Liberty, Legalism, and Love (5)1
Our examination of Romans 14 has helped us to understand what both weakness and strength entail and how each believer ought to respond and relate to the other. We now conclude by articulating five principles that should govern our exercise of Christian liberty. Continue reading . . .
Our examination of Romans 14 has helped us to understand what both weakness and strength entail and how each believer ought to respond and relate to the other. We now conclude by articulating five principles that should govern our exercise of Christian liberty.
1) These truths in Romans 14 and the actions they require apply only within the community of faith. In other words, Paul is addressing how we are to live out our freedom in Christ in relation to other Christians. He is not speaking to those situations in which a non-Christian protests your exercise of freedom. Would there be a different set of guidelines to govern our relationships with unbelievers?
2) If someone says to me: "Your drinking of wine/beer is sin," should I cease? To answer the question we must first determine if the one who protests is a weaker brother. As we have seen, by weaker brother Paul is thinking of someone who not only has a misconception of what is inherently right and wrong, clean and unclean, but is actually himself induced or led to perform the action in question because of your participation. Paul is thinking of someone who is led to violate his own conscience because he is either untaught or excessively timid and fearful. His concern over your reaction to his abstinence leads him to do what his conscience forbids.
This must be emphasized, because the person who protests your expression of liberty may be a legalist. Legalists are in no danger of violating their conscience! They are not in the least tempted to engage in the activity in question. Their aim is not simply to refrain from a specified activity, but to persuade you to refrain as well, often through intimidation, shame, guilt, etc. The weaker brother is NOT a legalist! And the legalist is NOT a weaker brother!
3) If you do choose to forego the exercise of your liberty for the sake of a weaker brother, be certain to point out that you are not doing so because you think it is sin, but because he thinks it is sin. If you do not, you will only confirm him in his weakness. As Lenski has said, "when I abstain, the weak brother must know that I do so only because I am prompted by love, only for his sake, only because his weakness is weakness and not strength, only because I would give him time and help him to grow strong" (850), and not because I regard the action itself as sinful.
4) Christian liberty may legitimately manifest itself in abstinence or asceticism. Christian liberty includes the right to abstain from otherwise legitimate pursuits if one is convinced in his/her own mind that such is the will of God for them personally. In other words, you may fully believe in the truth of Romans 14:14a, yet choose to abstain anyway. Christian liberty does not include the right to insist that others likewise abstain simply because you do. Far less does it include the right to judge them as sub-spiritual for choosing a different course of action from you.
5) Do not become enslaved to your own liberty! In other words, hold your liberty in an open hand. It is not consistent with Christian love if we always insist on the exercise of our freedom in Christ. Simply put, there is something more important than freedom. Paul calls it love!