There is a fascinating partnership between God and those in the church when it comes to the work of sanctification in a believer. Romans 14 gives us great insight to this dynamic. On the one hand, we are told to stop judging each other on “the minors” because sanctification is God’s work and He is able to finish that which He has started in our lives (14:3-4). My brothers and sisters in Christ are just that . . . in Christ . . . they are God’s servants . . . God has saved them by grace just as He has me . . . and God has started His work in their lives . . . and God will finish the work . . . He is able to make them stand . . . He doesn’t need my critique . . . I need to let God work in the lives of those around me.
But on the other hand, I do have a role . . . I’m to pursue that which builds up my brothers and sisters in Christ . . . careful not to “destroy the work of God” begun in their lives (14:19-20a). I’m to live for others . . . consider my actions in terms of whether they will help other believers or trip up other believers. You can’t get around it . . . we are not our own . . . we are not free to choose to do what we want without considering the impact to others . . .
It’s about how to walk in this community we call “the fellowship of Christians” . . . and it’s about how we think as we navigate the grey space.
At the center of it is this declaration by Paul, “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God . . . each of us will give account of himself to God.” (14: 10b, 12). Paul’s talking about “us” . . . believers . . . each of us giving account of himself or herself to God at His seat of judgment. This is not the judgment place we read of in Revelation . . . this is not about heaven or hell . . . this is about “how did we live here on earth as members of God’s kingdom?” We will certainly give account for disobedience and engaging in what God’s word declares to be sin . . . but, we will also give account for how we lived in the “grey areas of life” . . . the grey space . . . that area where Christians dispute over whether something is right or wrong for a Christian to be engaged in.
And I don’t think the question will be so much on “What did you do?” or “What didn’t you do?” because Paul says that, “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing unclean in itself” (14:14). Instead, if I’m getting Romans 14, the questions will be, “Why did you do that? What were you thinking?” . . . “Who else did it impact?” . . . “What was the impact to My kingdom on earth?” (14:17) . . . “Did it make for peace and build up others or did it tear down?” (14:19) . . . “Did it strengthen your brother or sister in Christ, or did it trip them up and weaken them?” (14:21) . . . . “Did you really think it through and seek the Spirit’s mind — were you fully convinced in your own mind about this action?” (14:5) . . . “Were you just thinking about yourself or were you living for the Lord?” (14:8) . . . “Did you allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil?” (14:16).
Oh, how I need to be thoughtful about what I choose to engage in and the implications for others. It’s not about something being right or wrong . . . it’s about recognizing that I am not to live for myself . . . but for the Lord . . . and for others. God first, others second, me a distant third. That’s what I think the judgment seat of Christ is going to be probing . . . selfishness will be exposed. How thoughtful I was . . . or wasn’t . . . in pursuing a course of action will be brought to light. The degree to which I acted “by faith” in going into “disputable territory” will be revealed and “whatever is not from faith” will be declared sin. (14:23).
In this grey space some will do and some won’t . . . some will eat and drink and some won’t . . . but the acid test before the judgment seat of Christ will be whether or not we prayerfully considered the grey space before Christ and were fully convinced in our minds about our action. Did we consider its impact on brothers and sisters who we thought might would struggle in this grey space . . . did we place priority on things which made for peace and edified other believers or did we knowingly risk stumbling a fellow Christian.
Navigating the grey space . . . tough stuff . . . no easy answers . . . but, some pretty sound principles . . . because I hang in community with some pretty amazing people . . . those redeemed by some pretty amazing grace . . . all for the glory of a pretty amazing God.