Do you ever find yourself silently judging other Christians? Maybe you see something they post online that makes you roll your eyes. Maybe it’s something political that you strongly disagree with. Maybe it’s how they dress or what they choose to spend their money on. Maybe it’s their position on homeschooling, or vaccinations, or masks, or multilevel marketing programs.
What about fellow church members? Can you think of a time when a fellow member said or did something that you disagreed with? How did you respond? Did you call them out on it right away and have a heated discussion then and there? Or did you bite your tongue, put on a fake smile, and look for the first excuse to get away?
Though this has always been a struggle, it’s even more pronounced today. We live in a digitally-connected society where every opinion is put on display and everyone is expected to declare their allegiance to one tribe or another. This hyper-partisan atmosphere elevates every minor disagreement to an issue of first importance. The world has an interest in dividing us and convincing us to reinforce the divisions ourselves.
On top of this being the natural state of the world we live in, we as a church come under extra attack by Satan, the original divider. If he can get us to squabble over every minor issue, he can keep us from focusing on the main purpose of the church and negate our effectiveness in the world. What’s the solution? A biblical understanding of the role of conscience.
Your conscience is a tool for unity in the church, not disunity
- You have a responsibility to heed your own conscience
- You have a responsibility to honor your brother’s and sister’s consciences
“Therefore, let us no longer judge one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in the way of your brother or sister. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean. For if your brother or sister is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy, by what you eat, someone for whom Christ died. Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and receives human approval.” (Rom.14:13-18)
First, this passage says that you have a duty to obey your own conscience. There are many “gray areas” in the Christian life. A gray area is a situation that Scripture doesn’t speak directly to. It might not be a question of right or wrong, but of what’s better or best. It’s an area where we need to unite principles of wisdom, discernment, and love. Whether it’s the food you eat, the alcohol you do (or don’t) drink, the clothes you wear, the music you listen to, the TV shows and movies you watch, the way you vote, it is up to you to calibrate your conscience before the Lord. As Paul says here, “nothing is unclean in itself.” Jesus himself says in Mark 7 that nothing that goes into a person make them unclean. And yet, if your conscience tells you one thing is off limits to you, then you need to listen to it.
“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Rom.14:12)
“…everything that is not from faith is sin.” (Rom.14:23)
Secondly, you have a responsibility to honor your brother’s and sister’s consciences.
Each of us is different, we are naturally going to come to different conclusions in the gray areas. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that this passage starts with a warning not to judge each other when we have these disagreements. Because that’s our natural impulse, isn’t it? It is part of your freedom in Christ to choose what earthly things you will partake in and enjoy, but the second thing this passage reminds us of is that our choices do affect those around us.
It says, “For if your brother or sister is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy, by what you eat, someone for whom Christ died.” So while you need to honor your own conscience, you also need to be aware and thoughtful of your brother’s and sister’s consciences. Your exercise of your freedom can be a stumbling block to a fellow believer.
What do we do?
- Remind yourself of the difference between issues of clear morality and issues of conscience.
- Recognize how you or others could unnecessarily bind others to your conscience, and thereby cause them to feel guilty when they shouldn’t and cause you to be judgmental when you shouldn’t.
- Be sensitive and restrained around those who have a weaker conscience. You don’t always have to do what you want, when you want to. Guided by the law of love, you can hold your tongue and freely lay down your “rights” for the sake of others.
“So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another.” (Rom.14:19)
As our world divides and then divides some more, the church can and should be a beautiful alternative that shows a better way. Your conscience is a gift from God. Heed your own conscience, honor the conscience of others, and by so doing honor Christ who has called us together for the glory of God.
This post is an adaptation from a Sunday Evening Pastor’s Talk from Tom Deal.
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