Murder… adultery… theft… you won’t find any Christian who thinks those are God-honoring activities. Between Old Testament law, New Testament guidelines for Christian living, and the many righteous examples set by believers throughout the Bible, Christians generally know how they should (and shouldn’t) behave.
But what happens when we don’t know?
Christians have devoted huge amounts of time, energy, and prayer to figuring out what to do with the “gray areas”—behavior that isn’t explicitly addressed in Scripture and over which earnest, devoted Christians disagree. In the past, these “gray areas” have included dancing, rock music, alcohol consumption, movie-viewing, hair styles, and tattoos. The specific issues change with each new generation, but Christians continue to struggle with the question of what to do when different believers’ consciences lead them to different conclusions about a controversial activity.
Fortunately, Scripture gives us tools with which to tackle this challenge, most notably in Paul’s letter to the Roman church.
Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong. For instance, one person believes it’s all right to eat anything. But another believer with a sensitive conscience will eat only vegetables. Those who feel free to eat anything must not look down on those who don’t. And those who don’t eat certain foods must not condemn those who do, for God has accepted them. Who are you to condemn someone else’s servants? Their own master will judge whether they stand or fall. And with the Lord’s help, they will stand and receive his approval.
In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable. Those who worship the Lord on a special day do it to honor him. Those who eat any kind of food do so to honor the Lord, since they give thanks to God before eating. And those who refuse to eat certain foods also want to please the Lord and give thanks to God. For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. Christ died and rose again for this very purpose—to be Lord both of the living and of the dead.
So why do you condemn another believer? Why do you look down on another believer? Remember, we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For the Scriptures say,
“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.’”
Yes, each of us will give a personal account to God. So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.
I know and am convinced on the authority of the Lord Jesus that no food, in and of itself, is wrong to eat. But if someone believes it is wrong, then for that person it is wrong. And if another believer is distressed by what you eat, you are not acting in love if you eat it. Don’t let your eating ruin someone for whom Christ died. Then you will not be criticized for doing something you believe is good. For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.
Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning. — Romans 14 (NLT)
Questions to Consider
- The main “matter of conscience” described in this passage is related to diet. What are some modern-day “gray areas” that you’ve encountered in your personal life and in the life of your church?
- What does it mean to be “weak in faith?” How does a weak believer grow stronger in faith, and how would that affect their attitude toward these “matters of conscience?”
- How do we distinguish between issues about which Christians can safely “agree to disagree,” and behaviors or beliefs that are genuinely sinful?
- The final part of this passage notes that an activity that’s not sinful for another Christian can be sinful for you if your conscience speaks against it. What’s an example of such an activity in your personal life?
- Why do you think Christians (both ancient and modern) are so prone to arguing and debating the “gray areas?” What about Paul’s advice in this chapter makes it a challenge for us to put into practice?