The law of liberty and the conscience

by Mike Ratliff

15 To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. Titus 1:15 (NASB) 

I am constantly amazed at the diversity I witness in the believers who interact with this ministry. This, of course, displays Christ’s power to bring together in unity dissimilar people from every place on this planet and from all walks of life. Part of our sanctification is dealing with our unredeemed flesh. God uses it to humble as well as teach us to fight the good fight. We will never be totally sinless as long as we have our flesh within us. Our enemy also works within our flesh to create division in an effort to split what God has unified. Much of the attack from him and his minions will be to foment conflict between mature believers and those who are not so mature. Also, he is always working in a effort to create self-confidence and self-righteousness in believers. He knows that when believers fall into that trap they are working from a base of pride rather than humility.

1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. 2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. 3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. Romans 14:1-4 (NASB) 

The Greek word translated as “accept” in v1 is also translated as “receive” or “welcome” in other translations. It refers to personal and willing acceptance of another. Christians are not to be divided into cliques and small groups that discriminate against other Christians who may not be as mature as them. The command in v1 is to receive or welcome or accept the immature believer, and do not participate in or start disputes or quarrels. What would immature and mature believers quarrel about? In this section of his epistle to the Romans, Paul is addressing a possible conflict that could arise about dietary rules within the body of Christ. Many of the first Century Christians were Jews and, for the most part, maintained their Jewishness by keeping the dietary Laws as well as the Jewish Religious feasts and festivals. On the other hand, many of the more mature Jewish Christians saw that much of the Church was made up of Gentiles and that God had declared clean what had been formerly unclean. In vv2-4 we have Paul’s instruction on dealing with this within the body made up of both the mature and immature Gentile and Jewish Christians. What is his instruction? The mature are not to condemn or belittle the immature simply because they still maintained their dietary restrictions. Why? God has welcomed them all. Paul closes this passage by saying that all believers are before their Lord where they either stand or fall according to His judgment, not the people’s. God will enable the weak to stand so we must not pass judgment on them. If they are His then they are in His hands.

5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 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.
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? 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 give praise to God.”
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
13 Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. Romans 14:5-13 (NASB) 

Again, Paul contrasts the weak Jewish believer with those who are not bound to keep the Jewish festivals and feasts and dietary laws. He is discussing believers here. So, those who are passed all of that should not look down on those who aren’t. In v7 we see the key to this. The focus of our Christian faith should never be on self. All we do should be done in light of and to please our Sovereign Lord. All in Christ are His. He died on the cross to free His people from sin, but also to enslave them to Himself. Yes, that’s right. All in Christ are His servants. He is our Sovereign Lord. He is ruling and reigning right now in Heaven. Those who have preceded us there are under His rule just as we are here. In v10 we have a rhetorical question by Paul that should make us stop and consider what we are doing with our words, even if well-intentioned. Are we passing judgment on our brothers and sisters in Christ who may not be as mature as us?

God gave each of us a conscience. Are we heeding it? All of us will stand before our Lord and give an account. The Lord will judge our decisions that we have made. That includes those we made against what our conscience was telling us. Our Lord’s verdict will be final. Paul’s exhortation here is that we should immediately quit passing judgment on other believers based upon our conception of their immaturity. We must not pile on a level of spiritual maturity on those who are not there yet. That is a stumbling block for them. Those who are more mature got there by fighting battles and suffering and repenting and obeying their Lord. Why not let the less mature find their way to maturity according to God’s plan for them?

This is in no way is talking about dealing with false teachers and preachers and others who proclaim to be Christian, but who are anything but. No, we must confront them speaking the truth from the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we must not overburden the less mature Christians all around us with heavy burdens of spiritual responsibility that they are not prepared to bear. Self-righteousness is an ugly thing. We must forsake it. We must not put heavy burdens on those who are not prepared to bear them. As a teacher I tend to lay things out there on a level that, if I am not careful, may look like only those who attain to that are genuine, etc. God forbid that we do this. We must always point those we disciple to the truth and the right way to go, but never belittle them if they aren’t there yet. Look at our Saviour’s patience with His disciples. He often had to rebuke them, but He always loved them and taught them as much as they could bear. The unity of the brethren will only be enhanced if we are careful in this area.

Soli Deo Gloria!

4 thoughts on “The law of liberty and the conscience

  1. We have to remember, however, that in this passage, Paul is talking about meats and days, not about immorality and other sins. So often, we hear Christians say “we have liberty” and then use this to continue on in any number of immoral acts.

    Meats and days are not, in themselves, sinful; therefore, those things are a matter of conscience, whereas immorality and false doctrine are leaven that must be purged no matter one’s level or maturity.


  2. Romans 14:15-18 (HCSB) For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat. Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men.


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