Today’s Reading: Romans 14
Romans 14 is about personal convictions not a private faith. Nowhere does the Bible give anyone the right to a private faith, though it is a personal faith. Because not everyone is at the same place in their walk with God. And when we don’t take notice of where people are in the Christian walk, then the strong can become a stumbling block to the weak. Paul says it like this: “Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is” (Romans 14:13, MSG).
Making life more difficult for newer Christians—that is a horrible thought.
How does that happen? It happens when the lines of personal and private faith get blurred, landing us with legalism. Imposing our standards on others. When we do that we get in the way of people’s growth in Christ.
Let me explain the origin of legalism and how important Romans 14 is to keeping it out of our lives. Legalism originates when Christians make a personal conviction into a corporate conviction. When you believe what God demands of you is what He is demanding of everyone.
Now there are extracurriculars that God will call His servants to that He doesn’t intend for everyone. But be very careful of imposing those extracurriculars on those around you. Your convictions are not meant for everyone.
Throughout my ministry I have seen that the greater the anointing, the greater those kinds of personal convictions happen. The wider the influence, the more intense those personal convictions are for a person.
As you listen to the Holy Spirit, He may be speaking to you personally. If that’s the case, don’t expand any larger than the personal dimensions. Once you expand your convictions to everyone, then your relationship has turned religious, and religion always sours and goes rogue into legalism.
Just because God tells you to get up and pray at 5 a.m. does not mean everyone has to. Just because you fast once a week doesn’t mean everyone else in your house has to go hungry. I have seen this with what people wear, with bringing Jewish elements into the church. Be careful.
If God has something to say specifically to others, let Him say it. He is very well capable of speaking. He did speak a universe into existence, so I do think He can tell someone, You’re watching too much television.
Romans 14 helps us with this. In fact, an old friend helped me understand this chapter better by categorizing a few things. There are biblical absolutes, community standards, and personal convictions.
Biblical absolutes are for all people, all times, and all places (things like homosexuality, adultery, lying). These are things we cannot do or we will die spiritually. They are fixed, unchanging, no matter the culture, era, or circumstance. And these are clearly in the Bible for us.
Community standards are for some people, for some situations, for some times. I’ve heard it said, “If it was sin then, then it is sin now.” Have you ever heard that? It really depends upon what you are talking about, though. There are things that don’t impact salvation but impact your growth. There were times in the church decades ago when a woman could not wear black pantyhose or red shoes without being labeled a sinner. It used to be a sin to have a radio or television or to read the comics on Sundays. There is a difference between that which impacts salvation and that which impacts growth—and those things have to be differentiated. People confuse biblical absolutes with community standards. They say, “If you don’t do these things, you will go to hell.” Well, you will not go to hell, but you won’t grow.
Acts 15:1 has a key phrase to notice: “Some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’” Did you see it? You cannot be saved. They imposed a community standard as a biblical absolute.
Finally, personal convictions are for you. They are custom-made from God for your personal life. Your personal conviction is not every person’s conviction. Do not make a personal conviction into a community standard. It is immature for people to say that because it’s wrong for them, then it is wrong for everybody.
Paul helps us in Romans 14 by encouraging us to ask three questions in regards to our personal faith and the things we do. It’s a great grid for our walk with God, especially when something we do could be misunderstood.
We must ask ourselves, does what I do . . .
Glorify God? (verses 5-8)
Edify? (verses 13-16)
Bring peace? (verse 19)
If it doesn’t, Paul says the reward for doing it just isn’t worth it.
I want a life that will glorify God and help others. It isn’t simply about me. I don’t want my actions to be a stumbling block to anyone’s faith.
The best description of the church was made by one of the church’s first enemies in the first century named Celsus. His was the oldest literary attack on Christianity, from about AD 178, of which any details have survived. We get it from Origen’s reply, Contra Celsum, Celsus wrote, “The root of Christianity is its excessive valuation of the human soul, and the absurd idea that God takes an interest in man.” Exactly right, Celsus! And that’s why Romans 14 is so important—because people are important even if I have to cease and desist something that may be right for me but a stumbling block for them. I will do it. Because we excessively value the human soul.