Social Conduct that Flows from Having Grace in Our Christian Liberty
Romans 14 - 15:13

Christian liberty is an important, practical subject in the New Testament. The basic principle is this: the Christian has been set completely free from every kind of bondage to do the will of God. Those who were idol-worshiping Pagans have been set free from their bondage to Satan. Those who were Jews are no longer under law but under grace (Romans 6:14). As those who are under grace, we have been liberated from the requirements of the Law, and every other "yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1)An understanding of grace leads to liberty for the indwelling Spirit to act in our lives; "the perfect law of liberty" (James 1:25). When we are enjoying the liberty we have been brought into, our communion with God and our service for Him will be totally unhindered. 

Legality and License both tend to Bondage. As those who have been set free, we need to be aware that legality is a hindrance to the working of the Spirit of God in our lives (Rom. 7). Whether we were formerly a Jew come out from legal bondage, or a Gentile come out from other forms of bondage (Gal. 4:8-11), we are not to be entangled with legal bondage. The Law is not our rule of life. We are to "walk in the Spirit" (Gal. 5:16) and so fulfill "the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). We have liberty to practice those things that that were prohibited by the ceremonial parts of the Law, but that doesn’t mean God's moral standard has changed one bit. We must understand that license can be just as detrimental to liberty as legality. "What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid." (Rom. 6:15). Moral sins in the Old Testament are still sins today. Confusing liberty with license leads a person into bondage; not bondage to the Law, but bondage to the flesh. We must understand that we have been"bought with a price" and our bodies are "the Lord's" (1 Cor. 6:13, 20). Therefore, total liberty for the Christian can only be enjoyed by total submission to the Lordship of Christ. A nice example of this is a kite. To fly a kite, you throw the kite up in the air on a windy day. You might think "ultimate liberty" for the kite would require you to cut the string. But if you cut the string, the kite will fall straight to the ground. It is when the string remains firmly attached, anchoring the kite, that it can achieve its full liberty and soar high in the sky. In a similar way, the Christian can enjoy true liberty, not by casting off all restraint, but by offering himself as a living sacrifice; which is our reasonable service.

Christian Liberty is Regulated by Love. The Christian enjoys full liberty from every kind of bondage, but there is a danger to be selfish in the practice of that liberty. We must consider our responsibility toward our fellow believers. Christian liberty has to do with taking off the "chains of thought" that once bound us. We may have been liberated from those beliefs and superstitions, but our brethren may not be on the same page. A person's conscience is calibrated by what they know or believe to be true. If a person believes that working on the Sabbath is sin in God's sight, then it goes against their conscience to work on Sabbath. If a person believes that eating food that was sacrificed to idols is wrong, then it goes against their conscience to do it. It can be very difficult for them to see others do what they think is wrong, and to reconcile it in their mind. In Rom. 14:10 the "weak brother" is warned against condemning his brother who has liberty in these things, and the "strong brother" is warned against belittling his weaker brother for his superstition. It can be a real privileged to help our weaker brother come into his full Christian liberty; but is cannot be done roughly by scorning them or forcing them against their conscience. We must consider that our brethren coming out of a legal background may have extra-biblical convictions, and it would be harmful to them if we flaunt our liberty before them. We must consider that our brethren coming out of a Pagan background may be struggling with superstitious notions about things, and it could be harmful if we flaunt our liberty before them. This great subject of the regulation of Christian liberty is taken up in Rom. 14:1 - 15:7 and in 1 Cor. 8, 10.
  • In Romans the awareness is with regard to extra-biblical convictions imported from Judaism.
  • In 1 Corinthians the awareness is with regard to superstition imported from Paganism.
Application. While this section particularly centers around the trauma of Jewish converts coming into Christian liberty, we can apply the principles of this chapter to all believers, not just converted Jews.


Carefulness not to Offend Ones that have More Strict Convictions (14:1-5)

 Now him that is weak in the faith receive, not to the determining of questions of reasoning. v.1 The exhortation. The specific context of this phrase "him that is weak in the faith" is with regard to Jewish converts who had not yet seen their way clear of the ceremonial requirements of the Law. The importance of keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher foods, etc. was deeply ingrained in their minds, and while they had received the Gospel, their understanding of "the [Christian] faith" was not yet strong enough to abandon those things with a clear conscience. They are referred to in Acts 20:21 as they "which believe; and they are all zealous of the law". By contrast, the "strong in the faith" (Rom. 15:1; Heb. 5:12-14) are those who have laid hold of the death and resurrection of Christ, seen an end to self, gotten liberty from the elements of worldly religion, and walk in the Spirit (Col. 2:20 - 3:4, Gal. 5). Rather than ride rough-shod over the consciences of weak brethren, the exhortation is to receive or welcome these believers warmly. He adds "not to the determining of questions of reasoning" as a qualifier. We are not to drag new converts into arguments about controversial topics. Especially, we are not to welcome them into our company for the sake of discussing disagreements. They need to be established in the positive truth of Christianity first, then those legal customs will drop off in time. We can count on God to give spiritual growth in these matters.

False interpretation. It is a serious error to interpret the "weak in the faith" as those who are loose, or entertain evil. The word of God never encourages us to look upon sin lightly. Not only that, the weak in the faith are those who are actually more strict than they need to be, or ought to be.

Questions that were a source of contention in the early Church:
  • Questions as to meats (v.2)
  • Questions as to days (v.5)
  • Questions as to circumcision (Acts 15)
  • Questions as to "things offered to idols" (1 Cor. 8 & 10)
2 One man is assured that he may eat all things; but the weak eats herbs. 3 Let not him that eats make little of him that eats not; and let not him that eats not judge him that eats: for God has received him. vv.2-3 The Question of Meats (Dietary Restrictions). Here we have two believers; one (a Gentile convert) that has understood Christian liberty, and feels free to eat any kind of food. The other (a Jewish convert) has come out of an ultra-conservative religious sect that only allows a vegetarian diet. There is an exhortation for both sides:
  • The Gentile convert has a more scriptural view, and might be inclined to regard the other's conviction as obstinate stupidity. He is exhorted not to belittle the weaker brother, and not to force his against his conscience.
  • The Jewish convert is not to condemn the other for his liberty. The word "judge" ['krino'] here means to 'pass-sentence' or 'condemn'. Our brother, even if he doesn’t share our convictions, has been "received by God", because all believers have their standing "in Christ".
Specifically, the exhortation to "not judge" applies to us when we have an extra-biblical conviction that someone else doesn’t share. It is very easy to look down on others who don't see it our way, and even form parties around these issues. In the context, these are extra-biblical convictions, but a wrong spirit can even creep in when the convictions are biblical.

4 Who art *thou* that judgest the servant of another? to his own master he stands or falls. And he shall be made to stand; for the Lord is able to make him stand. v.4 Furthermore, no believer has the right to condemn another, regardless of how they stack up against others in their own eyes. Each one of us as a servant of the Lord answers to Christ, and to Him alone. We will receive approval (stand) or receive disapproval (fall) ultimately from our own Master. The legal brother is warned that the Lord will approve of the liberated brother's actions, even though it may seem impossible when measuring the other brother by his own legal convictions. The Lord will make him to stand at the judgment seat of Christ (vv.11-12); and nothing is said of the legal brother standing then!

5 One man esteems day more than day; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully persuaded in his own mind. v.5 The Question of Holy days. Under the law there were Sabbaths, special Sabbaths, and feast days that needed to be observed. There were even other days that were celebrated for extra-biblical reasons, because of traditions developed by the Jews. Those coming out of Judaism had various personal convictions about the holy days. The exhortation here is to keep those convictions personal; don’t try to force them on others. We are to be "fully persuaded" that we have the values God wants us to have. We are not to carry on with practices based on convictions we aren't even convicted about! That is a recipe for disaster. Now, to be clear, a Christian with no convictions is not a commendable one. The New Testament is full of exhortations that we ought to be convicted about, if we have ears to hear. To summarize what v.5 says about our personal convictions: (1) keep them personal, and (2) make sure you really are convicted about them.

A frequent misconception is about this verse is that it teaches that there is no special "day" for Christians. This is totally contrary to the biblical importance of "the Lord's Day" mentioned in Rev. 1:10, and marked out specially in the New Testament as "the first day of the week" (John 20:19, 20; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2) on which our Lord rose from the dead. It is loose to dishonor the Lord's Day and treat it as Tuesday or Wednesday; but it is legal to turn it into a Sabbath for Christians, which is an intermingling of Judaism.


Remember: We Stand Individually Responsible to Christ the Lord (14:6-12)

6 He that regards the day, regards it to the Lord. And he that eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he that does not eat, it is to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. v.6 How do we keep our convictions personal? Have the Lord only before us! Everything we do or don't do should be out of a desire to please the Lord. 

7 For none of us lives to himself, and none dies to himself. v.7 The modern concept of self-centered individualism is deeply unscriptural. "This is my life, and I'm going to live it my way". Not in Christianity; we are not our own (1 Cor. 6:19), and we cannot live as if we were our own master.

8 For both if we should live, it is to the Lord we live; and if we should die, it is to the Lord we die: both if we should live then, and if we should die, we are the Lord’s. v.8 Who is our Master? … the Lord. In life and in death we belong to Him. This is the what it means to walk under the Lordship of Christ. In our lives, Christ is either lord of all, or He isn't lord at all. There are to be no corners of our hearts that we reserve to self. All belongs to Him, and must be yielded to His will.

9 For to this end Christ has died and lived again, that he might rule over both dead and living. v.9 The entire doctrine of Christianity rests on the resurrection of Christ. In fact, this verse shows that one of the reasons Christ died and rose was to establish His place as Universal Lord. When He rose from the dead, Christ became the Lord of the universe (Acts 2:36), of both the dead and the living. If He has been made Lord of all, shouldn't we make Him Lord of our life, and allow Him to hold sway as we form our convictions in the practical things of life?

10a But thou, why judgest thou thy brother? or again, thou, why dost thou make little of thy brother? v.10a The two questions in this verse are addressed to two different persons.
  • The weak brother is warned against judging (condemning) the stronger (liberated) brother for his actions, wrongly counting the other's liberty as license, and be tempted to go against their own conscience in other areas.
  • The strong brother is warned against belittling the weaker brother because he can see that the other's convictions are unscriptural and unnecessary.
The only reason we are either condemning or belittling others is that we have forgotten that we are responsible to Christ alone, and that He is Lord and Judge of all.

10b for we shall all be placed before the judgment-seat of God. 11 For it is written, "*I* live, saith the Lord, that to me shall bow every knee, and every tongue shall confess to God." [Isa. 45:23] 12 So then each of us shall give an account concerning himself to God. vv.10b-12 There is a coming day of review, when our careers as servants of Christ will be evaluated by an impartial and perfect Judge. If we are to be judged then, what absurdity if we judge another now! Emphasis is on the universality of the judgment; "we all", "every knee", "every tongue", and "each of us". Each of us will be judged, and therefore none of us are qualified to be the judge of our brethren.


Remember: It is Possible to Stumble and Harm our Brother (14:13-23)

13 Let us no longer therefore judge one another; but judge ye this rather, not to put a stumbling-block or a fall-trap before his brother. v.13 Rather than being careful to judge our brethren, we ought to be careful to judge ourselves in this matter: could my actions cause my brother to stumble or fall? The exhortation applies equally to the strong as well as the weak, but especially now connected with the strong. A "stumbling block" is more of an accidental offence; but a "fall-trap" is something done on purpose.

14 I know, and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself; except to him who reckons anything to be unclean, to that man it is unclean. v.14 We must understand that to us it might be nothing, but to a weak brother it is sin. Paul himself, as religious as he had been in Judaism (Gal. 1:14), was clear before the Lord that there is nothing morally unclean about the ceremonial restrictions on meats, etc. that were forbidden in the Jewish systemWhat made those things unclean was that God had forbidden them, and the godly Israelite had a conscience before the Lord! The Christian is not under law, and so those requirements are no longer in effect. The enlightened believer will NOT have a bad conscience about working on the Sabbath, etc. because his conscience had been "updated" with the latest revelation from God. But to one who is not enlightened, abstinence from prohibited days and meats is a matter of obedience to God. Thus he WILL have a bad conscience, and it is sin to him if he partakes of what was once unclean.

Important note. To be clear, we are not talking about things that are morally unclean, but things that are ceremonially unclean. Liberals have the idea that something is only wrong if it is wrong to me. In short, that is every man doing what is right in his own eyes. God's moral ways never change. Fornication is wrong. Homosexuality is wrong. Murder is wrong. In 2 John 9-10 we find that any denial of fundamental truth precludes reception among believers. But "meat and drink" are non-vital things. Though working on the Sabbath was wrong for a Jew under the Law, it ceases to be wrong when he converts to Christianity.

15 For if on account of meat thy brother is grieved, thou walkest no longer according to love. Destroy not him with thy meat for whom Christ has died. v.15 We must not carelessly injure one of Christ's redeemed ones. There are two ways the strong could unintentionally hurt or grieve the weak, if we flaunt our liberty in the face of one to whom such actions run against their conscience:
  • Their conscience could be weakened by seeing another believer living at odds with it.
  • Their conscience could be wounded because they think we are walking in sin carelessly. It could discourage them.
To have a knowledge of the Christian faith is good, but to have love for our brother is better. The word "destroy" here seems quite strong, but we must remember that scripture characterizes an action by its tendency. Flaunting our liberty before a weak brother has the tendency to destroy his communion with the Lord, and get him off the path. "For whom Christ has died" is the apostle's way of bringing before us the value that Christ places on each of His own. He died for that brother. Let us be careful to always act toward him in love.

16 Let not then your good be evil spoken of; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he that in this serves the Christ is acceptable to God and approved of men. vv.16-18 Sometimes being a good testimony requires going along with the convictions of others. God does not want our doing what is right (walking in liberty) to cause offense with weaker Christians, and thus bring dishonor on the name of Christ. The kingdom of God cannot be lowered to the technicalities of eating or not eating, but in the moral principles that answer to God's character.
  • Righteousness or, consistency of character. It is the first principle given, because God would not have Christians sacrifice doing right in order to make peace; i.e. we must maintain a good conscience before God.
  • Peace. Having a good conscience, we are then to make sure that our conduct, whether eating or not eating, has the tendency to make peace, and not strife.
  • Joy. Finally, we are to be occupied with Christ which will produce joy in our hearts. This is the normal and happy occupation of the believer; but we can't really walk in communion if we are using our liberty for license (not righteousness) or flaunting our liberty before a week brother (not peace).
These three moral principles are all "in the Holy Ghost" because they will be fulfilled in us when we walk after the Spirit. Walking thus is the only real way to not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. If we walk in the Spirit we will not only walk pleasing (be "acceptable") to God, but also cause no moral harm to our brethren (be "approved"). Notice to whom this exhortation is addressed. "The kingdom of God is… etc." is not directed to the weak brother, as if he should say "material things are not the most important, so don’t be offended by my liberty" rather, it is directed to the strong brother as if to say "material things are not the most important, so don’t insist on your liberty". If I am willing to forgo my liberty (make concessions) in love to a weaker brother, I thereby "serve the Christ", who made the ultimate sacrifice.

 19 So then let us pursue the things which tend to peace, and things whereby one shall build up another. v.19 Those who are strong ought to be spending their time in those things that will contribute to:
  1. Peace among God's people. This is more the negative side. Are my actions serving to draw us closer together, or drive us farther apart by harping on the differences in our personal convictions?
  2. Edification of God's people. This is more the positive side. Am I actively seeking to build others up in the Christian faith? Our time and energy would be better invested by ministering Christ to our weaker brother. God will see to it that those extra-biblical "leaves" fall off with spiritual growth.
vv.20-23 In the remaining verses of this chapter we get closing exhortations:
  • vv.20-22a to those who are strong,
  • vv.22b-23 to those who are weak.
20 For the sake of meat do not destroy the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil to that man who eats while stumbling in doing sov.20 If we flaunt our liberty before a weak brother, not only can it damage him but we are really working against God! "It is evil to that man." The strong need to empathize with the consciences of those who are weak. They honestly believe before God that certain meats are unclean. To eat against that conscience is evil.

21 It is right not to eat meat, nor drink wine, nor do anything in which thy brother stumbles, or is offended, or is weak. v.21 Finally, we come to the concluding principle for those who are strong: love to our brother supersedes Christian liberty. Eating meats becomes wrong if it is harmful to our brother.

22a Hast *thou* faith? have it to thyself before God. v.22a Our Christian liberty is to be exercised before God alone. If we have "faith" to eat meats prohibited to Jews under the law, let's do so quietly before God, not flaunting it before those who do not see those things clearly. For example, it would be wrong to serve pork in our home to a newly converted Jewish believer. In v.5 we had the exhortation "keep your convictions personal" now we get the exhortation "keep your faith personal". On both sides we need to not be forceful in these matters, because it could be damaging to our brother.

22b Blessed is he who does not judge himself in what he allows. 23 But he that doubts, if he eat, is condemned; because it is not of faith; but whatever is not of faith is sin. vv.22b-23 On the other hand, the one who does not appreciate Christian liberty should never go against their conscience. If they eat something "without faith" or without a clear conscience, it is sin. Note: a common misinterpretation of this verse is that "every act of unbelievers is sin, because they do not have faith". This is a twisting of the verse out of its context. In context, this verse applies to a believer going against their conscience.


Remember: The Spirit of Meekness Patterned for us by Christ (15:1-7) 

 But *we* ought, we that are strong, to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each one of us please his neighbour with a view to what is good, to edification. vv.1-2 We ought to be willing to forgo our liberties (e.g. that bacon or lobster we enjoy) in favor of the edification of our weaker brother. We can use the liberty of grace in a legal way by insisting on our rights. Love is a higher principle than Christian liberty. The apostle Paul identifies himself with the strong (saying "we ought"), but shows that even he would set aside his own pleasures for the blessing of others.

3 For the Christ also did not please himself; but according as it is written, "The reproaches of them that reproach thee have fallen upon me." [Psa. 69:9] v.3 Christ is the perfect example for the believer in His meekness. He was in the form of God, but emptied Himself, and came in the form of a servant. He did not cease to be God, and yet He never insisted on His rights as the Son of God, but always sought His Father's glory. All the reproaches that touched God, Christ as a man willingly took upon Himself (quotation from Psa. 69:9). Christ did not ignore the outrage of sin against God. He could say, "I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me" (John 6:38). He was the only man that ever lived who could have righteously insisted on His rights, but instead He chose to suffer on behalf of others. If even Christ pleased not Himself, shouldn’t we be willing to forego our liberties for the blessing of others?

4 For as many things as have been written before have been written for our instruction, that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. v.4 Paul follows up his use of the Psalms with a word on the Old Testament scriptures; those "things that have been written before". We find that they we written "for our instruction". The prophetic truths, spiritual principles, and moral lessons from the Old Testament are for us to understand and profit from! The scriptures speak of Christ (as the quotation in v.3 did) and speak of endurance and encouragement, as they present a man who had everything against Him, yet was never disheartened (Isa. 42:4), and always pleased God. What grace, that God would give us the provision of the scriptures so that we might see Christ's perfect example, that we might have hope. Note that it doesn't say they were written to us, but for us. Compare with Rom. 3:19, which says that "whatever the things the law says, it speaks to those under the law"; in other words, the Old Testament was written to the Jews.

5 Now the God of endurance and of encouragement give to you to be like-minded one toward another, according to Christ Jesus; 6 that ye may with one accord, with one mouth, glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. vv.5-6 We need grace from God (the source of our endurance and our encouragement) to get along with our brethren. God's desire is that we would be like-minded as we imitate Christ in His meekness. Paul makes the same argument in Phil. 2:1-8. The point is this: our going on together as brethren, weak and strong together, will glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who perfectly glorified God through His meekness. Notice that "according to Christ Jesus" is added as a qualifier to "like-minded". Christ is the test to every relationship we have. Christ went to the cross on account sin; and God would never want us to sacrifice holiness for unity.

7 Wherefore receive ye one another, according as the Christ also has received you to the glory of God. v.7 The way we can glorify God is to receive those who are weak in the faith (Rom. 14:1). The pattern for us is Christ, who received us without any condition of merit in us. We should have the same impartiality toward those we do not see eye-to-eye with, and we too can glorify God in this reflection of His character.


Remember: God has Purposed Jews and Gentiles to Be Blessed Together (15:8-13)

God's Purpose is firstly to glorify Christ (Eph. 1:10), but secondarily to bless Jew and Gentile. Romans does not rise up to the truth of the Mystery (like Ephesians and Colossians) except to mention it in ch.16. However it does show that the gospel of the grace of God going to the Gentiles is consistent with the Old Testament prophecies. This is the argument: if God's purpose is for them to be blessed together under Christ, we have every reason to receive one another as brethren now!

 8 For I say that Jesus Christ became a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises of the fathers; 9a and that the nations should glorify God for mercy; vv.8-9a Here we find the two-fold purpose of Christ's mission to earth:
  1. Truth. To fulfill the promises made to the patriarchs of Israel, with whom He was in a covenant relationship.
  2. Grace. To bless the nations with whom He had no covenant relationship, to whom He had no obligation, whose only claim to God was on the ground of sovereign mercy.
In the following verses Paul gives four quotations from the three major divisions of the Old Testament; the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets to support his point that Christ came, not only for Israel's sake, but also for the blessing of the Gentiles.

9b according as it is written, "For this cause I will confess to thee among the nations, and will sing to thy name." [Psa. 18:49]  10 And again he says, "Rejoice, nations, with his people." [Deut. 32:43]  11 And again, "Praise the Lord, all ye nations, and let all the peoples laud him." [Psa. 117:1]  12 And again, Esaias says, "There shall be the root of Jesse, and one that arises, to rule over the nations: in him shall the nations hope." [Isa. 11:10]  vv.9b-12 These scriptures present God's purpose to bless the GentilesHowever, note that these prophecies never rose up to the truth of the Mystery which is expressly stated to be hidden in God, not revealed in the Old Testament (Rom. 16:25; 1 Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:26)The first three quotations are very similar; they look on to the Millennium when the Gentiles will join with Israel in the praise of Jehovah.  This is the fruit of the gospel of the kingdom going out in the tribulation period.
  1. Psa. 18:49 - Messiah is leading the Nations in Millennial worship.
  2. Deut. 32:43 - Jehovah is calling on the Nations to rejoice with Israel.
  3. Psa. 117:1 - Restored Israel is calling on the Nations to praise Jehovah.
  4. Isa. 11:10 - The prophecy states that the Nations will put their trust in the Messiah, and attach their hope to Him.
By prefacing these quotations with "according as it is written" the apostle shows that, while the specific fulfillment of these scriptures is yet future, the blessing of Gentiles in the present time is consistent with God's purpose.

13 Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that ye should abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. v.13 The apostle applies the same characteristics of the nations in the Millennium to the saints of God at Rome. First they needed to believe what Paul had written to them, which would result in joy and peace, closely connected with communion. The soul in communion with Christ is then filled (abounding) with hope, by the power of the Spirit.