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(Romans 14:5-9) For Heaven's Sake, Make Up Your Mind!

(Romans 14:5-9) For Heaven's Sake, Make Up Your Mind!

Ref: Romans 14:5–9

Does Christian liberty mean we have the license to sin? Not on your life! Stephen gives us several guidelines that balance our liberty with God's holiness as he reminds us of our responsibility to our fellow believers.

The other messages in this series are available here: Grey Matters


“For Heaven’s Sake, Make Up Your Mind!”

Romans 14:5-9

This past Christmas, one of the gifts my wife bought me was a little book entitled, “Ludicrous Laws and Mindless Misdemeanors.”

It contained a number of interesting events that occurred inside the courtroom, as well as a number of strange laws.

Here’s a revised statute in Maine, where it is now against the law to catch lobsters with your bare hands.

  • In Washington State, section 75, it is illegal to catch fish by throwing rocks at them, but explosives are not prohibited.  I’ve never liked to fish because of the monotony of it . . . dynamite could change my mind.
  • In Vermont, it is legal to have a dance hall and a pool hall next door to a school, but not a bowling alley.  A bowling alley will face a daily fine.  Vermont is going to stamp out corruption.
  • In Larkspur, California, it is unlawful – unless designated – for children to climb a tree.  Don’t even get me started.
  • Here’s a wonderful statute in the Kansas law books that protects the rights of those impacted by trains.  Statue 66-701 states, if you are run over by a train, the railroad company must give you free tickets from then on.
  • In South Carolina, it is illegal for you to crawl around in the public sewer system without a permit.  You just remember that, next time you’re tempted.
  • According to the Nevada Revised Statutes, section 642, funeral directors will be arrested for using profanity in the presence of the deceased.  Isn’t that comforting!
  • I thought this particular incident in a courtroom was a classic case of a bright lawyer outwitting the plaintiff.  

A man was claiming damages for an arm injury caused by a bus driver’s negligence.  He was being cross-examined by the attorney representing the bus driver.  The attorney asked the man, “Please show the court how high you can lift your arm now that you’ve been injured.”  The plaintiff, his face distorted in pain, slowly raised his arm to shoulder level.  “Thank you,” the attorney said, “Now, please show the court how high you could lift your arm before the accident.”  The man quickly shot his arm straight up into the air.

Here are some interesting laws related to the church:

  • It’s against the law to eat roasted peanuts while attending church services in Idana, Oregon.
  • In Honey Creek, Iowa, no one is allowed to carry a slingshot to church. 
  • This one is still on the books in Blackwater, Kentucky; tickling a woman under her chin with a feather duster during a church service carries a penalty of $10.00 and one day in jail.
  • It’s unlawful in the state of Kentucky to use snakes during religious services.  Fortunately we can still do it here in North Carolina – amen?!
  • One more – I couldn’t believe it – it is against the law to have a cell phone on during church services in Cary, North Carolina.  One day in jail! 

I’m glad you’re taking the news so well!

Adapted from Robert Pelton, The Door, Christian Reader (Volume 33, no. 5)

Adapted from Lance Davidson, Ludicrous Laws & Mindless Misdemeanors, (Castle Books, New Jersey, 2004)

The problem with silly ordinances is not that they creep up, probably for good reason, in the law books of our cities – but that they creep up in the law books of our churches.

Again . . . with good intentions!

What’s right . . . what’s  wrong . . . when the Bible doesn’t specifically spell it out!

The subject of grey matters, is no easy matter.

And it’s not a new problem, either.

Go back to the 5th Century where spirituality was being defined by how much discomfort you endured.  A man named Simeon Stylites who left his cattle farm and became a monk, became world renowned for committing what he believed was spiritual.  He chained himself to the top of a column 60 feet high and 6 feet across. Food was raised by pulleys to his perch . . . he spent his days reading, praying, and doing sit-ups to try and stay fit.  There he remained for the rest of his life – imagine 30 summers and 30 winters on top of a glorified flag-pole . . . hoping to impress God with his suffering.

Bruce Felton & Mark Fowler, The Best, Worst & Most Unusual (Galahad Books, 1994), p. 148

Bring the issue of true spirituality up a few centuries and the problem continues to exist – what impresses God?  What does God require from us when His word is silent? 

What can we do and what can’t we do in those grey areas where we have a principle or an implication from scripture, but no clear command?  And how do we treat each other who see it differently?

Two of the most famous Christians in the Victorian era in England were Charles Spurgeon and Joseph Parker.  I happen to have several books from both pastors in my library.  A biographer once said of Spurgeon, a man who preached to 10,000 every Sunday morning, while other men’s sermons are covered in dust, his will still be read and preached.  Parker’s congregation was second in size only to Spurgeon’s.  Early in their ministries they fellowshipped and even exchanged pulpits.  But unfortunately, they had a disagreement.  Spurgeon accused Joseph Parker of being an unspiritual pastor because he often attended the theater where plays and operas were performed.  Parker fired back, criticizing the fact that Spurgeon was a poor example because he smoked cigars, both in private and in public.  Both considered one another to be misled and misleading in their example.

Their words became sharp.  Their disagreement was such news that reports of it were carried in the London newspapers.  Two great men of the faith, broke fellowship with one another and their fellowship would never be the same.

Adapted from R. Kent Hughes, Romans (Crossway Books, 1991), p. 263

Around the same time, in the United States, there was debate and disagreement over the manufacturing of a left shoe and a right shoe.  It was maintained by some that because God was a God of order and symmetry, shoes should be symmetrical as well.  So cobblers obediently ignored the obvious difference in the shape of the feet and fashioned both shoes the same way.

The Best, Worst & Most Unusual, p. 537

I know a pastor who uses this same argument of God being a God of order to condemn any singer who slides from one note to the next – “no, you should go from one note, directly to the next note – or you violate the order of God.”  He also believes that a guitar must never be strummed, but picked.  Strumming is against the order of God.

There is little doubt in my mind that the church has failed to  advance, not so much because of disunity over great doctrinal matters, as much as disunity over grey matters.

I have a plaque that used to sit on top of my door frame – when we moved to this campus it was lost in the shuffle – it was a truism that often reminded me as I left my study and walked to the auditorium.  It had these words carved into the face of the wooden plaque, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in my name, there will be disagreement as to what the Bible teaches.”

In a way, that’s not the biggest problem.  If we disagree over what the Bible clearly teaches, then one of us can be wrong – in fact, both of us could be wrong.  But, both of us couldn’t be right.  One of us has misinterpreted the meaning of the text.

Now follow me here.  The tougher issue is when we disagree over what the Bible does not clearly teach!  We could both be right.

It’s a lot tougher to handle the fact that both Christians who disagree could be wrong, but that both Christians who disagree could be right.

That is exactly the issue that Paul is tackling in Romans 14.

If anything we can take comfort from the fact that the church in Rome, in the very first century of its existence, was filled with division over grey matters as well.

It came down to diets . . . was God for salad?  Or steak?  Or both?

What we learned in the opening lines of Romans 14 were basically 4 insights:

  • First, that both sides of the argument were right, although for different reasons;
  • Secondly, we learned that both sides were composed of genuine believers; (the weak were basically those new believers who hadn’t learned the full truth of the gospel of grace; the meat eaters were those who understood better this new dispensation of grace – that acceptance with God is independent of the old covenant commands;
  • We also discovered, thirdly, that both sides were critical and uncaring of one another;
  • Finally, we were reminded that everyone was going to stand before the Lord and give an account of their attitude and their actions.

Adapted from William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Romans (Baker, 1980), p. 453

Now, having dealt with the controversy over special diets, Paul will now raise the next major controversy over special days.

Let’s go back to verse 1 of Romans 14 and get a running start into verse 5.  1.  Now accept the one who is weak in the faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions – [his scruples].  2.  One man has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.  3.  Let not him who eats regard with contempt him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another?  To his own master he stands or falls; and stand he will, for the Lord is able to make him stand.  [now verse 5]   One man regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.

What does he mean – one man regards – or thinks more highly of one day, while others think highly of every day alike?

We get some added insight by reading what Paul wrote to the Galatian believers when he asked them, “How is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again?  You observe days and months and seasons and years.  I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain. (4:9-11) 

In other words, Paul is saying, I have delivered to you the gospel of grace – why are you returning to the minutia of the law?

Earlier in chapter 1 he warned them of false teachers who were trying to pull them back into the Old Testament covenant of ritual and symbol and shadow – away from the reality of the crosswork of Christ which fulfilled the sacrificial system, among other things. 

These false teachers were distorting the gospel of grace for another gospel – basically of works in order to gain acceptance from God.  The “God is impressed when you sit on a pole – or wear symmetrical shoes – or don’t slide your notes when you sing . .  or more significantly, when you worship on the Sabbath.”

In chapter 2 of Galatians he writes to this Jewish and Gentile mixed congregation, “We know that a man is not justified by the works of the Law, but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law (v. 16) . . . then in chapter 3 verse 26 & 29 Paul delivers this incredible news to them when he writes, “You are all [Jew and  Gentile] sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus . . .  you now belong to Christ.  (3:29)

Then in chapter 4 he says, in effect, “Now that you are sons of God by faith in Christ alone, why do you want to back to the keeping of all the ritual and minutia of the Mosaic covenant – you’re free – why do you want to go back?

Paul addressed the same issue with the Colossian believers when he wrote in chapter 2:16-17, Therefore, let no one act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or  a new moon or – listen –  a Sabbath day – 17. things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

You can imagine how difficult this issue would be for the early church.

We know that the believers continued to worship on Saturday until around Acts chapter 20 when they seemed to officially switch to what they called “the Lord’s day.” 

John had his vision in Revelation, on Sunday which he called, the Lords day.

Paul encouraged financial gifts be set aside on Sunday and then collected when he came into town.

The Sabbath command is the only commandment of the 10 that is never repeated in the New Testament.

But listen to this . . . even though we have the precedent of the early church who chose to worship on the day of our Lord’s resurrection – every Sunday was Easter . . . still, not one command in the New Testament ever said you have to worship on Sunday!

So here’s Paul’s opportunity to settle the score.  Surely Paul would just nail this issue down – just tell us – “Worship on Sunday – it’s more special than any other day.”

Go back to verse 5 again. One man regards one day – that is he elevates it – above another, another regards every day alike. 

Wait a second . . . I thought the Bible said somewhere that you gotta be in church on Sunday morning, Sunday evening and Wednesday night?  You miss any one of those three and you’re in big trouble – maybe one day in jail.

You mean to tell me that Paul is saying that you don’t have to come to church on Sunday?

Where’s your sense of job security, Stephen – you’re a pastor for crying out loud – what are you saying?  People don’t have to come to church anymore?

No . . . not at all . . . just relax.

What I am saying is what Paul has effectively said – God isn’t approached only on the Sabbath . . . acceptance before God is not restricted to special days or seasons.   God is available 24 hours a day, 7 days of week.

Which means, confession doesn’t have to wait for the weekend . . . worship among believers can occur in a living room on Friday afternoon, or in a board room on Monday morning.

Welcome to the age of grace.

If your church family wants to worship on Sunday morning, as the church has chosen to do now for 2,000 years, so be it.  But if your assembly and the leaders of your church decide it needs to be on Thursday morning . . . maybe that when they can rent a building . . . or maybe that’s when the local communist guards don’t seem to notice so many people heading for the woods to worship . . . if you can believe it . . . you can actually worship God in the woods, on Thursday, too.

Don’t forsake that assembly, by the way, as some do – Hebrews 10:25 reveals – evidently some Christians had already taken their freedom to an extreme position and chosen to ignore the assembly and meet all by themselves . . . all the business meetings were unanimous.  They never disagreed with the preacher.

No, whenever your assembly chooses to meet – be there, and know that God will be the audience of your collective worship whenever.

Okay . . . but back to the question . . . we’ve got a church meeting on Saturday . . . one on Sunday . . . and another new church plant that that rents the community meeting house on Thursday.

Which one is right . . . closer to the truth . . . the one I should join?

So how do you decide?

Paul gives us the answer.

Notice again the last part of verse 5.  Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.

That nails it, doesn’t it?  Paul nailed it down alright – he nailed it down, firmly in mid-air.  Thanks a lot, Paul!

He said, “You’re both right!”

But if you think that’s a free pass to thinking it through and studying it over and praying it through, think again.

  • Let each man be fully convinced  (5b) – from plhroforew - it means to come to full certainty.  
  • You could translate it, “to be fully persuaded.”  It means to make up your mind – to have your heart set on.
  • It’s used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the Septuagint – only once and in a negative way to speak of the evil person who is fully set on doing evil.

Gerhard Kittel & Gerhard Friedrich, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Abridged by Geoffrey Bromiley (Eerdmans Publishing, 1985), p. 871

The word is used in the New Testament for preaching what must be fully known (2 Timothy 4:17) and in Luke 1:1 where Luke writes of things “on which there is full conviction” – regarding the eyewitness accounts of Christ’s life.

That’s the conviction Paul is referring to in Romans 14.

This is not some take it or leave it exercise.  This is not for someone to say, “Oh, whatever!”

Paul is much more passionate than that.

He is saying, in effect, “For heaven’s sake, make up your mind!”

Develop some conviction about what you do and what you believe and how you behave.


Don’t just parrot some other person’s clichés.  Don’t pray other people’s prayers.  Our lives are not dictated by a ruling class of clergymen.  Adapted from Roy L. Laurin, Romans: Where Life Begins (Kregel, 1988), p. 452

We, individually, are priests and priestesses before God (1 Peter 2:9).

You have liberty . . . not to do whatever you want to do, but to do what you believe in your heart and have thought through with your renewed mind what God wants you to do.

It’s not enough to say, “well, that’s how I was raised!”  “that how my parents taught me to worship” . . . “my parents believe that, so I guess I’ll believe that” . . . “nobody believes that at my school, so why should I?”

For heaven’s sake, make up your mind!  Moses would have never written that!   Make up your own mind about the Sabbath and special seasons?  This is stunning . . . shocking . . . unsettling.

Grace is unsettling.

It was all so clear in the Old dispensation . . . it was Saturday or nothing.  It was a turtle dove for that sacrifice and a measure of barley for that one.

Now I bow my head and pray directly to God?  But wait, do I bow my head or raise it toward heaven?  Do I close my eyes or keep them open?

How I pray standing, kneeling, lying prostrate, or sitting?

Would you believe the council of Nicaea in the 4th century had to settle the dispute?  They drew up 20 formal statements that addressed everything from when to celebrate Easter to the amount of interest a clergyman could earn on a personal loan to the posture someone who prayed in church. Should they stand, kneel, or remain seated? 

Christian History & Biography, Issue 85, p. 24

Paul would have said, “Just pray!”

In fact, he said, “pray without ceasing” in 1 Thessalonians 5:17 which means you can evidently pray just before falling asleep.

Some of you are almost there!

In a matter of years after Romans was written, the church was deeply involved in thinking their way through issues of grey.

If anything, grey matters are intended by God to make us think!  To mature us and sharpen us in the word and strengthen our resolve for holy living.  At the same time, to develop gracious spirits toward those who might disagree over non-doctrinal issues.

Man, that’s hard to do . . . it was for the church in Rome as well.

The truth is, grace is unsettling.  We would prefer someone to come along and settle all the differences of opinion so we can be unified in every opinion and uniform in every appearance.

Like the poem I came across some time ago that spells out my own past experience . . . maybe yours as well:

Believe as I believe,

No more, no less;

That I am right

And no one else, confess;

Feel as I feel,

Think only as I think;

Eat what I eat and drink what I drink;

Look as I look,

Do always as I do;

Then, and only then,

Will I fellowship with you.

Kent Hughes, p. 259


The truth is, God does not cut out paper doll saints.  He’s never used a cookie cutter to make Christians.  He even made the left foot differently than the right.

At the same time, differences of opinion are no excuse for sloppy thinking . . . or shallow living.

Paul says, “Make up your mind . . . develop well thought through convictions about what you do and don’t do.”

Without a doubt, Paul is rattling the cage – both Gentiles and Jews within the church have just had their ammunition taken away.

Neither side can demand that the other side acknowledge their superiority.

In fact, I believe that Paul is suggesting that if either side wins the argument, both sides lose . . . the truth of grace is lost.

So, is there any help in here for those of us today who aren’t necessarily struggling over which day to worship?  Or which food to eat?

But struggling nonetheless with a need to develop convictions about a myriad of other issues.

Is there any direction for us as we think our way through the fog?

I think there is.

About 6 years ago one of our neighbors informed us that they had a male Bassett hound puppy that needed a home.  It had registration papers that proved it was full-blooded Bassett.  I’m not sure why that mattered, but it did sound impressive.  We already had one dog – a female Bassett and Beagle mix.  I figured it would be great to have a litter or two of puppies for the kids to enjoy . . . besides the information about the birds and the bees would come as a natural part of the education of having a male and female Bassett hound dogs.  Believe me, our kids got quite an education. 

We put up one of those invisible fences – wire underneath the surface of our back yard . . . then two special collars on the dogs equipped with a beeper and metal studs which would deliver a shock.  I don’t know how it worked, but I do know that as the dogs would come close to the line – which we marked with white flags, a beeping sound would begin . . . faster and faster as they neared the line – and then, when and if they crossed that line, they’d get a shock – yelp and retreat.  You could set the shock level at low, medium, medium high and high.  

For Patches – our female, it worked fairly well.  For Murphy, we named the male, it didn’t work.  He just couldn’t get it.  Evidently those registration papers were not the same thing as a diploma.

If he saw a cat or a jogger, he’d run toward that line – I watched him do it time and time again – he’d run and never even slow down – he’d just yelp as he crossed the line and keep moving.  I’d drag him back over the line and he’d yelp again.

I set the power to the highest setting.  It had the same power as the electric chair . . . the lights in the neighborhood would dim every time Murphy crossed the line.

I finally figured out that Murphy wasn’t dumb – he just had a high tolerance of pain . . . he didn’t care if he got shocked because he knew the pain wouldn’t last very long. 

What a nuisance . . . all the time I spent.  Murphy basically spent his life running across the line and digging holes all over the back yard.  Deep holes – I had no idea what he was looking for but he never seemed to find it.

I finally took him to the pound – my kids had had enough of an education . . . the people at the pound assured us that people were looking for full blooded Bassett hounds and he’d probably be taken up by someone very soon.  Or he would die – and I didn’t care. 

You got your thinking cap on?  You ready to think this thing through?

Here are two questions that serve as invisible boundaries.  They can keep you from wandering too close to the line where the pain of guilt and an offended conscience is waiting.

First of all, ask yourself this question: Can I do what I’m doing and be in total submission to God?

Let me say it with less words: Am I in submission to Jesus Christ?

Notice the way Paul repeatedly refers to the priority of the Lord – you could circle the names of God as they appear 10 times in 4 verses, beginning in verse 6.  He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord; for he gives thanks to God, and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. 7. for not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; 8. for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

By the way, this is a great text for the deity of Christ: you have Lord, God and Christ all referring to the same Person.

He is God . . . Lord and Messiah.

So, are you doing whatever you’re doing for God?  Is He Lord and Master over your actions and decisions and convictions?

Paul’s point is this: do whatever you want to do, so long as you know the Lord would never be embarrassed to be there to.  Say whatever you want to say . . . see whatever you want to see . . . eat whatever you want to eat . . . so long as you know the Lord would be perfectly at home saying and seeing and eating those things too.

The less comfortable you think the Lord might be, the closer you are to that invisible boundary and sorrow and guilt and disappointment is just a few steps away.

Am I in submission to Jesus Christ my Lord?

Second question:  can I experience whatever it is I’m experiencing and at the same time have a spirit of appreciation to God?

The shorter question; am I giving thanks to God?

Notice the repetition of the phrase in verse 6.  For he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.

They’re both thanking God!  Both are thanking God.  “Thank You Lord for these vegetables” – I could never pray that!

The question remains – can you do what you and know that you can bow your head and say, “Lord I thank you for what I’m about to do . . . or experience . . . or watch . . . thank you for it Lord.”

Eric Liddell’s story was told in the movie Chariot’s of Fire; for the most part a true story.  He was called the Flying Scotsman because of his incredible speed.  He  wanted to compete in the Olympic games . . . his family wanted him to begin his missionary career . . . he decided to put off his missionary work until after the Olympics . . . his family was very unhappy with his decision.

When he made the British Olympic team he went to the games in Paris and found out that the qualifying heats were to held on Sunday. He had made up his mind that he wouldn’t race on Sunday – and instead preached in a church in Paris that day.

Interesting that to his family he was compromising by running, while at the same time, he refused to run on Sunday.

Again, both were grey areas . . . running instead of entering the ministry - grey; preaching on Sunday instead of running in a race - grey.  But Eric made up his mind how far he would go on the issue. 

Eric entered himself in a different race – it was the 400-yard dash.  It wasn’t what he had trained for, but Liddell ended up winning the race and setting a world record at the same time.

After his Olympic victory he traveled to China where he was ordained and began to serve – and serve he did, for the rest of his life.

In the midst of the debate with his family about whether or not he should put off the ministry and run in the Olympics, Eric delivered that wonderful statement to which I believe the Apostle Paul would say, “Amen!”

Eric said, “When God made me He made me fast . . . and when I run I feel His pleasure.” 

That’s another way of saying, I am running as unto God and I am giving Him thanks for the privilege.

Ladies and Gentlemen, make up your mind.  Talk it out . . . debate it among friends . . . study the word . . . look up the verses in commentaries and words in Lexicons . . . call respected teachers and pastors and friends . . . but whatever you do, remember you have been saved to think it through.

And in making up your mind, remember these invisible boundaries that will become very visible to everyone around you; make sure that Christ is your priority and thanksgiving is your practice.

And then, for the sake of heaven, make up your mind.

He is Lord, He is Lord,

He is risen from the dead and He is Lord,

Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess,

That Jesus Christ is Lord.

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