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Hard Call: When the Bible Is Silent - Part 4

Tom Pennington • Romans 14:1-15:13

  • 2008-10-26 AM
  • Sermons


It's appropriate on this Sunday that we celebrate the reformation, that we finish our study of the issues of conscience. You remember that it was Martin Luther, who at the Diet at Worms, uttered those words that are unforgettable: "My conscience is held captive by the word of God." Ultimately, that's really what we're talking about when we're talking about Christian liberty and issues of conscience. We're holding to the fact that our consciences can only be bound by Scripture and Scripture alone. As we have seen over the last few weeks, every moral decision that you will ever have to make falls into one of three basic categories. Either the Bible explicitly forbids it, the Bible explicitly commands it, or the third category—it is an issue of conscience or of Christian liberty. If the Bible doesn't explicitly command it of you—if the Bible doesn't explicitly forbid it of you, then it is your liberty to enjoy and to make that decision. Christian liberty is a wonderful gift that we relish. And yet, Christian liberty comes with some great dangers, as we have discovered together.

The simple fact that we can make certain moral choices does not mean that we should make those choices. So how do we know when to use our liberty? Well, God in His goodness to us has given us that direction in two passages of Scripture in the New Testament—Romans chapter 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10. We're looking together at Romans 14, and I invite you to turn there with me again this morning. In Romans 14, Paul provides us with three foundational principles concerning the wise and Biblical exercise of the Christian liberty we enjoy in Christ. How do you make decisions about things the Bible doesn't clearly address? Those gray areas, or doubtful things, or issues of conscience as they are variously described. We've already examined the first two of the principles that Paul teaches us here governing our Christian liberty. Principle number one, we found, was, you must never allow your Christian liberty to cause disunity in the church. Paul spells this out in the first twelve verses of chapter 14. You must never allow your liberty to cause dissension and disunity in the church, whether you're the strong brother, looking down with contempt on those whose consciences are weak, or whether you are the weak brother judging the spirituality of the strong brother because he does that which your conscience does not allow. We cannot allow it to be a source of disunity. We are not our brother's judge or lord—Christ is, is Paul's point. The second great principle we discovered here is, you must never allow your Christian liberty to cause others to sin. We saw this a couple of weeks ago in Romans chapter 14 verse 13 down to verse 21.

Today we come to the third and final principle that should govern the use of our Christian liberty, and this is that principle. You must never allow your Christian liberty to cause you to sin. You must never allow your Christian liberty to cause you to sin. Romans 14 introduces us to this third principle that I want us to examine today. And then we're going to turn, later, to 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 where Paul develops it even further. But his overarching point is that we cannot let the exercise of our Christian liberty become a source of sin in our own lives. Now how does that happen? How can our Christian liberty cause us to sin? Well, there are several ways, and we've really already dealt with a couple of them in the first two principles. As we've examined those two principles, we've seen that Christian liberty becomes sin if you allow it to cause disunity. It's a sin for you. It may be your liberty, but if you let it become a source of disunity in the church, then it is a sin for you. Christian liberty becomes a sin if you allow it to cause someone else to sin; to violate his or her conscience. And so really, in the first two principles we see a couple of ways that our Christian liberty can cause us to sin.

So keep those two in mind as we move forward, but there are three other ways not contained in those first two principles we've learned; three other ways that exercising your Christian liberty can cause you to sin. And I want us to look at them this morning. One of them is found here in Romans 14. The other two ways are found in 1 Corinthians. The first way that your Christian liberty can cause you to sin is by violating your own conscience. By violating your own conscience. Look at Romans 14:22-23: "The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin." Even though the Bible may allow you to make certain choices, it is still a sin for you to do that thing if in doing it, you violate your conscience. That's the message of these two verses. Now, in verse 22, Paul begins with the strong brother. He addresses the brother whose conscience is strong. And the emphasis in the Greek text is on the pronoun "you." For you, the one who is strong in your understanding of Christian liberty, use it. Exercise it, but exercise it before God as your own conviction. Keep it more to yourself. Paul doesn't mean that you can never mention your views on all of these issues of conscience; doesn't mean that the strong can't teach the weak. He's doing that even here in this passage, and in 1 Corinthians 8 to 10. He instructs them. What Paul means is, exercise your liberty quietly. Don't blow a trumpet. Don't parade it. There are appropriate times and there are appropriate people to instruct the weak, but don't allow your discussions about these things to degenerate into sinful arguments. That's what he's saying. If you're strong in faith, the faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Hold to it. Exercise it. But do it carefully. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. The second half of verse 22 pronounces a blessing on the strong brother who can exercise his liberty in Christ without feeling any sense of guilt.

But then in verse 23, Paul comes back to the weak brother. And in verse 23 he lays down this third principle in unmistakable terms. Look at verse 23: "But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith." Now, remember the situation—the cultural context in which this verse was written; we've looked at it in detail. There were, in the church in Rome, Jewish believers, recently converted to Christ. They've embraced Jesus as the Messiah, and they're dealing with what to do with those Old Testament ceremonial laws. And they were convinced, some of them in the church in Rome, that they should keep those Old Testament ceremonial laws and so they doubted if it was okay to eat the meat that was sold in the meat markets there in Rome. Why? Well, they wondered if it was from a clean animal first and foremost. Secondly, if it was from a clean animal, was it properly slaughtered—was the blood drained as the ceremonial law required? And even if all of that happened, had it been offered to an idol? And so, they doubted whether they should do this or not. And Paul says, if one of those Jewish Christian brothers goes ahead and eats while he still doubts, he is condemned. Now, the rest of the verse makes it clear that Paul is not referring to self-condemnation. It's not like his conscience smote him and he just felt bad. That's not what he's saying here. He's saying instead, this is God's condemnation. It will be sin for you to do that. Why? Look at the second half of verse 23" "whatever is not from faith is sin." Now, the word "faith" here, is used in the sense of the conviction that flows out of your faith in Christ. If you can't act with conviction based on your faith in Christ to do this thing, then that thing is sin to you. Douglas Moo, the commentator, describes it like this: "Any act that does not match our sincerely held conviction about what our Christian faith allows us to do and prohibits us from doing is sin. Violation of the dictates of conscience, even when the conscience does not conform perfectly with God's law, is sinful." Remember now, Paul is addressing only those decisions that are not explicitly spelled out in Scripture. He says we are to respond to the prompting of our conscience even when the Scripture isn't clear. We are never to violate our consciences.

Now what does it mean to violate your conscience? Listen carefully. It means that you are not convinced from the Scripture that God allows you to make that choice, but you decide to go ahead and do it anyway. If you go ahead and you do that thing, whatever it is, while you doubt, it will violate your conscience—and listen carefully—it will be sin before God for you. Why? Because you will be deliberately choosing to do what you believe, rightly or wrongly, but what you believe God has forbidden. And by choosing in your will to do what you think God has not allowed you to do, you are sinning against God. It's an act of rebellion. This means that if your conscience tells you it's sinful to chew gum, to use a trivial example, then don't chew gum. Because if you really believe that's wrong before God, it would be sin for you to do it. Now, it's also important to understand that the person who's weak in conscience must grow in their understanding in these areas. Paul calls them "the weak brother." That's not to shame them, not to make them feel uncomfortable. Instead, it's to make a point. The point is, you're weak. You need to grow and mature and, someday, come to have a strong conscience. How do you do that? Well, you re-educate your conscience. You re-educate it. Remember, your conscience is only as effective as the knowledge you inform it with, and so you re-educate—you re-inform—you retrain your conscience with the Scripture. How do you do that? Well, let me just as a kind of a sidebar here, as a little aside, let me give you a couple of practical steps to re-educating your conscience. Number one. Meditate on the sufficiency of Scripture. Meditate on the fact that, as Peter says, "God has given us in this book everything that pertains to life and godliness." If you really come to believe that God has sufficiently revealed everything, you're not going to be adding your own convictions to what God has revealed. You're not going to see it as a necessary. You're going to understand this to be God's all-sufficient word. And if it wasn't important enough for God to record it, then it's not as important. Secondly, study what the Scripture says about Christian liberty. Study what the Scripture says about Christian liberty. Study Romans 14. Study 1 Corinthians 8 to 10. Come to grips with the liberty you enjoy in Christ. Thirdly, study what the Scripture says or doesn't say about that particular issue of conscience that you struggle with. Whatever it is. Find out what God says. What does the Bible say about that? Inform your conscience with what the Bible says about that particular issue. And then you can act on the basis of that new knowledge that you have retrained your conscience with. Now let me just say that this does not mean that your emotions have to catch up before you can exercise your Christian liberty. It's not about what you feel; it's about what you think. Look back at verse 14. To him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. If it falls in this area of doubtful things, it's about what you think. You must be convinced in your mind about what the Scriptures teach. Then you can legitimately exercise your liberty, even if the first few times you do it, you still emotionally feel uncomfortable. But you must never exercise your Christian liberty if you doubt in your mind it's okay to do it. Because then, you will be violating your conscience, and for you, it will be sin.

There's a second way your Christian liberty can cause you to sin. Not only by violating your own conscience, but secondly, by using Christian liberty as an excuse for sin. By using Christian liberty as an excuse for clear sin. Now, for this principle, let's turn to 1 Corinthians; 1 Corinthians chapter 8 to 10. First Corinthians chapters 8 to 10. In 1 Corinthians, Paul continues to develop this third principle—this idea that we must not allow our Christian liberty to cause us to sin. But before we can look at it, I have to give you a little cultural context, because 1 Corinthians is different than Romans. And the issues in 1 Corinthians are different than the issues in the Roman church. In the Roman church where we've been looking, the weak brothers were primarily Jewish believers. Jewish believers who've come to faith, and the issues were the Old Testament ceremonial laws—the foods, clean and unclean, kosher foods—as well as keeping the special festivals and feasts. In Corinth, the weak brothers were primarily Gentile believers who, before Christ, had been absolutely immersed in the pagan idolatrous culture of Corinth. And the conscience issues in Corinth centered on food sacrificed to idols. They had been buried in paganism and in idolatry. They had partaken in all of those idolatrous feasts—in all of the things pertaining to idolatry, and now they are wondering in Corinth, is is okay to eat the meat that comes from the temple. The Corinthians apparently had three separate questions, and, apparently, had sent their questions to Paul, and Paul eventually in these chapters, answers all three questions. These were their three questions. Number one. May we buy and eat meat sold in the marketplace knowing that it has probably been sacrificed to idols? Can we buy and eat meat sold in the meat market? That's question number one. Question number two. May we eat meat if it's served to us in the home of an unbeliever? May we eat the meat if it's served to us in the home of an unbeliever? And question number three. May we attend the idolatrous feasts in the idol temples and eat the meat that's offered to the idols there? Those were their three questions. And Paul responds to all three of those questions. And in doing so, he lays down the principles about our own use of Christian liberty. He's very concerned about several issues.

In 1 Corinthians 8, Paul is essentially concerned about the same thing as in the second half of Romans 14. His point in 1 Corinthians 8 is "don't use your liberty if it will cause your brother to stumble." And we looked at that chapter several times as we worked our way through this second part of Romans 14. It's the same issue. Be careful not to cause others to sin. But in 1 Corinthians 9 and 10; in the ninth and tenth chapters, Paul begins to cover some new ground as he develops this whole idea that we must not let our Christian liberty cause us to sin. Let me just show you how this breaks down. Beginning in chapter 9, verse 24. Chapter 9 verse 24 and running all the way down through chapter 10 verse 22, that whole section, Paul explains how dangerous it is to allow your Christian liberty to become an excuse for sin, this point that we're looking at together. You cannot let your Christian liberty to cause you to sin, and one way it can cause you to sin is by using it as an excuse to do what is clearly wrong. And that's what he addresses in this section. Now, let me show you how the section breaks down. In the end of chapter 9, 1 Corinthians 9:24 through 27, Paul begins by reminding us that there's a very real risk, if we we're not careful in this area of Christian liberty, of losing our reward and forfeiting our usefulness in this life. This happens, he says, if we give in to our bodies, if we let them control us, if we allow our liberty to become an excuse for sin.

Then turn over to chapter 10. In 1 Corinthians 10 verses 1 through 10, he uses an example—an illustration to show how this happens. And he uses the Israelites who came out of Egypt. He says, look at how those people newly freed from their slavery exercised their liberty, but more than exercising their liberty, they went beyond liberty and turned it into a license to sin, and he gives us a description of the debauchery that went on in the wilderness. So he uses the Israelites to say, don't be like them. In verses 11 through 13, he exhorts us "don't follow their example. Don't run your liberty out to the edge and over into sin." When you come to verse 14 of chapter 10, down through verse 22, you get to the heart of the issue in Corinth. And this is where I want us to focus. Here, Paul introduces us to the first century example of allowing Christian liberty to become an excuse for sin. You want to see what it looks like? Here's what it looks like. And this passage relates to one of those questions that Christians in Corinth asked Paul, the question: "Can we go to the temple, and can we enjoy the idol feast and eat the meat offered to idols there?" You say, well, how did they reason that? Well, they used the same reasoning that they used to eat the meat. Think about it. Here's what they thought. An idol doesn't really exist, does it? No—no such thing as an idol. They aren't really real. They don't exist. So, we can eat meat sacrificed to idols. Okay so far. Then they said, well, since idols don't really exist, and since there's nothing wrong with eating the meat sacrificed to idols, then there must be no problem with our attending the idol feasts. Since the idols aren't real anyway, we can go and enjoy the party. And we can eat the meat there. Paul's answer to that question is that they should absolutely never attend. It would be sin to do so. Verse 21: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? We are not stronger than He, are we?" He says, you want to make God angry? Then get involved in that. He says, absolutely never can you go back to those idol temples and enjoy the party and eat the meat at that idol temple. Why? Because it's active participation in idolatry. That's what he says. He says you're sharing with the demons. And go back to verse 14: "flee from idolatry." That's what this is all about. This wasn't their liberty. They were running their liberty way out past liberty into license and excuse to sin. They were getting involved and reconnected with the idolatry. And so, Paul is helping us see that there is a very real temptation for us as Christians to use the guise of Christian liberty as an excuse for our sin—for doing what is clearly wrong.

One of my favorite secular books is a book written by Jon Krakauer, called "Into Thin Air." Krakauer describes the ill-fated 1996 attempt to ascend the summit of Mount Everest. During that climb, a record 12 climbers lost their lives. And he documents how all of that unfolded. There are some emotionally gripping stories in the book. One of them is of a man who's dying on the top of Everest; knows he is going to die soon, takes his satellite phone and calls his wife. And they spend the last few minutes of his life together, as he tells her he loves her, and won't be coming home. But one of the tragic stories in the book was of a man who became disoriented because of extreme oxygen deprivation. At that level, at that altitude, the oxygen is so thin that he suffered from extreme oxygen deprivation. His brain wasn't getting enough oxygen, and so he wasn't able to think rationally. So to the horror of his comrades, he stepped off of the edge of a cliff and fell to his death some 1,000 feet below. It's a graphic picture of what can happen with our Christian liberty. We can become disoriented. We can think we're still on solid ground, and before we know it, we're falling headlong into sin. And if you don't think that can happen with you, Paul says you'd better be careful. Look in verse 12: "Let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall." He says, absolutely, you can easily turn your liberty into sin.

Now, how does this happen, very practically? Well, let me see if I can show you in a contemporary setting how you and I can be tempted to use our liberty in as an excuse for sin. And I'm going to use a couple of conscience issues I've already mentioned. Not because they're favorites of mine, but simply because they're ones that are commonly disagreed upon by Christians. Take the issue of alcohol, for example. We've already talked a little bit about this. Our liberty allows us to make that decision. It's not forbidden, altogether, in Scripture. But Christians, because it does fall within the area of their liberty, can easily cross the line between liberty and fall into sin. They can drink in excess. The Bible clearly forbids drunkenness. It clearly forbids being under the control of any substance, including alcohol. Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul says, those things that may be lawful, that the law may allow, that's fine, but I will not be brought under the control of any. So how do you know if, in this area, you're stretching your Christian liberty and you're using it for a clear excuse for sin? Well, here's a little test for you. In the state of Texas, there is a legal standard for being under the control or influence of alcohol. If you are in that state; if the secular government would consider you to be legally under the influence of alcohol, then guess what? You have crossed the line between your liberty and you have stepped into sin and into license. You have turned your liberty into license to sin.

Or consider the liberty you have to make certain entertainment choices. The Bible allows you to make those choices. You have the Christian liberty to enjoy various entertainment options. But if, for example, you watch movies or television programs with explicit sexual, sinful content, you have crossed the line between your liberty and you're using it for an excuse to sin. You know, there's no way you would be comfortable with Jesus Christ sitting next to you in the theater or on the couch watching certain things. So don't convince yourself that it's your liberty. It's an excuse for sin. Just like the Israelites, you and I can push our liberty over the edge and fall into clear sin. And yet, at the same time, we can still be claiming, "It's my liberty!" Paul says, no it's not; it's sin. You'd better use self-control. Don't use your Christian liberty as an excuse for what is clearly wrong. We must never allow Christian liberty to cause us to sin.

How does our Christian liberty cause us to sin? By violating our own consciences. Secondly by using Christian liberty as an excuse for sin. And a third way that Christian liberty can become sin for us is by allowing Christian liberty to be all about me. By allowing Christian liberty to be all about me and what I want regardless. I've noticed, through the years, that it's easy, especially for immature believers, young believers or for those believers who were raised in especially legalistic environments, to get ahold of this concept of Christian liberty and to sort of overswing. The pendulum overswings; they over-react. They start using their liberty and they don't ever want to restrict it again for any reason. So instead of living for God and for others, it's all about living for themselves. They have an attitude like this: It's my Christian liberty, and I'm going to do it. I'm going to use it because it's my right. It's my freedom and you can't take it away from me. Christian liberty causes us to sin when it's all about us. When it's all about you rather than your Christian brothers, it's sin. Paul says this in 1 Corinthians 10. Notice, in 1 Corinthians 10 verses 25 and 26, Paul answers another of those three questions the Corinthians had asked. The question, "May we buy and eat meat sold in the marketplace even if it's been sacrificed to idols?" Paul's answer is yes, buy it. Look at verse 25: "Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience' sake;

for the earth is the Lord's and all it contains." Go, get you a good piece of meat—enjoy. But that decision cannot be solely about myself. It must be influenced by a genuine concern for other Christians. Look back two verses to verses 23 and 24: "All things are lawful," in other words, all those things the Scripture doesn't forbid or command are lawful, "but not all those things are profitable." All those things may be lawful, but not all of them edify or "build up" is the word. Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor. So we're to make that decision to eat the meat based on concern for others. Paul makes this same point back in Romans. Keep your finger in 1 Corinthians, turn back to Romans 15. As he finishes the section on Christian liberty in Romans, in verse 1 of chapter 15 he says:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his [upbuilding, for his] edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, 'The reproaches of those who reproached You fell on Me.'

Christ didn't live for Himself, and enjoying His liberties. He gave away the glory of heaven to come and serve us. Paul says, be willing to serve your brother. Seek the good of your brother. It isn't all about you, and if you make it all about you rather than your Christian brothers, it is sin. Christian liberty causes me to sin when it's all about me rather than my Christian brothers.

It's also sin when it's all about me rather than the unbelievers around me. Notice how Paul makes this point in verses 27 of chapter 10 down through verse 33; 27 through 33. Here we encounter the third question from the believers in Corinth. They were first generation believers saved out of the worst kind of pagan idolatry. They hadn't been Christians very long at all. And so they still had many pagan friends. So it wouldn't have been unusual at all for one of their pagan friends to invite them over to their home, as had happened many times before they came to Christ. So now, they're invited over to an unbeliever's home, one of their pagan friends, and after the appetizers comes the entrée and it is a delicious looking piece of meat. After those wonderful Greek appetizers, here's dinner. Here's the meat. So their question was, is it okay to eat the meat served in the homes of unbelievers knowing that it's probably been offered to idols? Paul's answer is, yes, most of the time. Look at verse 27: "If one of the unbelievers invites you and you want to go, eat anything that is set before you without asking questions for conscience' sake." So, fine, it's okay. "But," verse 28 the answer's going to be no if the unbeliever tells you it was offered to idols; look at verse 28:

But if anyone says to you 'this is meat sacrificed to idols,' do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for conscience' sake; I mean not your own conscience, but the other man's [conscience]; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I slandered concerning that for which I give thanks?

Now, what's the problem here? Why would it be okay to eat it if nobody says; if that unbeliever doesn't tell you it was sacrificed to an idol, but not okay if he tells you? Well, there are a couple of possibilities. One is that there's a weaker brother, another believer who has a weak conscience, with you and your eating that meat that you've now been told has been sacrificed to an idol, is going to cause him to stumble. That's one possibility. And that may be what Paul has in mind here.

There's another possibility that I think is more likely, personally. Perhaps, the unbeliever is making this a test of the genuineness of the Corinthian believer's faith. In other words, he sets the meat before his pagan friend, or his former pagan friend, now a Christian. He sets the meat before him and he says, listen, I know you love meat. We've gone to many a feast together down at the idol temple. I just want to see just how committed you are to this new Kurios, this new Lord you have. Go ahead, have some meat. Come on, it's okay. If this is what Paul is talking about, and I think it is, then his point here is that the gospel and our concern for an unbeliever should cause us to voluntarily limit our liberty in hopes that that person would come to faith in Christ. My own favorite illustration of this comes from the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, for many years, enjoyed smoking cigars, and he saw it as his liberty in Christ. And he was once asked what would cause him to stop. He said, well, I think I would stop if I were smoking cigars to excess. And the man asked the next, most obvious question, is well how would you know you were smoking to excess. To which Spurgeon replied, when I'm smoking two at the same time. But one day, Spurgeon passed a cigar shop in London and he saw in the window of the cigar shop a sign, an advertisement that read something like this: "Smoke this brand, the brand that Spurgeon smokes" and it had his picture. To his credit, Spurgeon quit smoking cigars immediately and never had another. Why? When he was asked, he said he didn't want his smoking to become a distraction from the gospel he preached. That's what Paul is saying here. Don't be so selfish as to be unconcerned about others. Think first about your Christian brothers, but also think about unbelievers. The unbelievers in your life. Will doing "that thing" get in the way of the gospel?

And by the way, Paul didn't just teach this; he lived it. Look back at chapter 9, and this is really what chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians is about. Paul begins in the first 14 verses by saying I have all these freedoms. I have all these liberties, but, verse 15: "I have used none of these things." Paul says I have chosen to limit my freedoms and liberties. Why? Why, Paul? Because he had a higher purpose in life than just enjoying his liberties. Look at verse 19:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win the Jews. To those who were under the law as under the law, though not being, myself, under the law. So that I might win those who are under the law.

In other words, he says, listen, I don't have to keep the ceremonial law, but I do sometimes for the gospel's sake. For the people I'm trying to reach. Verse 21:

to those who are without law, the Gentiles, I live out from under the ceremonial law, though not being without the law of God, but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without the law. To the weak I became weak that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that I might by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.

Paul says, listen, this life isn't all about just enjoying what I want to enjoy. Seeing unbelievers come to Christ is more important. Notice how he punctuates this at the end of chapter 10. The last two verses of 1 Corinthians 10: "Give no offense [don't be a stumbling block] to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God." He breaks mankind down into three categories. He says don't cause your Christian brothers to sin and don't be a stumbling block in the way of lost Jewish people or lost Gentiles. Instead, verse 33: "Just as I also please all men in all things not seeking my own profit but the profit of the many, so that they may be saved."

Listen, I hate to tell you this. But the unbelievers around you—the unbelievers in your life at work and other places—your neighbors—they have very definite thoughts about what Christians should or should not do. And sometimes their expectations are more rigorous than God's. Paul willingly gave up some of his liberty to make sure that his life didn't get in the way of the gospel. Don't let your Christian liberty be all about you and what you want rather then the gospel. Listen, it causes me to sin. Christian liberty causes me to sin when it's all about me rather than my Christian brothers; when it's all about me rather than unbelievers, and thirdly when it's all about me rather than God's glory. Look at verse 31 of chapter 10: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." We almost always quote this verse out of its context, and that's okay because it's a wonderful verse. But in it's context Paul is telling us that we should never choose to exercise our Christian liberty or not to exercise it without first asking ourselves what will bring God the greatest glory. Just like everything else in the life of a Christian, it's not about you. It's about God. Christian maturity is having the freedom not to exercise your freedom but for the right reasons. Do you really choose, in these issues of conscience, do you really choose based on what will bring God the greatest glory? Every moral decision you will ever face is either clearly commanded or clearly forbidden in Scripture, or it is an issue of Christian conscience—Christian liberty. And just because it falls in that third category doesn't mean you should do it. You and I have to make our decisions following the principles Paul has laid down in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10. We must never allow our Christian liberty to cause disunity and division. We must never allow our Christian liberty to cause others to sin. And we must never allow our Christian liberty to cause us to sin by violating our consciences, by using our liberty as an excuse for what's clearly sinful, or by allowing Christian liberty to become all about us rather than the Christians around us, rather than the unbelievers around us, rather than God Himself. First Corinthians 10:31: "Whether, then, you eat or drink…" or you fill in the blank. Whatever decision you have to make, do all to the glory of God.

Let's pray together. Our Father, we thank You for the clarity of Your Word—for how it speaks to the issues of our lives so directly, so profoundly, so insightfully. And Father, I pray that You would help us as Christians to rejoice in the liberty we have. That Your Word is all sufficient and everything important for life and Godliness is prescribed there, either commanded or forbidden. And everything else falls within our liberty. We thank You, O God, for the liberty we enjoy. But Father, help us to use it responsibly even as Paul has admonished us. Lord, may we embrace, as believers, these three great principles—that we must never allow our Christian liberty to be a source of disunity and division with other believers. That we must never allow it to cause others to sin—that our choices must never lead another Christian to violate his or her conscience. And O, Father, help us to see that we must never allow our Christian liberty to cause us to sin. Father, make us wise. Help us to choose in all of these areas with an eye solely to Your glory. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.