04 October 2007

It doesn't have to be freedom vs. legalism!

Robert taught on Romans 14 this last Sat./Sun. and I just wanted to address in my blog this issue of spiritual freedoms "vs." abstinence. My husband and I enjoy spiritual freedoms . . . which are glorifying to God in our relationship with Him. However, we have friends, some dear, that impose restrictions on themselves. They abstain from whatever it is . . . certain kinds of meat, wine, keeping certain days as holy, style of dress, styles of songs . . . all to glorify God. God is glorified by both behaviors. Romans chapter 14 addresses this. Paul is writing to believers . . . not to legalistic Pharisees, but to believers who love God and are seeking to honor Him with their lives. The motives in both the exercise of freedom and the abstaining of certain things can all be glorifying to God. The key is motive! (Side note, we do now abstain from the occasional glass of wine as exercising this freedom would disqualify us from mission work overseas.)

The problem is that both groups judge one another. We tend to be real quick to say that legalism should never be imposed on someone else. The freedoms I have in Christ are exactly that . . . freedoms that have been given by Christ. The exercising of them is glorifying to my God. I can speak for myself because I know the motives behind my actions. But according to Romans 14 I am to be careful to not stumble a brother or sister in Christ. That means not serving pork to the friends who abstain from pork. That means not serving wine with a nice dinner to friends who abstain from drinking wine. That means not making an issue out of Sunday morning or

Saturday night worship service to those who believe it should be different. That means even dressing sometimes in clothes that I would prefer to not wear! There are Christians who abstain from these things to glorify God. They may one day understand that all things are from God and are for our enjoyment (moderated responsibly, of course). But they may not ever get there. Is it my job to then throw my freedoms in their faces? No, it is not. On the contrary, I am to love and never to judge.

The Bible says that nothing is unclean in itself, but to the one who thinks something to be unclean, to him it is unclean. This means that if while someone thinks a certain act is wrong, if they do it, they have sinned. Flaunting spiritual freedoms to those who deem them wrong causes them to stumble. This is warned against in Romans 14 and explained to greater detail in I Corinthians 8. Verse 22 of Rom. 14 says that “The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God.”

Rom. 14:19 admonishes us to “pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.” Paul gladly placed restrictions on his conduct for the sake of his witness (Romans 15:1 & I Cor. 9:19-27)

So I ask, what is the greater wrong?: Those who understand the freedom they have in Christ and then flaunt it before those who do not have this understanding so that they are appalled and confused and then possibly tempted to do the things they see as wrong? OR Those who are weaker in this area of freedoms in Christ trying to impose what they abstain from onto all other believers?

I think the personal test for this is always a check of motives. Is love for others our motive? Or is there pride and arrogance on the side of spiritual freedoms? Is there pride and arrogance on the side of abstaining? I'm sad to say that oftentimes in the church, the latter is true.

The clincher . . . the great perspective statement in Romans 14 is in verses 7-8: “For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord's." As the Lord's, we are called to live selfless lives.

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