Convictions Don’t Make Us God

Real Christians don’t put their kids in public schools.  Real Christian mothers don’t work outside the home.  Real Christians do not acknowledge Halloween, nor do they have Christmas Trees, or Easter eggs.  Real Christians worship on the Sabbath, not Sunday.  Real Christians not only don’t go to rated R movies, they don’t go to any movies.  Real Christians don’t  . . . and the list goes on and on.

In 20 plus years of ministry I have heard all these statements, been challenged to bring our church in line with these statements and others like them.  I have seen churches built around these kinds of statements.  I don’t agree with them, but I say that somewhat hesitantly because give me 5 minutes and I could build a biblical case for each of them.  These statements don’t come from nowhere, each of them was birthed in Scripture.  How can I say something is birthed in Scripture and yet, I don’t agree?  Here is why: there is a difference between a biblical reason and a biblical command.  And we sure need to know the difference or else we hurt the gospel and each other.  Would you get to Romans 14:1-12 and read that in order to understand the rest of this blog.

In this passage, Paul talks about two topics that were hot issues of the day: eating meat sacrificed to idols and whether or not it is right to celebrate certain days.  Paul breaks church people into two groups for this discussion: the weak (14:1) and the strong (15:1).  Don’t understand weak and strong as right and wrong.  The strong are those filled with grace.  Weak here means to be wobbly.  Somebody can be mature in faith, been a believer for a long time, but perhaps be wobbly in an area.  Potentially all of us can be someone who is weak in one area, and strong in another.  The weak might be wobbly because they are new to the faith, or it might be because they sat under some wrong teaching long enough that it got engrained and they can’t shake it.  They might be wobbly because of a sin they struggled with and are now successfully resisting, but they’ve become very dogmatic in how they resist that sin and how everyone else should also.

Many believers in Rome were converted from paganism and idol worship – meat was sacrificed to idols and left over meat was sold in public markets.  You’d have the temple on one corner and Ruth’s Chris on the other.  Your best steak houses, your best meat markets were right next to the places of idol worship.  So a new Christian in the church there at Rome got saved out of that and becomes staunchly against eating meat at the steak house because it takes him back to his idol worshiping days.  In his mind not only should he not eat that meat, no one should.  Paul deals with this same issue 1 Corinthians 8 and explains that it is not a sin to eat the meat.  Paul had no problem going into one of these steak houses ordering a rib-eye on the bone, bowing his head and saying, “Thank you, Lord, for the steak I am about to partake.”  Paul’s argument was that false gods are not real, therefore there is no real impact on the meat.  Say the blessing and dig in.  In Corinthians he addresses the issue as right or wrong, but here he is addressing how we handle the person who still believes it is a sin for them to eat the meat.  Don’t judge them.  And he tells the one who is not eating meat, don’t judge those who do.

Then there was the celebration of days and wow this was a head on collision.  Part of the church is made up of Jews for whom God instituted special days, the big one being the Sabbath.  There was the Passover and the Day of Atonement, and many others.  Then you have these believers that have come out of a pagan worship and the celebration of days reminds them of the worship of false gods which often included sexual immorality and drunkenness so they wanted no celebration of days.  It was a perfect storm.  For one it was a holy day and for the other it was a memory of all that was unholy.  Paul tells both, “Let each live for God in their own way.  Don’t judge.”  By the way have you ever had someone tell you that we should not celebrate Easter and Christmas because they have roots in paganism?  There is some truth to it.  Early Christians pretty much kidnapped some perfectly good pagan holidays and made them their own.  Now the Bible does not command us to celebrate these days, nor does it forbid us from doing so.  One cannot make a right or wrong argument about this.  So what to do?

In verse 5 encourages that each one be convinced in his own mind.  Be convinced of what you study in Scripture.  Be convinced of how you apply it to your life.  Be convinced of knowing your areas of weakness and how you should respond.  Be convinced in yourself, for yourself.  One believer should be absolutely convinced that they home school their children and guard from the influences of the world.  Another believer should be convinced that all through Scripture believers have had to engage the world and witness to the world on their turf, and even as young people.  We can’t be salt and light if we are running from the world.  One believer can say thank you and bring God’s blessing on the celebration of a day and be convinced that all days belong to God.  Another believer rightly acknowledges that we don’t worship like pagans and some things just have too much pagan DNA.  We each need to study God’s word, seek the Holy Spirit on its application and then commit ourselves to applying it.  It is God’s convictions for us, not our convictions for others.  Have biblical reasons for what you do and do not do, but keep them as your reasons.  We can share our convictions with others, but we cannot judge others with our convictions.  Verse 4 tells us why: you are not God and they don’t belong to you.  We don’t even have the right to judge them in our mind, in the privacy of our own heart.  Resist that.  Stop judging people with your convictions.  Verse 12 says we do well to be focused on how we are going to give an account of our lives to God, not how someone else is.

Now let me state what I hope is obvious.  There is not a command in the New Testament about eating or not eating meat, and same for days.  This discussion is not about what Scripture directs.  It is about how we try to apply it to our own lives.  A single adult might read Scripture and say they don’t believe they should date the way dating is done in America.  That is a good conviction that they should not be judged for and they should not judge those who do not have that conviction.  Now if two single adults are involved in sexual immorality, they absolutely should be judged.  Purity is not a biblical reason, it is a biblical command.  Where Scripture directly speaks, we can speak and even tell other believers they are wrong, and should tell them they are wrong.  That is not judging.  That is loving.  And the bible tells us to do that humbly and with an awareness of our own sin.  It also means we should be receptive when someone confronts us.  Scripture is the rule for us and others.  Our convictions are not rules for others.

As a child of God, we are a recipient of His grace.  So think about the whole thing this way: you did not receive God’s judgment, so don’t give it.  You did receive God’s grace, so give that.  While Romans 14:5 absolutely commands us to have a set of convictions that guides how we live the Christian life, we are not near as much to be known for our convictions as we are to be known for the Gospel and love.  That is what we have been sent into the world to share.

 

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