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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8 am service, 2002-05-05

Text: Romans 14:13-23

We are currently on a series of messages on Christian Living. Let me say that the topics in this whole series deserve your attention, because they will affect not only our own life, but also the lives of people around you! None of us should say, 'I don't care what others think or say, I do whatever I want, and live for myself alone.' The fact is, you can't live for yourself alone!

The way that you live, from day to day, at home, or at work, or even at play, is bound to exert some kind of influence on those who are around you. In fact, you are exerting an influence every moment of your life that is somehow going to affect the eternal destiny of the people around you: your family, your friends and the ones you work or study with. By the way that you live, you are making an impact on them, an impact that will either help them, or hinder them. 

You know, there are many unbelievers today who are very difficult to win to Christ, because they have been hindered by the awful testimony of some Christians that they know. When we attempt to share the Good news of salvation with them, they shut their ears and don't want to listen at all, because they have been stumbled by things that were done or said by Christians.

Besides that, there are also many young Christians today who have compromised their testimony and conduct, all because they followed certain things that were being done or said by older Christians. For instance, an elder in a certain church invites some young Christians to his home for fellowship, and while they are there, they notice that he has a large showcase with bottles of expensive liquor with wineglasses displayed there. 

Now this elder sees them looking at his showcase, and he immediately explains to them that he is not an alcoholic, but sees no harm in taking a little sip once in a while, and especially on cold days to keep himself warm. Little does he know that among those young Christians who came to his house, one of them had been struggling very hard to oppose the temptation from his working colleagues who have all been constantly persuading him to join them in drinking. And because of what he sees and hears in that elder's home, that young Christian yields to temptation, and soon stumbles into an uncontrollable drinking habit, which ruins not only his testimony, but also his life!

I hope that these illustrations help us to understand the important principle I mentioned awhile ago: the principle that no one lives unto himself alone. God wants us be very careful about the things we say and do, the pleasures and pursuits we engage in, and about the choices we make in life, simply because all these have an impact upon others. What kind of impact is your life having upon others right now? Is your life a stepping-stone that enables people to draw closer to God, or is your life a stumbling block that is hindering people from coming to Him? 

The passage that we read from Romans 14 brings this out. Let us turn our Bibles again to Romans 14 and read v.13 'Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother's way.' In this context, the issue was that of eating certain kinds of meat that had been prohibited by God in the Law of Moses, because they were considered to be ceremonially unclean. 

At that time, the church at Rome consisted of both Jewish and Gentile Christians. The Gentiles enjoyed their freedom to eat whatever they liked. After all, Christ and the apostles had revealed that these food restrictions no longer apply to the church. Some Jewish Christians knew this, but since they had been observing these food restrictions before they were saved, they still wanted to continue keeping these restrictions for themselves, regarding them now as part of their overall devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. 

But apparently there were some who went a step further - they passed judgment on the other Christians for eating food that was prohibited by the Mosaic Law (14:3). On the other hand, there were also Jewish Christians who were stronger in their faith because they had a better understanding of God's Word, had already stopped observing all these dietary laws, but they showed a despising attitude toward those who continued to observe them! All this contributed to an unhealthy situation within the church of Rome - Christians were at odds with Christians! As a result of the spiritually weaker members of the church were stumbled by the ones who were strong spiritually. 

Now, the apostle Paul states that the stronger Christians were actually right not to observe the food laws of the OT anymore: V.14 'I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.' Since the time that Jesus came into this world and fulfilled perfectly the ceremonial laws of the OT, all the food laws have been abrogated. This is confirmed by the vision that the apostle Peter received in Acts 10, where he saw a large sheet lowered from heaven with all kinds of animals in it - including those that were prohibited for consumption by the OT food laws. And yet God commanded Peter in the vision to kill and eat them. The message of that vision was that 'what God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.' (Acts 10:15). 1 Timothy 4:4 states 'For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving' 

But while the stronger Christians have already arrived at the right conviction that they can now dispense with all the food restrictions, they should not despise those who had not arrived at these convictions yet, nor should they compel them to do things they are not yet convinced about. Instead of despising them, they should lovingly help them. Instead of looking down upon them, and saying, 'We are better than you,' they should patiently take time to teach them God's Word and help the weaker Christians to see exactly why the food laws do not have to be observed by them any more. In other words, the approach that they should take to the weaker Christians should be constructive rather than destructive. As v.19 says 'Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace, and things wherewith one may edify another.'

Now, if the stronger Christians at Rome were to force their own convictions on the weaker Christians, then they would be causing the weaker brethren to sin. This is because as long as the weaker Christian still sincerely believes that it is wrong for him to eat such meat, then eating that meat would violate his conscience and bring deep feelings of guilt upon him. 

V.23 of our text says, 'And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.' The word 'damned' here does not mean that the person is condemned by God, but only by his own conscience. Doubtful actions are actually those actions that go against one's own conscience. 

Now, every one of us has a conscience, and we must always ensure that we maintain a good conscience, because God has given it to us to serve a very useful purpose. It is like a built-in alarm system. Whenever we are being tempted to sin, the conscience is like a warning bell, indicating that there is danger. And if we fall into sin, it bothers us and urges us to confess the guilt of our sins before God. If we keep on ignoring our conscience deliberately, it will soon cease to be useful anymore. Do you know what will happen to a building that has its fire alarm system disabled? It will burn down and be completely destroyed! In the same way, when a Christian has a dead conscience, his life will show it, and his testimony for the Lord will be destroyed.

That is why we must always preserve a good conscience by obeying it at all times. Now while the conscience certainly helps us to make good moral judgments, it is effective only so far as it has been fully trained or programmed by the Word of God. Since the Fall of man, the conscience has not been as accurate as it originally was, and needs to be 'recalibrated', so to speak. Despite being faithful to his conscience, a person may sincerely believe that something is right, but as he learns more of God's Word he may discover that it is actually wrong in God's sight. So his conscience has now been re-programmed to make moral judgments that are according to God's standards, rather than his own. On the other hand, a person may sincerely believe that it is wrong to do something, but after he understands more of God's Word, he realises that he had been needlessly concerned about this.

This was the case with the weaker brethren in the church at Rome. They still thought that they must refrain from eating certain types of food. Their conscience needed to be reprogrammed by the Word of God to be freed from all their feelings of doubt and guilt. If only they knew well the fact that Christ has already fulfilled all the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, they would no longer have to eat their food in doubt anymore, but in the glorious liberty that they can now enjoy in Christ! What they need then is to develop their own firm biblical convictions about these matters.

And so the determining factor to avoid doubtful actions is to have biblical convictions. We should live our lives with firm convictions from God's Word. And that is what the word 'faith' in this verse means. Look again at v.23 'And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.' The word 'faith' here should be taken in the sense of personal beliefs or convictions that are based on God's Word.

Convictions are the backbone of your spiritual life. They keep you from being easily swayed or moved away by any strong influence or social pressure. Convictions give you a stability and steadfastness that compels you to keep on going even when everyone around you has left the cause.

One clear example in the Bible of a man who had firm convictions was Daniel. He led his three friends in the Babylonian court in refusing to eat of the king's food probably because the food was offered to the Babylonian gods. God honoured their obedience, and after ten days, they were miraculously healthier and stronger than any other scholars in the royal academy. The key verse of this account is Daniel 1:8 which says, 'But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king's meat.' The phrase, 'to purpose in our hearts' means to establish, set or fix something so firmly that it becomes permanent, unmoveable, and unshakeable. In modern English such a thing would be called a conviction. This word comes from the word 'convince.' And so convictions can be defined as truths and directions that we are so thoroughly convinced about that nothing can make us budge away from them.

If you do not want to live with doubtful actions, then strive to cultivate strong, firm and deep convictions that are entirely your own. Don't depend on someone else's convictions. Just before the nation of Judah went into captivity, there a strong revival movement under the godly king Josiah who had strong scriptural convictions, but it only lasted as long as Josiah was around. The people were most impressed with his zeal and obedience to God and thought that his convictions must be sound and good so they just followed him. But when he died in battle, all the old sins and idolatry came back almost immediately and eventually led them into captivity. All that happened because they depended in his convictions, but did not have their own. But how can we get these convictions? I would like to suggest three steps you can take. The first thing is to:

1. Understand it. Whenever you read, study or hear God's Word, you need to programme or discipline yourself to understand it. You must make every effort to absorb it and assimilate it into your life. Feeding upon God's Word is like eating food. Unless the food is thoroughly digested, absorbed, and assimilated into our bodies, it is no use to us. In the same way, unless we fully understand what we must believe and why we should believe it, it will never become a conviction for us. Psalm 119:34 says 'Give me understanding, and I shall keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.'

If your understanding of a certain scriptural teaching is still quite vague and nebulous, it is going to be immensely difficult for you to live by it. If I were to ask you, why you should do a certain thing that scripture teaches, and all that you can say is, 'Because I think it is good to do it.' or 'Because my pastor says so, and I like him a lot. I think he must be right.' or 'Because that is the teaching that is taught my church.' then I am afraid that this shows that you have not yet understood the scriptural teaching behind it.

The only way to have firm convictions is to make sure that you have a good understanding of whatever teaching you receive. Check its scriptural basis. Is it really from God's Word? Then relate it to all the other teachings that you already know well. How does it fit in with them? Try to clear whatever doubts you may have, by asking questions. Don't be satisfied until you have a good grasp of it. There is one final way to know if you understand a scriptural teaching: Try to explain it in your own words. If you can explain a scriptural teaching in your own words, then you can say that you have really understood it well. 

2. Believe it. In his first epistle to Timothy Paul used a particular phrase twice, a phrase which brings out this necessary step. Turn your Bibles to 1 Timothy 1:15 'This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.' In 1 Timothy 4:9 when Paul was teaching about the value of godliness for the present and life life, he said once again, 'This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation.' This phrase shows that the teaching of scripture must not only be understood, but fully believed and accepted.

And why is this step necessary? Because it is very possible to understand what scripture teaches and yet not believe it nor accept it. We can all become experts in the fine little details of difficult ethical or moral issues based on the Word of God. But this alone does not necessarily mean that we personally hold to it, and will be faithful to keep it. Because we might still regard it as something outside of our lives, as something that we are not personally involved in.

To believe a teaching of scripture is to give it great value and credibility. Believing means acknowledging that it is trustworthy, reliable and dependable. It means that we involve ourselves in the teaching by fully committing ourselves to it, by personally resolving to keep it with God's help. And when we have done that, then it becomes a full-fledged conviction that will help us to remain steadfast and uncompromising. But we cannot stop here. There is one more important step to take, and that is to:

3. Maintain it. This is perhaps the step that many fail to take. Convictions need maintenance, because they can gradually wear out under the constant barrage of influence and pressure. King Solomon began his royal career with the strongest convictions that his God-given wisdom supplied, and yet in his latter years, those convictions became so weak and worn out that he drifted into compromise and fell into idolatry. If only Solomon had taken time to maintain his early convictions, the history of Israel might well have been very different.

One interesting phenomenon that we can see in Scripture is the priority that it gives to holding events that serve to remind God's people of their convictions. When the Israelites entered Canaan they went to Shechem to conduct a covenant renewal ceremony. Stone monuments were set up to commemorate the event (Jos 8:30). The same thing happened again at the end of Joshua's life (Jos 24:25). And another renewal took place when King Saul was made king at Gilgal (1 Sam 11:14). Besides these isolated events, there were also the annual religious feasts like the Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles when all male Israelites were to come to the Temple, and the sabbatical year when every man woman and child were required to gather, to hear a complete reading of the law.

Why were all these events necessary? They were necessary because they served to maintain the scriptural convictions of God's people. Today, we also have events like those: Christmas, Easter and Church Anniversary, and church camps like this are special occasions that serve the very useful purpose of renewing and refreshing our convictions. They cause us to go back again and again to the basic teachings and principles that we cherish. Every Lord's day worship service we attend also serves to help us maintain our convictions. Each week we come to God's house with convictions that have taken a rough beating from the world and after worship and fellowship we go forth with our convictions strengthened to face the world again.

Let us therefore gain the full benefit from all of these conviction-maintaining events. Participate in them fully with absorbed attention. We do not gain anything if our bodies are present but our minds and hearts are not. Don't regard them as just routine events that keep going on and on. They serve a very important function for you. Look forward to them with an expectant heart. Try to think of it this way: Imagine yourself driving through a hot desert. The one thing you would look forward to is to find an oasis, a place where you can be refreshed sufficiently to make your journey to the next oasis. The Lord has provided us with many spiritual oases in our earthly pilgrimage. Let us not miss them, but make good use of them.

 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25