Faithlife Sermons

Holiness and Grace in Gray Areas

Romans  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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What should we do when Christians have opposing opinions?

Romans 14 NASB95
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall give praise to God.” So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing 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 in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.
As I was preparing to preach this chapter, I was tempted to preach simply verse 2 out of context. Yep- you know it, I was going to say, from the Bible, that we should eat meat because those who are strong in their faith are people who eat meat, while vegetarians are weak! In fact, you folks who have meat farms might want to use Romans 14:2 in your advertising!
But, even though Shane Mackey tried to pay me to do that, I must be true to the whole of Scripture. (J/K)
Chapter 14 isn’t really about food. It’s about holiness. And as Paul starts to wind down his letter to the Roman church, he must address certain issues of division that the church is experiencing. Last week, we saw the political divide. Today, we are going to look at another divide, namely Holiness and Grace in Gray Areas.
Let me give you a little background: In the OT, there were a number of ceremonial laws that addressed food, worship, sacrifice, etc. These laws were given to guide the early Hebrews in civil life. These laws are not the same as the 10 commandments which are laws that reflect God’s unchanging character. So there were some who grew up observing these laws as tradition and then those that accepted Christianity apart from a Jewish heritage. Still there were others who were mature in their faith and understood the idea of Christian liberty. And as they lived out their life pursuing holiness, some folks were of the opinion that they should observe these traditions in order to live as God desires and others who opined that there is liberty in these areas.
Again, these are areas that Scripture does not directly address or prescribe dogmatically. OR perhaps areas that Scripture does not go into depth on. This happened quite a bit with food in the early church-Paul actually confronted the Apostle Peter for being influenced by the opinion of some Jews regarding eating with Gentiles.
Now, in 2020, we may have fewer strong opinions about whether or not we should eat meat, but we certainly have some gray areas that tend to receive some rather strong opinions. Let me give you a couple examples:
Alcoholic beverages (sippin’ saints vs. the absolute aints)
Tobacco use
Clothing Styles (suit and tie or dress vs. jeans)
Birth control
television/ movies
Specifically related to the church-
Eschatology- That is the end times
Missiology- How we do missions
Methodology - Programs , how we do ministry
Calvinism/ Arminianism
Music Styles (the list goes on)
Discuss: What are some gray areas that you have identified?
BUT- Everyone has an opinion, so how do we approach some of these areas of life where we don’t have explicit instructions?
For our conversation today, we are going to call this our spiritual preference. That is, our personal conviction regarding these gray areas.
Here in Romans 14, Paul gives 3 principles, employed together, that we can use to guide us in these preferences. Each principle contains a measure of grace towards one another. IOW, we ought not to start fights over these things, but instead let’s explore these principles and then we’ll walk through some practical action-steps.

Principle of Conscience (5, 22-23)

Here is what Paul is saying: Each of us is a growing Christian and we have a conscience guided by the Holy Spirit in proportion to our spiritual growth. This is to say that our conscience is directly tied to our faith in God. Apart from that, we are in dangerous waters. Therefore, we must determine that our opinion must be affirmed completely by our own conscience. If we are fully convinced that what we are doing is pleasing to God, then do it giving thanks and glory to God.
So, if your conscience will not allow for you to dance, then you must refrain. But if you are convinced that you can dance to the glory of God, then you dance! (I personally don’t dance, but my reasons are not those of conscience, but rather for rhythmic reasons)
However, if you have doubts about what you are doing… maybe God is not pleased by that occasional beer, or by your cinematic choices, let’s say … then you sin against your own conscience in carrying out these actions.
Discuss: What is the principle of conscience?
ILL- I get a fair amount of questions about some of these gray areas. Here’s one conversation, “Pastor, so and so makes a big deal about not how I spend Sunday afternoons, but I have things I need to do and things I enjoy doing- tell them that it’s not a sin! Well, look, God created the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath… are you fully convinced that you are pleasing God? Don’t fight about it, but if you have doubts; if your own conscience is bothering you, then maybe you should rest and give God more of yourself for worship.“
We must use the principle of conscience as we walk through these gray areas.

Principle of Identity (6-8, 18)

We are the Lord’s. Every breath we take is because He has given us. And one day, we will draw our last breath and guess what, we will still be His in death!
Paul is reminding the Romans that, as believers who have trusted in Christ’s finished work on the cross, we are not earning God’s favor; we have already received it. We will stand before God because Christ will cause us to stand. We are acceptable before our Holy God because Christ has made us acceptable! In fact, He calls us His masterpiece!
ILL: Ok, honest question: How many of you woke up this morning, went to the mirror and said, “Masterpiece!”
You know what that means? It means that when we approach these so-called gray areas of life, we belong to God and we don’t have to agonize over whether or not we wear a tie to church or whether we sing a certain style of worship song. Instead, we trust that we are accepted by God and we are secure there. We follow principle #1 and do what we are confident is pleasing to God for His glory knowing principle #2 that I am His, and He is Mine! We are the reason Christ came and died. We have been bought with a price!
Discuss: How does your identity in Christ affect your opinions?
Often in my times teaching the youth, I would remind them WHO they are. We can get so caught up trying to look holy that we fall into the sin of self-righteousness. Jesus has given us freedom from the bonds of sin to live as His children. When we approach gray areas, we look to our consciences and rest in our identity.
But finally, we have the

Principle of Purpose (9,17)

We get divided in life because we get tricked into thinking that we live for our own purposes or maybe even someone else’s approval.
I’ve heard some people talk to their kids- “We want them to think good of us, so behave....”
Likewise, “What will she think if I don’t do this?” or we are on the other side- “I cannot believe that she dresses that way or I am disgusted that he would think differently than I do”
We get so distracted and lose our mission when we divide ourselves because of differing opinions in gray areas.
As Christians, we must recognize that we live for the Lord. We are not living for the approval of others and others are not going to be judged by our opinion when they stand before Christ at the end of days.
*Now, let’s be clear here: When God’s Word speaks directly and clearly, there is no room for opinions. I’ve seen people try to give their opinion the same credibility as the Bible. So, if your opinion is in conflict with God’s Word- it is you who are wrong, not God.
Discuss: How does division work against our purpose as a church?
But, Paul reminds us that the Kingdom of God is not petty differences. (17) It is in our pursuit of God and in our peace and unity as a body of believers.
So, we have these principles of conscience, identity, and purpose, now let’s look quickly at how we interact around these gray areas:

Do not look down on or fight with someone who differs in their opinion. (1)

I am amazed that most of the fights in churches are not about major theological points, but rather about strong opinions. (This is a pride issue, BTW)
We are going to disagree. It happens every day. But, we do not have the right to condemn those who look at gray areas differently. Just because someone is convinced that we should sing modern worship music does not make them a heretic… just because someone believes that there should be no dancing of any kind ever does not make them your enemy… it might make them a fuddy duddy, but by the grace of God we can pursue Christ together.

Do not become a stumbling block. (13)

ILL- Do you guys remember the NY Jets coach who tripped the player of the opposing team as they ran down the sideline? This is the image that comes to mind when I think about stumbling blocks… that and my little dog that gets under my feet...
There are people who are young and weak in their faith- maybe they are exploring Christianity and they are convinced that all drinking is sin. That’s what they’ve heard- perhaps they even have relatives who were alcoholics and were belligerent and abusive towards them. Folks, don’t go trying to argue your opinion with them. They need grace and a Christian willing to sacrifice a little in order to help them grow to trust Christ more.
My witness and testimony are more important than food or drink.

Do not divide the church (20)

We all have differences… opinions are like holes in the head- we all have several.
And in our culture today, there seems to be a tendency to try and form sides and it’s us vs. them.... and for what? Because we have elevated our opinion to be the most important thing.
So, do not divide yourselves over opinions.
We are one body in Christ. We are united in the victory of Jesus and in the mission to make disciples.
Kingdom Work > Preferences
Folks as we close today, if you are harboring anger or divisiveness against someone this morning over your opinions, I’m going to challenge you to go and reconcile. If we are going to be the church that God uses to bring about revival, we must learn to live in holiness and grace in the gray areas.
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