Should I or Shouldn't I?

Should I or Shouldn’t I?

Must Christians agree on the answer to this question? (Read Romans 14)

Sometimes, we are quick to judge others’ faith by the way they live their life in comparison to the way we live. We know there are a lot of false teachings and casual Christianity out there, and rightfully, we don't want to condone sin or be misled. At the same time, the basis for our judgment isn't always the best. It's very easy for us to confuse our personal preferences with what the Bible teaches regarding an issue.

Sometimes we have to make a decision on the spot before we have time to consult our Bible. We wonder, “Should I or should I not?” We may be asking the wrong question.

Rev. Martin Luther King Jr; once stated, "Cowardice asks the question: Is it safe? Consensus asks the question: Is it popular? Conscience asks the question: Is it right?" The Holy Spirit often works through our conscience, either to excuse or to convict. However, this does not mean that our conscience is infallible. Evil spirits often work through our conscience, too.

For example: A shoplifter with a guilty conscience sent a letter to a department store and enclosed $100. The letter explained, "I have just become a Christian, and I can't sleep at night because I feel guilty. Here is the $100 I owe you." He signed the letter and at the bottom added this postscript, "If I still can't sleep, I'll send you the rest."

Some people have seared their conscience and can no longer distinguish between right and wrong. They commit horrible crimes without any remorse. Others, like those described in today's passage, suffer from a "weak" conscience. They feel guilty over actions that aren't inherently sinful.

The conviction of our conscience should be taken seriously. Not only do we need to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit prodding our own conscience, it is important that we have regard for the conscience of others. Nowhere is this more evident than in the realm of Christian liberty, which forces us to answer the question, “Should I or should I not?” How do we know what is right?

Our Christian motto is: In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, love. Christians are at different levels of spiritual maturity. They also have diverse backgrounds that affect their beliefs and practices. We must distinguish between essential Bible doctrines and personal opinions. Of course, this is often part of the problem. Some personal opinions are confused with essential Bible doctrines. Nevertheless, love must overrule. Therefore, we should ask the question, “Will I be showing love for God and for others?”

Don't expect everyone, even in the best church, to agree on everything. But, love will not quarrel about issues that are matters of opinion. By sharing ideas we can come to a fuller understanding of what the Bible teaches. Accept, listen to, and respect others. Differences of opinion need not cause division. They can be a source of learning and enrich our relationships. Differences should not be feared or avoided, but accepted and handled with love.

With love as the ground rule, we can answer the question, “Should I or should I not?” The answer may vary with individuals, but there are five tests to apply to the question that will help us determine if we are acting out of love for God and others.

Test #1, Am I fully convinced? vs 5, One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind.

Are you fully convinced about the issue, according to God’s Word, or just emotional about the issue? Have you prayed about it and received God’s opinion or are you just adamant about your own tradition? Beware of self-deception and biases. Seek godly counsel about the issue. If you have any doubt about doing something, don’t do it, for whatever is not from faith is sin (v.23)!

Test #2, Am I doing this unto the Lord? vs 6-8 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's.

There is far more to living the Christian life than how we observe a special day or whether or not we eat or drink something. All situations in life provide tests and opportunities to prove that Christ is Lord of our life. Indeed, every thought is to be taken captive in obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Whoever eats or refrains from eating, or observes special days or does not observe them, must do so out a motivation to please and honor God.

Each of us must act out of love for God and others, with a clear conscience in everything. In matters where there is no specific guidance, each person must be convinced that the manner in which they act is in accordance with God's will. Then the Christian is to commit a given act to the Lord with thanksgiving and without judging others who lack the same conviction.

Colossians 3:17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

A Christian is a believer, who lives his life as Christ's servant. Therefore, we are individually accountable to the Lord in every area and experience of life, not to other Christians.

A key component in liberty is responsibility to Christ. Since our lives belong to Jesus, we are not our own. We have been bought with a price. Therefore, we do not live for ourselves. We live for the One to whom we belong. This simple truth forms the bedrock of all Christian ethics, where we demonstrate the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The One who gave His life without reserve for us is worthy of our lives without reserve for Him. In life and death, we are His. Let the Lord guide you. Let Him work in you. Let Him give direction to you, for you are the Lord's!

Test #3, Do you want to account for it at the Judgment? vs 11-12 For it is written: "As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God." So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

We will have to give an account for what we do. Therefore, we had better be fully convinced we are doing what God wants US to do! We need to take the log out of our eye before trying to take a speck out of our brother’s eye. We will have to give an account for ourselves and our brother will have to give account for himself. Therefore, we should be motivated by the Judgment to stop judging one another and make sure we are loving and obeying the Lord.

Test #4, Am I causing others to stumble? vs 13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother's way.

For example, two Christian couples go to a restaurant for an evening meal. One couple was taught never to drink alcoholic beverages. The other couple grew up in church where wine was served at Communion and also during wedding receptions in the church fellowship hall. Both are fully convinced they are honoring the Lord in their belief about this issue.

So the wine-drinking couple orders wine with their meal. Did they do the right thing? No, regardless of the freedom they have, this is a selfish act. They have not acted in love by considering or respecting the beliefs of their brother and sister in Christ. Therefore, they have not honored Christ with their conviction and freedom.

Perhaps the non-drinking couple’s faith was strong enough that it didn’t matter and they could enjoy the meal without judging the other couple. But what if their faith was not that strong? As they go home, they feel offended, they judge the other couple, or they argue about whether or not to drink alcoholic beverages. In this case, the freedom of the wine drinking couple could damage the other couple’s faith.

This test is about contributing to people’s spiritual growth rather than causing them to stumble. If we’re really going to pursue love, then we’ll think about how our liberty will affect other people’s spiritual growth. When we use our liberty to tear down people’s faith, we’re no longer pursuing love. Instead, we have become a stumbling block to another’s growth in Christ.

Look at vv. 16-18. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men.

The path of God’s grace is a path with lots of freedom, not a restrictive path of arbitrary rules. But when we make disputable things central to our relationship with God, things like what we eat or drink, whether to dance or not dance, homeschooling or public schooling, or whatever, we give the impression that the Kingdom of God is about what you eat or drink, or how you educate your kids, or whatever the issue happens to be.

But, the Kingdom of God isn’t about those things, but it’s about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Righteousness means to be right with God through faith in Jesus. So the kingdom of God is about helping people be right with God by building up their faith in Jesus Christ. Peace describes the harmony and mutual love Christians are supposed to enjoy with each other. And joy is a state of gladness that comes when followers of Jesus are united in faith and love. That’s what God’s Kingdom is all about: helping people be right with God, living in peace with each other, and experiencing the joy that comes as a result of God’s Spirit among us. When we embrace kingdom priorities, our service to Jesus is pleasing to God and vindicated in the sight of people, even people who disagree with us.

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.

Where are your priorities? Is it your aim to let gray areas stay gray, and to focus on important issues like helping unchurched people be made right with God through faith in Jesus Christ? Is it your aim to display God’s peace in your willingness to forgive other Christians, or are you more obsessed with having it your own way? Is it our passion as a church to experience the joy that comes from God’s Spirit rather than pursuing our own happiness at the cost of others? We use our liberty to pursue love only if we embrace kingdom priorities.

For example, let’s go back to our two Christian couples at the restaurant. If someone has the liberty to drink wine, knows that someone else believes drinking alcoholic beverage is a sin, then the loving thing to do is to abstain from drinking wine while in that couple’s presence. They are perfectly free to drink wine when they are dining alone, but they shouldn’t make an issue out of it when dining with others. Love answers the question, “Should I or should I not?”

Enjoy your freedom in Christ, but with discretion. Don’t broadcast your freedom to others, and don’t go nosing around in your brother’s life to see what freedom he has that you don’t have. There are things that are important to know, but these disputable areas are not among them.

Now just as a reminder, this Scripture is not talking about essential Christian doctrine or clearly defined sin. It’s talking about differences of opinion and how to best apply biblical principles. Use your liberty to pursue love among the brotherhood, and make all your decisions on the basis of God’s Word and faith in Jesus Christ, which brings me to the last test.

Test #5, Am I doing it by faith? vs 23, But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.

Any action that doesn’t match your sincerely held convictions about what Jesus gives us liberty to do should not be done, even if other Christians have different convictions. Every decision in your life needs to be guided by your faith in Jesus Christ. Your decision about who to marry, what church to join, how to educate your kids, what to eat or drink, whether or not to celebrate special days, etc., needs to spring up from a complete trust in the total sufficiency of Christ as your Lord and Savior. And any decision that isn’t an expression of your faith and love for God is a sin to you. So two Christians can face the same situation and wonder, “Should I or Shouldn’t I? They can come to very different decisions, yet both can be guided by their faith and love for God. God sees their heart. He is the only righteous judge.

In the Kingdom of God, life, liberty, and the pursuit of love—not the pursuit of happiness—are the goals. People in our nation may be obsessed with using their liberty to pursue happiness that comes from focusing on their rights, but God calls us to use our liberty to pursue love.

We do that by contributing to the spiritual growth of others rather than destroying it, by focusing on kingdom priorities instead of getting caught up in disputable matters, by building up our church community rather than tearing it down, by exercising our freedom with discretion rather than trumpeting it, and by making all our decisions on the basis of our faith in Christ and our love for Him.

When we don’t pursue love in this way, we become Pharisaical. We put ourselves under legalism and we put others under legalism as well. We have in our mind that a “real” Christian should look like us, and so we push and shove others into images of ourselves instead of images of Christ. We make them fit our wooden legalism rather than giving the grace of liberty in these disputable matters that honest Christians have different opinions about. May God help us, to help each other, to grow into fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. The closer we get to Jesus, the more we will all resemble Him, and the less disputable matters or differences of opinion there will be.

In the meantime, those who consider themselves to be strong in the faith are to "accept" those they consider to be weak in the faith. Accept is the opposite of reject. The human tendency is to look down on or treat with disdain those we consider weak. The human tendency for those who are weak is to be judgmental toward the strong.

Let’s forget about the terms “strong” and “weak”. We cannot truly judge who is “strong” and who is “weak”. We will do right if we just remember to act according to Romans 15:7 Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God.

Christ will accept you just like you are if you will believe that He is the Son of God and make Him your Lord and Savior. You do this by giving Him your life, by confessing Him as Lord, and by repenting of your sin. Die to yourself in baptism and you will be born again of the Holy Spirit, who will lead you daily in answering the question, “Should I or shouldn’t I? He will enable you to love God and to love others in everything you do and say.