What Can We Eat? Answers About Liberty
June 6, 2021
One of the great themes of Romans is the freedom the believer has in Christ:
- for he who has died is freed from sin (6:7)
- But now having been freed from sin and enslaved to God, you derive your benefit, resulting in sanctification, and the outcome, eternal life (6:22)
- But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound (7:6)
- For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (8:2)
- that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God (8:21)
We have spent much time thinking about the joy we derive from that freedom: we are not in bondage to sin and we are not in bondage to the Law or under condemnation from the Law. But what are the implications of that? How do we handle that freedom? What kinds of things can we do? This question has been considered by Christians for millennia — as far back as the first church as Paul’s letters to Rome and Corinth (1 Cor. 8-9) demonstrate. And we still wrestle with these questions: what can we do if we are free?
- What kind of music is appropriate for worship? Anything (including secular)? Acapella only? Psalms only? Hymns only? Choruses only? Anything post-2000? Anything pre-1900? What about instruments? Drums? Choir or no choir? Lead singers or none?
- Parenting questions: how many children (1-2, 4, 8)? Contraceptive devices or not? Which kind? Spanking or time-outs? Neither? Both? Other? When do you stop spanking? When does our authority over them end? What is their responsibility to obey parents?
- Entertainment: movie theaters or not? TV or none? PG or R? (If R, sometimes? Never?)
- Books: Paper or digital? What kind of books? How many books?
- Vacation: How much is too much money for a vacation? How long is too long? Are there places from which we should be restricted? Can we go to the beach — at Spring Break?
- Clothing: what is modest (for both men and women)? Who decides? Can women wear slacks to church? Jeans? What about makeup?
- Spouse selection: courtship or dating? “Traditional” methods or online dating sites (which ones)?
- Vocabulary: what do you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer? “Substitute” words (if so which ones) — yay or nay? Is vulgarity ok? If so, are there limitations?
- Schooling: Public, private, or home? What informs those decisions?
- Merchandise: What can I buy and from where? Can I purchase a product from a company that supports homosexual marriage and transgenderism? If not, are there limitations? (It will be hard)
- Food: any foods? Limitations? (“I don’t eat pork; if it was bad for Israel it’s bad for me.”) Are there restaurants that shouldn’t be frequented? Can we eat out on Sunday?
- What about alcohol? Can a Christian drink alcohol? If so how much? In what contexts? (What about cigarettes and marijuana?)
- Politics: Can you be a godly Christian and be a Republican/Democrat/Libertarian?
- COVID: To mask or not? To vaccine or not?
- Are the choices we make for these kinds of things absolute? Or can they vary from person to person? Or culture to culture? (A pastor told about being in a European country at a church event where the European woman stood swilling her wine in her glass talking to an American woman, wondering how the American could be a pastor’s wife and wear slacks to a church event.)
Questions about the freedom we have in Christ and its extent and limitations abound. (I’ve had discussions on just about all these issues.) And there are answers that guide us through those questions (which is why I’ve named my sermon the way I have).
Over the next few weeks, we will be examining what Paul says about liberty and the practical use of our freedoms. While there are many facets to what Paul will say, one theme dominates the section:
Use your individual freedoms as a means of preserving the corporate unity of the Body.
Our personal freedom is always subordinate to our corporate responsibilities. Our commitment to the unity of the church dominates this section. We want to act so unity is preserved.
In these opening verses Paul reveals preliminary thoughts and three guides for how we think about liberty issues (in the next section he will reveal a process for making decisions and then he will give some further warnings and exhortations in the last half of the chapter).
Whatever else this passage will do for us, we will not be able to walk away and say, “It’s my freedom; I can do it if I want to do it.” There are concerns that go well-beyond that sentiment.
Theological Context: What Paul has said about liberty and conscience
- What freedom is not
- What freedom is
- The relationship of the conscience to freedom
- The Reality of Differences (vv. 1-2)
- There are “weak” people
- There are “strong” people
- Those different people have different ideas about daily concerns: food and worship
- One Attitude to Guide Our Different Choices: Accept One Another (v. 1a)
- One Caution in Making Different Choices: Don’t Discriminate (v. 3b)
- One Principle to Remember in Our Different Choices: God is (and will) Judge (v. 4)
Download the rest of this sermon on Romans 14:1-4.
The audio will be posted on the GBC website by tomorrow.