May 17. Romans 15:5-7. Love and Liberty part 10: In Conclusion Live in Harmony

Romans 15:5-7. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.

We come now to the end of our series on Love and Liberty. Paul wraps up his argument that began back in chapter 14 with this beautiful prayer above. It’s a prayer for unity. Can the Weak Christians and the Strong Christians actually live and worship together? These three verses above paint a picture of just that very thing. Not only CAN Christians with differing convictions live in harmony, but when they DO…it is even more glorifying to God. Unity within differences proves the gospel works. Our unity is the glorious expression of the collision of our love and liberty.

Unity from Union with Christ

Our unity flows from our union with Christ. Verse 7 sums it up perfectly. Christ has welcomed you (you are IN CHRIST), therefore welcome one another (CHRIST is IN YOU).

Harmony can only come from faith in the gospel. If I don’t believe that I am fully accepted by God. If I am trying to earn my place. If I am on the treadmill, or the ladder of self-righteousness. If I am not graciously and gloriously saved through Christ, then I will despise other Christians. I will constantly compare myself to them. I will judge them. I will want to prove that I am better than everyone else in the church.

But when we trust deeply in our union with Christ it frees us up for God to grant to us his endurance and encouragement so that we can live in harmony with one another.

Finding unity in detention

What unity isn’t

Unity in Christ does not negate freedom in Christ. This has been the whole point of Romans 14:1-15:7. We do not and are not going to ever agree on every point of faith in practice. We will always have different convictions. There will always be weak and strong consciences in your church. Preferences, opinions, scruples, and of course cultures and backgrounds will always run the gamut. And when it comes to more non-essential doctrines, we should expect each Christian to be in a different place.

This is why we need God’s endurance and encouragement. This is why we must be told to welcome one another.

If you are going to a church where everyone is the same, same convictions, same dress, same understanding, same culture, then you probably don’t need much of God or his endurance. You don’t need to be told to be welcoming, because church is a bunch of people that you already like.

But if you go to a church where there are all kinds of convictions and differences of conscience (weak and strong faith), then you will need to turn to the gospel and to Christ early and often. You will need courage. You will need to be empowered to welcome others because it’s not natural. So it has to be supernatural.

What unity is

What unites those of us who are so different is Christ and his life – in accord with Christ Jesus. We agree on the work of Christ. The deity of Christ. The incarnation of Christ. The death of Christ. The resurrection of Christ. The ascension of Christ. The return of Christ. Our need for Christ. The salvation of Christ. Our union with Christ. The Lordship of Christ.

Our diversity, rather than weakening our unity, displays it. It displays Christ. Our unity shows that we have made Christ first in our hearts and minds. The result? God is glorified. And what the expression of this? We exalt Christ with our voices – that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
We sing!

The unifying power of music.

No other faith requires or encourages the practice of congregational singing. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists…none gather to sing together like we do. We are quite unique in this way. Do you gather with your church? Do you sing with other Christians? Do you know why we sing? Because it proves the gospel to be true, it proves our union with Christ, and it proves the glory of our God in unifying us. “But what if I don’t like all the songs?” That’s the point.

“To live is Christ” means that we have been accepted by Christ Jesus. When we trust that he loves us in spite of our sinfulness and weakness, we will be freed in our hearts to welcome and live in harmony with our brothers and sisters in Christ for the glory of God.

Soli deo gloria.

May 16. Romans 14:23. Love and Liberty part 9: You Gotta Have Faith.

Romans 14:23. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

Because we are in Christ we have been given liberty. We are free. But our freedom is to be bounded by love. Our “right behavior” can still be wrong if it is not done in love. But we must not miss an even deeper truth. Our liberty must also be bounded by faith – For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.

What is sin?

Paul has just given us a much bigger definition of sin. Sin is anything not done in faith.

The Weak of conscience in Rome would have a long list of things that are sins. The Strong of conscience in Rome would probably have a much shorter “sin list.” But what Paul is saying here is that sin is no longer a list of behaviors. Or to put it another way – literally EVERYTHING could be on your sin list. Because anything can be done without faith. Eating steak can be sin. Not eating steak can be sin. Drinking wine can be sin. Not drinking wine can be sin. Going to church could be sin. Not going to church could be sin. Preaching could be sin. Reading your Bible could be sin. Any moral behavior could be sin. If it is not done in faith.

Yikes.

The context here in Romans 14 is about violating your own conscience. So the Christian with a weak conscience, if they did something that violated their conscience, even if it is morally acceptable, for them it would still be sin. Why? Because it was not done in faith. But faith in what?

What is faith?

Faith is of course what saves us from sin. By grace we are saved through faith. Our faith is in the past work of Christ on the cross. But our faith is not just in what happened to us in the past. In order for our faith to sustain us it must also be in what God is doing in our lives right now through the indwelling life of Christ. Our faith is in the promise of God to transform us into the image of Christ.

This faith is what makes our liberty possible. God has given us faith so that we can be truly free to choose. Free to love AND free to sin.

Blue pill or red pill? Faith, freedom, truth, love.

What we do in faith will lead to love. What we do apart from faith is sin. Why? Because it proceeds from the self and not from God. What we do apart from faith, even if morally good or “obedient” is actually always done for selfish reasons and therefore it falls short of the glory of God and his grace and love. It is not Christ IN US.

Think about what God says about good works done by those who are without Christ. Everything they do, even the good things they do, are sin – rubbish, filthy rags, trash. Why? Because they do not proceed from faith. For the unbeliever, good works can only be done to earn what God is graciously offering for free from his love. These good deeds, done apart from faith, are actually a rejection of God and cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).

For us who are in Christ this truth still holds that everything we do apart from faith is a stinking dumpster fire to God. But the good news of our union with Christ is that WE DO HAVE FAITH. We have the faith of Christ inside of us. Therefore, we can trust that God is always at work for our good, to transform us into Christ (Romans 8:28-29). We can trust that God will finish the good work he has started in us (Philippians 1:6). We can trust that what God has in store for us is of far greater glory than anything we will experience in this life (2 Corinthians 4:17).  So the Christian that is Weak in conscience must still obey his convictions because in doing so he is trusting God to conform him to Christ. He is trusting his union with Christ. He is trusting that the promise of God is far better than the pleasure he will get if he violates his own conscience.

One last thought on faith and conviction – we can see that our convictions and our conscience, that Paul (and God) tells us must be obeyed, must always be connected to faith. Faith in the sanctifying work of Christ. Faith is what makes it a conviction to be followed. If your conviction or conscience is not connected to faith in this work of Christ in you, then it is not a conviction, it is simply a preference or an opinion. Do you like hymns over Hillsong? But is it because of a conviction concerning the sanctifying work of Christ in you? Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just a style preference. And if it is, sing both hymns and Hillsong. A better conviction might regard the theological content of the songs (just a thought).

“To live is Christ” holds us to a much higher “standard” than we probably ever thought. It’s not about a list of behaviors, and it’s even deeper than the law of love. It’s also about faith. Faith in the transforming work of God by the Spirit into Christ. Now everything we do, we do from this faith. But don’t panic. This faith is in you. It’s Christ in you. Will you do many things apart from faith and thus sin? Yes. But you are forgiven. And you are free. Free to actually live from faith in Christ. So let this challenge you. And don’t be surprised if you actually find yourself living more and more of your life from faith in your union with Christ.

A hymn about faith

A Hillsong song about faith 

May 15. Romans 14:17-20. Love and Liberty part 8: What Really Matters?

Romans 14:17-20. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. 20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.

When it comes to our liberty in Christ we must constantly pause and ask ourselves what is really most important? Why did God give us the life of Christ? Why did he give us freedom in Christ? What’s the point? The answer is LOVE.

We have liberty so that we can use it to love others.

But so often we make liberty itself the ultimate thing. “I want to enjoy my freedoms.” “I have the freedom to do what I want.”

Yes, we DO have the freedom to do what we want. As Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.” God has bounded our liberty by giving us an even deeper desire for love. God has changed our will. He as given us the desires of Christ. Yes, we want liberty, but we also want love, and all that comes with it – a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy.

The kingdom that Christ has brought us into is not a man-made kingdom. It is not regulated by earthly traditions and rules about eating and drinking (and many other things). In fact, it is not centered on earthly things at all. Those things are just that – things. Things to be enjoyed but not things to rule our lives.

Rather, ours is a spiritual kingdom. One regulated by the Holy Spirit. It is the reign of God in our hearts. And yet, it is an objective kingdom. Not a place, but a reality nonetheless. One that, because we are in Christ, grants us righteousness, peace, and joy (a summation of Romans 1-8, or more specifically Romans 5:1-2).

Jack gets a glimpse into another kingdom. Will he find righteousness, peace, and joy?

When you received Christ you received his imputed righteousness by the Holy Spirit. With this came peace with God. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. Justification. And this peace allows us to one day enter into the joy of the Lord forever.

This New Covenant salvation is what give us our objective freedom in Christ. But we also right now can experience righteousness, peace, and joy subjectively as Christ lives in us by the Holy Spirit. What this means is that we can use our liberty to present ourselves for righteousness, to pursue peace, and to promote joy. How? By not lording our liberty over each other. By not judging and despising one another because one is Weak in faith and the other Strong in faith. By choosing to not do something you are free to do because it wouldn’t benefit your brother or sister in Christ.

In fact, why would we ever choose to cause another Christian to stumble if we live in a kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy and if that same kingdom lives in us? Rather, the one who has been accepted by God will live acceptable to God by serving Christ in this way – pursuing peace and mutual upbuilding.

Wait what? Serve Christ? I thought this was about the Strong serving the Weak? Or the Weak serving the Strong? Christians serving Christians?

Your right it is. Which is the same thing as serving Christ himself. To serve each other is to serve Christ. And to seek to destroy a Christian’s faith and conscience in the name of your own liberty is to seek to destroy God’s work of conforming us to Christ – Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God.

“To live is Christ” does mean you are free. But what will be your motivation in your freedom? What really matters? God’s kingdom? Or your fleshly kingdom? Will your liberty destroy love or will your liberty combine with love to produce the righteousness, peace, and joy of Christ that you already have in your heart?

May 14. Romans 15:1-3. Love and Liberty part 7: The Law of Love for the Strong in Faith.

Romans 15:1-3. We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

This is love: to put aside what is rightfully ours for the sake of others. This is what the Strong are called to do for the sake of the Weak. The Strong have a faith that allows them to see all things as being from God and for us. Whereas the faith of the Weak prevents them from partaking in many things because they fear sinning or unholiness.

We know from Romans 14 that the Strong in Rome were despising and judging the Weak. In other words, they were letting their liberty in Christ actually lead them away from love. But we are called to the law of love. Just as Christ did not please himself, we too are called to live for the sake of others, especially the Weak. Just as Christ took the insults aimed at God upon himself – The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me – we too must be willing to lose our honor and comfort for the sake of the kingdom.

“We were supposed to fight for Willie.”

But how? What are the practical things that the Strong must do in order to love the Weak? We find the answers back in Romans 14.
Romans 14:13. Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.Love will never put another Christian in a position where they will have to violate their conscience.

Romans 14:15, 21. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love… It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. – Love will never grieve a brother or sister in Christ over these matters of faith in practice. If they are abstaining, you should too. Period. Move slow with them. Like holding your little brother’s hand while walking in the woods. Don’t move so fast or into such rough territory that you cause him to fall down. That’s not love.

Romans 14:15, 20. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died…. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. – God is at work in the Weak Christian’s life, and love will let God do this work and not get in the way by demanding our own liberties over love. God will get them from Weak to Strong, and not by you offending their conscience in the name of “liberty.”

Romans 14:16. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil…The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves – Love will not push its liberty onto another person. If the Weak looks at your behavior as evil, stop the behavior! Keep your liberty between you and God. Don’t even bring it up around the Weak. For example if a Christian is telling you how much they think R rated movies are wrong, don’t turn around and say “There’s nothing wrong with R rated movies, I watch them all the time.” Just keep quiet.

“To live is Christ” is indeed liberty. It is freedom. But real freedom in Christ is the freedom to NOT exercise my freedom. Real freedom is the ability to put love above liberty. To bind my liberty with love’s demand – the demand of the life of Christ that calls for self-sacrifice and submission to the conscience of my brothers and sisters. This is the law of love. This is Christ in me.

May 13. Romans 14:1-6 and 14:20-15:1. Love and Liberty part 6: Are You Weak or Strong?

Romans 14:1-6; 14:20-15:1. As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. 2 One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. 3 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. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.

5 One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.
20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
15:1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves.

If you’ve been tracking with this blog the past few days you know that we are looking at how our union with Christ fills us with both love and liberty and how we must express that love and liberty in relation to the Weak and Strong Christians around us. These can be very complex issues of spiritual growth. Everything I have written in this series I write very humbly. I am learning right along with you.

When we hear Paul talk about Weak and Strong faith it immediately makes us ask the question, “Am I the Weak Christian, or the Strong Christian?”

Good question. And yes you should be asking it. It’s important. Why? Because Paul is giving very specific instructions here to the Weak and the Strong so knowing which you are is kind of a big deal.

But admittedly it is not an easy question to answer. So to help us answer let’s move backwards through 1) the behaviors 2) to the conscience and 3) finally to the knowledge of the Weak and the Strong

1. Behaviors. The Weak abstain from things. The Strong partake. The Weak don’t eat meat or drink wine (v21). The Strong do. The Weak abstain from doing things on the Sabbath. The Strong count every day the same (v5).

(btw- you can abstain from things for lots of reasons, not just “faith” reasons. For example I regularly abstain from brussel sprouts)

There’s lots of reasons to abstain…even legal ones.

2. Conscience. These behaviors flow from either a weak or a strong conscience. The conscience turns into beliefs about what we can do or not do (v2). This is where Christian liberty comes in. In Christ we can have differing beliefs about what is right and what is wrong for us as an individual. If the behavior follows the conscience, even if it is Weak, it can be done in faith and can be honoring to the Lord (v5-6,23). In fact, this faith is even more important that the behavior itself. Look at v.23 again. If the Weak eats the questionable food, which is the behavior of the Strong, he is still sinning because he eats from doubt and does not eat in faith.

From this we must understand that in Christ being Weak is not a sin. Being Strong is also not a sin. The sin would be to violate your own conscience, do something from doubt and not faith or cause someone else to do something from outside of their faith (more on that tomorrow).

3. Knowledge. Ok, so being Weak is not a sin, But being Strong IS better than being Weak. Paul (and God) definitely want us to not violate our own conscience/faith or the conscience/faith of another, because this would be unloving. But we also want to be Strong in conscience and faith and not Weak forever. Why does it matter? Because being Weak stems from a lack of knowledge of who God is and what the gospel has done for us in its fullness.

Paul doesn’t push this argument here in Romans 14, but in verse 20 he gives us a little glimpse – Everything is indeed clean.

Do you see what he’s saying? He’s saying that the Strong are correct. Everything IS clean. There is no such thing as “clean food,” or “unclean food.” Or “holy days,” or “unholy days” (not sure if that was a thing).

Here’s how he said it in 1 Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 8:4-7a. 4 Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” 5 For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— 6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
7 However, not all possess this knowledge.

The Weak lack this knowledge. The knowledge that all things come from God and are ours to enjoy through the gospel of grace and our union with Christ.

1 Corinthians 10:26. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.”
1 Corinthians 3:21-22. For all things are yoursthe world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, 23 and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

It is our knowledge, or lack thereof, that makes us either Weak or Strong. When we know that everything is God’s, and that everything comes from God, and that everything is ours in Christ, these things are no longer placed into different categories of “holy and unholy.” It’s all holy. It’s all God’s. It’s all Jesus’. It’s all ours.

Our knowledge then impacts our conscience, our faith. Don’t ever violate this. Even it it is weak. And don’t ever violate another Christian’s faith or conscience, even if it is weak. To do so is unloving and sinful.

Finally, our conscience impacts our behavior – what we abstain from or partake in. But remember this is about THINGS. All THINGS are God’s. All THINGS are Christ’s. All THINGS are yours in Christ. But people are way more important than things. This is why something like sex is not just a THING. Sexual behavior is not just a matter of faith and conscience. It is a spiritual behavior that will always, always, always impact another person (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).

As those who love Christ and his body we must wrestle with differentiating between material things and spiritual behaviors. This is a huge part of “to live is Christ.” We don’t run around willy nilly doing whatever we want, claiming “freedom in Christ.” We study, we discern, we pray, we differentiate, we know, and we believe. But most of all we love. Which is way more important than being Strong or Weak.

May 11-12. Romans 14:7-9. Love and Liberty part 5: A Matter of Life and Death.

Romans 14:7-9. 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For 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.9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Wow it just got deep. I thought we were talking about eating and drinking and judging each other and Weak and Strong Christians (you know, easy stuff) and suddenly Paul’s talking about two of the biggest forces in the universe: life and death. Why does he bring in such cosmic concepts in the middle of this very earthy discussion?

Because love and liberty are a matter of life and death. They were secured by Christ’s life and death for us. Christ is our Lord in our living and in our dying – that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

These are the two greatest extremes. You’re either a living Christian or a dead Christian. But you’re still a Christian. Christ still has you, no matter what. Why? Because you are IN CHRIST. So if we live we live to the Lord, and if we die we die to the Lord, no matter what we do, we do it to the Lord. This is the great promise of our union with Christ. We cannot lose Jesus. Jesus cannot lose us.

Trust in Jesus means we are always safe, in life or death and everything in between.

Ok, so what does this have to do with our liberty, or any of the things that Paul’s been talking about?

He’s using an argument that goes from the greater to the lesser.

Greater: Christ is your Lord from life to death and everything in between. Everything you do from living to dying is done to the Lord.

Lesser: Therefore, whether you eat or not, drink or not, keep the Sabbath or not (these are “lesser” things than “living and dying”), it can all be done to the Lord.

1 Corinthians 10:31. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

So you see our Christian liberty is deeply rooted in the gospel. Christ died and rose. As a result, he holds our dying and living in his hand. He is our Lord and Judge. If Christ holds all of our living and even our death in his hands, then he holds everything else that we do or don’t do in this life. When we trust this biggest of realities, we are living by faith. Which is why both the Weak and the Strong can be living in faith at the same time. There is freedom in Christ because there is security in Christ. We are free because at the end we will die to Christ, and in the meantime we live to Christ.

“To live is Christ” means we are his no matter what – living or dying – he is our Lord. And if that is really true (and it is) then we can love each other without trying to control each other’s freedom. We can let other Christians be free and be led by their Lord (and it’s not you). We can respect differing convictions because we know that ALL can be done to reflect the glory of the Lord. We can love within liberty because we know that we are all equally the Lord’s. Amen!

May 10. Romans 14:5. Love and Liberty part 4: Freedom Increases Love.

Romans 14:5-6. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God.

I don’t know that there is a more explicit statement of our liberty in Christ than this one – Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

You would never have heard Moses say something like this. The Law would not allow it. Under the Old Covenant your behaviors and your opinions about those behaviors were decided for you. But not so in Christ. We are free to decide for ourselves how to best honor Christ.

Now I know some of you are already nervous from that statement. “We can’t decide things for ourselves, we would just sin all the time if we did that.” But this is not what union with Christ teaches us. Union with Christ says that we have the mind of Christ, therefore we can trust our own minds.

Let that sink in…

Yes, we are each a king in the realm of our own mind (William Newell), but we are also bounded by the mind of Christ. Liberty bounded by love.

But now this is where Romans 14:5 gets interesting. Yes, liberty bounded by love, but also love increased by liberty.

Rome was a church full of Weak and Strong Christians (go back and read the last couple blogs for more background). The Weak abstained from eating meat, the Strong ate the meat without a problem. The Weak esteemed one day better than another, while the Strong esteemed all days alike.

In other words, they didn’t agree on matters of practice. Not gospel matters. Non-gospel matters. They all agreed that the law didn’t save them, that Jesus died and rose again for the salvation of sins, that salvation was by grace through faith. They disagreed on the outworking of that faith. For some it was faith to eat, and for others it was faith to not eat. For some it was faith to rest on the Sabbath, for others it was faith to work on the Sabbath. These different opinions led to division, rejection, judgment, and even despising one another (12:1-4). So what’s the solution for this church? For your church?

It would seem that the solution would be to lessen liberty. To reduce freedom. To compromise.

But this is not what Paul says. He tells us to be fully convinced in our own mind. Not try to persuade each other of your opinion. Not try to convert each other to your side. Not try to come up with a middle ground of behavior.

The solution is actually the opposite – dig into your convictions, be fully convinced, and then do it! Go hard in honor to the Lord. Eat in honor to the Lord. Or don’t eat in honor to the Lord. Observe the day in honor to the Lord, or don’t, in honor to the Lord. But be convinced.

How are we convinced about our expressions of faith? Here are three test questions: 1) Is it sinful – forbidden by Christ or scripture? 2) Can you do it in honor to the Lord, from his love and grace? 3) Can you do it, or not do it, and give thanks to God at the same time?

Things like sexual immorality (1 Cor. 6) do not pass these the test of these three questions. But something like eating meat at a pagan temple (1 Cor. 8) could pass this test. For that matter, not eating the meat could also pass the test.

Should I eat at Subway? Does it pass the test?

Should I steal my brother’s money out of his wallet to eat at Subway? Does it pass the test?

Some questions are easier, some harder. Should I practice Lent? Can I smoke marijuana? Do I have to have a daily quiet time? Should my kids play soccer on Sundays? Who do I vote for? Can I watch TV-M shows? How long is too long to play video games? What do I wear to church?

But I digress (and this list could go on forever). The point is this: be convinced in your own mind. Do it from faith in Christ.

The Fellowship of the Ring is stronger because they are so different but united in purpose.

And (back to my point) this will actually increase love. Wait what? Everyone digging in to their convictions more will make us love each other more? Yes, it will if we submit to the life of Christ in us. Compromise would only cause us to resent each other. But what God is asking us to do here is far better. He’s asking us to trust the Holy Spirit to sanctify us individually as we learn corporately to accept each other’s convictions, preferences, and practices.

We can only do this if we choose to love each other in spite of our differences. To see the beauty of a person living their life in honor to the Lord even if different from how we would. To see freedom in Christ as a grace to receive not a stumbling block to reject.

Without this “spiritual growth” will never be growth by the Spirit, it will be growth by committee. It won’t be “to live is Christ,” it will be “to live is to do what everyone else tells me to do.”

So please understand, the goal of the Holy Spirit is NOT for all Christians and all churches to look alike, and sound alike, and act alike. Quite the opposite. The gospel works best when there are differences – racial, gender, age, culture, AND convictions. Why? Because that’s when the only way we can survive is if we love. If we put the uniting power of the gospel itself above all other things that could divide us. Love has to win in these spaces. Christ alone must be the uniting force, not our opinions, politics, or preferences. Only then will God’s glorious grace be revealed in us.