51. Romans 14:1-9
Matters of conscience
In chapter 14 of Romans, Paul addresses how more mature brothers and sisters in the faith are to respect and protect those who are weaker, or less mature. H introduces the subject with two directives: we are to accept the “weak in faith”, and we are not to pass judgment on “disputable matters”. In other words, not every point of our freedom in Christ is a salvational issue or a mandate for universal conformity. The fact that Paul refers to “disputable matters” suggests that there are core tenets that are not disputable. The gospel and the identity of Jesus are absolute, and there can be no disagreement about these within Christianity.
Matters of eating and drinking and holy days, however, are disputable matters. These are part of salvation, and people can have differing convictions about these things depending upon their backgrounds and what these things mean to them.
Weak in faith
First we need to understand what Paul means when he refers to those who are “weak in faith”. In the first verse of chapter 15, he states, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” The weak, he tells us, need to be protected, and they will need us to be patient with them.
In 1 Corinthians Paul further explains those who are weak in faith. He instructs believers that their freedom must not be a “stumbling block to the weak. In chapter 8 he addresses the issue of believers relating to new Christians who have just come out of paganism. He says that if someone with a “weak conscience” sees a long-time believer eating meat which has been sacrificed to idols (much of the available meat in Corinth was sold to the public after the animal had been offered to the local deity), that new believer may be “emboldened” to go eat meat sacrificed at the pagan temple. The new believer will still have habits and ingrained patterns of reaction and responses of fear, loyalty, and guilt toward the gods he formerly worshiped. To return to eating meat offered to idols because a strong believer buys and eats in front of him will wound his tender conscience.
Those new believers had to put aside everything that symbolized their idolatrous worship. Eating pagan sacrificial meat would have felt to them like incorporating idol worship into Christianity. It would have been to them syncretism, a mixing of Christianity and paganism—hedging their bets, in a way, keeping one foot in the camp of appeasing the old deities they feared and reaching out to God at the same time. Someone who had been immersed in paganism would not be able to retain any vestige of pagan rituals without compromising his own conscience.
More mature believers—including those who came from Jewish instead of Gentile backgrounds and had no sense of loyalty to the pagan gods—might be able to eat meat offered to idols without awakening guilt, habituated responses, and old feelings and patterns of “worship” and fear. The strong believer has no business insisting that the weak believer can indulge in behaviors that would draw him back to his old ways or cause him to compromise his own conscience.
In 1 Corinthian 9:19-23 Paul further explained how he related to unbelievers as he preached from city to city. He says that when he is with those under the law (observant Jews), he acts and eats like one who is also under the law; in other words, he honors their own traditions, eats what is before him, and acts like the Jew that he is—even though he is not under the law himself. When he is with Gentiles, he acts as one who is not under the law, eating their food, understanding their culture, and in no way setting himself apart from them on the basis of observance or laws.
Paul was flexible culturally because his desire was to win as many as possible to Jesus. The gospel is not a culture. It should be able to go into any culture and change lives. It brings morality into amoral or immoral circumstances; it brings new hearts and new goals into formerly dark hearts and minds. The gospel, however, is not about eating or drinking or holy days, and Paul demonstrated throughout his ministry that a Christ-follower must take it into whatever culture exists and offer hope without asking the person to abandon his traditional foods and culture. He must give up other gods and the worship of and sacrifices and behaviors associated with paganism, and hedonism, but the culture remains.
Paul gives a more specific description of a person with weak faith in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4. The Corinthians had been believers for some time when Paul wrote this letter, yet they were not growing spiritually. In this letter Paul chastises them and instructs them on how to live as dedicated, mature Christ-followers. He reminds them that he had given them spiritual milk when he had been with them for they were not yet ready for the “solid food” of maturing Christians. At the writing of this letter, he says, they are still not ready for solid food. In verse 1 he identifies their immaturity as “wordliness”: “I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.” He goes on to point out their jealousy and quarreling and their internal factions.
Spiritual immaturity yields weak faith, an inability to digest the deeper truths of God and of living by the Spirit. This immaturity Paul further identifies with “wordliness”. Even though a person may be born again, if he does not pursue knowing Jesus through His word and by surrendering to Jesus in prayer, he may still retain his natural impulses of anger, control, jealousy, arrogance, and so forth. He may continue to function “in the flesh” more than he yields to the Spirit. This spiritual weakness is what Paul was addressing iun 1 Corinthians.
The author of Hebrews also describes the difference between spiritual maturity and immaturity as the difference between eating solid food and drinking milk. This writer goes even further and describes what a person will lack if he won’t grow beyond milk: “the teaching about righteousness” and distinguishing between good and evil. He defines the “elementary teachings” as “the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, [fn1] and of faith in God, 2 instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Hebrews 5:11-6:3).
Paul instructed Timothy, his protégé, that in the last days there would be many people who presented themselves as godly but in reality were not. They would hold a form of godliness but would deny its power—the literal power of the Holy Spirit who seals those who are alive in Christ. In other words, they would be imposters. These imposters would be self-centered; they would love money and be proud, arrogant, boastful, abusive, treacherous, and conceited, but they would appear to offer religion and would deceive those who are weak and weighed down with sins, ungrounded and easily influenced. A true follower of Jesus is to have nothing to do with these people. An appearance of godliness does not qualify as knowing Jesus, and such a person cannot offer the true gospel to those who need to be saved.
Peter instructed us all how we should respond to these self-indulgent behaviors and attitudes when we encounter them—even in apparently religious people. We are personally to rid ourselves “of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.” We, like newborn babies, are to “crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Those who are weak in faith are those who have not yet grown in the Lord to the place where they are surrendering and trusting Jesus at deep levels of the heart. It requires time and immersion in God’s word for this sort of maturity to take place, and when we deal with new or immature believers, we are not to require them to focus on laws or disciplines which are not part of the pure gospel. We are to respect their weakness and adapt ourselves to their culture and tastes while simultaneously teaching and encouraging them to learn to trust God with their hearts and dreams and desires and feelings.
Vegetables and weak faith
Paul explains the new covenant position on clean and unclean foods in Romans 14:14-16. He, a Jew, states that, now that he is in Christ, he knows that now food is intrinsically clean or unclean. But he cautions his readers, both Jew and Gentile, that if they personally believe some food is unclean, than to them it is unclean. In other words, if a Jew continues to view pork as unclean, he would be violating his conscience to eat it. On the other hand, if a Gentile believer considers the meat offered to idols to be unclean because of its association with the pagan idols, then he needs to treat that meat as unclean. For anyone to violate his or her conscience based on someone insisting that something is OK is wrong.
Each person grows spiritually at different rates and in different stages. Discovering one’s freedom in Christ does not immediately remove all one’s habituated responses to the past. Our consciences become re-educated over time, as God teaches us through His word and by His Spirit, and sometimes a person must refrain from doing anything that obstructs his ability to worship God without the shadow of the past or the fear of sin standing between him and the Savior.
Similarly, we must not break down a weak brother’s faith by blatantly proclaiming Christ while eating food the other considers unclean. Particularly in cases where a new believer sees ties to his past false religion in certain practices, the mature believer must be sensitive to the idea that his own freedom might lead the other to violate his conscience by similarly indulging in something that the new believer used to do when he was in the world.
Paul enlarges on this concept in 1 Corinthians 8:4-13. In this passage where he explains how a mature believer must not cause a new believer to stumble by eating meat possibly offered to idols, Paul reveals what he means by “weak believer”. He is not referring to a weak-willed person who does not have a deep commitment to Christ. Rather, he is referring to a new believer who still has habitual responses to practices associated with his past false beliefs. The example Paul uses is food offered to idols, which Paul says is not a problem for him because he knows there is only one God, and eating food offered to idols in no way represents honoring a pagan deity.
The person of weak faith is one who has not deepened spiritually yet to the point where his old responses have been replaced with new ones based on the gospel. For him, avoiding the practices of the past is essential to keep him from being double-minded, holding a foot in both camps, unwilling to move away from the past lifestyle. Sabbath-keeping for people who have found freedom in Jesus and left Adventism falls into this category of practices that root one to past fears. Those “weak in faith” are drawn to their new-found freedom in the gospel, but they may still honor the Sabbath “just in case”. The weak in faith must leave behind the tie to the old fears, and the strong in faith must not try to make things easier for the new believer by endorsing Sabbath-keeping once the former Sabbatarian has become convinced Sabbath is not a requirement for Christians.
In 1 Corinthians 10:25-33 Paul summarizes this idea by pointing out that the respect must work both ways. Not only must the strong in faith honor the weak in faith by not indulging in what compromises the weak brother’s conscience, but the weak in faith must not denounce the strong in faith for his freedom. If the strong in faith finds himself criticized for indulging in practices which the weak disapprove, the strong must not indulge in feeling guilty on account of his freedom. He must avoid hurting the faith of the weak, but he must also be confident in the Lord Jesus as he embraces his own freedom and not be manipulated into feeling guilty for his own freedom.
At the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15, the early church leaders with the Holy Spirit established the practices they required of new Gentile converts. They were not to eat food sacrificed to idols (again, not because to do so was inherently wrong but because for those Gentiles, such food would elicit their old responses to idol worship) or blood. They were not to eat the meat of strangled animals (which would contain blood), and they were not to indulge in sexual immorality. These rules would allow them to eat with believing Jews who held to the same standards established in God’s covenant with Noah. The point of this council was not to establish blood and strangled animals and sacrificial meat as intrinsically unclean. Rather, these rules declared that the Gentiles did not have to adopt the Jewish laws in order to be Christians, and they protected the Gentiles from practices that would pull them back toward paganism and would also protect the Jews’ sensitivity to issues of food.
In Revelation 2:12-14 Jesus chastises the church at Pergamum for “hold to the teachings of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin by eating food sacrificed to idols and by committing sexual immorality.” The point here is that someone in the church at Pergamum was trampling on the consciences of weak believers and encouraging them to sin. Because they were weak, those “victimized” were able to be confused and made to believe these sinful practices were OK.
The example of Balak enticing Israel to sin by eating meat offered to idols illustrates not that those in Pergamum were teaching people to eat unclean food but that they were encouraging weak believers to go against their consciences by participating in what they understood to be a ritual from their paganism. They were being encouraged to practice what they had left behind when they became Christ-followers. To encourage any fellow believer to practice what for him is wrong, is a sin.
To judge or not to judge?
This passage in Romans 14 is speaking to believers about not judging other believers according to what they eat or drink. It further says that no one judges another person’s servant, that each of us will stand or fall before God alone and that God will keep His own standing.
At the same time, the Bible also instructs us to evaluate teachings and teachers and to discern between the spirits. How are we to understand this apparent dissonance?
First, Jesus’ teaching on not judging is the foundation of the now nearly thoughtless comment, “Oh, I (or we) can’t judge anyone for what they do.”
Jesus’ original comment occurs in the Sermon on the Mount, and His specific instruction against judging begins in Matthew 7:1-5.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
In context, this text is focusing more on the admonition to judge oneself than on whether or not to discern spiritual flaws in another. Jesus was warning his listeners against hypocrisy and superiority. In fact, the end of the passage even says, in effect, one you have dealt with the sin in your own life, you will see clearly to help a brother overcome his own sin. Jesus is not saying to overlook sin and evil; He is, rather, commanding us to allow the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and to surrender to God our right to cling to it.
A critical spirit is a way to mask our own sin; this projection and arrogance is the sin against which Jesus taught.
Jesus made quite a different comment in Matthew 7:6 where he instructed His followers not to give dogs what is sacred or to throw pearls to pigs. This command implies that we are not to treat the gospel lightly or to allow evil people to make light of the Lord Jesus. In other words, when people react to the gospel with hostility, we are not to continue to confront them. Such a barrage of truth when the heart is hard will often only harden the other person’s heart further. We protect the sacredness of the gospel by resisting the urge to fight or argue over it with someone who doesn’t want to hear. Such protection, however, requires that we be discerning—we actually have to make a judgment about whether or not a person is open to hearing or is closed and resistant.
Similarly, Matthew 7:15-16 has Jesus instructing His followers to watch out for false prophets whom He compares to ferocious wolves. He even said one could recognize these false prophets by their fruit, and they must be avoided. Such recognition requires discerning judgment.
Jesus took this instruction even further in John 7:21-24. He addresses the Pharisees and chides them for their reaction against His healing on the Sabbath. He reminds them that they will circumcise a child on the Sabbath in order not to break the law of Moses, yet they were angry with Him for healing a whole man on the Sabbath. “Stop judging by mere appearances, He said, “and make a right judgment.” Judgment is required—but not critical, self-serving judgment. Jesus calls us to judge according to truth and reality.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 warns against associating with someone who calls himself a brother in Christ but is immoral, idolatrous, greedy, slandering, drunk, or a swindler. Paul even says not to eat with such a man. In 2 Corinthians 11:11-15 he further says his ministry cuts the ground from under false apostles and deceitful workmen who masquerade as apostles of Christ. He compares them to the devil who masquerades as an angel of light. The end of these men, he says, will be what they deserve.
Paul is not turning a blind eye to deception and sin, hiding behind a passive “I can’t judge” attitude. On the contrary, he is making clear spiritual judgments for the sake of protecting the gospel and protecting the people to whom He ministers.
In Philippians 3:2-7 Paul further warns against the Judaizers calling them “dogs those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.” He explains that Christ-followers are the true “circumcision; they are those who put no confidence in the flesh but who worship by the Spirit of God” and who “glory in Christ Jesus.” In Galatians 1:6-8 Paul corrects the young Galatian believers and tells them he’s “astonished” that they are turning to a different gospel. He makes a pronouncement that today’s culture would decry as being intolerant: “If we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” Indeed, Paul was incisive in his judgments of truth as opposed to evil and deception.
In 1 Thessalonians Paul gives this terse command: “Test everything. Hold on to the good.” John wrote similar instruction in 1 John 4:1-3: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming and even now is already in the world.”
Paul’s point in Romans 14:4-5 is not a command to avoid making judgments of any kind. His command is a warning not to judge a person’s external worship practices and insist on conformity. He is saying that believers must allow one another to worship God according to their consciences, knowing that God will individually correct and convict each person regarding “disputable matters”.
A Christ-follower must judge between good and evil. He must be able to identify teachings and practices that go against the gospel. He must contend for the faith handed to the saints once for all (Jude 3). What a Christ-follower must not do is to have a critical spirit and an overbearing attitude that insists on conformity regarding issues that are not related to salvation. Believers must be open to the scrutinizing of the Holy Spirit, willing to allow the Lord Jesus to remove sin ad bondage from them; they must never hide their own culpability behind their accusations of a brother’s failings. A person is only able to help another overcome sin when he has been brutally honest before the Lord Jesus about his own sin.
Convinced in your own mind
Many people ignore verse 5: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” They insist that because God gave Israel a sacred Sabbath, that day is intrinsically sacred for all people for all time. They explain away verse 5 by saying it refers only to ceremonial Sabbaths, not to the weekly Sabbath.
The New Testament, however, is really clear that Jesus Himself changed all the ceremonial requirements, including weekly Sabbaths.
Colossians 2:16 says, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.” The structure of this verse is clear; the yearly, monthly, and weekly Sabbaths are no longer required, and no one is to judge another if one does not honor any of these days. Verse 17 explains why: the reality of these shadows is found in Christ. Jesus Himself is the reality of Sabbath, of New Moon festivals, and of the yearly Jewish feasts. We now honor Him, not the shadows that prefigured Him.
Hebrews 4:1-11 further explains the true role of Sabbath rest in the life of a new covenant Christ-follower. First the author explains that Israel never experienced the rest God desired for them because they never combined their religious ceremonies and instructions with faith. Because they relied on observances instead of faith, God declared they would never enter His rest.
The explanation then continues with a reiteration of the Genesis record that God finished his work at the end of creation and rested from His work on the seventh day. Yet, the author states, those Israelites who did not combine their ceremonial shadows with faith will never enter God’s rest.
The implication here is clear. God rested on the seventh day; those who did not have faith can never enter His rest. His rest has been done since creation—but the unbelieving will not enter that rest.
The next point of the argument is that there still remains the fact that some will enter His rest, even though disobedient Israel did not. Now, in the New Covenant, God still offers rest and asks people to enter it—but now He has set a different day from the seventh day He appointed to Israel. Now He has “set a certain day, calling it Today,” and all who believe in Him are to enter that rest Today.
Moreover, the author of Hebrews points out that God foretold the advent of this new day when He “spoke through David, as was said before: 'Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’.”
The change from keeping the seventh day to entering God’s rest Today was prophesied by David hundreds of years before Jesus came. To be sure, David’s words were a call to Israel then to believe God and allow Him to make their hearts soft toward Him. But the full meaning of David’s words was revealed in Jesus who make is possible for us to enter true rest Today.
The author continues to develop his point. Joshua, who literally led Israel into the Promised Land, the place God promised they would rest from their wandering, still did not bring Israel into rest. Although they moved into Canaan, Israel did not experience God’s rest. If they had, God wouldn’t have spoken about a different day—Today—through David. Now, the author says, there still remains a “Sabbath rest for the people of God”. The Greek word underlying “Sabbath rest” here is sabbatismos, a unique word used nowhere else in the Bible. It has the meaning of “sabbathing” or resting with a Sabbath rest. It does not suggest observing the Sabbath. Its focus is on the experience of rest, not about the keeping of a day.
The author clarifies his meaning with the succeeding words. The Sabbath-rest for the people of God is defined this way, “For anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from his.” The Sabbath-rest for the people of God is literally resting from our own work to please God and entering the reality of the New Covenant: Jesus’ completed work on our behalf. We can now trust God and know that we are pleasing to Him because we have accepted Jesus and have given up trying to please Him.
The author finishes his explanation by saying, “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience.”
In other words, if we fail to enter God’s rest by accepting Jesus’ work and His righteousness, we will not experience that Sabbath-rest any more than Israel did. Furthermore, when we do give Jesus our completely loyalty, we enter the rest of God that He entered at creation. We enter His finished work.
This passage in Hebrews further explains that the Sabbath was always a shadow of God’s finished work. The day itself was never the object; Israel had the day. It was belief in God, trusting Him, that was always the goal. Always true Sabbath rest has been about trust God and entering His rest. The entering is now possible through the blood of Jesus. In Him, our work is over; we enter God’s own finished work and rest.
Acts 15:19-21 further demonstrates that no holy day is required for Christ-followers. When the church in Jerusalem met to decide what to require of believing Gentiles who were already receiving the Holy Spirit apart from observing Jewish law, James, Peter, Paul, and the other apostles, with the Holy Spirit, issued the judgment that nothing would be required of them except four things: don’t eat blood or the meat of strangled animals; don’t eat meat offered to idols; no sexual immorality. No Sabbath was required; indeed, no circumcision was required. Since circumcision was the sign of being a Jew, it was the rite that made a person subject to all Jewish law. Christians were not put under the law in any form. They were saved directly by accepting Jesus, and they received the Holy Spirit on the basis of faith in Jesus alone.
Paul further drives home his point that we are not to judge another Christian’s observances or non-observances in Romans 14:22-23 where he says that “everything that does not come from faith is sin.” In other words, if a person is convicted that God is asking certain observances of him, he would be acting outside of faith—in rebellion, in other words—if he did not do them. At the same time, Christ-followers can learn what the Bible actually teaches and requires, and they can grow and deepen their faith by understanding Scripture through the teaching of the Holy Spirit.
Sabbath: What to do?
Most of us are comfortable with the idea that we can’t judge another person on the issue of keeping a day. Some of us, though, use this text to justify hanging onto Sabbath-keeping even after we know that Jesus is the reality that replaced the ceremonial shadows. As former Seventh-day Adventists, should we abandon Sabbath, or may we legitimately continue to observe it?
Paul wrote a book to a Gentile church that was struggling with whether or not to observe Jewish law requirements as part of their Christianity. He was ruthless when he denounced those who advocated any observances besides placing faith in Christ Jesus. He wrote in Galatians 1:6-9: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel– which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
First, he explains that anyone who teaches or otherwise advocates adding any requirement to the simple gospel must be condemned.
Second, he publicly reprimanded Peter for refusing to eat with the Gentiles in public where the Judaizers might see him. Before the Judaizers came to Galatia from Jerusalem, Peter had eaten with the Gentiles as one of them, even though he was a Jew. God has specifically taught him that he must call nothing unclean that God declared clean—neither food nor people (see Acts 10), but in the face of the critical Jewish Christians who were seeking to impose Jewish customs on Gentile believers, Peter lost his courage and caved in to their critical pressure. He even influenced Barnabas to shun the Gentiles with him.
Because his avoidance of the Gentiles had been public, Paul reprimanded Peter publicly: “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
“We who are Jews by birth and not 'Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.”
In other words, Paul condemned holding onto parts of the law that created division between believers. Peter wasn’t simply expressing “preference”. He clearly knew those food and eating laws were no longer required, but he observed them anyway just to save face. He compromised his influence with the Galatian church, marginalizing them by his false piety. He also removed himself from the fellowship and support they could give him as part of the body of Christ.
In Galatians 3:10-14 Paul declares that all who rely on the law are under a curse, because the law clearly says that anyone who does not do all of it is condemned. He continues by saying that the law is not based on faith, and Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us. He redeemed us so we Gentiles could receive the blessing God promised Abraham’s offspring: receiving the Holy Spirit through Jesus.
Driving his point home further, in Galatians 4:8-11 Paul compares the Gentiles’ returning to Jewish laws and traditions to returning to the empty rituals of paganism., and he specifically condemns their keeping of sacred day, months and years. Again in chapter 5:1-4 Paul reminds the Galatians that if they become circumcised, they are obligated to observe the whole law. If someone claims any part of the law as valid, he puts himself under the entire law. One cannot pick and choose which parts to observe.
Whenever anyone keeps the Sabbath because of a fear or habit or suspicion that it might be really important, that God really might want us to keep it, that observance is not of faith. It is from fear. God calls us to lay down every single observance that helps us manage our righteousness and surrender to Jesus alone.
Samuel confronted King Saul when Saul disobeyed God by not eradicating the livestock of the enemy in one of his battles. “To obey is better than sacrifice,” Samuel told the rebellious king. “Rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
Sabbath-keeping becomes a point of pride and identity for Adventists. It is not merely a transient prop to help them focus on God. It has a virtual life of its own. Adventists tend to be devoted to the Sabbath, proud of it, confident that they “have the truth” which most of the world lacks. We have been taught to believe confidently that those who “know the truth” and leave the Sabbath are leaving God and thus salvation as well. Yet the Bible never teaches this idea, and the arrogance and the pride of “having the truth” and believing we have more truth than Sunday-Christians is the sin of idolatry. Our unswerving commitment to Sabbath makes it an idol. Our fear of leaving it reveals its idolatrous place in our lives.
Colossians 2:16-23 is exceptionally clear that Sabbath was a shadow of Jesus. Paul specifically told the Colossians not to let anyone judge them on the basis of a day or of food they ate because those things were merely shadows of Jesus. He even said that the rules that forbid handling and eating certain thing, regulations that appear wise and have “self-imposed worship” and carry false humility are useless. They “lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
Any observances besides the simple gospel outlined in the New Testament are adding to what God requires. Food laws and Sabbath regulations add to the gospel, and they are to be refused.
Jesus said that anyone who was not willing to leave everything he loves, including his flesh and blood, was not worthy of Him. “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. ”We have to be willing to leave behind everything that we love and trust for the sake of following Jesus. If we learn that Jesus wants to be our all-in-all and that He asks us to trust Him enough to follow Him out of everything that identifies us and allow Him alone to be our identity, then we must let go of everything and follow. (See Matthew 10:37-39)
Paul wrote to Timothy that in later times false teachers would come who forbid marriage and the eating of certain foods “which God crated to be received with thanksgiving by those who know and believe the truth” (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Again, what God has declared in Christ trumps the shadows of the law.
As people who formerly held Sabbath-sacredness to be part of our “salvation package”, we are in a category different from the Jews who read Paul’s letter, and we’re different from others who desire to dedicate a day to God. We have the fear of a false gospel running through our habits and responses, and many of us decide to “hedge our bets” and observe Sabbath even though we may claim that Sabbath isn’t required for salvation. This sort of bet-hedging is not of faith. It is from fear, and it is from the false gospel of Adventism that shaped our consciences at early ages.
For us as Adventists and former Adventists, the Sabbath has been an idol, something we would never consider relinquishing. We considered Sabbath to be our number one way to “show that we love God”. God has never asked His church to show that we love Him by observing His shadow that He fulfilled. By hanging onto the shadow, we have created an icon—even an idol—that we love and fear more than the plain words of Scripture—even more than Jesus Himself who declared He would give us rest and be our God.
For us who were Adventists, giving up Sabbath is our ultimate act of faith in the sufficiency of Christ. We cannot hide behind Romans 14:6 as a way of avoiding the reality of our Sabbath idolatry. God asks us to give up everything that stands between us and trusting exclusively in Him with no observances on our part aimed at keeping ourselves in His pleasure.
Give thanks to God
Verse six introduces the purpose of life as a Christ-follower: “He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, fore he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.”
The emphasis in this verse can be easily twisted. Paul is not saying that there are any intrinsic benefits in either eating meat or not eating meat. He is simply saying that when a Christ-follower eats anything, the point is his thankfulness to God; the point is not what he is eating. This idea abounds throughout the New Testament.
In Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus fed the legendary 5,000. After bringing Jesus fives loaves and two fish, the disciples watched as Jesus looked up to heaven and “gave thanks and broke the loaves.” Then Jesus gave the disciples the broken loaves, and they gave food broken off those loaves to the entire crowd. All 5,00 plus the attending women and children were satisfied, and the disciples collected 12 baskets full of leftovers when all were finished.
God multiplied that paltry offering of five loaves and two fish after Jesus gave thanks. The point of the feeding was only superficially the satisfying of physical hunger. The real point was bringing glory to God by demonstrating to those thousands of people that He would provide all they needed when they trusted in Him. Jesus’ thanks and trust yielded all that crowd needed, and God alone was glorified.
In 1 Corinthians 10:30-31, Paul articulates this same idea to the Corinthians: “If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” If the purpose of eating is anything other than the glory of God in a spirit of gratitude and thanksgiving, we serve ourselves. If our purpose is to thank and glorify God, nothing we eat can bring us shame or guilt. We cannot be “denounced” for what we eat if our purpose is bringing glory to God.
Paul emphasized this point to his protégé Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:1-4 when he warned Timothy that false teachers would come who would teach doctrines of demons and forbid people to marry or to eat certain foods. Yet Paul asserts that God created food “to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”
In other words, thanksgiving and prayer is all that God asks of us; all foods—including all meats—are “sanctified” if we receive them with thanksgiving and prayer. Further, God created all these things for us, and they are good. We are not to reject anything as long as we eat knowing God is being glorified. If our stomachs are our gods, we are in sin. If we are honoring God, all foods are acceptable.
Ephesians 4:19-21 explains that those who have lost their spiritual sensitivity have given themselves over to sensuality “with a continual lust for more” impurity and self-indulgence. Paul warns the Ephesians, however, that they came to know Christ by learning the truth about Him. Indulgence in—or abstinence from—food and sensual pleasure does not yield spirituality. Knowing Jesus and honoring God comes from surrender of one’s will and spirit to Him, not from militating or indulging one’s eating and drinking.
Philippians 4:4 states the primary focus and purpose of everything a Christ-follower does: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” Paul repeats this theme in Colossians 3:15-17 where he calls the church to live together in peace and to “be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Giving praise and thanks to God is our purpose in every interaction we have with one another, with every decision we make, with everything we choose and do. Self-indulgence has no place in a God-honoring life; by the same token, neither does asceticism and “self-abnegation”. God does not ask us to deprive ourselves and rigidly monitor what we eat and do for the purpose of self-discipline. Rather, He asks us to submit every decision to Him and to do nothing apart from consciously glorifying and praising Him.
Romans12:1-2 commanded us to offer our bodies “as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Paul went on to say we were not to conform to the world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we could test and approve what God’s will is.
Our minds are renewed as we submit to God’s revelation of Himself and His will in His word, and as we surrender our mental analysis and control to Him, allowing His Spirit to teach us truth. As we surrender to Him, our food choices and other decisions begin to look completely different. God does not ask us to eat in certain ways so we will be able to discern His Spirit. He asks us to surrender our control and to give Him thanks. He asks us to let go of our arrogance and fear and to gratefully accept His provision for us, whatever it is, and to refuse to maintain our superior control over food and lifestyle by rationalizing we are serving God and preparing our bodies to “hear” Him.
Instead, God asks us to surrender all the things we do and love—whether it is a secret indulgence or an open act of self-denial—and allow thankfulness and rejoicing to fill our hearts and minds. What we do and eat does not make us spiritual or holy or prepare us for service. Only trust and surrender to the Lord Jesus honors Him.
Hebrews 13:15 says this: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise–the fruit of lips that confess his name.” The purpose of our lives as Christ-followers is to give thanks to God and to rejoice in His provision and faithfulness. He asks us to give up our control and rigidity over food and health and to trust Him with thankful hearts instead.
All He gives is good—if we receive it with thanksgiving. Even the good things, however, corrupt us if we partake of them with a superior sense of knowledge or pious sense of preparing ourselves to be healthy enough to rightly serve God. God is not honored nor served through out eating or drinking. He is honored in our trust and praise. If we trust Him, our eating and drinking will be part of our praise. If we believe there is intrinsic spiritual value in our eating and drinking, however, God will not be glorified.
God asks us to give up our deep and subtle attempts to manage our spiritual lives by disciplining our eating and drinking. He changes our hearts and glorifies Himself by His Spirit; we do not become spiritual nor do we honor Him by physical discipline. We honor Him by surrendering our hearts and desires to Him and giving Him thanks in every situation, whatever we are served or whatever happens to us.
By explaining that we are not to judge a brother in Christ by what we eat or drink or by a sacred day, Paul is reinforcing his teaching throughout his epistles (as well as Jesus’ own teaching) that our lives are not to be about keeping rules. Instead, our lives are to be about resting in Jesus and offering ourselves as living sacrifices to Him.
Jesus told us to come to Him, and He would give us rest (Matthew 11:28). We realize this rest when we trust Jesus and, as Paul explained earlier in Romans, offer our bodies as living sacrifices because this is our spiritual or reasonable act of worship. Further, we’re not to be conformed any longer to the “pattern of this world” but rather are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so we will be able to test and approve God’s will (Romans 12:1-2).
Resting in Christ means we can let go of the compulsions and fears that have driven our behaviors and observances in the past and instead allow Christ to be exalted in our bodies (Philippians 1:20-21). Letting Jesus be exalted in our bodies does not mean guarding our food and sacred practices; rather, it means seeing our lives and energy and life itself as existing for the purpose of God’s glory and for the gospel.
Many of us have deceived ourselves into thinking eating vegetarian or even vegan, keeping Sabbath, and avoiding caffeine are ways we honor God in our bodies. Yet these practices are not biblical. The kingdom of heaven is not about eating and drinking (Romans 14:17). Honoring God with our bodies is a matter of submission to the Lord Jesus, not about controlling our health. It involves being willing to suffer for the sake of God’s glory.
We are strongly instructed to honor God with our sexuality. In 1 Corinthians 6:18-20 Paul explains that our bodies are God’s temples, and sinning sexually is a sin against our own bodies—unlike all other sins which Paul classifies as “outside” the body. Sexual sin is not only a sin against our own personal bodies and those of the ones we involve with us, but it is also a sin against Christ’s own body. Sexual sin is the only one that brings illegitimate intimacy and vulnerability into ourselves (even in the case of pornography or fantasizing via romance novels). We involve the Lord Jesus through His indwelling Spirit in our sexual and relational sin when we are immoral. We defile Christ’s own body.
Worshiping God with our bodies means being morally pure and being “completely humble and gentle”—patient, bearing with each other in love, keeping the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:1-5). It means living a life of love and giving ourselves up for His sake just as He gave Himself for us.
God of the dead and of the living
After Paul’s discussion regarding living and dying to the Lord and refusing to pass judgment on God’s children over disputable matters, he finishes by saying, “For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”
Several places throughout the New Testament identify Jesus as the judge of both the dead and the living, including some of Jesus’ own assertions. In one of His more famous and inciting moments, Jesus asserted His deity to the Pharisees by saying, “But about the resurrection of the dead–have you not read what God said to you, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
In the statement Jesus made more than one defining declaration. First, he used the well-known Hebrew name for God: “I Am”. By quoting God’s own identification of Himself and linking it—before the fact—with His own resurrection, He was telling them that He was God.
Second, the Saducees did not believe in a resurrection. Jesus made it very clear that there would be a resurrection, and he identified Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not as dead but as alive. By this statement he not only foreshadowed a resurrection, but he also established that the patriarchs were not non-existent. For them to be “the living”, even then, God had to be preserving them.
Third, Jesus was also telling the Pharisees that He had the power over death. The Jews might perceive the patriarchs as dead, but He new they were not extinct. He Himself had the power to give them life.
John records Jesus declaring his authority over both the dead and the living as well, but in John the emphasis is more overtly on His authority over spiritual life and death than merely over physical life. In John 5:24-27 Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”
In this passage Jesus is explaining that the authority to judge humans has been given to Jesus because of His own sharing in humanity. His judgment is a judgment based on shared experience. First, Jesus explains that everyone who hears the gospel and believes God who sent Jesus for our salvation—those people have crossed over from death to life. This statement is not talking about physical death. Rather, Jesus is saying that those who believe, at that moment, have crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual life. Death of any sort has not more permanent claim on them.
Then Jesus continues by saying the day will come when the dead will hear His voice, “and those who hear will live.” At this point Jesus is speaking of the resurrection from physical death. He is foreshadowing His return in glory when He will come with a shout (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), and the dead in Christ will rise first. It is interesting to notice, in this passage in John, that Jesus says the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God—but only “those who hear will live.” This passage suggests that eternal life is only for those dead who are dead in Christ. While all the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, only those who believed will recognize His voice. Those who actually “hear” and know Him will be resurrected to eternal life.
In John 11:25-26 Jesus says to Martha at Lazarus’ tomb, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Here Jesus was teaching that He had the power to save people from death. In this passage He was stating that even physical death cannot interrupt eternal spiritual life. In Him is the power to resurrect and also intrinsic life. He raises bodies from death, and He gives unending spiritual life to those who believe in Him. He has ultimate authority over death, both physical and spiritual.
When Peter was preaching to Cornelius, he explained that the Lord Jesus commanded him and the other disciples to “preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42-43). Further, in his own epistle Peter stated, “But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).Peter was saying that Jesus had authority over both life and death. Because He abolished death (2 Timothy 1:10) by His own death and resurrection, Jesus has authority over those who are dead and alive. This authority extends over both physical and spiritual death.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And 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 5:14-15).
In this passage Paul reminds the Corinthians that the fact that Jesus died for all men confirms that all men are dead. He died for all, however, so that “those who live” should now live not for themselves but for Jesus. “Those who live”, of course, are those who believe in Jesus and surrender themselves to Him. Those who live are no longer dead—and this new life from Jesus gives them new purpose. Instead of being consumed with themselves, they now live for the One who gave them life.
Paul further charged Timothy “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead,” to preach the word always (2 Timothy 4:1). The Father has given Jesus alone the authority over life and death. Because He took on humanity and became the perfect Sacrifice for the atonement of our sin, because Jesus lived his life as a human, enduring every aspect of our temptations and struggles, He has “earned” the right to be the judge of every man and woman.
Because Jesus abolished death by opening a new, living way to the Father and rising from death on the basis of His perfect sacrifice and offering which satisfied the Father’s wrath against sin, Jesus has authority over all who lie in graves as well as over all who are alive. His authority extends not only over physical death, however, but also over spiritual death.
Because Jesus offered the acceptable Sacrifice, He has the authority to grant eternal life, both physical and spiritual, to those who believe and accept Him. Death, the wages of sin, no longer has control over humanity. Jesus broke its power. He Himself offers us release from our natural condemnation which is our birthright from Adam. When we believe Him, God transfers us from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of His Son Jesus (Colossians 1:13).
In Jesus we have eternal life; first our spirits are brought to life by the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the essence of us will never die. Second, our bodies will be resurrected when Jesus returns and calls us. When we hear His voice, we will come to physical life as well, our spirits reunited with our bodies.
Jesus alone has the authority to judge both the dead—those who are physically dead and those who are still physically alive but are spiritually dead—and the living. He alone has the power over both life and death, because He alone has paid the price and descended to death and broke its chains by rising from death by His own power. When we believe, He gives us His power over death, and we then live with Him.
We now live for the Lord because Jesus Himself gave His own life to rescue us from death. He has the intrinsic life that death could not capture, and He has broken the bonds of our natural enemy and given us life in Himself. He has earned the right to judge both the dead and the living.
This passage in Romans is a call to integrity and faith. Some people use this passage as an excuse not to grow past their original fears and false beliefs; they use the commands not to judge and the command to be fully convinced in one’s own mind as “loopholes” to excuse their clinging onto gospel-add-ons. This passage is not an excuse to avoid clarifying the gospel to people who believe that holy days or “clean” foods are part of the biblical portrait of true faith.
This passage actually points out that believers can have weak, immature faith or growing, mature faith. It is the immature, the weak in faith, who cling to holy days ad special foods.
God is asking you to bow before Him, surrendering to Jesus every beloved ritual and habit that is not part of a relationship with Him, that is not part of the simple gospel described in the New Testament. He wants you to ask Him to reveal to you the ways and the places where you are weak in faith. He asks you to offer Him not only your sins and fears but also the things you most love and cherish.
The Lord Jesus wants to be your only identity. He asks you to be willing to give up whatever you most dearly love, being willing in the process to see yourself as He sees you. Only when we give up to Jesus our cherished dreams and desires and accomplishments will we know what He is giving us or redeemed for us for His glory. Only as we release our hold on the parts of ourselves we most value will we begin to see how God loves and values us.
In giving to God the things we believe are our best “offerings” and observances, we will find that He Himself fills those places in our hearts where those loved habits resided. Only when we risk giving up the things we think are our most spiritual practices will we discover His will, His sufficiency for our security and salvation.
Ask God to show you what you need to know about yourself. Ask Him to reveal to you how you are weak in the faith. Ask Him to break the power of fear and shame in your heart and to give you His perspective and authority so you can see reality, so you can see yourself as God sees you.
Weak in faith
Convinced in his own mind
Live for the Lord
Lord of the dead and of the living
In chapter12 Paul explores what it looks like for a Christ-follower to live in love as a “living sacrifice”. Chapter 13 discusses a Christ-follower’s proper submission to authority and ends again with a reminder that as Christ’s people, we are to live in the light and not in self-indulgence. In chapter 14, Paul returns to the issue of Christ-followers relating to each other; this time he explains how those who are more mature in the faith are to respect and protect those who are weaker in faith.
1. Paul urges that those who are weak in faith are to be accepted with their weakness. What does it mean to be “weak in the faith”?
1 Corinthians 8:9-13
1 Corinthians 9:19-23
1 Corinthians 3:1-4
2 Timothy 3:1-7
2. Given the context of the early church growing in Gentile communities, what is the relationship between weak faith and eating only vegetables?
1 Corinthians 8:4-13
1 Corinthians 10:25-30; 31-33
3. This instruction regarding eating or not eating meat is given in the context of all readers being believers in Jesus. Paul further states that we are not to judge “someone else’s servant”, that each of us will stand or fall before God, not before each other—and God will keep His people standing. How are we to understand this instruction against judging when the Bible also instructs us to evaluate people and teachings?
1 Corinthians 5:9-13
2 Corinthians 11:11-15
1 John 4:1-3
1 Thessalonians 5:21
4. Since God instructed Israel to observe holy days as part of their Mosaic covenant with Him, how are we to understand Paul’s statement in verse 5 that some will observe days, some will consider every one alike, but each is to be “fully convinced in his own mind”?
5. Given our particular Adventist background, how should we consider the seventh-day Sabbath in our lives?
1 Samuel 15:22-23
1 Timothy 4:1-5
6. Verse 6 describes the obedience of a true God-honoring Christ-follower. What is it, and why is this God’s desire for us?
1 Corinthians 10:30-31
1 Timothy 4:3-5
7. What truth about our lives as Christ-followers is Paul emphasizing by explaining that we are no longer required to observe the specific restrictions of the law?
1 Corinthians 6:18-20
8. Paul concludes his instructions about living and dying to the Lord by saying Christ died so that “he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” What does this mean?
2 Corinthians 5:14-15
9. In what areas are you “weak in the faith”?
10. What is God asking you to offer to Him as part of your being a “living sacrifice” as you commit to growing stronger in faith?
11. If Jesus were to sit with you, what fear or self-protection would He tell you to give to Him so you could see yourself as He sees you?
12. Ask the Lord Jesus to reveal to you what you need to know about yourself that is keeping you “weak in the faith”. Ask Him to break the power of fear and shame in your heart and to give you His perspective and His authority so you can see reality instead of seeing life colored by what you fear. Thank Him for completing what He begins in you, and ask Him to help you see as He sees, know as His knows, and love as He loves.
Copyright 1999-2012 Graphics Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised September 11, 2012. Use of this site and forum signifies your acceptance of the Terms and Conditions. Send comments and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org