The Weak and the Strong; Romans 14:1-4

Main Point: Our standard must be God’s welcome not personal sanctification.

It’s not unusual these days for a person to grab on to a good and helpful idea and then quickly turn militant and judgmental about it. You know the person who starts with wanting to clean out a closet and the next thing you know they’re living in a tiny house with three changes of clothes and a composting toilet. Now, I’m all for simple, the problem arises when this person begins to condemn others who don’t live in tiny houses. If you judge a person’s Christianity by the size of their house, you are in dangerous waters.

It is easy to read Romans 13:11-14 and turn extreme or militant. Wake up from your sin-slumber! Jesus is coming soon. The night is far gone and the day is at hand. Stop sinning! Cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light. Walk properly. Live holy lives. Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.

Have you heard this call, our Master’s call? The call to follow Christ necessarily includes the call to turn away from sin. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to the believer so the believer can put sin to death. We are an extreme and militant people when it comes to our sin. Maybe you have been there. You started cleaning out some closet in your heart and found some dangerous sin lurking inside. With the gospel and the Spirit’s leading you cleaned it out but didn’t stop there. You started with one closet and ended up in a tiny house with only three changes of clothes and a composting toilet. Out of the tiny window in the tiny loft in your tiny house you see other people living with closets and attics and storage buildings and you begin to judge them. Those people in those big houses can’t be Christians! If they knew the danger lurking in their closets, if they loved Jesus and were filled with the Spirit, they would live in a tiny house just like me.

Here are the dangers we must face as we live together as the church: first, after you begin to follow Jesus and put sin to death, you will be tempted to judge your brothers and sisters who don’t do life the way you do. Now, let’s be clear. It is right and good and commanded that we judge sin (1 Cor 5:12). What we are dealing with in Romans 14 are those things which you find helpful as you seek to glorify God in all of life. God does not require all Christians to do these things, they are matters of indifference, it’s just that you have found them helpful. In the context of Romans 14, we’re talking about kosher foods, religious days, and drinking wine. In some form or another, we all will face the temptation to be judgmental concerning matters of biblical indifference because we all have our preferences and we all find various things more or less helpful. Then, on the other side, after you taste Christian freedom, you will be tempted to despise your brothers and sisters who disagree with your use of freedom. In some form or another, we will all face the temptation to mock or ridicule our church. Some of us are going to be tempted to be scrupulous and judgmental. Others of us are going to be tempted to be reckless and arrogant.  What are we to do? Let’s turn to the Scripture.

Romans 14:1-12

I. God’s welcome is determinative

Do you know that word? Kids, do you know what determinative means? Marriam-Webster’s dictionary defines determinative as “having power or tendency to determinetending to fix, settle, or define something.” If something is determinative it defines who you are, and it defines what you do. Galatians 2:20 is determinative, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” Our union with Christ determines that we will live all of life by faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 14 we need to understand that justification is determinative. The things we find helpful for sanctification are not determinative.

  • We must make a distinction between justification and sanctification (3)

We make this distinction because God’s welcome of a person is determinative. Look at verse 3 with me. “Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.”

Welcome is a wonderful word. It means to be brought in to the family. It means to be accepted. As you think about your brothers and sisters and the great number of decisions they will make every day, it is crucial that you look at them through the lens of justification not through the lens of those choices. God welcomes us because of our union with Christ, not because we are vegetarians, Sabbatarians, or teetotalers. Being a vegetarian, Sabbatarian, or teetotaler is fine as long as you don’t depend on those decisions for your standing with God. God welcomes you, and God welcomes your brothers and sisters, because of justification. In turn, our welcome and acceptance of one another must also be based upon personal faith in the resurrected Jesus Christ.

Here’s the warning. Don’t make those things which help you grow in godliness the standard by which you judge if a person is a Christian or not. Make a clear distinction between justification and sanctification. And know this

  • Every Christian lives as a servant who belongs to Christ (v4)

Look with me at Romans 14:4, “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” Here’s the scenario. You walk by a home and see a servant doing something that you don’t approve. That servant isn’t washing the car, mowing the lawn, or doing the laundry the way you think it should be done. You start to scoff or fume. “What a terrible servant!” But wait a second, who do you think you are? That servant isn’t your servant. That servant belongs to another. It is so dangerous and divisive when we pass judgment on our brothers and sisters because they don’t eat, drink, or worship like we do.

I want you to see that Jesus’ ownership is determinative. You might have questions about that person’s sanctification, but has he been united to Christ through faith? Has Jesus redeemed that servant? Union to Christ through faith is determinative. Ask yourself, “Can I talk to that brother and hear his desire to live as a slave of Christ?” Maybe he won’t give up his smart phone, break all his cd’s, and maybe he made a different choice than you about how to school his children, that’s ok. Is he seeking to live as a servant of Christ? If you can establish that, then you can disagree on a lot and still enjoy fellowship together.

Let’s skip ahead to verse 8. Verse 8 says, “if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

  • Every Christian lives all of life unto Christ (v8)

What we need to see, among the weak and the strong, is that all Christians possess a clear and obvious dependence upon Jesus Christ. Here we must remind ourselves of the exhaustive reign of Jesus Christ. Remember, all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus (Col 1:16). Remember, Jesus is upholding all things by the power of his word (Heb 1:3). Remember, the Father is working all things according to the council of His will so that we Christians can bring Him glory (Eph 1:11). Remember, whatever you do, do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Normal, basic, and weak faith is found in the person who is seeking to honor Jesus with every decision. The weak sister may have some scruples, she may struggle with some things that biblically speaking are issues of Christian freedom, but at the end of the day she possesses a clear desire to live all of life unto Christ. It’s because of Christ that she abstains. It’s because of Christ that she honors that day over another day. Welcome the weak sister because she’s a sister. Accept the scrupulous brother because he wants to live all of life for Christ.

Now, we have a hard time dealing with matters of indifference among Christians because we have wrongly tolerated men and women who are indifferent toward Christ. But remember, the problem in Romans 14 is not people who eat pork without any thought of Christ. The problem is how to deal with people who don’t eat pork because they want to live for Christ. Here’s what we have to keep in mind.

  • God makes the Christian stand (4)

Imagine the weak brothers shaking their heads in disgust as they hear of their fellow church members eating meat, not worshipping on a certain day, or drinking wine. Do those meat-eaters not understand holiness!?! Dear weak one, it is the Lord and not the diet that will cause the brothers to endure. If earlier we rejoiced over the fact that God welcomes us, now, let’s rejoice over the fact that God will cause our brothers and sisters, with whom we disagree, to stand.

Our first big truth is that God’s welcome is determinative. Now, let’s take our next major point

II. God assigns varying measures of faith

We saw this truth back in chapter 12 verse 3 concerning spiritual gifts. We are to think about our giftings according to the measure of faith that God assigns. God gives to the members varying gifts and within those gifts God gives varying strengths. Just as we all have different gifts, so also we have different strengths of faith. Some people, verse 1, are weak in faith

  • Some Christians are weak in faith

What does that mean?

The weak in faith are those who have not worked out the implications of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ Jesus alone. The weak are saved, but they don’t yet appreciate all that it means to be saved.

C.K. Barrett explains the weak like this, “[weak in faith] attests to a failure to grasp the fundamental principles, which page after page of this epistle emphasizes, that men are justified and reconciled to God not by vegetarianism, or Sabbatarianism, or teetotalism, but by faith alone—or, better, by God’s own free electing grace, faith being man’s recognition that all is dependent not upon himself but God” (256).

Established by faith, the weak often think that they bring Christ glory by obeying the kosher laws, avoiding any drink tainted by idolatry, and keeping the feasts. They haven’t yet grasped Colossians 2:17, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” Please notice that being weak in faith is not cause for exclusion. Being weak in faith is cause for patient love on the part of the strong. Some Christians are weak and

  • Some Christians are strong in faith

Wouldn’t living together as the church be so much easier if we were all the same? If we were all weak, or if we were all strong, that would remove so many causes of frustration and judgment in the body. But in God’s wisdom he makes us to eat differently and drink differently and do holidays differently. Here’s some advice for the strong. First, be sure that what you think is ok is actually ok. Your flesh may convince you that some choice is ok when it’s actually sin. Your desires may convince you that some decision is an issue of freedom when it is not. We only have to look back to 13:13 to see that orgies, drunkenness, sexual immorality, sensuality, quarreling, and jealousy are never acceptable in any form. So check yo self before you wreck yo self. Second, be sure that you are loving and not mocking your weaker brothers and sisters. Don’t invite the weaker brother over so you can argue with him. Invite the weaker brother over so you can love him and build him up. What is the one thing the stronger sister owes the weaker sister? Love; you who are strong owe love to the weak.

Here’s a good summary statement from Collin Kruse, “Strong faith, based upon a proper understanding of the gospel and the liberty it brings, frees the conscience to allow a person to eat anything. However, weak faith, based on an inadequate understanding of the gospel and the liberty it brings, will render the conscience unable to allow a person to eat anything—he or she will be unnecessarily in bondage to scruples” (Collin Kruse, 514).

What must the weak Christian do? Avoid condemning others and seek to love others. What must the strong Christian do? Avoid mocking or despising and seek to love others. Let’s look quickly at three aspects of the Christian life.

III. Justification, sanctification, and freedom

I think it will be helpful for us to camp out for a while on one single phrase. Here is the phrase, “A Christian must…”

  • A Christian must repent and believe

A Christian must repent to God and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ knowing there is only one means of justification. Jesus, not what you eat or drink, is the only way to the Father. We require personal faith in Jesus Christ for membership. In our church and family covenant we commit ourselves to offer and accept no substitutes for personal faith in Christ. We welcome one another because of our shared union with Christ our righteousness. We do not welcome anyone into baptism, membership, or the Lord’s table who does not repent and believe. Justification is necessary and happens only one way, through personal repentance of sin to God and personal faith in Christ’s righteous life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection. We will accept nothing else and nothing less. A Christian must repent and believe and

  • A Christian must pursue sanctification

1 Thessalonians 4:3 tells us that God’s will for our lives is that we be sanctified.

A Christian must pursue sanctification, but there are many helps for sanctification. There is only one way to come to life but once alive there are many ways to grow.

Take Scripture memory; scripture memory is an important part of our sanctification. But must a person memorize Scripture in order to be saved? No. It’s helpful for growth but not necessary for salvation.  As a church, we are starting Philippians 3 this week and it is a great time for you to get into, or get back into, Scripture memory. But let’s be careful with one another. One sister might say memorizing large portions of Scripture is the only way to go. Another sister might say memorizing a verse here and a verse there as needed for each day is the way to go. Who is right? They both are right, and neither should judge or despise the other.

The point is, there are many helps for our sanctification. Think about all the ways and places a person can pray. Think about fasting. What should you fast from and for how long? Consider the spiritual gifts and their uses in the gathered church and through the scattered church. What about Christian hospitality, financial giving, local missions and international missions? All of these disciplines are good and should find expression in each of our lives. But let’s be careful to love one another and give one another the freedom to work each discipline into our lives in a myriad of ways. So realize this,

  • A Christian must have a category for Christian freedom

Look with me at Romans 14:2, “One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables.” Then look at 14:14, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.” There are people who are not going to do Christianity exactly the same way you do Christianity. They will repent and believe in Jesus like you do, but they won’t eat or drink like you do.

To put it clearly, some of you have done some things that I think are dumb. I dare even to think that I have done some things that you think are dumb. What do we do? First, we commit to love one another. Second, we need to seek biblical discernment in order to determine if that decision is sinful, foolish, or an issue of preference. We can do something foolish, but it not be sinful. Should the toilet paper roll over the top or backward and down? That’s an issue of preference. You are free to do what you want to do. I’ll love you and love will cause me to believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

Let’s take immigration reform for example. Is your opponent sinful, foolish, or just taking a different route than you? What about marriage? Are that brother and sister free to marry? If yes, you may think it’s foolish or something you wouldn’t prefer, but in the end it’s an issue of Christian freedom. Your responsibility is to love and not despise. The call to church membership is the call to carefulness.

IV. Be very careful when you judge and when you despise

  • Christian freedom will tempt you to despise your church

Stick around the church long enough and there will be weak and immature believers who make you want to pull your hair out. You’re going to disciple that group, they’ll become strong seniors, then they’ll graduate and you’ll get a group of freshman who can’t tie their shoes. Get ready to exercise the spiritual gift of patience. Not only that,

  • Sanctification will tempt you to judge your church

Christian, you are going to battle some temptation, put sin to death, and then be tempted to think every Christian has to do it the same way you did it. You defeated lust by getting rid of your computer and smart phone. That’s great! But that doesn’t give you the right to judge or view with suspicion every Christian with a computer or a smart phone. A particular doctrine is going to help you, so you will love that doctrine with a deep appreciation. Other Christians won’t share an identical passion for that doctrine. This shouldn’t cause you to question their salvation. Get ready, spiritual growth is going to tempt you to look down in judgment on your brothers and sisters. So, what should we do?

  • Major on the gospel and encourage growth

Before you judge people’s decisions or mock their carefulness talk with them about the gospel. You may disagree about that tattoo, but can you agree on the glory of God shining brightly in the face of Jesus Christ? Is there union with Christ and an expectation of His return? Then encourage growth. Don’t argue about issues of preference, labor to build him up in the faith.

I’m not here to get my way. You are not here to get your way. We are here to love one another and help one another follow Jesus. We are here to help one another follow Christ who is the way. When Christ returns let us be found faithful; let us be found loving one another because of Christ.


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