I once started a sermon by saying, “The church council has decided that men should be wearing coats and ties to church, that leaders should not drink anything stronger than Kool-aid, and that Easter will not be celebrated because of its pagan roots.” I tried hard not to smile. A few were alarmed.
Hey, we have our list of do’s and don’ts. So did people in Paul’s day. Those schooled in Old Testament dietary laws felt strongly about eating meat. Some believed that eating meat offered to idols was a demonic practice. Others were concerned about how special feast days were observed.
Paul addressed these gray areas. He urged believers to welcome one another, “but not for disputes over opinions” (Romans 14:1). The Greek word for “opinions” is “dialogismos.” Some issues invite dialog, because there is more than one side to them. For example: “One believes he may eat anything, while the weak man eats only vegetables” (2). God doesn’t make an issue out of it; we shouldn’t either.
Color some matters black and white, others gray. What is commanded or prohibited is non-negotiable. Where the Church makes absolutes relative by bringing them up for discussion, such as gay marriage, it loses its prophetic voice, as the ELCA leadership did. But neither should it take relatives and make them absolute, forcing its application on all people in all situations. Paul had come out of the “taste not, touch not” tradition. It had its judgy bunch of critics, who had the gift of taking the joy out of life with endless lists of don’ts. Paul had a better idea, and he gives us three principles that operate in the realm of grace.
The law had functioned before God’s grace was revealed through Jesus Christ. It operated like a baby-sitter, keeping its subjects in line (well, sort of) with restrictions and standards. When the Gospel came, it helped the children to grow up to a new family relationship with the Father. Mount Sinai could tell us what not to do; Calvary told us what Jesus had done and would do. So armed with the Spirit of grace, we can look at gray areas and make reasoned and righteous decisions.
THE LAW OF LIBERTY
Some issues are a matter of personal conviction. “One man esteems one day as better than another, while another man esteems all days alike. Let everyone be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). What does your faith give you freedom to do? Paul writes, “I know…that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean…The faith that you have keep between yourself and God; happy is he who has no reason to judge himself for what he approves…for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22,23).
It is possible for two people to have opposite convictions and both to be free in the Lord. Issues like politics, social custom, entertainment, and food and drink will grab Christians in different ways. Fine with me, as long as they don’t stomp on my roast beef sandwich. If Scripture doesn’t address it and you are not convicted by the Holy Spirit or becoming enslaved, have at it.
(Next: What About Doubtful Things? Part 2–the Law of Lordship and the Law of Love).