I joined a women’s Bible study several months ago and recently an argument began over whether or not it is a sin for Christians to have tattoos. The discussion soon evolved to a discussion regarding breast implants. The group was split 50%-50” with some seeing no problem and the others arguing that God made us like He wanted us and we are not free to “fiddle” (as one woman argued) with His creation.
One argued that dancing and drinking spoiled our reputations as good Christians. You can only imagine where the discussion went from there! Some thought that it’s a sin for Christians to take tranquilizers to calm down instead of trusting God and “casting all of our cares on Him.”
A split is developing over these issues that threatens to destroy group. Please help.
Unfortunately, Paul dealt with the same problems in his day. Fortunately, he gave us clear-cut guidance on how to settle them. Christian relationships were in upheaval in the 1st century pagan culture. The Roman Christians were having great difficulty in deciding just which activities were acceptable for Christians and which were not. They were arguing, among other things, whether or not it was all right for Christians to eat meat which had previously offered to idols. Some felt eating it was a sin! Others felt that they were free in Christ to eat whatever they wanted!
In Romans 14:1-15:5 Paul laid down the guidelines for settling these disputes.
To begin with, sorting out your differences means understanding the difference between personal convictions and Biblical truth. I have a personal conviction not to drink alcohol. It would be wrong for me to tell my friends that drinking alcohol is a sin for them as well. The Bible never forbids simply drinking alcohol; it forbids drunkenness. Personal convictions are those choices that I make for my life that are not expressly forbidden in the Bible. On the other hand, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” is a Biblical truth to be obeyed no matter how we look at it.
The real issue revolves around what we might call, “Disputable Matters.” These are areas of life where the Bible doesn’t expressly give direction.
Three disputable matters were rampant in the church in Rome:
1. Eating meat offered to idols
2. Celebrating pagan holidays
3. Getting drunk
Unfortunately, as your are discovering in your Bible study group, disputable issues still divide and hurt Christians in the church: dress; movies; music; video games; holidays; tattoos; body piercings; bodily augmentations or upgrades; home schooling; drinking alcohol; smoking; dancing; etc., etc. and etc.
Two extremes must be avoided as we decide which are acceptable practices for Christians and which are not?
Legalism compiles a list of rules and conform to the rules. we then attempt to make our rules and personal convictions normative for others.
Libertinism declares that we are free to do anything not expressly forbidden in the Bible: “Since I’m free in Christ and the Bible forbids none of these things, then I’ll feel free to do any and/or all of them!”
In Romans 15:1 Paul laid down the over arching principle for how we act toward each other in disputable matters: “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” Strong Christians eat the meat without any pangs of conscience. Weak Christians can’t eat without violating their consciences. However, as we shall see, in order to maintain unity and harmony, strong Christians will limit their freedom so as not to offend weaker brothers and sisters.
By the way, Christians who are strong in one area might be weak in another—and vice versa.
At Casas Church we utilize seven boxes to help us sort out where we are spiritually and emotionally in particular disputable matters. Finding the right box helps guide us in how we behave around others and what freedoms we may or may not have in each area.
By the way, some very young Christians may be able to enter an area with freedom while those much farther along in their spiritual journey may still be struggling in that particular area.
BOX 1: I can’t and I struggle if you do.
“One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him” (Romans 14:2-3).
BOX 2: I can’t but you can.
“As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean” (Romans 14:14).
BOX 3: I can but it is a struggle for me.
“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5).
BOX 4: I can and you can.
“He who regards one day as special, does so to the Lord. He who eats meat, eats to the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who abstains, does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord” (Romans 14:6-8)
BOX 5: I can But I Won’t Because Others Might Stumble.
“Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way” (Romans 14:13b).
A stumbling block is anything that might harm the conscience or hinder the spiritual journey of another Christian.
BOX 6: I can And I’ll HeLP Others Find Freedom.
“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification” (Romans 14:19).
If we are “strong” in a disputable area we can help weaker brothers or sisters who are “weak” in that area by making a conscious decision to restrict our liberty in that area. Then, we come along side them and help them understand why we restricted our liberty. Then, we encourage them to enjoy their own freedom and grow strong in that area as well.
BOX 7: I can’t so I won’t until I can.
But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
Since the conscience is the interface between the human spirit and the human soul, we must never violate our consciences. Instead, we carefully retrain our consciences according Biblical truth so that we can experience the freedom of the Spirit-filled life. The obvious conclusion here is that what is sin for some is not sin for others.
Instead of fighting or spending time arguing about the disputable areas, let me join with Paul and encourage us to rally around the indisputables.
“May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 15:5-6).
May I share with you what I consider to be the indisputables of the Christian Faith?
1. The Bible is the Word of God.
2. Jesus is 100% God and 100% man (This is known as the hypostatic union.).
3. Jesus was virgin born.
4. Jesus died a substitutionary death on the cross in our place in order to forgive our sins.
5. The bodily resurrection guarantees that His mission was fulfilled.
6. Forgiveness of sin and salvation come by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
7. God establishes an eternal relationship with those who personally receive Him as Savior and Lord.
If we get these indisputables right, nothing else really matters. Jesus focused on these essentials as a powerful way to bring in the kingdom. So may we!
Well, “J,” I hope these thoughts are helpful. I am stopping right now to pray for peace and unity for your Bible group. I believe Paul’s insights will bring healing and understanding. I hope so.