I believe in standards. I also believe we can easily misuse and abuse them on all sides of the standards spectrum. For instance, if I believe that others should have standards just like me, then I am becoming legalistic and abusing liberty. If, on the other hand, I believe that I can do whatever I want and others should not judge me for doing so, I am becoming licentious and also abusing liberty. Galatians 5 especially addresses the first issue and Romans 14 the latter. Read them both when you can! According to Galatians 5, I am “free” to follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership in my life. According to Romans 14, I am “free” to apply God’s Word to my life and should do so with not only a great awareness of my own accountability to God but also a great awareness of my responsibility to the gospel and to those around me. Taken together (Gal. 5 and Rom. 14), they teach that I am mature and Godly when I make decisions based on the truth of the Bible, the leading of the Spirit, and how my life affects others and the gospel.
Consider both ends of the spectrum. On one side, positions can become more important that people. Lists can become more important than love. Being right can become more important than being reasonable and Christians can become weaker because their “standards” are frequently based on random Old Testament passages where a particular verse is elevated and those around it are ignored. On the other side, preferences can become more important than people. Having liberty can become more important than loving others and being “free” can become more important than being filled with the Spirit. Institutional rules are often ridiculed, and treated with contempt. Traditional views are automatically regarded as suspect. Whereas a legalist is self-righteousness, a licentious person is self-serving. To contrast the two even farther, the legalist depends on a legal standard rather than the leading of the Spirit. The other depends on his preferences rather than the leading of the Spirit. In each case, one simply averages his life by his own particular system, whatever that system may be.
God has a different plan. We should walk in the Spirit and obey His leading. Galatians 5 says it in a variety of ways:
Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh (v. 16).
But if ye be lead of the Spirit, ye are not under the law (v. 18).
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit (v. 25).
It is easier (and often more desirable) to walk by either a legal system or by the “desires” of the flesh. Either can be done without any help from the Spirit whatsoever. However, we are not called to live by a system! We are called to walk with God and follow His Word and His will in every situation. This is not to say that “righteous” laws are bad (government proves otherwise) or that institutional rules don’t matter (the Bible teaches they do). It is to say, however, that genuine Christianity continually requires grace and growth under the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives. This is the teaching of Galatians 5 – the Spirit’s fruit produced in our lives, the life of Christ lived in our lives; and the work of Christ in us and through us individually. To bypass the Word of God and the leading of the Spirit is to miss the spiritual growth that God offers us through His Spirit and His Word.
So how does Romans 14 help? Here are four lessons I have learned.
- We should allow others the liberty to do things differently than we do (v. 1-6). We are all at different places and have different needs and the Spirit is well able to lead each of us accordingly.
- We should be more aware of our coming judgment and less apt to pass judgement on others (v. 7-13a). I will give an account of myself to God. You will do the same for yourself.
- We should be willing to give up our liberty if doing so furthers the gospel and helps another to be more Christlike (v. 13b-21). Every decision I make as a believer should be made with an awareness of how it affects others and how it will affect the Gospel of Christ.
- We should love and please God above all else (v. 22-23).
So how are you doing? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to lead and direct your life? Are you seeking His Will in all of your choices and directions and desires? Are you making choices based on the Bible, the leading of the Spirit, and how your life affects others and the gospel? Legalism won’t get you there but neither will you get there using liberty as “an occasion to the flesh” (Galatians 5:11). So walk in the Spirit. You will find true liberty if you do!
Thanks for reading.
Your sincere friend,