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Navigating Christian Liberty - Part 1

Tom Pennington • Romans 14:1-15:13

  • 2020-10-04 AM
  • Romans
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Well, it's my joy this morning to ask you to take your Bibles and turn back with me again to the book of Romans as we continue our journey through Paul's magnificent letter, perhaps the greatest of his letters in the New Testament, Romans. And we begin today the final great section of the body of this letter, beginning in chapter 14, verse 1.

It's hard to believe, but we are actually coming to the end of our study of the book of Romans. I know you don't believe that; but I think as I look at it and sort of lay it out, we are just months away from being done with this book. And, you know, I hate to see it go; it's like saying goodbye to an old friend. But there are some things yet for us to learn and study here in the coming weeks and months.

Romans, chapter 14. In every age, Christians have to make decisions about issues that the Bible either doesn't mention at all or issues that, if it does mention, it is not entirely definitive regarding how we are to carry out the details of that issue. There are many such moral choices before us and many such moral choices on which Christians find themselves in disagreement. In fact, let me just give you a few examples from our own church family. As I have interacted with people in our church over these seventeen years, I have discovered that there are number of issues on which we, even as a church family, disagree, just some examples.

First of all, the drinking of alcoholic beverages. Some believe there are no limits to the kinds of beverages a Christian can drink; others are teetotalers, and there are many positions that people here hold that are between those two positions.

The style of worship music. On one end of the spectrum are those who are comfortable with really any style of meat music being used in worship. And there other Christians who, if they were really given their choice, if they could decide what music we sing here in our corporate worship, they would opt to sing either Psalms only or perhaps even Psalms without musical instruments.

Another example of the moral choices that divide Christians is the education of our children. Some parents attended public schools and see no reason that their children shouldn't do the same. Other parents are committed to private or to Christian schools, and still others will only homeschool their children and perhaps even see it as the right and biblical way.

We often disagree on parenting philosophies. Some parents, and this is not a good idea, but some parents turn their kids essentially over to the church to train spiritually. On the other end of the spectrum are those who have embraced a patriarchal system in which the family is rarely separated, and even adult daughters are required to live at home and submit to their parents.

We differ on our entertainment choices. When it comes to television, some Christians have TV on in their homes like a constant white noise machine. Others don't even have a TV. Some are open to whatever they will go to see in the theater, while there are some Christians who won't even step foot in a movie theater. On the issue of music, there are almost as many distinct views as there are people here this morning.

When it comes to the selection of a spouse, the possible options that confront us today, range from the traditional dating option to the courtship model to online dating services.

When it comes to clothing choices, Christian women and Christian parents agree that there must be modesty, but there are clearly different standards of what constitutes modest.

When it comes to our speech, many Christians are comfortable using slang words, substitute words, even forms of speech that others would see as vulgar or perhaps even sinful. And, if I can stop preaching for a moment and really go to meddling, a couple of current examples would be the right response to COVID, including the use of masks, and eventually vaccines when the vaccine becomes available.

And another is the ubiquitous issue of politics at every level and on every issue. Those are only a few examples of the matters on which Christians disagree, but of course there are many, many others.

Now, what I want you to notice is that if you think about that list for a moment, in all of those examples, there are moral and biblical aspects that are a part of all of those issues. It's not that the Bible doesn't have anything to say about any aspect of those things, of course it does. But here's where it becomes confusing for many people, they assume if there's any element of the decision on which the Bible touches, therefore it's clear-cut black-and-white, when in truth there is, as we will see, a large category of those things on which the Bible doesn't speak, so there is black and there is white and there is gray. I tried to dress in honor of that this morning! No, actually it was an accident, but it works.

Now, when we talk about these issues, understand that the two most common names for such issues are "Christian Liberty," that expression you'll hear often; and the other is "Issues of Conscience," and that's because conscience plays an important role in these decisions as we will learn. But the big point I want you to get this morning is that God has not left us in the dark about how to make these decisions. He has provided us with two resources to guide as we make decisions about such matters.

First of all, there is your own conscience; and secondly, there is His eternal Word, your own conscience and His eternal Word. You see, although God has not specifically and clearly told you what decisions to make about these issues, He has told you how to make these decisions, and He has given us the criteria, the grid if you will, through which you are to make such decisions in two New Testament passages. If you are struggling to decide what you should do in any of these areas or other similar areas, you need to study these two passages. The two passages are Romans 14, and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10; Romans 14, and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10.

Throughout this series, I will refer to these two passages like that, but I need to acknowledge upfront that that is really an oversimplification; because technically, the passages we're talking about are Romans 14:1 through Romans 15:13, and 1 Corinthians 8:1 through 11:1. But if you just remember Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10, you'll be able to find your way and you'll get the big idea.

Now, as I noted, in addition to Christian liberty, these are often called issues of conscience. However, Romans 14 doesn't use the word conscience even once. But in 1 Corinthians 8 to 10, Paul deals with exactly the same issues, and there he does relate them to conscience. In fact, turn over to 1 Corinthians, chapter 8; 1 Corinthians, chapter 8, and notice verse 7.

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; (Notice this.) and their conscience being weak is defiled. (Verse 10.) For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? (Verse 12,) by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

(Go over to chapter 10, verse 25.) Eat anything that is sold in the market without asking questions for conscience' sake. (And then look at verses 27 to 29.) 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. 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 (do) …not…mean your own conscience, (with the) other man's; for why is my freedom judged by another's conscience?

So clearly then, both passages deal with this issue of Christian liberty, or as Paul calls it here in 1 Corinthians, issues of conscience.

Now, over the next several weeks, we're going to work our way through Romans 14; but at the same time, we're going to consider a lot of 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 as well. Today however, my goal is not to begin working verse by verse through Romans 14, which Lord willing, we'll begin next Sunday; today, my goal is to lay down a critical foundation for the study of Romans 14. There are several key questions that we need to answer before we can legitimately make decisions about issues of conscience. And so let's consider these questions together, and again, we're just really introducing this issue; and next Sunday, we'll begin to work our way through Romans 14.

Now, the first and most obvious question is this, "What is conscience, what is conscience?" The Greek word that is translated 'conscience' here in our English Bibles, the Greek word literally means, 'to know together with.' It's used in two ways in the New Testament. First of all, it's used of a simple awareness or knowledge of what is right and wrong. Most commonly, however, it is used, secondly, of a faculty of the soul. That faculty of the soul, and this is how we often use the English word, that faculty of the soul that helps us distinguish what is right and wrong. In English, we call it the conscience. God has placed, within every person, a witness that shouts to us about the nature and character of God and His law; it is the conscience.

Now, let me give you a couple of definitions of conscience used in this way. Webster's defines conscience as 'the sense or consciousness of right and wrong,' that's sort of that first New Testament use. But here's how the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology defines conscience, and this is the second and primary use of the word conscience in the New Testament.

It is that faculty by which one distinguishes between the morally right and wrong, which urges one to do that which he recognizes to be right, and restrains him from doing that which he recognizes to be wrong, which passes judgment on his acts and executes that judgment within the soul.

So the conscience then, in the sense that it is used in these passages and in most of the New Testament, is a faculty of the human soul that is concerned about the moral decisions that we make; that's what the conscience is.

Now, let's move on to a second question and that is, "How does conscience work, how does conscience work?" The word 'conscience' in Greek, and by the way, the English word, it comes from a Latin word which is very similar to the Greek word, but the Greek word for 'conscience' in our text is made up of two Greek words. One of the words means, 'to know.' That's why even the English word 'science, knowledge.' The other word is 'with,' so literally, the conscience, that word, means 'with knowledge,' and that's how conscience works. It works with knowledge.

Paul makes this clear because in both passages in the New Testament, he uses synonyms for knowledge. Let me just point them out to you. Romans 14:14, "I know and am convinced…that nothing is unclean." 1 Corinthians 8:1, "…we all have knowledge." Verse 2, "If anyone supposes that he knows anything." Verse 4, "…we know that. . ." Verse 7, "…not all men have this knowledge. . ." Verse 10, "…you, who have knowledge. . ." And, verse 11, "…through your knowledge. . ." You see, you get the point immediately that conscience has to do with knowledge and the word itself means 'with knowledge.' So, the conscience then works on the basis of knowledge or what we know.

Now, listen carefully. That means that conscience is only as effective as its knowledge; your conscience judges your moral choices based on the knowledge that it has. Now, what is that knowledge? Let's go back to Romans, chapter 2. This takes us a long way back in our study of Paul's letter, but in Romans, chapter 2, Paul is addressing the Jewish people and he's showing them their need of the gospel, their need of justification by faith alone. And in laying that foundation, he reminds them that they have the written law, but don't do it. which doesn't make them any better than the Gentiles. Look at Romans, chapter 2, verse 13, "…it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified." And then he comes to the Gentiles, verse 14, "For when Gentiles who do not have the Law (That is, they don't have the written law, they didn't have God's Law given at Sinai, when they,) do instinctively the things of the Law." When pagans understand that they shouldn't lie to their friends, when they understand that they shouldn't commit adultery against their spouse, when they understand that they shouldn't give false witness on the stand in court, when they do those things instinctively, verse 14, "…these, not having the (written) Law, are a law to themselves." Where did that knowledge come from? Verse 15, "…they show the work of the Law (That is, the substance of the Law, the basic requirements of the Law.) written in their hearts." Where is it written in their hearts? "Their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus."

Now, do you see what's going on here? Paul is essentially saying this, he's saying, "Every human soul has the hardware of a conscience." You have a conscience; it's hardware, it's there in the human personality, and that hardware that is the conscience, comes preloaded with software. What is that software? It's the basic requirements of God's Law. So, the conscience is like a courtroom inside the soul. It contains the basic commands of God, the basic law of God, it carefully records every moral choice you make, and then it measures your every choice against your understanding of right and wrong. And then, your conscience pronounces you either guilty or innocent. If your conscience finds you guilty, what does it do? Well, it executes the sentence. What's the sentence? If your conscience finds you guilty, it begins to give you regret and remorse and profound feelings of guilt. That's your conscience, that hardware in your soul, preloaded with the substance of God's Law that says, "Guilty, guilty, guilty!" So, your soul then has this hardware and this preloaded software that contains the basic requirements of God's Law.

But, when you get a computer, it comes with preloaded software, but what happens over time? Well you begin to monkey with it, right? I mean, there's this app you want and there's this other software package and there's is other information; you download from the Internet it's. . . Pretty soon, you've cluttered up that computer, and sometimes some of the stuff you've loaded messes up the functioning of the computer, the hardware. Well, the same thing happens with our consciences. We add information to our consciences; and if that knowledge is God's truth, then that's great! But often, the knowledge that we add to our consciences is flawed or sometimes is it's just flat-out wrong.

Now, how does that happen? How does this bad information, this other, this sort of a random malware get into the hardware of our consciences? Well, every day that you live, you are bombarded with influences that are informing your conscience. For example, you grew up in a home and regardless of what kind of people your parents were, they were informing your conscience, they were shaping and directing your perception of what was right and wrong. By the way parents, be careful! You are now doing that with your children.

Our peers also train our consciences with their standards of what's right and wrong. That's why in 1 Corinthians 15:33, Paul says, "Bad company corrupts good morals." How does that happen? Well, your peers shape your conscience; they influence your conscience. Our teachers influence our moral perspectives. Kids, you sit in school rooms or if you sit in college classrooms and if you're not careful, that teacher, that professor, is informing your conscience with their trash software, and it's shaping and influencing your perspective of what is right and wrong.

Books, literature, websites, online sources, social media-wow! Is that a huge influence on people's consciences today? They all influence us with their ideas. The culture around us, what we watch, what we listen to, what we read, what we see, all of those things are shaping and influencing our consciences.

But perhaps our greatest problem is our own fallen and flawed thinking because what happens is we can hear our conscience go off, it can say, "Guilty!" And we can say, "I don't like that; I don't like the feeling of guilty, I want to be able to do this." And we begin, through our own flawed thinking, to retrain our conscience. We say, "Shut up! I don't believe that. I think I can do this. There are reasons this is legitimate. I can choose this and it's okay. After all, it's not hurting anybody, etc." And so over time, we can substitute the original computer code in our consciences with our own moral choices and values.

What I'm trying to say is this, You were born with hardware that is your conscience, and God preloaded that hardware with software that is the basic requirements of His Law. But over time, you and I allow our own minds and the influences of others to hack the software; and pretty soon, it's making flawed decisions on bad information. And as a result of hacking your conscience, you can have, on the one hand, an insensitive conscience; that is, your conscience can allow you to do things that are really wrong by God's standard and you feel perfectly legitimate about it; you feel fine with it.

That's why in 1 Timothy 4:2 Paul refers to false teachers, to those who have "seared their own conscience(s)." That is, they now can do what is clearly forbidden by God and feel perfectly comfortable with it. There are a lot of people who have seared their consciences; they have, through their own faulty thinking, through the influence of the world around them, they have convinced themselves, "It's okay! I used to feel guilty about this; I don't anymore because I have hacked my conscience."

In Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 19, Paul uses a similar expression. He says, speaking of unbelievers, particularly pagan unbelievers, he said, "…having become callous." Instead of searing the conscience, he says you can make your conscience, "callous, (and as a result they) have given themselves over to (sexual sin)." Listen, we live in a generation of people who have made their consciences callous so that they can be comfortable committing all kinds of sexual sin and say, "It's okay, everybody else does it. It doesn't hurt anybody."

Our culture constantly reinforces the moral perspective that lying is only wrong if it hurts somebody else. That means 'little white lies,' those are harmless; those are therefore morally acceptable. Listen, if you allow the culture and its knowledge of right and wrong to influence you, you can lie and not feel guilty about it. Or, to use another example. Your own sinful heart might convince your conscience to redefine stealing. You may regularly steal from your employer and not feel the pangs of conscience. Why? Because, day after day, you convince yourself you're not treated fairly. "You know, he or she doesn't pay me enough for the work I do, I'm not really valued around here. Well, if they're not going to value me, they're not going to pay me enough, Well, I'll just get it myself. I'll take his time, I'll take the stuff around the company, whatever it is. I'm entitled to it." You've retrained your conscience with a skewed view of morality based on flawed knowledge; you hacked your conscience. Various influences can cause your conscience to be insensitive and to do those things which God forbids and to feel perfectly comfortable with it.

On the other hand, you can have an oversensitive conscience. Here in Romans, chapter 14, as we'll see, it's called a weak conscience, a conscience that goes off and says, "Guilty," when God's Word doesn't say guilty. For example, let me just pick out something that's way out there, alright? This didn't happen to anybody here probably, I hope. But let's say, for example, you grew up in a home where you were taught that it was wrong to wear pink shirts and that's the knowledge that informed your conscience, that's the knowledge your conscience has. So, it's wrong to wear a pink shirt; you should never wear pink shirts; it's absolutely wrong before God to wear pink shirts. Now, what happens when you wear a pink shirt? You feel, "Guilty!" Why? Is it because there's anything biblically wrong with wearing a pink shirt? No! It's because that's the knowledge that your conscience has been informed with, been trained with. So, our consciences then are only as accurate as our understanding of God's truth; they're only as accurate as the knowledge with which we have trained them.

Here's how to think of conscience. Your conscience is like a warning light on the dashboard of your soul; that's what your conscience is. It simply responds based on how it's been programmed just like those warning lights on the dashboard of your car.

When I was in high school, my father went through this nostalgic period. And that meant when it came time to buy the family a second car, which we needed at the time, he decided to buy a baby blue, 1953 Plymouth. Now, as it turned out in God's providence to humble me, that was the car that took me to school every day of my freshman year of high school. I can tell you it was the essence of 'not cool.' Now, I've never been cool a day in my life, but it's one thing not to be cool; it's another thing to know you're not cool. The only advantage to that car was, if we had ever had an accident, we would have destroyed everything in our path because it was like a tank. But I was so relieved when, during the summer before my 10th grade, one of my sisters needed a car and she asked my dad if she could use the '53 Plymouth and he agreed. About six months later or so, my dad got a call from my sister that the car had died. Now, I was personally devastated, it took me weeks to get over it. But it didn't take a mechanic long to discover the problem. The car had been overheated, had thrown a rod, and completely destroyed the engine; and that was because there wasn't enough oil in the engine.

Now, when my dad investigated with my sister, he discovered that a little warning light on the dash had come on about a month before. You know, that little oil can on the dashboard; that had come on about a month before and my sister had seen it, but it was a light after all, and the car was still functioning, everything seemed to be okay, so it was something she would eventually get around to, life was busy, work was hard, and so someday she would bring it up and of course the results were disastrous.

Your conscience is like a warning light for your soul; and if you ignore it, you may very well damage your soul and you may ultimately destroy it. But it is a warning based solely on what has been preprogrammed to recognize. That's how the conscience works. That's why it's so important for you to be in God's Word every day to train your conscience with the Scripture, because there are sinful choices you made before Christ that you rarely even felt a twinge of conscience about; you were perfectly comfortable. You know, "I was sinking deep in sin," having a wonderful time. That's what happens. There are other ways in which your conscience was over trained so that you felt guilt for choices that don't violate the Scriptures. Our consciences are only as effective as their knowledge of God's Word and God's ways. So that's how it works.

So, we've considered a couple of key questions, what is conscience? Secondly, how does the conscience work? There's a third question that's important for us to answer as we work our way toward Romans 14, and that is, what is an issue of conscience, what is an issue of conscience? How do you decide if a decision or choice that you need to make is an issue of conscience or an issue of Christian liberty?

Well, in Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10, Paul gives us a clear answer. Paul provides us with clear criteria for deciding if a moral choice that we make is in fact an issue of conscience. Let me put it to you very directly, a moral decision is an issue of conscience if it meets two clear biblical tests. Number one, there is no clear biblical command, chapter and verse; and number two, there's no clear biblical prohibition, chapter and verse. Now, I put chapter and verse there because, again all of these issues have some connections somewhere to morality and something biblical and that's where a lot of people get confused. If it has some connection to the Bible, then its right and wrong, clear cut. No, it has to be clearly, directly stated, chapter and verse. So let me back up and put it to you this way, when it comes to the moral decisions that you're faced with, we're not talking about decisions like what color socks you wear; we're talking about moral decisions. When it comes to the moral decisions you have to make, there are only three categories.

Category number one is, "Thus saith the Lord, thou shalt," chapter and verse. Category number two is, "Thus saith the Lord, thou shalt not," chapter and verse. And, category number three is issues of conscience or Christian liberty. When it comes to moral choices, those are the three categories and that's it. Thus saith the Lord, "Thou shalt," chapter and verse; thus saith the Lord, "Thou shalt not," chapter and verse; or it's an issue of conscience. Those are the only three categories.

Now, you can see this here in Romans 14. Look at Romans 14 and let me show you several ways that Paul makes this clear that we're dealing with this third category. Romans 14, verse 1, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on (What?) his opinions," his opinions. Notice that word. Look at chapter 14, verse 14, "I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean."

So, he says there is neither clean nor unclean in itself. The two adjectives that he uses there in verse 14, have to do with something being ritually clean or unclean in the Old Testament law. So, Paul is talking about things that aren't inherently evil, like different kinds of food.

Go down to verse 22, "The faith which you have, have (Notice this.) as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself (Notice this.) in what he approves." So, we're talking here, in this section, about matters of personal convictions, your own conviction, and what you approve.

Turn over to 1 Corinthians, chapter 8, and you see this same principle. 1 Corinthians 8, verse 8, Paul says, "But food will not commend us to God." The Greek word for 'commend' literally means 'to present;' you can see the marginal reading in your Bible if you have a version with notes. "To commend" means 'to present.' Food, Paul says, doesn't present you or bring you nearer to God, and then he goes on in verse 8, to say, "…we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." Literally, he says, we are not lacking if we don't eat and we are not abounding if we do eat. In other words, an issue of conscience is something that intrinsically isn't going to give us a spiritual advantage by participating, nor will it be to our spiritual disadvantage if we don't. It's an issue that has no direct bearing on our relationship to God or our spiritual help intrinsically. There is some relationship, as we'll see, but intrinsically that thing does not have a bearing on our spiritual health. This is what defines our Christian liberty. That's why in verse 9, Paul calls it, "…this liberty of yours," and again, if you'll notice the marginal note, "it's this right of yours" in the Greek text, this right of yours.

But I think the clearest and most straightforward explanation of what constitutes an issue of conscience is found over in chapter 10, 1 Corinthians 10, verse 23, "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." Notice twice in the same verse, Paul says, "all things are lawful." Now clearly, he is not teaching that every moral choice is lawful. I mean, God's Law makes lot of choices off limits for you and for me. He's not saying that adultery is okay, he's not saying that lying is now okay, that dishonoring your parents, that taking God's name in vain, that those things are morally neutral. So, what is he saying when he says, "All things are lawful?" Paul is defining the boundaries of our Christian liberty. Christian liberty is defined by what God's Law permits or, to say it differently, if God's Word doesn't directly command it or forbid it, then it is lawful for you, it is an area of Christian liberty.

Here's the bottom line, and let me summarize it. If there's no clear biblical command to do it, then you have the liberty not to do it. If there's no clear biblical prohibition against it, then you have the liberty to do it. That's what we call Christian liberty; that's what Paul is going to be discussing in Romans 14.

Now, there are a couple of major implications of the foundations that we have laid this morning, and let me just point them out to you, a couple of major implications. Number one, enjoy your Christian liberty, enjoy your Christian liberty. Whatever choices we face that Scripture doesn't command or prohibit fall into the area of Christian liberty, and we are to enjoy that liberty and not allow ourselves to be bound by any standard but the Word of God.

Let me show you one of the most important verses in my life. Go back to 1 Corinthians, chapter 4; 1 Corinthians, chapter 4. When I was in college and then in seminary, I had a Professor who ended up teaching theology for fifty years and he taught me a number of courses in English and a number in Greek. He turned out eventually to be my father-in-law, Dr. Charles Smith. And in one of the classes in my undergrad days, he took us to this passage. It was before I really had learned Greek or it may be when I was just in the beginning stages of Greek, and he pointed something out here that I've never forgotten. In fact, part of verse 6, he had over his desk in his office in Greek. Let me point it out to you because this is crucial for you to understand. 1 Corinthians 4, verse 6, "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, so that in us you might learn." And then in the Greek text after the word 'learn,' there is a definite article like the English 'the.' And he pointed out that it's an unusual use of the Greek article. It is specifically a use of the article to introduce a common saying of the times. In fact, the NIV here actually gets this accurate when it says, "That you may learn in us the meaning of this saying." That's the idea. In other words, he's about to quote a saying from the early church. Here it is, 'May huper ha gegraphtai,', "not beyond what is been written." Listen, put that over the desk of your soul, "not beyond what has been written," not beyond what has been written, 'may huper ha gegraphtai.' The Scripture should form the foundation for what you believe and how you live and nothing else! Enjoy the liberty that you have been given. Let only the Word of God be your conscience.

Now, let me just say before I leave this point there is one important caveat. If you're this morning and you are a dependent, you are a child, living in your parents' home, or you're a youth who is still supported by your parents, then you need to submit to them, and you need to follow their conscience.

I remember telling my girls all the time when they were growing up, "Listen, here's what the Bible says and we're going to do this, and we're going to do that in this home, and you should do that in your home after you have left mine. But, there are issues of conscience and as long as you're in my home, eating my food, living under my roof, it's my conscience that rules, and you're going to do what my conscience says. Someday, you're going to leave my home. I hope you still will do what the Word of God says, but then you're going to have to make your own decisions about those issues of conscience. But, as long as I'm supporting you, we're going to follow my conscience because I'm not going to violate my conscience before the Lord." So, if you're a dependent, if you're in your parent's home, or you're supported by them; you're not out on your own completely, then your conscience needs to be their conscience as long as you live there. And then you will eventually have to make your own decisions about these issues of conscience. But, short of that, enjoy your Christian liberty, enjoy your Christian liberty.

Number two, educate your conscience. Your conscience, as we've seen, can be unintentionally either insensitive or oversensitive. In other words, your conscience is not foolproof; it can be wrong. So, you need to be careful when your conscience goes off and says, "Guilty!" Don't ignore it, don't take it lightly. Instead say, "Is it right? What does God's Word say?" And so when you feel that guilt, go to the Scripture and if you can't find a chapter and verse that says, "Thou shall not wear pink shirts," then wear pink shirts; it's okay! Retrain your conscience that it's okay because God says it's okay. If, on the other hand, your conscience is convicting you about something that Scripture clearly forbids or commands, then thank God that it is working properly and follow it. But you have to educate your conscience; you need to make sure your mind is saturated with the Word of God so that you are not excusing what God condemns or refusing what God allows.

Number three, follow the principles of Christian liberty, follow the principles of Christian liberty. Although we have the freedom or liberty to make these choices, listen carefully, Christian liberty is not without limits. In fact, the focus of Romans 14 is not on freely exercising your liberty. The focus of Romans 14 is on limiting your liberty because there are clear principles involved in exercising our liberty, and these principles are the major focus of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10. Now, as we begin to work our way through Romans 14, we'll see these principles. But, let me just give them to you as a preview.

Here are the principles that are to govern our exercise of our Christian liberty. Number one, never allow your Christian liberty to cause disunity. You know, it's so sad, but the Christian world today is fractured, not over issues that are clearly taught in Scripture, but over so many issues that aren't, over issues of conscience. And Paul says, "Don't you dare let your view of issues that aren't clearly addressed in Scripture be a point of disunity with you and other brothers and sisters in Christ.

Number two, never allow your Christian liberty to cause others to sin. We'll talk about how that happens, but you can exercise your Christian liberty in such a way that a weaker brother or sister in Christ follows your example and sins, sins against their own conscience. Paul says if that's going to happen, then don't do it even though you have the liberty to do it.

Number three, never allow your Christian liberty to cause you to sin. You see, there are times and ways you can use your Christian liberty and you'll end up sinning. How? By violating your own conscience; we're going to see that in Romans 14. By using your liberty as an excuse for sin; oh! have I seen this with immature believers! They want to exercise their Christian liberty, and in so doing, they run right over the edge into sin.

Another way you can cause yourself to sin under number three here, is by allowing your liberty to be all about you. So many people become self-consumed with their Christian liberty. "It's my right, it's my liberty, it's me, I'll do whatever I want." Paul says, "Oh no you won't." Don't let your liberty become all about you rather than your fellow Christians, we're going to see in Romans. Rather than unbelievers, in other words, you ought to think about unbelievers as you decide to exercise your Christian liberty and then make sure you're not making it all about you rather than God's glory. You see, one of the most famous verses that we often quote out of context comes in the context of Christian liberty, "Whether you eat or drink or don't eat or don't drink or whatever you do in terms of issues of conscience, do all to the glory of God!" (paraphrased) Make sure you follow the principles of Christian liberty.

Number four, don't ignore your conscience, don't ignore your conscience. Now, this is true of believers. Listen, please don't ignore your conscience. When it goes off, understand that it is a gift from God; it is a warning light on your soul. It's not perfect, it's flawed so don't believe everything it says, check it out with the Scripture, but thank God that it's functioning and respond and make sure that you're in step with the Scripture.

But let me talk to those who may be here this morning, maybe you're here this morning, and you are not a follower of Jesus Christ, and you know that. Please don't ignore your conscience. You see, your conscience, because God gave you that hardware, your conscience often condemns you of your sin, of your sinful choices against God; don't ignore it; that's God's warning to you. It's a reminder of danger that's coming, your need of a Savior. In fact, let me put it to you this way, when your conscience condemns you, that is like a faint echo of the coming judgment of God when it says, "Guilty!" It reminds you that someday if you don't repent and believe in God's Son, you will stand before your Creator and you won't hear your conscience saying guilty, you'll hear God saying, "Guilty!" It's to remind you that judgment is coming, don't ignore it, or it will lead to your disaster.

Perhaps you've heard the story that John MacArthur recounts in his book, The Vanishing Conscience. I remember it being in the news when I was younger. It was in 1984 that an Avianca Airlines jet crashed in Spain. Investigators went looking for the black box to see what was the cause of the crash. And, when they located the black box and they listened to the recording, they heard a tragic interchange on the cockpit voice recorder. Several minutes before the jet slammed into the mountain, in the cockpit, there was heard a shrill computer-generated voice crying out, "Pull up! Pull up! Pull up!" It was the plane's automatic warning system. But the pilot, and we still don't know for sure what motivated him, but apparently, he thought the system was malfunctioning. And so, on the recording in the cockpit, after you heard that computer generated voice saying, "Pull up!" you hear him saying, "Shut up gringo!" And he reached over and turned the system off. Minutes later, the plane crashed into the mountainside, killing everyone on board.

Listen, if you're not a Christian, don't ignore the constant voice of your conscience; it is your God-given soul's warning system. It's not a perfect system, but it's telling you that something is desperately wrong, that you are consistently doing what you believe to be wrong, and it's reminding you that if things don't change, if you don't pull up, you're headed to disaster. In Biblical terms, repent. You must be willing to turn from what you know to be sin and to put your faith in Jesus Christ.

You see, God sent His only Son into the world; His eternal Son became a human being, He became just like you are except for sin. And, He lived for thirty-three years and guess what, not one time did His conscience ever say, "Guilty!" We sang it this morning, "Not a hint or trace of sin." And, then after those thirty-three years, He died on the cross, satisfying the justice of God against the sin of every sinner who would ever believe in Him so that God could be just and still forgive sin. That's the only way you avoid the condemnation that your conscience (of which) is merely a faint echo of. It's coming, and the only way you avoid it is if you accept the gift, that is God's Son who lived and died and rose again for sinners that would believe in Him. Don't ignore your conscience, it's telling you, you need a Savior; and apart from a Savior, you're headed toward condemnation.

Let's pray together. Father, thank you for this wonderful truth that we've discussed today that we've considered. Thank you for the conscience that you've given us. Lord, it's such a wonderful gift. We thank you that you loved us so much that you didn't allow us to go over the edge without warning, to fly into the mountainside without the warning of our conscience, telling us that what we're doing is wrong, and that we deserve condemnation; and that if we don't pull up, if we don't repent, judgment is coming.

Father, thank you that for many of us here this morning, you brought us to repentance and to faith in your Son and in His work as our hope of being right with you, of calling you Father, of sins forgiven. And Lord, I pray for us that you would help us to appreciate our consciences and, Lord, even as we think about issues of conscience and in these matters of disagreement in the church, Lord, help us not to make decisions on our own, but to use the grid you've given us in your Word, Romans 14, and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10, as the grid through which we make decisions about all of these matters.

Lord, I pray for those who are here this morning who are not in Christ. Oh, God, help them to see that their conscience and its constant cry of "Guilty!" is a mere preview of the day they will stand before you and give an account if they don't repent and believe in your Son, and may today be the day that they do so. We pray in Jesus's name, Amen.

Romans