Summary: A sermon on Romans 14:22-23 about the conscience on how to handle people who are Christians but they are different from us in their opinions (Material adapted from Dave Swavely's book, Who Are You to Judge? and outline from Joe R. Price)
Adam Clarke was a sales clerk in a store that sold fine silk to people of the upper classes in London. One day his employer showed young Adam how he could increase sales and profits by stretching the silk as he measured it out. Young Adam Clarke looked his employer straight in the eye and said, “Sir, your silk may stretch by my conscience won’t.”
What do we do when someone is different from us and claim to be Christians. We have gone over the principle of acceptance, principle of personal conviction, principle of edification and tonight we conclude all of this with the principle of conscience
The apostle Paul through inspiration of the HS ends this discussion by explaining more about Christian freedom and its relation to the conscience. “whatever you believe about these things”, talking about a belief that something we do (or don’t do) is right before God even though not directly discussed in Scripture. Paul is repeating his encouragement to develop personal convictions, but he also is implying that we should strive to keep them to ourselves, especially in situations where they may cause sin or division or be harmful in some way to other Christians. He encourages us to enjoy the freedom we have in Christ, and to enjoy the good things that God has given us, even if others might have problems with this. According to Paul, we are blessed when we do not feel guilty or think we are sinning, in doing things that the Lord allows.
To all of this Paul adds a warning: no one should act against his or her conscience. It is not spiritually healthy to do so, and it is also displeasing to God. He who doubts that what he is doing is right, the Scripture says, is condemned if he does it. From the context, we know that this statement applies even to activities that are not wrong, like eating meat offered to idols. Paul has already expressed the HS take on this.
For we are told that someone who eats meat, or does anything else the Bible does not address, is sinning if he is not sure it is right. How can this be? Paul explains this: “because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.”
If we think something is wrong to do, and we do it anyway, it is sin- even if God never said that the activity itself is wrong. This is because our choice has not been made because of faith, but because of some other motive, usually to please people instead of pleasing God.
It is not the action itself, but the choice, that is displeasing to God. A helpful illustration would be a woman who was taught while growing up, by her parents and other Christians, that wearing pants is wrong. Men wear pants, the argument goes, so women should not wear pants. This idea comes from “A woman must not wear men’s clothing, nor a man wear women’s clothing, for the LORD your God detests anyone who does this.” Deuteronomy 22:5, NIV. This is talking about transvestites. It is not meant to address pants, because men and women wore skirt like robes and tunics in Bible times (nobody wore pants!). When it comes to the NT teaching on modesty, the fact is that in some situations pants are more modest than dresses. Although it is fine for a particular woman to decide that she will not wear pants, this should not go into legalism, making an extra biblical standard for everyone.
No matter the lack of biblical guidelines on this, this woman has heard it over and over again that it is wrong for woman to wear pants. Any idea has a certain power when we hear it again and again from the people we love and respect, especially when we are a child. She has been convinced that it is wrong for her to wear pants.
Now suppose this woman is getting ready to go out for the evening with some girlfriends, who are all wearing jeans and begin to encourage her to do the same. They may even poke fun at her hesitancy, and may even browbeat her into breaking her tradition. If she decides to put the jeans on while she still thinks it might be wrong, she will be sinning, because at that moment this is more important to her than pleasing God. It will not be her faith in Christ that motivates her to put those jeans on, but her fear of what her friends will think.
Can her conscience be realigned, or retrained, so that she could wear pants without feeling guilty? Yes, this is a good step. But until that happens, she should not wear pants, because doing so will come between her and God. It will damage that most important relationship she has, because when she prays to Him she will not be able to pray “in faith” believing that he hears her because of the “sin” against her conscience. She will be thinking something like this: “I don’t know if I should be wearing these pants- God might be upset with me.”