Romans, Lesson 25: The Proper Understanding and Use of Christian Freedom

Christian Freedom2In “judgment” over the congregation at Rome, the Apostle Paul told them “not to judge.”  For “we will all stand before the judgment seat of God… then each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10, 12).  

Paul was not contradicting himself but operating from this worldview: God gives us different tasks in our vocations.  If God does not authorize you to do something in His Church, you don’t.  If He does, you do.  We know this is the case, for when Paul asks them, “Why do you judge?” in Romans 14:10, he used “krino,” the same word he used in 1 Corinthians 11:31.  “For if we judged [diakrino], we would not be judged [krino].”[1]  So, we are supposed to judge, but only in the right way and when authorized to do so. 

So, instead of judging others, should we do something else?  Yes, and we are to “decide” to do so!


Eating and Drinking: The What during the When

Read Romans 14:13

  • What does Paul direct (or “judge”) the congregation to do?


pass judgement… decide”: Paul is using word play.  Instead of “judging” (krinein), Paul commands the Christians in Rome to “decide” (krinate) not to place a stumbling block in the way of another brother.

Read Romans 14:14-16

  • Who is the “weaker brother” here and who is the “stronger”?


  • What should the “stronger brother” do out of love for the “weaker brother”?


“unclean”: Greek, koinos.  Paul could have used several different Greek words for “uncleanness”: akatharsia (something unclean) or miasmos (something polluted).  He also could have used noun forms of others verbs we find in the New Testament: moluno (to make filthy), spiloo (to defile), or phtheiro (to corrupt).  Instead, Paul chose to use koinos for “unclean,” which is the root for “common” and “communion.”  His word choice shows the Gentiles Christians—because they are the stronger brother—are causing unnecessary division by flaunting their Gospel freedom to eat during the fasting days (Rom 14:5-6) of the weaker brother.  Such action is creating division in their eating at the Lord’s Table.

Read Romans 14:17-19

  • After understanding Paul’s use of “koinos,” which eating and drinking are not a matter of the kingdom of God?


  • Discuss: What is the “good” thing the Gentile Christians are abusing, which is causing the Jewish Christians to speak of it as evil?


The Kingdom of God is:

  • Righteousness: God’s righteousness, which is our salvation, revealed to us in Christ, given to us through Word and Sacrament (Romans 6:3-5, 10:17).
  • Peace: The reconciliation God brings about through the death and resurrection of His Son, a result of God’s righteousness given to us.
  • Joy: The hallmark of the Spirit, who grants the newness of life, which the “righteoused” (justified) and reconciled enjoy.
  • How does someone “thus serve Christ”?


  • Instead of using Gospel freedom to do what you want to the detriment of your brother, what should you do?


“upbuilding”: Paul pulls a sneaky one here.  “Upbuilding” is a noun, not a verb.  The verb is to “pursue” peace.  The Christian is to pursue peace, but the results are up to God, which is “the other is brought into the building,” referring to the Church.

Earlier in the chapter, Paul dealt with fasting days (Romans 14:5-6).  Paul continued with that line of thinking, although we could see him transition to what someone also ate, not only when (Romans 14:15).  Now the transition is complete about what one eats.


The Background the Jewish Christians Brought

Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5: “If anyone has caused a single soul to perish, Scripture imputes it to him as though he had caused a whole world to perish.”

Jesus: “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a large millstone were hung around his neck and he were drowned at the bottom of the sea.”  (see also Mark 9:42)


Eating and Drinking: The What

Read Romans 14:20-21

  • Again what is Paul telling the Gentile Christian not to do in relation to the Jewish Christians?


  • Why?


“to eat meat… to drink wine”: The infinitive verb forms here (“to” followed by the verb) refer to particular acts of consumption, dealing with the specificity of such eating and drinking, not the generalities of that eating.  “What does this mean?”  “We should fear and love God so” if on a particular occasion such eating or drinking will cause a brother to stumble, on that occasion, the right action to take is to abstain.  Such eating and drinking are not wrong in themselves and, on other occasions, the need to refrain may not arise.

  • Remembering context, can such use of wine apply to the Lord’ Supper? (Would it for the Jewish Christians?)


Many Jews and Jewish Christians abstained from wine because available wine could have earlier been involved in ritual libations to the Roman gods.

Read Romans 14:22

  • Based on the context, what does Paul say and not say? (14:22a)


  • Based on context, what would cause someone to pass someone judgment on himself?


  • Apply this verse in our current setting?


Read Romans 14:23

  • What is the role of “doubt” when it comes to doing something you know will offend the weaker Christian?


  • What general principle does Paul lay down on everything the Christian does in life?


Excursus: The Roles of the Weaker and the Stronger

In Paul’s words to refrain from what causes a weaker brother stumble, you find Paul addressing the stronger brother, not the weaker.  It is the role of the stronger to refrain his actions, not the weaker to demand it!  If the weaker brother demands you need to stop doing something or start doing something, which in itself is not sinful, he is no longer the weaker brother but the one who needs to repent.

The understanding of one’s role is crucial.  We find similar council from Paul to husband and wives.

  • “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:22). Paul is telling the wife what to do, not the husband.  The wife decides how to submit; it is not for the husband to demand.  That’s not his role.
  • “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her” (Ephesians 5:25). Paul is telling the husband what to do, not the wife.  The husband decides how to love His wife as Christ loves the Church; it is not for the wife to demand.  That’s not her role.

In our sinful nature, we often want to take on roles God does not give us.  We also often choose not to do what God gives us to do.  We find an example of both in our fall into sin, when Adam chose not to do what God gave him to do and Eve took on Adam’s role (Genesis 2:15, 3:6).


Excursus: What Does Not Proceed from Faith is Sin

“For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).  What a hard verse to grasp, for unbelievers also do many good works, which benefit others.  How can what they are doing be “sin,” for those deeds are helpful and useful.  To understand what Paul writes, we need to realize before whom someone is righteous (or “good”).

“By nature, we were destined for wrath, just like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:3), which the universality of death reveals.  “For the wages of sin are death” (Romans 6:23).  Because we are “by nature” sinful, we sin.  Because we are “by nature” sinful, everything we do is still tainted with sin, which makes it unacceptable to God.  “For whoever keeps the entire law, yet fails in one point, is guilty of breaking it all” (James 2:10).  It’s all or nothing, perfect righteousness or the taint of sin ruins everything we do—before God!  We learned as much in Lesson 7, in Romans 3:19.


Lesson 7, Chiasm of Romans 3.19b


The crux comes down to “before God” and “before man.”  Before God, only divine righteousness matters, which is the righteousness God gives to the person (Romans 1:16-17).  What we have or what we do, in ourselves, does not matter before God.  For our righteousness, no matter how good in the eyes of the world, still leaves us wanting.

We do what we do because of who we are.  Made God’s child through Jesus’ work and merit, in the Holy Spirit, God give us faith, makes us righteous, and defines us.  So, faith causes the Christian to act, and the Christian does what he does in faith.

Civic righteousness, the good deeds someone does toward others in society can do nothing to improve our standing before God or reconcile us to Him.  Through such acts, however, God works for the good of others and our neighbor—but such works do not save!  Through such deeds done in this fallen world, God helps keep to good order and preserve peace, but this does not reconcile someone to God.

So, the exercise of civic righteousness is valuable!  Human life depends on people and the institutions of life to function through which, before others, people live out what it means to be human.  So, life is better for others because of what people, even non-Christians, do.  This also benefits the Church, allowing Christians to gather in worship, bring Christ to others, and carry out works of mercy.

So, the good deeds one does for others in the world cannot, and does not, replace the righteousness the Christian has because of Christ’s faithfulness.  Nonetheless, we still praise such civic righteousness because God demands it (Don’t kill, etc.), uses it to restrain evil activity, and honors it with earthly rewards (when Government functions as God intends).



[1] Here are the differences between krino and diakrino.  The root meaning for krino is to separate, to judge so someone or something is separated from something else.  In the neutral sense, krino is simply rendering a judgment, to judge.  In the negative sense, krino is to condemn, sentence, or punish.  Diakrino is a stronger form of krino.  But more than that, diakrino also has the idea of outwardly distinguishing someone from another.  Diakrino then is judging (krino) but specifically done to recognize and separate if differences exist.


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