Handling Christian Liberty

Stefan Nitzschke 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.

By way of reminder, Romans 13 began by commanding us to be in subjection to the governing authorities

It continued by explaining that love for one another is the fulfillment of the law, and even closed by urging us towards loving one another because the time of Jesus’ return is drawing near

It’s within this backdrop that we entered into Romans 14 last week, which begins the instruction on how we are to live out our freedom in Christ with one another

This extremely practical section of Scripture deals less with imperative commands (thou shalt & thou shalt not), and more with navigating our Christian liberties

Our section uses three main examples – some of which Pastor Birk discussed with us last week:

1) Food (bacon or Kale)

2) Days (Christmas or Halloween)

3) Drink (martini or Shirley Temple)

There are several others that we could throw into the mix, since the implications are far-reaching – homeschool or public school, Roth IRA or 401k, rap or classical, soccer or football, you get the point…

There aren’t any imperative commands regarding these items – only guiding principles by which we are to adhere to in order to love one another

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world that tends to demand perceived rights rather than joyfully relinquishing them for the sake of others

And guess what – Romans 7 made it clear that this same blood is coursing through our veins right now too

And we would be whole-sale given over to that as well, were it not for who?

Jesus both made a way for us to be reconciled to God through His blood, while simultaneously providing us with the example on how we are to view our own “rights”…

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.

Jesus did not demand that He get what He deserved, but instead took on what we deserved

And as a result, we get what we do not deserve through Him – namely, His righteousness

I like the way rapper Lecrae phrases it in one of his songs:

“if we fought for our rights, we’d be in hell tonight”

In other words, if each of us simultaneously looked up to heaven and demanded that we get exactly what we deserve apart from the work of Christ, and God answered in-kind, what would happen?

If your answer is anything short of the ground opening up and swallowing us all whole to face eternal judgment, you do not have a proper view of the wages of your sin…

With that vivid picture in mind, please open up your Bibles to Romans ch 14 – we will be picking up where we left off last week in v 13

This verse actually serves as the hinge that chapter 14 turns on

Last week, we discussed the first portion on not being judgmental of others regarding opinions

We walked through 4 reasons that the text highlights:

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.

Today, we will pivot off of v 13 and springboard into the latter half of ch 14 that discusses Handling Christian Liberty

*Read Romans 14:13-23

From the text we see 5 actions to handling Christian liberty in a God-pleasing way

The first action we see is that we must…

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.

Again, we are to learn the beliefs of fellow brothers and sisters

This is intended…

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

Let’s be honest – this takes work

It’s easy to live out your Christian liberties in a vacuum

It gets a bit tricky when you start involving the rest of the body of Christ

It’s a little bit more difficult to not judge others for the decisions they make in the area of opinion

It’s when I need to take all these things into consideration that I realize how dependent I am on God’s grace in this area

Because the only I can know what is a stumbling block to you is if I get to know you a bit

Let me give you a tame example of this from my life (*placing things on Bibles)

But what if it is something much more serious?

What if they have struggled with an addiction to alcohol in the past and you innocently order a beer with your lunch during your discipleship meeting?

What if you have them over for dinner and slap a porterhouse steak in front of them, when they struggle with the idea of eating meat?

We need to do the hard work of learning others in order to determine to not set up a stumbling block before them

And before you begin to think “Get ‘em, Stefan! All these sinners need to learn how to love me better

You not only need to ensure that you (the one sitting in your seat) are the one committing to learn others for the purpose of forfeiting Christian liberties,

You also need to show an incredible amount of grace when others inevitably fail you…

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

V 14 harkens back to Mark 7:19, where Jesus declares all foods clean

In a nutshell, the understanding of clean vs unclean comes from OT law and if you ate, touched, or did something that was unclean, that would have implications on community and worship

The example of leprosy is one of the most profound – anyone who contracted or even touched someone with this disease would be “unclean”

But then Jesus comes along, and what does He do? (*touches)

And when He does so, does He become unclean?

No; in fact, the leprous person then becomes CLEAN

Thus, in Jesus, all things are clean in their being

But that is not always how our consciences and convictions work

Let me walk you through an example

(*Halloween – occult background)

We all have unique upbringings, life experiences, likes, and dislikes that serve to shape our conscience and convictions

We need to do the hard and joyful work of getting to know our brothers and sisters in order to understand where their convictions lie

We also need to use our own experience in this area to show grace when our well-intended Christian family doesn’t always nail it

Within our learning and empathizing, the next action we see from our text is that we are 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.

Here we begin to see how this mentality of service regarding our own Christian liberties begins to affect how we live them out

So to illustrate this, let’s change up Paul’s example of food and switch it to video games

Let’s say you have a pretty balanced view of video games yourself – it hasn’t really been an all-consuming thing for you in the past and you don’t anticipate it will be in the future

You’ll play them from time-to-time for the purpose of connecting with friends

But you come to find that a guy in your circle does not have such a balanced approach to video games

In fact, when they are reintroduced into his life, he has a track record of playing them for hours every single day – serving as a total leech to the God-honoring stewardship of his time

What do you do? Cut this friend out so you can keep playing video games? That will solve the issue, right?

For you, it might not be video games – it could present itself in the area of golfing buddies or going to the beach or choosing to eat at a restaurant rather than a bar

It could be something with your spouse, where you would enjoy an otherwise God-honoring activity (in the areas or leisure or intimacy), but it would cause the other to stumble

Pick any area that is pertinent to you

Do you realize you have a unique freedom here?

You have the freedom to NOT partake…

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

Is the text talking about punching them in the face?

The “hurt” and “destruction” outlined here in this passage is not physical

Rather, it is the intentional violation of another’s conscience

If you know what will hurt your friend and do it anyway, are you not saying, “I care about me more than I care about you”?

By the way, this is the base definition that Alexandra and I teach our children regarding what concept? (selfishness)

You would rather risk your friend slipping back into idolatry or recalling past/ongoing hurts in order to exercise your freedom

Brothers and sisters, that is not Christian Liberty; rather, that is indicative of godless idolatry…

Jesus says, “I die that you may have life”

This kind of selfishness says, “I’m going to live this life how I want, even to the destruction of others…”

Instead, you have the freedom to NOT partake in a Christian liberty…

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

The end of v 15 really lays it out

You can almost hear the argument that members from the church in Rome were making:

“You want me to stop drinking because Hank was a fool with wine in the past? Jesus died for my freedom to do this!”

What is Paul’s retort?

“More importantly, didn’t Christ die for Hank?”

The Cross of Jesus Christ has countless implications – the freedoms we enjoy are certainly a part of that

But when you value those freedoms over your friend, you become the Pharisee who values the made-up sabbath law over the well-being of a human life

Is that liberty more important than that friend? Or did Jesus die for you alone?

We need to ensure that we are learning our brothers and sisters in Christ in order to know how to best serve them

And we need to be willing to view their areas of weakness over our areas of freedom

But the 3rd action the text draws out regarding how we are to handle Christian liberty is that we are called to…

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.

Pop quiz – how many times does Paul use the phrase Kingdom of God in the Book of Romans?

Just here…

And it is woven into the argument of the freedoms we enjoy in Christ

If this were a musical movement, you can actually hear the crescendo:

Practice your Christian liberties in love

Do not hurt or destroy your brother

Jesus died for them

Kingdom priorities or far more important than freedom concerns

But with this slow build, we also gain a beautiful perspective

If our focus is on our liberties alone, we neglect our brother and the Kingdom of God

If our focus is on the Kingdom and its occupants, our liberties are the items that fade into the background

And Paul seeks to direct our attention to the Kingdom of God by listing out…

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

The most simple way of explaining the Kingdom of God is this:

If I live in a KINGdom, what does that imply?

There is a King reigning over me

If you are also a part of that same Kingdom, what does that imply?

You have the same King

And with this Kingdom, as with any kingdom, there are differing qualities that distinguish it from any other kingdom

Those who are a part of the Kingdom of God display…

a. Righteousness of the Holy Spirit

righteousness and selfishness are utterly incompatible

While exercising my freedoms, if my focus is on myself and practicing my liberties in Christ at every moment I desire, I am not living as a Kingdom citizen

Nor am I seeking to emulate the example of my King

But if my focus is on pleasing Him, love for my brother will be a natural outflow

Those who are a part of the Kingdom of God display…

b. Peace of the Holy Spirit

can you see why this aspect of the Kingdom is brought up in this context?

What is a result of everyone handling their Christian liberties however they please?

Unrest!

What is the result of every citizen obeying the King and seeking to serve others?

Peace

Those who are a part of the Kingdom of God display…

c. Joy of the Holy Spirit

I’m so glad this is one of the points our text brings up

Because if I come up and tell you, “you have every right to practice this particular liberty (be it celebrating Halloween, playing video games, eating meat, drinking a martini, or even put-put golfing), but you must give this up in order to love your brother…”

What is your natural response?

“aw man!” *everybody say it

But what is ACTUALLY the result??

JOY!

If you have every done this – given something up out of love for a brother – it brings about an indescribable pleasure that can only come from who? *The Holy Spirit!

This brings to mind one of my favorite passages – the beginning of Hebrews 12 – where it describes the JOY of Jesus as He gives up what He rightfully deserves in order to embrace the Cross

Those with a Kingdom focus will likewise have a JOY about them as they gladly lay aside their rights – a joy that will make them stand out from any other kingdom

But our text doesn’t stop with those three – we see from verse 18…

B) The results include: (v. 18)

a. Being Acceptable to God

If you obey the King in this way, you will be accepted by the King

Conversely speaking, if you are in a season where you are distant from the Lord – could it be that your focus is too much on self and not on Him and others?

But those who are acting as true citizens of the Kingdom have the amazing privilege of being acceptable to God – isn’t that amazing!!

An outflow of this will also result in…

b. Being Approved by men

There is a difference between being approved by others and living for the approval of others

(*HS – “everyone is just thinking about themselves”)

Jesus doesn’t want either extreme of “I only care what ppl think” or “I don’t care what ppl think”

So what does Jesus want of His citizens?

1 Cor 9 lays it out for us…

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.

Make no mistake – freedom issues are both Kingdom issues as well as gospel issues

Paul was willing to cater how he handled his liberties in order to make the Gospel the most palatable to whoever the Lord put in front of him

So as we are learning, loving, and focusing, we must also…

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.

I think my wife Alexandra would agree with me when I say this – I was in hot pursuit of her when we were dating

When we were at a distance, I was always calling/texting her

I was the first to say “I love you” (which was classically met with her saying “I know”)

When we moved to the same city, she literally told me I had to wait a month before asking her to marry me (*28 days)

I wanted to get married to her asap – as Ron Swanson puts it, I was tired of not being married to that woman

When you picture me in think kind of pursuit of Alexandra, is it fairly passive?

Absolutely not – ask her!

Similarly, PURSUE here carries that flavor of aggression

If we want the peace and encouragement that is promised in this passage, it is not going to happen through some passive desire, but rather a zealous pursuit!

And while this section is not full of thou shalt and thou shalt not’s, it is full of active imperatives – the same ones we have used to structure our outline this morning:

Learn!

Love!

Focus!

Pursue!

Evaluate!

And there is a lot at stake her if we are passive about how we handle Christian liberty

You must passionately pursue peace and encouragement…

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

Think about this in a very literal sense

The Lord has been working on your brother or sister in Christ in a particular area for a number of years

And along comes little-‘ol you with your right to exercise your freedom in Christ

You don’t take the time to learn their convictions,

You have no intention of restricting any of YOUR liberties for their sake,

Your focus is solely on YOU rather than the Kingdom and others,

And your pursuing whatever builds YOU up

In your reckless handling of Christian liberties in the presence of this one who Jesus died for, what does the text say you end up doing?

Tearing down the work of God!

Just when we thought the text couldn’t get any more serious…

In our pursuit, we are either building one another up as verse 19 shows, or we are tearing down as described in v 20

And in case you forgot, verse 21 reiterates the fact that when we are pursuing peace and encouragement…

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

Remember – this will actually result in an inexplicable JOY that can only come from the Holy Spirit

So take the time to learn others in order to know how to best love them, while focusing on the Kingdom and pursuing peace within its borders

And lastly, you are called to…

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.

This is by no means a throw-away point

In fact, these are two verses we could formulate an entire series around

In addition, they even serve to summarize the entirety of ch 14 – don’t judge and handle liberties well

But they also serve to answer various objections that are likely raised throughout the arguments in ch 14

Verse 22 addresses the argument that could be raised: “If I have to restrict my liberties, were they really liberties in the first place?”

The answer is – absolutely!

You are free to hold those convictions, but not all of them can be exercised all the time

If you are one of those weird ppl who don’t have an issue with putting things on top of Bibles, go wild at home!

Make every Bible you have a coaster – just make sure you’re reading it too

And until the Lord grows me in this area, do your best to not do it in front of me

The other issue comes out of the final verse, and it deals with the matter of the conscience

This is a vital topic that permeates throughout quite a bit of the Christian walk

If you would like a more extensive handling of this topic than we have been able to go through this morning, I would recommend a resource from a friend of mine:

Conscience by Andy Naselli

In it, he dives into verses like 23 that deal with matters of conscience

Much of the latter half of ch 14 deals with how our convictions play out in the body of Christ

These two final verses have much to do with the individual

And with it, we must recognize that our conscience does not always align with the freedoms allowed in Christ

And this is a matter we must take very seriously – not just corporately, but even as it plays out in our own conviction before God

Is my conscience raging as I am grilling up a piece of meat on the back porch?

If it is, chances are, I am not acting in faith – and Paul makes it clear: though there is no explicit command to not grill a fat burger on my back porch, if I am not doing it in faith, even that is SIN for me (for you? No, for me)

The same goes for every Christian liberty – if I am not able to exercise it in faith, the principle stands: hold off

It may be that you need to adjust your thinking in that particular area

It may also be something you need to cease until you can handle the matter with wise counsel – it may be that you need to stop indefinitely

But in the grand scope of the Kingdom of God, that is hardly even a sacrifice in comparison to how it stands to help your relationship with Christ and others

Because when it comes to Christian liberties, there is much to be thankful for, amen?

And as we are seeking to live out these wonderful freedoms, we maximize their Kingdom efficiency by…

1) taking the time to LEARN others

2) LOVING others, even to the point of restricting our practice of those liberties

3) FOCUSING on the Kingdom and its citizens

4) PURSUING peace and the building up of others

5) and EVALUATING our own heart to ensure we are acting in faith

Let’s pray to that end…

Authors

Stefan Nitzschke

Roles

Pastor of College Ministries - Faith Church

Director of Faith West Ministry Housing - Faith West

Bio

B.S. - Management Information Systems, Iowa State University
M.Div. - Faith Bible Seminary

Stefan has been serving on the pastoral team at Faith Church since 2016. He and his wife have a passion for discipleship and evangelism. They are the blessed parents of four carefree boys and one sweet girl. Stefan is certified as a biblical counselor through the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC) and is a board member of Faith’s Community Development Corporation.