Liberty and Freedom - Not a Matter of Eating and Drinking

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, July 2, 2014 0 comments

by Logan Ames

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17).

How many churches have you been to in your life that make it seem like the kingdom of God is about something other than “righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit”? My guess is that your answer would be the same as the number of churches that you’ve been to in your life. I say that because we as humans tend to want to enforce our opinions, rules, and interpretations onto others. We hold others to a standard that is not God’s, but still attach God’s name to it. We believe in the Holy Spirit, but still seem to struggle with trusting him as it relates to the actions of others that we deem “questionable”.

The above verse is taken from a passage of the Bible that is often referred to as the “Christian Liberty” chapter. Romans 14 is a chapter that the Apostle Paul devotes entirely to teaching Christians how to handle the “gray areas” of their faith. As is often the case in churches today, the Christians in Rome evidently argued with one another over opposing theological beliefs and practices. Since Katie already talked about the difference between liberty and freedom in Monday’s post, I simply want to talk about the importance of them in the life of the believer and the church. Paul is talking about the kingdom of God in this chapter. In a separate letter to a different group of Christians, Paul says something very similar. He says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). This is within a section of the letter where Paul is talking about the veil that is covering the hearts of some of the Jewish converts because they are still choosing to adhere to the “old covenant” of the law. In other words, they’ve yet to experience the true freedom that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus because they are blinded by their religious zeal.

Freedom in Christ means that there is no other standard by which you must live. To have a relationship with Jesus, you must be born again (John 3:3). To experience a spiritual rebirth means that what used to burden you no longer does. What now matters is cultivating that relationship with Christ, encouraging and strengthening others to do the same, and seeking to live in such a way that pleases the Lord, who is your ONLY judge. Those are essentially the points that Paul makes as he talks about the liberty that is granted within that freedom in Romans 14.

I encourage you to read the chapter on your own because each verse is rich. I’ll share just what I think are some pertinent key points. Regarding cultivating one’s own relationship with Christ, Paul basically says that we each have liberty in determining how that is supposed to look in our lives. He specifically talks about the disagreement regarding what foods are allowed to be eaten and the different views concerning whether one day is to be viewed as more sacred than another. Those were the hot topics of that time. Today, it might be whether or not Christians should be allowed to have tattoos or piercings. It might be infant baptism versus believer’s (adult) baptism. It might be a theological debate over the role of women in the church, or a disagreement about what kind of music ought to be used for corporate worship. Many of us probably have strong opinions about some of these topics and may even want to state our case, but Paul says we should really only be worried about ourselves and whether our actions are done by faith. The reason is because “each of us will give an account of himself to God” (v. 12). When I stand before God, he’s not going to ask me why someone else believed and acted in the manor they did. I will only be given the right to talk about myself.

Regarding encouraging and strengthening others to cultivate their own personal relationship with Jesus, Paul tells us we should bear with one another’s differences and even accept those with whom we strongly disagree, recognizing that the same liberty that affords us the opportunity to choose our actions based on faith rather than a set of rules has been given to them as well. I love the way The Message translates verses 2-4: “For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them BOTH to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help” (caps mine). Wow! Are you willing to let go of what is only God’s to handle? In Christ, you MUST accept that all believers, whether “weak” or “strong” in your eyes, have been granted the same liberty you have. Paul later says, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (v. 19).

Finally, regarding seeking to live in such a way that pleases the Lord, Paul urges the believer several times (vv. 13, 15, 20, and 21) to make sure he is not causing someone else to stumble by what he chooses to believe or how he chooses to act. He also says that we need not be concerned about what others think because we’ve got much bigger problems if our actions are not based on our faith in God. Ultimately, God knows and is not deceived, whereas others can be deceived and we can even deceive ourselves. Paul declares that we better spend our time focusing on how we should be living rather than finding fault in the beliefs and actions of others. “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith, and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (vv. 22b-23). In other words, if you have to question whether or not something is okay for you to do, it’s probably not. If you’re doubting whether something is okay in God’s eyes and you choose to do it anyway, that’s sin. Liberty doesn’t cover that. God’s grace ultimately might, but liberty does not.

Liberty and freedom allow you to walk out your relationship with God without having to worry about how others are judging you because you’ve sought God and his will for you. Whether you are on the giving or the receiving end of criticism regarding beliefs or questionable actions within the body of believers, keep in mind who is the ONLY authority. If you always remember that, you will both save yourself from petty disagreements and continually strive to live out your faith for an audience of One.