Romans 14, Steak or Veggies

Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

Romans 14:19-23

When I read this I started with the end of the chapter, which are the verses above, specifically “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves“. This line in isolation is really confusing and just highlights why it is not good to take a verse out of context. How can someone condemn himself by not keeping something just between them and God and by approving it? Why should we keep a conviction between just us and God? Doesn’t God want us to share what He is teaching us with others? What is Paul talking about?

After reading the whole chapter (context!) I now understand what Paul is saying. Paul spends a lot of time talking about eating meat vs just veggies because that was a big issue religiously speaking during his time. Still today this could be a factor in some relationships. He does mention wine at the end of the chapter and today I think that is a much more relevant topic overall. However, you can plug a myriad of disputable things into the chapter (tattoos, getting dressed up on Sunday morning, what day you go to church, etc.). I’m going to focus on alcohol just because Paul does specifically mention wine and it is still very relevant.

Today you’ll find Christians who proclaim it to be a sin to drink any sort of alcohol and pass judgement on those who do, and then you find Christians who do not feel guilty about enjoying a margarita or a fresh brewski and who openly flaunt their freedom to do so (as long as they aren’t getting drunk), putting down Christians who feel guilty drinking as “old fashioned prudes”. Paul addresses both ends of the spectrum pointing out the sinfulness of both judgement and of approving a behavior that can cause someone else to stumble in their faith.

One of the most well-known Bible verses, and probably most misused is “do not judge lest ye be judged” from the sermon on the mount. What I mean by misused and misquoted is that it is often taken out of context and used to “justify” blatant sinful behavior. The Bible does say that drunkenness is sinful, and commands us not to be controlled by anything but the Holy Spirit, or in other words not to be controlled by a drug of some sort. For some, who struggle with addiction or who are living in (or grew up around drunkenness), starting to drink alcohol can be a very slippery slope that causes them to fall away in their journey of faith by allowing something else other than God to control them, or to become their “go to” for relaxation and “happiness” after work and on the weekends. For someone in this situation they may choose to abstain from alcohol. Either for the protection of their own faith, or to be an example to people in their family that true satisfaction comes from the Lord. This is right for them to do, since Romans 14 states that anyone who does partake in a disputable activity with doubt about whether it is ok for them to do so is sinning. However, when someone in this situation begins to take it upon themselves to force their own policy upon others, or judging others who do partake in alcohol (again not drunkenness), then their judgment becomes sin. They are right to abstain because of their own convictions, but wrong to judge about a disputable matter, and therefore sin in that way.

On the flip-side from judgement for behavior, there is sinning by approval of a behavior through word or action. The Bible verse quoted above “blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” is exponentially less popular than the judgement verse. How come? Cause it is hard to “justify” sinful behavior with this one. But again, what does it mean in context of the chapter? Paul explains that if you are strong enough in your faith to enjoy “a cold one”, but then you openly put someone down who finds it wrong for themselves to drink, then you are in fact condemning yourself by what you approve with your words and your behavior. The act of putting down the person who feels convicted to abstain is unloving. Flaunting your freedom to drink a glass of wine can very easily tempt someone who struggles with addiction to fall back into their vice, or who is trying to be an example to family to cave in their convictions. This is unloving. Why? Because when you put the other down, or when you flaunt your behavior or even just your approval of it in word, you are caring more about “being right” or about “doing what makes you feel good”, just like the person who judges you for drinking does.

When we care more about being right or about doing what we want, then we care more about us and the disputable matter than we do about the salvation of others. We therefore condemn ourselves by our approval (whichever way you approve) because you are guilty of loving yourself more than your neighbor. Christ Himself said that the greatest law is to love the Lord God with all your heart, all your soul and all your strength, and the second is to love your neighbor as your yourself. What is the one thing God cares about most? The redemption and salvation of people for His glory. It is His will that none should perish. So if we are truly going about our Father’s business then we will care more about the redemption and salvation of people than “being right” or about flaunting our freedom in Christ by partaking in something that could cause someone else to stumble in their faith.

That is why Paul says to keep your conviction to yourself, and to work your salvation out with trembling before a Holy God (Philippians 2). He reminds us in Romans 14 that we will each stand before God on judgement day–alone. We are each accountable to God, not based on technicalities of obedience, but as to whether or not Jesus Christ was our Lord on earth. If we are living in submission to God through Christ by the power of the Spirit then we will love Him and therefore love others.

In other words, care more about the salvation of others. Even if that means paying closer attention to what you are wearing, what you are drinking, or paying attention to what you are saying about disputable matters, or even if it means keeping quiet about your convictions, then do it. Be aware of and concerned about their walk with God. Their walk with God is more important. That is the loving and peaceful thing to do.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31

Notice how Paul opens up the chapter with the keywords “disputable matters.” There are black and white matters that are not disputable laid out in scripture that clearly tells us what right or wrong  is, in many areas. There are also scriptural instruction for how to judge and address sinful behavior. (i.e. Galatians 6, 1 Corinthians 5, Titus 1, Matthew 18).

But, there is a Redeemer

God is a master redeemer. He specializes in redeeming (or making something new and beautiful out of) the messes we are so good at making in our lives. From time to time we’ll find ourselves feeling like we don’t have a purpose, things may all seem to be going nowhere, or just plain going all wrong. The plan that God has for us may seem hazy, or even maybe a complete mystery. It’s time likes these that its good to stop and remember that God didn’t make a mistake when He knit us together in our mother’s womb. We are fearfully and wonderfully made, we are placed into space and time, into this specific point of space and time, with our unique abilities, appearance, personality, and everything about us for a reason.

The problem with being human is that we often mess that up, taking our eyes off Jesus and follow/worship something else that promises to satisfy without having to say no to the desire of our flesh. Sometimes we make life altering decisions that are disobedient towards God and we violently hurl ourselves off of the tracks God laid for us when we were just a babe.

We’ve been doing it since the beginning. Before the fall of mankind in the garden, God’s plan for us was being perfectly fulfilled. We were perfectly glorifying Him and in perfect fellowship with Him because we were free from sin. It would have gone on forever, except just as we do today, Adam and Eve took the gift of freewill that God gave humanity and used it to throw the muck of sin all over God’s masterpiece. We messed it up so royally that it could never go back, the darkness of our sin was so deep that it could not be scraped away to reveal what it once had been. The curse of sin (death) hovers permanently over all of us, the darkness of that original free will rebellion spans the centuries, dooming us to separation from God.

But, there is a Redeemer.

Each of us does the same thing that Adam and Eve did. Although we are born into a life leading to physical death because of the original sin, we are born with a clean slate for our souls. We each have the choice to either live in obedience to ourselves, or to live in obedience towards God. It doesn’t take us long in life to start sinning though, satisfying the desires of our sinful nature and dooming our souls to the second death. As we grow we begin to make decisions that affect the trajectory of our lives here on earth; and the thing is, every decision we make is either one that is God Honoring, or one that is self-honoring and each has its own set of consequences. It doesn’t take us long to start using our free will to not only coat our souls in sin, but to also hurl sinful decisions into the path of our life, altering the direction and our future. We derail ourselves. There was no undo in the garden. There is no undo here and now.

But, there is a Redeemer.

Some of us can look back at our lives to the specific age, place and rebellious decision that threw us literally off the tracks. We can see how this decision of disobedience marred the masterpiece that God had intended for us into something that we could never go back to. We can never go back and follow those tracks that God had laid out for us. We are left crashed into the dirt, stuck in the mar of our sin, with a feeling like we have no purpose left. That one decision becomes the greatest regret, the regret that hangs heavy on us, weighing us down deeper into the mar as we begin to rust.

Some of us look back at our lives and we don’t see a single moment, we see a whole life where God’s intentions or plans for our lives were a mystery. A life where we’ve done nothing but serve our own desires, and yet here you find yourself feeling lost and without purpose. All that is left is disappointment, and the futility of grasping satisfaction that all too quickly fades away into emptiness.

Whichever it may be, we have used the free will God gave us to mar the original masterpiece of a plan for our lives. We’ve allowed ourselves to think for a moment that the brush was in our hands, when in reality the Creator simply allowed us to sink our hands into the darkness of sin and to throw it all over His handiwork. We think we are triumphant in overrunning God’s authority, taking control, but really we are not in control, we are being allowed to sin, allowed to use our free will to rebel. We’ve given birth to sin, and the wages of sin is death. Death of our bodies, of our souls, of relationships, of dreams, of purpose.

But, there is a Redeemer.

The beauty of our complete brokenness is that we cannot mend ourselves. Sure we can choose to go our whole life spinning our wheels in the mire of sin until we sink into the grave we’ve dug, sealing our eternal fate. But because we have free will, God gives us the option on this side of eternity to stop living in regret or rebellion and to set our eyes on Christ. The Redeemer can become our Redeemer.

The Redeemer builds something new out of what has been destroyed in death, a new set of tracks in an impossible situation. Although we cannot go back and undo that one decision, we can move forward today. Although we cannot go back and give our lives over to Christ when we were but a young one, we can today.

There is a Redeemer.

The beauty of that deep sense of regret, of the groping in the darkness of our sin, is that it allows us to be deeply acquainted with how much we need a Savior and it leads us to repentance. God doesn’t give us a magic redo at life, He doesn’t take away the consequences, He uses them to lead us to our true purpose, to the reason why He created us: to be Redeemed by the power of God, for the glory of God, through Christ. To be satisfied in God through Christ, passionately in love with Him, bringing glory and honor to Him through the Holy Spirit.

We have each disobeyed God. We have lied, we have dishonored God’s name carelessly or even as a curse, we have looked at someone we aren’t married to with lust, or even acted out those thoughts, we have coveted what belongs to someone else, we have all sinned. When we stand before God when we die, we cannot hide our sin behind good deeds, there is nothing good enough that we can do to hide our sin from God. There is only One who Has the power to redeem our soul and bring it from death into life, Jesus. Jesus, took on flesh, although being fully God, faced temptation and through the Holy Spirit’s power did not sin. He took our punishment on the cross, obeying God and allowing Himself to be separated from God by our sin. All of mankind’s sin from all of history was heaped upon Christ at Calvary, cloaking Him in darkness, separating Him from God the Father. But Christ, in the power of God overcame death, and was resurrected. All who trust in Him, who repent of their sins, and follow Him instead of themselves are saved from the second death. We, the redeemed, are covered and protected then by His righteousness, just as our sin covered Him on Calvary. In Christ we become new, our souls are reborn in Christ our Lord. Our hope is complete in Him, knowing that our born again souls will not have to taste death and can be in perfect fellowship with God in Heaven. The Redemption of each us, for all who say yes to Christ here on earth, becomes the Redemption of humanity after the fall.

There is a Redeemer.

Stop looking back, stop spinning your wheels. Turn to and follow Christ. Look to Christ and rest in Him. When we put our trust in Him and obey Him, He lifts the burden and the weight of our regrets. He builds a new path for us in the wilderness, a path that leads us to Him. The Holy Spirit strengthens and transforms us, who belong to Christ, and empowers us to do God’s will in peace. So seek first God’s Kingdom and God’s righteousness. Be transformed by the entire renewal of your mind and fulfill your purpose: to know Christ and to make Him known.

“The LORD redeems the soul of His servants,
And none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned.”
Psalm 34:22

“For He rescued us from the domain of darkness,
and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son,
in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
I Corinthians 1:13-14