Romans 14 is quite controversial in the Churches of Christ today, because it runs so contrary to much of our preaching.
(Rom 14:6 ESV) 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.
In the last post of this series, we covered the first few verses of this chapter. Paul plainly declares that those who disagree on whether it’s sin to eat meat (non-kosher or sacrificed to idols) and on whether it’s a sin not to honor the Sabbath (or other holy days) must accept each other as saved — despite their doctrinal disagreements.
Both those who participate and those who refuse are saved by grace. Both will stand before God but only by grace. We must extend the grace we receive from God to others.
Paul notes that those who eat do so to honor God. Those who refuse do so to honor God. Some of our preachers would argue “the law of the excluded middle” and impose a dichotomy — either one honors God or the other. They cannot both honor God because both cannot — logically — be true. And, indeed, it either is or isn’t sin to eat non-kosher meat. One side or the other is wrong.
But God judges the heart — and both are honoring God with their hearts and so the worship of both is accepted.
(Rom 14:7-8 ESV) 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.
On first reading, this is a puzzling verse. What does living and dying have to do with kosher meat? Well, Paul is starting with a broad principle — everything we do is “to the Lord.” We are Christians and therefore our lives and our deaths are “to the Lord,” that is, directed toward God as worship.
You see, “to the Lord” is the language of worship in the Septuagint —
(Gen 4:3 ESV) In the course of time Cain brought to the LORD an offering of the fruit of the ground,
(Gen 12:8 ESV) From there he moved to the hill country on the east of Bethel and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east. And there he built an altar to the LORD and called upon the name of the LORD.
(Exo 12:42 ESV) It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
Therefore, God accepts worship based on our hearts and not on our doctrinal perfection.
(Rom 14:9 ESV) 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
“This end” is so that his people will live and die “to the Lord,” transforming their entire lives into worship of God. (Remember: Paul is still explaining how we become living sacrifices per Romans 12:1-2!)
(Rom 14:10-12 ESV) 10 Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
V. 10 is, of course, a rebuke pointed directly at the legalists among us. It is sin to condemn those who have faith in Jesus. We will all be judged by God.
(Rom 14:13 ESV) 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.
Paul concludes this section of Romans 14 by insisting that we “not pass judgment on one another.” That’s the core community discipline for chapter 14. Stop being so judgmental!
Now, of course, there are some judgments that must be made. I don’t know whom to evangelize unless as I some idea who is saved and who is not. And there’s a place in the church for discipline, even disfellowship. There are boundaries. But these boundaries are far, far, far removed from where we often place them.
Whom must I not judge?
Paul does not carefully draw the lines in chapter 14 because he’d just spent chapters 1 – 8 explaining where the lines are. For example,
(Rom 3:21-22a ESV) 21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
(Rom 3:28 NAS) 28 For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.
(Rom 5:1 ESV) Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(Rom 8:9-11 ESV) 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.
Obviously, those who are outside the faith are not saved and thus not covered by grace. God will not make them stand. But those who remain in the faith remain saved despite their doctrinal imperfection — so long as they don’t reject what brought them into the Kingdom in the first place: faith in Jesus and repentance (which is really an element of faith, as Paul uses the word). The road out is the same as the road in.