Freedom. It’s a word we all love. More than that, it is an experience we both enjoy and expect in our culture. Unfortunately, not everyone in the world is free. For some, freedom is a distant dream. They long for the day when they can be free. For Christians, however, freedom is a reality that defines our faith. The Bible says that “It is for freedom that that Christ has set us free” (Gal 5:1, NIV). Followers of Christ are not bound to God by religious tradition or ritual – or even the expectation of other believers. Indeed, faith gives us the the freedom to follow Christ as He leads.
Unfortunately, while we are free in Christ, we allow ourselves to be bound by various traditions and rituals; and sometimes we allow ourselves to be bound by the conviction of others. The result can be conflict with other believers who do not share our traditions or convictions. Our text is Romans 14:1-12 and Paul is urging unity in the church.
As a person, or group of people worship, over time they can develop a set of beliefs that have more to do with ritual than saving faith. Given enough time, those beliefs can be elevated to the level of saving faith. Not discerning the difference, they come to believe that to disregard their ritual or tradition is to disregard faith and/or God.
When this happens, believers begin to question the “faith” of others. Suspicion and distrust creep into the relationship, and soon full-blown conflict results. Satan couldn’t be more pleased. He is the author of confusion and desperately wants the church to either distract itself with secondary issues, or (preferred by him) destroy itself with outright conflict.
Paul, discerning that conflict is beginning to raise its head over secondary issues, slams on the breaks. He desires to banish conflict and Satan. To do this he reminds the church that our faith is defined by love, not ritual. He writes, “Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. … for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:15, 17).
If conviction leads one person to abstain from certain things, then he abstains for Christ, not another person (Roman 14:5-8). And if a person does not abstain, he does so for the same reason. However, as believers our desire should be for each person to be walking in faith with Christ. As such, we have an obligation to promote faith and love. Therefore, Paul writes, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Romans 14:19).
Satan wants to destroy the unity of the church. However, in Christ we are free to walk with Him and free to encourage others to do the same. And the beauty of our freedom is that we can walk with each other without being identical, yet still mutually enjoy the company and worship of our Savior.
I am grateful that I do not enter the presence of God through ritual or tradition, or even the expectations of others. And while I am bound by the law of Christ, I am free in Christ. Indeed, “If the Son sets your free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).