I was probably about 10 years old. I’d gone to the store with my folks, and I wandered off to find something of interest to me. Following my norm at that time, I found the baseball cards and books. Not only did they have baseball cards, but they had a clear-pack strip that contained the equivalent of three packs! And the book rack contained a paperback volume about one of my baseball heroes, the “Say-Hey Kid,” Willie Mays.
I knew I couldn’t have both. I barely had money for one. But which one?
About that time, my Dad walked up and asked if I’d made a decision. I told him my dilemma. And it was then that he shared with me a life principle that I have used a great many times: “When in doubt, don’t.” That is, if you are doubtful about doing something, then don’t do it.
What I didn’t know then, but have come to realize since then, is that little statement is a biblical principle rooted in Romans 14:
“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind” (v. 5).
In this chapter, Paul is speaking about issues of liberty. How should a believer decide about whether or not to practice his liberty? Should he eat the discounted meat that had been offered to idols and was now on sale in the market — or should he be a vegetarian and avoid any possibility of violating God’s commands (vv. 1-3)? Or should the Jewish believer still keep the sabbath even though he had been liberated from the Law (v. 5)? Or should a Gentile avoid any of the pagan festivals which he had previously kept, even though there is no such thing as another God (v. 5)?
To these issues, which have no clear directive from God and are clearly not immoral, God says, choose whichever you want, but be fully convinced in your own mind. That is, if God has not forbidden it or God has not commanded it, there is liberty to exercise your own wisdom and discernment and do whatever your (godly) heart desires. But don’t do something as an exercise of liberty unless you are convinced that it is being done to honor the Lord. In other words, for the Roman believers, if they were going to eat that beef, they needed to be confident of that liberty, having no thought that their action was sinful in any way. Or, if they decided not to keep the Sabbath or to participate in a secular festival, they likewise needed to be confident that the exercise of those liberties were allowed by God and that they were not doing something that their conscience was telling them not to do.
As I have been wrestling with a significant decision recently, a friend wisely counseled me with this reminder, “Unless you and your wife are 100% convinced to do this, don’t do it.” We certainly have liberty to do what has been offered, but my friend was reminding me of the importance of being fully convinced.
As John MacArthur has said many times, “you never want to encourage anyone to ever violate their conscience.” Even if it is an issue of liberty that is not sin, when we train ourselves to ignore the conscience in liberty issues, we will at the same time be training ourselves to ignore our conscience when it is a non-liberty (moral, or sin) issue.
So when in doubt about an issue of liberty, don’t.