Twitter just amplifies a sad reality: Christians love to argue with each other.
Sometimes we argue about issues that actually matter. For instance, a sister in Christ may be reading supposed Bible Study material by a known false teacher, and you’ll need to give her evidence that she’s being exposed to error. Similarly, a friend might be engaging in sexual immorality, angrily resisting your attempts to lovingly correct her. Someone online may insist that the Bible was written merely by men, and therefore shouldn’t be regarded as God’s Word. In such clear-cut situations, arguing on behalf of Scripture becomes a necessity. Never shy away from arguing against obvious sin.
Alas, too often we misinterpret matters of personal conviction as commands from God that all Christians must embrace. We have our proof texts from the Bible to use as clubs to beat dissidents into submission. We assure ourselves that Scripture supports our position. If they disagree, they demonstrate ignorance at best, and outright rebellion most of the time. We firmly believe that (whether knowingly or unknowingly) those who don’t share our convictions disobey God’s commands. Therefore we argue, working tirelessly to force their repentance.
Scripture will have none of that. I want to look at Romans 14 as one example of respecting the personal convictions of Christians who don’t share our convictions.
Please take a moment to read Romans 14 for yourselves, since I can’t go through it verse-by-verse in a single article. You’ll see that the apostle Paul warns his readers against judging each other over disputable issues like food choices or Sabbath observances. Accepting other Christians, he says, shouldn’t be done with the motive of bringing them around to our point of view.
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 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. 4 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. ~~Romans 14:1-4 (NASB95)
Each of us must obey the Lord according to how He convicts us. I once had a co-worker who believed God had called her to be a vegetarian. All of us in the office disagreed with her based on Genesis 9:3, where God gave Noah permission to use animals as food. Clearly, although her vegetarianism didn’t have Biblical support, we were wrong to impose our liberty on her. She showed herself to be more righteous by accepting our freedom to eat meat. Obedience required both us and her to exercise mutual respect.
God alone has the right to judge people who have convictions that differ from our own. In fact, the Lord’s half-brother James wrote that judging each other usurps God’s authority (James 4:11-12). At times, of course, we must exercise judgment on blatant sin and false teaching, but only when we’re absolutely certain that Scripture actually condemns the practice or doctrine. Judging someone on gray areas of Scripture violates Romans 14:1-4.
Romans 14:10 tells us that God will judge each of us. Consequently, it’s unnecessary for us to judge each other on disputable matters. Does your sister watch Netflix? The Holy Spirit may have convicted you not to use that service, but He may have given your her the liberty to enjoy some of its more benign shows. She shouldn’t judge you as a legalist, but neither should you judge her for being immoral. She may, for all you know, be extremely careful about the programs she watches. Personally. I’m convicted not to use the Netflix streaming service (we like their DVD service for classic movies), but I have Christian friends who enjoy some of its offerings. If I’m being legalistic, God will judge me. If they’re being lawless, He will judge them.
The key to Romans 14 lies in its concluding verses:
22 The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. ~~Romans 14:22-23 (NASB95)
If you sincerely believe that something is wrong for you — even if other Christians do it with confidence that the Lord grants them liberty in that area — do not violate your conscience. For you, that activity most definitely is sin because you’re not acting in faith. But take care not to impose your personal convictions on others. Such judgment is also sinful.