Psalm 119:45 And I will walk at liberty, For I seek Your precepts. (NKJV)
Practicing Christian liberty is neither license (“I’m free to do whatever I feel like”) or legalism (“here’s my list of convictions that should be yours too”). It is the individual pursuit of enjoying the freedom that Jesus Christ died and secured for us. It is the liberty to experience a relationship with the Living God and cultivate a relationship with Him.
To close this series, I want to look at Romans 14 where the Apostle Paul lays down nine guidelines for us to employ in the exercise of our Christian liberty.
- Accept the weaker person
v.1 – “Receive one who is weak in the faith”
The more spiritually mature Christians should not reject or exclude the weaker or less convicted Christians. Notice the verse says “weak” but also says “in the faith”. The Christian brother who has become convicted to quit smoking or who is struggling with watching entertainment that is not up to Godly standards, is STILL a Christian brother. The Christian who has not matured in their choice of a “colorful language” or is still far too caught up in worldliness is STILL a Christian (we’re assuming a genuine born-again regeneration has occurred for the sake of this lesson). In context, this “weakness” has in mind the idea of not being able to let go of religious tradition that is not strictly Scriptural.
Older, mature Christians who want to reject the weaker brethren (in the faith) or force their standards on them are flirting with legalism. We should never reject or refuse association with another Christ-follower simply because they have not yet matured or become convicted about some habit or choice that we may know is honestly less Godly than it could be.
- Don’t fight over liberty, show contempt or pass judgment on another Christian’s convictions or opinions
v. 1 – “but not to disputes over doubtful things.”
v. 10 – “Romans 14:10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?”
Liberty that is fought over is no longer liberty – it’s pride, division and contention. Pride passes judgment on others who may have different convictions. Division stirs up a controversy and attempts to get people to take sides. Contention escalates the disagreement into a dispute and bad feelings.
The meaning of contempt here is to consider someone as worthless. The idea behind judgment in this context is to condemn another. To do either of these over a matter of liberty is wrong in every sense.
- Christians are individually accountable to God
v. 4 – “To his own master he stands or falls.”
This is the reason we don’t have to fight or pass judgment on each other. You are accountable to me, and I’m not accountable to you in this matter of liberty. I’ll answer to God about my choices not you, and vice versa. Paul very bluntly is saying “mind your own business, don’t worry about the other guy. He doesn’t answer to you! We all answer to God.”
What really matters is how Christ will judge each person for only God knows the true heart of man.
- Be fully convinced in your exercise of liberty
v. 5 – “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.”
When you make a choice that falls into the arena of “liberty” you must be fully convinced that God is “okay” with it and approves. Why? Because doubt is one of the worse things a Christian can have as a foundation. If you doubt, yet proceed, you could be a hypocrite, you could be wrong, you could be hesitant, you could be easily influenced, you could be fooling yourself, you could be making excuses. Remember, God looks into the heart. When you are fully and prayerfully convinced that God is “green lighting” you, then you can proceed in full confidence that if God changes His mind, or you’ve misread Him somehow, He will waste no time in letting you know you got it wrong. That’s what is so liberating about liberty. I don’t have to be worried about God being mad. If I make a wrong choice in good faith, fully convinced – I know God will not abandon me, but instead, lovingly correct me.
Each Christian is ultimately responsible to serve God and live their life with a clear conscience, finding out what God says through His written word, and relying on Holy Spirit to guide at all times, and convict or redirect when necessary. Think about that. What more can you? Find out what God says. Ask God for wisdom and direction. Make the best decision you can and proceed with a clear conscience trusting that God will be right there with you, blessing your good decisions, and correcting your bad ones.
- Live for God in all you do and all you choose
v. 8 – “we live to the Lord”
The overriding principle is that all of our decisions, all of our liberty, should be lived out for the Lord. Evaluate any liberty you want to take and make sure that it demonstrates and authenticates that you live first and foremost for God. Live or die, it’s for the Lord. Left or right, it’s for the Lord. Up or down, it’s for the Lord. Yes or no, it’s for the Lord. Just do whatever you do for the Lord and trust Him to lead you.
- Don’t allow your liberty to be a stumbling block to others
v. 13 – “not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way.”
If you are okay with having a glass of wine and you are with another Christian who sees it as a sin, don’t drink the wine in front of them just to show them how “liberated” you are. That is prideful. You should never carelessly practice or flaunt a liberty just to prove you can do it, even if it offends another. It takes a mature and discerning Christian to answer the question: where is the line that divides legalism and simply foregoing your liberty for the sake of a weaker brother? In other words, it’s one thing to allow another Christian to bind their convictions on you (legalism) and another to forego or delay a liberty personally because you know it will cause a weaker Christian to be spiritually troubled (motivated by love and concern for the weaker party).
- Walk in love
v. 15 – “you are no longer walking in love.”
As with all things “Christian”, genuine Godly love is the greatest factor. If you’re exercise of liberty is of greater importance to you than the welfare and good of your fellow Believers, then you are no longer walking in love, you are walking in the flesh. Walking in love will cause us at times to give our liberties, not because of legalism (of the other party) but because of our genuine concern for their spiritual needs.
- Remember that the Kingdom is spiritual, not physical
v. 17 – “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking”
Christians endlessly fuss and fight over music, schooling, clothes, recreation, food, religious side issues and we lose sight of the fact that our faith is not about the physical. The kingdom of God is not about eating, drinking, material posessions, lists of rules, man-made standards – it’s about relationship and love. Oh, that’s not to say that doctrine, holiness and high standards are optional or unimportant. Quite the opposite. It’s makes them MORE important, but on an individual basis as we all stand individually accountable to our Master.
- Pursue peace and edification
v. 19 – “pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify”
We should not get all caught up arguing about our liberty or debating what we think is “okay” or “right” with regards to Christian liberty. If we will pursue peace and edification (“what is good”) within the Body of Christ, the petty, legalistic squabbles would end, and the exercise of liberty would be a natural by-product. Do not hinder or hurt that work of God with useless fighting over whether or not women should wear pants, or whether or not home schooling is better than public schooling. Pursue peace and edification allowing each Christian to work out their own matters of liberty with God.
Christian liberty is not an excuse to sin. Neither is it an excuse for you or I to tell others they should have the same convictions we have. No matter how convinced we are, it does not make our conviction a doctrine, or constitute sin if someone else is not as convinced and chooses to live differently (keeping in mind that we are talking about genuine areas of liberty which assumes the absence of a clear directive from Scripture).
This 4th of July, I hope you’ll spend some time thanking God for your liberty in Christ, learning how to exercise it in love and knowing when to delay liberty for the sake of love. The 4th of July, Liberty Day, is a temporary holiday that will pass away with the rest of this universe some day. Your liberty in Christ is an eternal blessing that will never fade or end.
Lord God, Help us to know about the true liberty found in Christ. Help us to know how to enjoy it, how to let others enjoy it, and to know the difference between liberty and essentials. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Application: Liberty in Christ is one of the greatest blessings God has provided. It frees us from the bondage of religion and men, it frees us from fear, it allows us to enjoy a life of freedom in Christ. It is not a license to sin or abuse other’s liberty. In order to enjoy our freedom and allow others to enjoy theirs, we must learn what Christian liberty is from Scripture and how to properly exercise it.
James 1:22 – But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (NKJV)
- What is the most obvious Bible truth you have learned today?
- What change in your life needs to be made concerning this truth?
- What specific thing will you do today to begin that change?