Handling Christian Liberty

Rod Hutton 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.

Good Morning Faith North – It is so good to be with you again this morning and to spend this added time in worship. I love that we can take the added time and sing more songs…

And it is good to start my day here with my giant diet coke in a large Styrofoam cup with a straw…wait – what is that look I see on some of your faces? Is that judgement? You must not have been here for Steve’s sermon last week…no, I mis read your expressions, that was just genuine Christian love and concern for your Pastor’s health…I love my church family.

You know, there are a lot of things that we make decisions on every day, just like my decision whether or not to enjoy this Diet Coke – because I could choose a lot of others things too of which there is no clear command for or against in God’s word…these would be the areas we call Christian Liberty…

But before we get too far down the road of thinking I am free in Christ to do anything, tlet’s not forget, God has given us very clear commands in many areas of life

  • You shall Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind.
  • Husbands, love your wives like Christ loves the church
  • Children, obey your parents
  • Let no unwholesome word come out of your mouths but only such as is good for edification
  • Out of High School – College or straight to working?
  • Should I get married? If yes, show should I marry?
  • Should we Homeschool, Christian School or Public School?
  • During end of life planning there are questions about burials/cremations, there are questions about the distribution of family assets
  • And just as we see in the world - This equally results in conflict, strife, loss of friendships, and likely 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?
  • How would I know that decisions I make could damage your faith?
  • I can guess – I might even get it right some of the time.
  • I can assume everything is a problem – so I restrict all of my freedom and I do nothing – not really an option.
  • Or I can commit to learning the things that might be a stumbling block and choose to look for them and choose how to exercise my Christian freedom based on this knowledge.
  • For example – My father’s funeral was a Catholic Funeral mass and it ended with communion. I do not agree with the catholic teaching about the bread and the wine. To some, if I took communion, it could be a stumbling block because I am not Catholic. For others, if I did not take communion, it could also be a stumbling block. For me, this was an issue of Christian liberty, because participating does not indicate agreement with the Catholic teaching. So what did I do? I asked the Priest because I did not want tyo become a stumbling block while celebrating my Father who had placed his faith and trust in Jesus alone.
  • Later in life she is saved by grace and meets a Christian boy who she marries.
  • While they were dating her husband never drank alcohol, but after marriage enjoys a beer on a hot day.
  • She knows that the Bible says Jesus made it all clean and even turned water into wine. But in her mind the presence of alcohol results in a pit in her stomach. She still hears in her mind her mother screaming. She cannot get through her mind that alcohol is ever okay. She never wants a drink in her entire life.
  • When I give my attention and priority to my freedom, I take my eye off my brother? This opens the door for harming him.
  • When I give my attention and priority to my freedom, I run the risk of caring more about my freedom than the kingdom of God.
  • 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.
  • Paul has said 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.
  • 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 am 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

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

But there are other things in life where we have freedom of choice.

In Romans 14 the specific illustrations are food related because of the prevalence of the issue between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians and the idolatrous culture around the church, but the principle directly apply today even as we make choices. It can be food related decisions like a choice between eggs and bacon or a green smoothie. More likely, the principle will come in with more weighty decisions…

There are undoubtedly many other issues that fall under this category of “freedom of choice.”

At the same time, there are other issues that some of us hold even tighter...We live in a world and in a country where people demand their own rights. Does this attitude surprise you in the world around us? We see it everywhere, but before we get prideful… we also see that behavior exist in the church.

Believers are tempted to do the same thing even in regard to church decisions because “ I know what is best, I know what God wants, so you all need to listen to me. We demand that church decisions are what we want, ministry is done my way, so that in the end, all of the church is confirmed to the image of me.

It is a good thing that 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 made a different choice. He sets an example for us today.

With that in mind, please turn in your Bibles to Romans 14:13. As you are turning there – let’s refresh the principles leading to today’s passage…

Romans 14 is the 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

As we unpack this passage today, I would like us to consider

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

The first action we need to take is that we need to

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.

As we said, verses 1 to 13 show us the reasons for and motivation for why we would choose not to judge others – now we want to look at how that applies to our daily lives – what do we do instead of judging – God’s Word doesn’t stop with just “Don’t judge.” Paul goes on to say - “But Rather.”

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

Here is the first action that we are called to take. We make a commitment in our passage that we are not going to intentionally put obstacles in each other’s way. And that obstacle or stumbling block is figurative for something that might hinder a fellow believer’s walk with Jesus.

So think about it – how do I know what is a stumbling block for another? How would I actually 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 consider in advance that there is a possibility that exercising my freedom might result in you stumbling in your relationship with Christ then I will certainly not think about it until it is too late.

So what are my options

I think that in order to carry out the command of v. 13 you must learn enough to know what stumbling blocks might exist and be willing to ask someone even if the question is uncomfortable.

Seems simple enough doesn’t it – but it is not…Why? Because we all share in the struggle and because that…

  1. 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 a word like that, it reminds us of the clean and unclean distinction found in the OT. There were some restrictions that God placed upon his people in the OT. But after Jesus came, those restrictions no longer applied.

Paul is illustrating the concept of freedom here. However, in the midst of this 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 to parenting to work relationships to political views to a myriad of other topics.

I think we can be sensitive because all of us have our own struggles with freedoms based on our own set of circumstances.

We 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.

In addition to learning so that we can know the potential obstacles that exxist, we also handle our Christian liberty properly when we take action to

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.

The concern given in v. 15 is that rather than living according to “love your neighbor as yourself” we would instead, run over our neighbor while exercising our freedoms.

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. 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. They are easily addicting. 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.

There is freedom here. The challenge is whether love for gaming is greater than love for this brother. You prove your Christian love by not exercising your freedoms …

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

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

For the young man I just described – hiss decision is about temptation and idols and God has commanded that we flee from idols. 1 John 5:21 says that we are to guard ourselves from idols. For him, this is not a freedom issue as long as video games are an idol. For the friends, it is a Christian liberty issue – the question is have they taken the time to learn and recognize that this would be a stumbling block for their friend. They have a choice – to exercise or restrict their freedom – the question is do they consider the impact on their brother?

God tells us that it is actually possible to harm and destroy another believer with the freedom choices that we make. It is possible to help a fellow Christian 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.

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.

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

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

So here I am, drinking in front of my friends who are crushed by my drinking … I am inviting them to play games and harming their spiritual life … I am flaunting my freedom while my friends struggle for the next two weeks because of my choice. 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.

The Lord says, are you proud of that? Seriously? Who in 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 those moments you viewed yourself as simply more important. In the process you missed the key truth that Jesus died for them and you missed 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.

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

Are you seeing the escalation in God’s Word?

In order to make that point clear he explains …

  1. 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 less about those freedoms and a lot more 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 will come if we each choose to do what is right in our own eyes.

    1. Joy of the Holy Spirit

Joy refers to happiness that only comes from living for the Lord. Righteousness, peace, and joy are all byproducts of the Spirit’s work in my life.

Together, 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…

  1. The results include: (v. 18)
    1. Being Acceptable to God

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

A distant second benefit – for a lot of us, the praise of men can be something we want too much, or maybe we have been hurt to the point, we no longer care what anyone thinks of us… Both extremes result in loneliness and misery.

But when we seek kingdom priorities - What happens will blow you away.

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.

Applying this text, so far I have suggested the text encourages us to learn, to love, to focus on the kingdom of God, It also calls us 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.

Peace and encouragement do not find us by chance. Verse 19 says we are 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?

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

Did you see that in verse 20 – “Do not tear down the work of God…” Did you even think you might have the power to tear down the work of God. When we choose to exercise our freedom of choice in a way that seeks our own interest and not the kingdom of God – we are tearing down the work of God because we cause someone to stumble and fall backwards.

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.”

Just as we saw in verse 16, we see in v 20 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 …

  1. 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 we blow through the last point in a sermon. But in this case, point 5 is critical 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.

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.

This final action comes as a result of the work already done. When we have learned, loved, focused and pursued, we also have the ability to evaluate our choices…when we truly carry out these actions – our faith becomes firmly grounded but if in exercising our choices we fail to learn, love, focus and pursue, the peace and joy area lost and doubt will creep in.

When doubt comes – this is a time to wait, to hold and continue to learn, love, focus and pursue allowing God to strengthen your faith…

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.

When we combine these last two weeks – this message of judgement and freedom is so important to living for Christ. We are given much freedom and how we choose to live out those freedoms can truly impact the Kingdom of God

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, the One who died for us and showed what it means to defer his freedom for far greater purposes.

Authors

Rod Hutton

Roles

Northend Community Center Director - Northend Ministries

Bio

B. Mathematics – University of Minnesota
M.A. – National Security Affairs – Naval Post Graduate School
M. Div – Faith Bible Seminary

Pastor Rod Hutton and his wife Kathy have been married for 30 years. They have five children, Chris, Tim , Malia, Grace and Josie. The Huttons came to Lafayette on assignment with the Navy to Purdue University which afforded the opportunity to attend Faith Bible Seminary. In 2018, Rod retired from Naval Service and joined the staff to lead the efforts in opening and operating the Northend Community Center and in 2019 he was ordained as a pastor with Faith Church.