Romans chapter 14 is a good example of how we are called not just to believe the gospel, but to live it as well. As Christians, people who follow Jesus and are led by his Spirit, we believe the gospel, a message of good news. Though created in God’s image, we were lost in sin and under God’s judgment. Because of his love for us, God sent his Son Jesus Christ, who not only modelled the perfect human life but gave his perfect life as a sacrifice for our sins. By his death on the cross he paid the penalty for our sins and took upon himself our judgment. God’s wrath struck him instead of us. Jesus died for sin but death couldn’t hold him. Sin died with him but he rose to life. He ascended to his Father’s right hand and he is Lord and he has poured out his Spirit on those who put their faith in him. In him we are forgiven. We have no fear of judgment or future condemnation. We have peace with God and peace within ourselves. And the Spirit of God within us guides us in our choices and actions.
It’s a wonderful message that we are called to believe. It’s a wonderful gift that we are summoned to receive. But the gospel is also a way of life that we are called to live.
And as far as I’ve been able to figure it out in my 30 years and one week of experience in full time Christian ministry, the Christian life can be summed up in three simple principles. Well, by simple I mean, simple to understand. No one is saying that they are easy to do. But those three principles are: firstly, to live for Jesus who lived and died and lives for you; secondly, to treat people the way you want to be treated; an thirdly, to treat people the way God has treated you.
Or to put it another way, Jesus is Lord. Not just Lord of the universe. Not just Lord of all nations and people. But my Lord. He calls me to follow in his example and to love others in his name. Like I said, simple. But not easy.
We see these principles illustrated in Romans chapter 14. We are to accept those whom God has accepted. God has removed every obstacle between him and his forgiven children. It would be wrong for us to try to put any obstacle back where it doesn’t belong. God no longer condemns his forgiven children. Who are we to judge them and look down on them?
The apostle Paul said in Romans chapter 14 verses 1 and 2,
Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything. But another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.
The clear message here is that we must not use our own personal scruples to tear down someone who in Christ is our brother or sister, or to reject someone whom God has accepted.
Now most of the examples of personal scruples that Paul gives in this chapter come from Jewish religious practice. That’s a reminder that the first Christians were Jews. Jesus was a Jew, circumcised when he was eight days old. All his disciples were Jews. But as the disciples took the gospel of Jesus out of their country and as non-Jews became followers of Jesus they realised that since Jesus had suffered the curse of the law and that his way of love was the fulfilment of the law, then all their old Jewish scruples were next to meaningless.
As Paul mentions in the first few verses of Romans 14 the Jews had strict rules about what to eat and about what was and was not allowed on the Sabbath. But what did these mean when Jesus had fulfilled the law in his body upon the cross? Why should they be used by Jewish brothers and sisters to restrict the lives of non-Jews? And why should those same differences be used by non-Jews to make their Jewish brothers and sisters feel second rate?
Accept him, says Paul, whose faith is weak.
It’s interesting to note that the believer with scruples is described as weak. Such people often bring their judgments with such passion and righteous indignation that they seem strong, and sadly for that reason they are often put into positions of leadership. People who say, “You can’t do this. You can’t do that.” And if you don’t conform to their high-minded principles, they say that you don’t belong. They like telling people what to do. They seem strong.
But Paul describes them as weak. They are weak in faith. They are weak because rather than being ruled by the freedom and joy of the gospel they are ruled by their need to keep their rules.
One man considers one day more sacred than another, another man considers every day alike.
They are, as Paul describes them, disputable matters. What we can eat. What day should we celebrate. We could argue over them all day long. But for what purpose? God has accepted in Christ both the vegetarian and the meat eater? Who are you to reject either of them? They are the Lord’s servant not yours. Who are you to decide whether they are worthy or not? The one who treats the one day as extra special does it as an expression of love for his creator. The one who treats every day as equally sacred does it for exactly the same reason.
In this passage, Paul helps to remind us who we are. We are followers of Christ. As he says in verse 9,
Christ died and returned to life so that he might be Lord of both the living and the dead.
Jesus is Lord. Jesus who lived and died and lives again rules as king of kings and lord of lords. So we who have taken refuge in him, who have put our faith in his shed blood and in his body broken for us, and who see in his new life the promise of our new life, we have pledged our life to his so that we no longer belong to ourselves. We belong to him. Jesus Christ went through everything that we go through from birth to death in order to be Lord of every part of our lives.
And it’s not just true for me. It’s not just true for you. But it’s true for all who trust in Christ for salvation and belong to his church. Paul is inviting us here to see people with the eyes of Christ. Not through our man made “spectacles” of what we consider good morals or proper standards. But through the love of God who in Christ loved us before we loved him, who has no favourites and who is not impressed with outward show.
For we may wear our Sunday best out of respect for him. We may give due diligence to the Lord’s day and to church attendance. We may keep our body trim because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But the Lord looks past our clothes to our heart. He wants to be loved every day. And he is more concerned for our love for our neighbour than he is for our body mass index.
And when we see them with the eyes of Christ we will love them just as he does. We will accept them just as he does. We will not hold them to our own scruples and we will not judge them for theirs. And out of love for them we will never flaunt our freedom in front of them.
Perhaps they only eat fish on Friday. Maybe their mother taught them never to take the last slice of cake. Perhaps they can’t walk through any door first. “After you.” “No, after you.” “No, I insist, after you.” Who are we to think we’re any better when the Lord loves us all the same?
It’s a great reminder that the Lord is building his church. Not our church according to our rules. But his church, the body of his Son Jesus Christ, according to the principles and values of the gospel. Loving because we are loved. Forgiving because we are forgiven. Accepting because we are accepted.
And by his grace the Lord has chosen to build his church from broken parts. Not perfect stones that fit in nicely. Because none of us would have been accepted on those terms. But broken parts. Broken in different ways. We are jagged when we should be smooth. We are round when we should be square. But the Lord’s love is the mortar that holds us together. And his love is very forgiving and perfect for filling in all our gaps.
As Christians we believe the gospel. But we are also called to live that gospel too. We live for Jesus. He died and lived again to be Lord of the living and the dead. We follow his example and treat people the way we want to be treated. And we love people in his name, treating them the way God has treated us in Jesus.