Summary: Dealing with freedom is a tricky thing. it requires restraint and an awareness of the source of our freedom, namely the mercy and grace of God shown in Jesus Christ.
Freedom is a tricky thing. It’s something that we hold dear as members of a democracy. It’s something that people have fought long and hard to achieve. We’d hate to give it up. Yet there are times when our desire for freedom can lead us astray, even to the point of undermining the very thing we’re trying to protect. I guess you’d have to say that America epitomises a society fixed on freedom. It is after all, the Land of the Free. Yet in America this past week or so, we’ve seen people who were afraid to go out of their houses. They were afraid they might be the next victim of a sniper who’d killed 10 people. If they went to the supermarket they were told to take a zigzag path to maker themselves a more difficult target. There in the land of the free, people were prisoners in their own homes. And you’d have to say that one of the reasons their freedom had been removed was because the sniper was free to buy a high powered target rifle. He was free to attend sniper classes which apparently are becoming more and more popular! So that one person’s freedom ended up taking away that of thousands of others.
Now that’s a fairly extreme situation, but each one of us could find ourselves in a similar situation, if we’re not careful, as a result of our Christian freedom; because dealing with freedom, ironically, requires restraint.
Dealing with freedom requires restraint
Here in this passage from Romans 14 & 15 we find a dilemma for those who have truly grasped the notion of Christian freedom. The dilemma is this: When we look at others and see how they’re continuing to misunderstand the gospel, our natural inclination is to look down on them, or to try to correct them; perhaps even to despise them. But the end result of that is that we end up removing their freedom. This was obviously a continuing issue in the early church because it comes up again in 1 Corinthians 8&9. The big problem for them was whether it was OK for a Christian to eat meat that might have been offered to an idol before being sent to the butcher’s. This is still a problem for Jews and Muslims of course. Unless they can be sure that their food has been prepared in the proper way, they won’t eat it.
But it isn’t just Jews and Muslims who have a problem here. There are all sorts of rules and prohibitions that have arisen over the years that some Christians take as law and others realise are superseded by the gospel. So,
We need to be clear about the source of our Freedom
I dare say there are still some here today who were taught as they grew up that Christians shouldn’t do any work on a Sunday. When I was growing up one of my idols was Brian Booth. He was the Dean Jones or the Ricky Ponting of Australian cricket in those days. And he was a great Christian role model for young boys like me. He was actually a member of my church. He used to teach me Sunday School. Well, those of you who are old enough may remember that not only was he a great cricketer, but he was also a great hockey player. In fact he was chosen for the 1956 Olympic hockey team. The only trouble was that some of their games were scheduled to be played on a Sunday. And his conscience wouldn’t let him play sport on a Sunday. So he had to withdraw from the team. Now I tell you that story, not to criticise Brian Booth. On the contrary, his decision showed he was a man of great integrity as well as sporting prowess. But it does highlight the sort of legalism that creeps back into our thinking almost without us realising it.
You see, he was a member of a church that was really strong on the gospel. He understood the significance of salvation by faith alone. He was one of those responsible for me learning the gospel as I grew up. But the freedom of the gospel hadn’t been translated into ordinary daily life. People were still bound by laws and regulations.
I remember when Di and I were getting ready for our wedding we suggested that maybe we could have the reception in the church hall. But no, that wasn’t possible because no dancing was allowed on Church property. And we certainly couldn’t have had wine or beer! That would have been really unchristian wouldn’t it?
But was it unchristian? Look at what he says in v2: "Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables." It doesn’t sound like your diet affects your faith does it? It may indicate the strength of your faith. Mind you, not the way my parents’ generation thought. That is, that the strong in faith were those who abstained from certain things. Rather the strong in faith are those who realise that their salvation only ever depends on what Jesus Christ has done on the cross. Whether you eat or drink certain things is a question of personal choice. Perhaps a choice based on health issues or ethical principles, but not in any way having to do with your standing as a Christian.