November 6, 2011

The Freedom of a Christian - Nov 6, 2011

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Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We start most of our sermons with those words, “Grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”. Ever wonder why? Is it something they teach pastors in school, that every sermon has to start with those words? Those words are from the Bible of course, but, just where are they found?

This week I searched for the words “Grace and peace” and what I found surprised me. Those words occur at the start of almost EVERY letter found in the New Testament. Paul used those words to greet EVERY SINGLE group of Christians that he wrote to. Peter used those words to start both of his letters. So did John and Jude.

Grace and peace be to you.

Pastors often use these words to start their sermons because the congregations that we’re speaking too are groups of Christians. Christ followers. People who have come to believe that in Jesus, we have the gift of forgiveness.

Before Jesus came into our lives, the mass of our sins hung above our heads like a black, guilty, writhing weight. And WITH those sins, God’s just anger and punishment hung also, tenuously suspended, waiting to come crashing down on us.

But then came the sweet sound of Christ’s Gospel. And we learned that the punishment for our sins (past, present and future) fell on Jesus, instead of us. He suffered for the sins of our lives. And because He did, we are no longer under the threat of being punished eternally for those sins.

Paul expressed this amazing thought in Romans 6, verse 13. He wrote…
“…sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14 NIV).
In Hebrews it says…
“27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:27 NIV).
This is why Paul started his letters with “Grace and peace be to you”; he wanted to remind his fellow Christians right off the bat that we are not people SEEKING to have a relationship with God. We are not people WORKING on having our sins forgiven. Through the Message of sins forgiven through Jesus Christ, God has taken our sins away, and made us a people who rest under the mighty wing of His forgiving grace.

In one of his early pamphlets, church reformer Martin Luther wrote...
“A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.”
He was talking about the freedom from sin, guilt and punishment that we have in Christ Jesus. But Martin followed his statement another which at first seems contradictory. He wrote…
“A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.”
This is what Paul is going to talk about in our letter reading for today. In Christ we are FREE FROM SIN AND PUNISHMENT, but we are NOT FREE to impose our own extra-biblical judgments on our fellow Christians.

In Christ we are FREE FROM SIN, but we are NOT FREE to live thoughtless and reckless lives which lead other Christians away from Christ.

Romans 14:1-13 (NIV)

1 Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. 2 One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. 4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
5 One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. 6 Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. 7 For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. 8 If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9 For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.
10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:
“ ‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
every tongue will acknowledge God.’ ”
12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.
13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.

In this section Paul is talking about “Christian Liberty”. Now, when people talk about “Christian Liberty” they’re usually not talking about the greatest liberty that we have in Christ, the freedom from sin’s eternal punishment. Usually, when people talk about “Christian Liberty” they’re talking about the fact that when the Bible doesn’t tack something down as right or wrong, Christians have the liberty to do what they judge is best.

Sometimes we call these areas, “adiaphora”. Adiaphora is just a Greek word that means, “something neither commanded nor forbidden”.

It’s important to realize that, in this section of Romans, Paul is talking about things neither commanded nor forbidden by God. If God’s word says something is right or wrong, that settles the matter. You can’t do something that is clearly forbidden in the Bible and claim, “That’s okay because I’m doing it for God’s glory”. You can’t do something God forbids, to His glory.

The whole topic of adiaphora is a bit of a tricky subject because it defies our desire to tack everything down as right or wrong. I don’t know how many times I’ve had someone come to me as a pastor, wanting me to tell them what is right or wrong in an area that God simply doesn’t tack down as right or wrong.

In situations like that I can give my opinion as an individual Christian, but I NEVER want to give my opinion as if it is WHAT GOD COMMANDS. That would be wrong. In Jeremiah 23:31 God says…
“…I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, ‘The LORD declares.’” (Jeremiah 23:31 NIV).
That’s not a position I want to find myself in.

Adiaphora questions are also sticky because sometimes Christians come to completely different conclusions on the basis of Scripture. That’s sounds like a bad statement, I know. But I’m not saying Scripture contradicts itself. Not at all. Let me explain how Christians come to different conclusions.

We’ll take a relatively harmless topic, dress code for worship.

One Christian thinks, when I come to worship at church, I’m approaching my ALMIGHTY and POWERFUL Creator. THEREFORE, I’m going to dress up. Suit and tie, skirt and blouse, whatever is dressy.

Another Christian thinks, when I come to worship at church, God’s interested in SPEAKING TO MY HEART. THEREFORE, it doesn’t much matter what I wear. On my heart I’m wearing Jesus.

Did you see what happened? Both Christians started with Scriptural truths. Then they both made a logical jump and landed on two different opinions about dress code for worship.

Remember that sequence: Scriptural foundation, logical jump, individual Christian opinion.

So far, so good. Where the problem comes in, is when the dressed-up Christian judges the plain-clothes Christian as “not very respectful of God”. And when the plain-clothes Christian judges the dressed-up Christian as being “shallow and all about outward appearances”.

When this happens, a perfectly good opinion becomes a tool of the Devil to cultivate bad feelings, useless arguments and endless distractions from what is of greater importance – those things which God’s Word speaks DIRECTLY about.

In our reading, Paul brings up two examples of adiaphora situations that may have come up in first century Rome. In his first example, one Christian feels free to eat anything. Another feels he should only eat vegetables.

In the second, one Christian feels that certain days are more spiritually significant than others. Another feels every day is of equal significance.

I’m not going to go into great detail about these examples. It’s enough to note that these issues were somehow spiritually significant to the Christians of Paul’s day.

Perhaps the vegetarian Christian was uneasy about eating meat that came from animal sacrifices made in the pagan temples of Rome. Perhaps the Christian who felt some days were more important was a Jewish Christian who had grown up observing the Sabbath day on every Saturday.

Whatever the case, these were issues of adiaphora. God didn’t command or forbid them. They were issues that each Christian had to take and judge for themselves. And then, Paul says, they should take care not to raise their judgment to the level of “thus says the Lord”.

Maybe you don’t think YOU do this. But it’s easy to do. The apostle Peter grew up never eating things that God’s Old Testament designated as ‘unclean’. But after Christ came, God gave Peter a vision of a bunch of ‘unclean’ animals being lowered down to earth in a sheet. A voice from heaven said to Peter, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat” (Acts 10:13 NIV). Peter replied,
“14 ‘Surely not, Lord!’… …‘I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.’
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’” (Acts 10:14-15 NIV).
We too find it hard to let our own logical conclusions be what they are, OUR OWN logical conclusions. We want others to have our same view. But God insists, If I didn’t say it, let it remain in the area of Christian liberty.

There’s a opposite side to this whole matter of judging things that is equally important. And that’s doing whatever you want to in the areas of Christian liberty, without considering how it will affect others. Paul says that’s not right either. We dare not use our freedom in Christ to live reckless lives that damage the faith of our fellow Christians.

1 Peter 2, verse 16 says…
“16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16 NIV).
And in Romans 14, verse 15 it says…
“15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15 NIV).
This is why Luther wrote…
“A Christian is a free lord, subject to none.”
But then added…
“A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant, subject to all.”

In 2 Corinthians 5, verse 15 it says…
“…he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NIV).
Therefore, this is the proper attitude of a Christ follower when it comes to matters neither commanded nor forbidden: No matter what I do, I have forgiveness through my gracious, all giving Savior, Jesus Christ. NOW, what action will best bring Him praise? What action will help other Christians to be strengthened in faith, AND encouraged to live their lives to God’s glory?

Now, there’s one more thing to throw into this whole discussion. In Romans 14, verse 16 Paul says…
“16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil” (Romans 14:16 NIV).
Some people think that whenever a fellow Christian thinks something isn’t good, we should just stop, not matter whether they’re right or not. This is the “be-a-carpet-for-other-people-to-walk-on” approach to adiaphora. But this isn’t right either. Sometimes we need to stand up and say, “Hey, this is perfectly alright. You can’t demand people do what you do. Inventing laws that God doesn’t is just plain legalism.”

There’s an old story about a two pastor friends who weren’t part of the same fellowship, but would get together to talk about things from time to time. One insisted that any and all smoking was forbidden by God. The other knew this wasn’t something God says in the Bible, so whenever his friend would come over to talk, he’d dust off his old pipe and have a smoke. He called it his “confessional pipe”.

Sometimes we need to do just that, take a stand against piling up human laws alongside God’s, as if our ideas are just as important as God’s.

So, is that all clear? Nope? Well, that’s because it’s not going to always be cut and dried when it comes to adiaphora.

But what is clear is what Paul says to his fellow Christians here in Romans. We live to the Lord, and we die to the Lord. He is our hope and salvation. He is able to make us stand cleansed on Judgment Day. The mistakes we make in the area of adiaphora do not erase His precious sacrifice. And that is comfort indeed.

So, here’s what I take away from Paul’s words in Romans 14. Don’t be judgmental of your fellow Christians when it comes to matters God hasn’t tacked down. Don’t be reckless when it comes to how you use your Christian liberty. Make your decisions with Christ in mind. Be fully convinced in your own mind, and know that on that Last Day when you stand before your true Judge, He and He alone will make you stand, a forgiven child of God, through the sacrifice He made in your place.

Let’s pray. Father in heaven, thank you for sending Christ to give us freedom from sin’s guilt and punishment. When it comes to our decisions in life, the ones that fall in the area of Christian liberty, help us to properly consider our fellow Christians so that we never lead others to sin, or most tragically, to fall away from the faith. Forgive our sins in the area of Christian liberty, whether those be sins of a judgmental attitude, or sins of a reckless one. And lead us to walk a better life, one that truly gives glory to our great Savior, and one that builds up the Christ followers around us.


Again, grace and peace be to you from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

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