brothers and sisters, and without violating our sense of right and wrong so that our priorities of learning, loving, focusing, pursuing, and evaluating will result in the furtherance of God’s Kingdom, God’s work, and the growth of God’s people as servants of Jesus who died for us and showed what it means to defer for greater purposes.

Authors

Dr. Rob Green

Roles

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Church

Pastor of Counseling and Seminary Ministries - Faith Biblical Counseling Ministries

MABC Department Chair, Instructor - Faith Bible Seminary

Bio

B.S. - Engineering Physics, Ohio State University
M.Div. - Baptist Bible Seminary
Ph.D. - New Testament, Baptist Bible Seminary

Dr. Rob Green joined the Faith Church staff in August, 2005. Rob’s responsibilities include oversight of the Faith Biblical Counseling Ministry and teaching New Testament at Faith Bible Seminary. He serves on the Council Board of the Biblical Counseling Coalition and as a fellow for the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. Pastor Green has authored, co-authored, and contributed to 9 books/booklets. Rob and his wife Stephanie have three children.

Read Rob Green's Journey to Faith for the full account of how the Lord led Pastor Green to Faith Church.