Romans 14:15: What does it mean to "Destroy" a Christian?
In this text Paul talks about a “strong” Christian destroying a “weaker” Christian through the unloving exercise of freedom.
Paul refers to a stumbling block in v. 13 and again in v. 15 to hurting and destroying one's brother. What does he mean? Certainly it is more than distress or pain or annoyance that the weak brother feels on seeing a strong brother partake of food or drink which he believes is unclean and forbidden. Rather, Paul envisions a situation in which a strong Christian, in the exercise of his liberty, causes a weak Christian to sin. The weak brother sins when he is influenced by the strong brother's behavior to act contrary to his conscience. Paul envisions the grievous vexation of conscience that afflicts a believer when he violates what for him is the moral will of God. Paul's advice to the strong is simple: when the exercise of your legitimate liberty emboldens the weak to violate his conscience, you must defer to his interests and refrain from what would otherwise be permissible for you to do.
Paul's appeal to the death of Christ is penetrating:
"If Christ loved the weak believer to the extent of laying down his life for his salvation, how alien to the demands of this love is the refusal on the part of the strong to forego the use of a certain article of food when the religious interests of the one for whom Christ died are thereby imperiled! It is the contrast between what the extreme sacrifice of Christ exemplified and the paltry demand devolving upon us that accentuates the meanness of our attitude when we discard the interests of a weak brother. And since the death of Christ as the price of redemption for all believers is the bond uniting them in fellowship, how contradictory is any behaviour that is not patterned after the love which Christ's death exhibited!" (Murray, 191).
If you are convinced that the request that you suspend the exercise of your freedom for the sake of your brother is a great and unjust imposition, think of what Christ did!
Our primary concern is whether or not the destruction here is eternal. There are several reasons why I believe it is not eternal destruction or loss of salvation that Paul has in view.
First, "are we really to believe that a Christian brother's single act against his own conscience -- which in any case is not his fault but the fault of the strong who have misled him, and which is therefore an unintentional mistake, not a deliberate disobedience -- merits eternal condemnation? No, hell is reserved only for the stubborn, the impenitent, those who willfully persist in wrongdoing" (Stott, 365-66).
Second, Paul just affirmed in unequivocal terms the eternal security of the believer (Rom. 8:28-39). If nothing in all creation can separate one from the love of Christ, then surely another believer's callous disregard for a weak brother's religious scruples cannot do so!
Third, Paul says in v. 15 that a Christian can "destroy" another Christian. This cannot refer to eternal destruction because Jesus said that God alone destroys body and soul in hell (Mt. 10:28).
Fourth, Jesus said explicitly in John 10:28 that his sheep will "never perish". Clearly, then, the "destruction" in Rom. 14:14 must refer to something less than and different from the loss of eternal salvation.
Fifth, the context provides a perfectly reasonable explanation of Paul's words. He envisions serious damage to both the conscience of the weak believer (cf. v. 15) and to his growth as a disciple of Jesus. Judith Gundry-Volf identifies two forms of damage incurred by the weak:
"a subjective form consisting in grief and deep self-deprecation, and an objective form consisting in concrete sin, resultant guilt and possible incapacitation to behave consistently with one's beliefs. None of Paul's descriptions of the negative consequences born by the weak when they follow the example of the strong -- stumbling, sinning, sorrow, defiling and wounding of the conscience [cf. 1 Cor. 8:7], self-condemnation -- necessarily entails loss of salvation or complete dissolution of a relationship to God" (Paul and Perseverance: Staying In and Falling Away [Louisville: Westminster, 1990], 95).
The "destruction", therefore, presents an obstacle to one's sanctification, not to one's justification.