In his letter to the Romans, Paul goes into great detail regarding the issue of personal freedom—greater detail than almost anywhere else in his writings. In the fourteenth chapter, for example, he sets forth four very practical guidelines that can be followed by all who are serious about releasing others in grace. My hope is that we not only learn what they are but, equally important, that we spend our days following them.
Guideline 1: Accepting others is basic to letting them be. The problem was not a meat problem; it was a love problem, an acceptance problem. It still is. How often we restrict our love by making it conditional: “If you will (or won’t), then I will accept you.” Paul starts there: “Accept one another!” In other words, “Let’s allow each other the freedom to hold to convictions that are unlike our own . . . and accept them in spite of that difference.” Those who didn’t eat (called here “weak in faith”) were exhorted to accept and not judge those who ate. And those who ate were exhorted to accept and not regard with contempt those who did not eat. The secret lies in accepting one another. All of this is fairly easy to read so long as I stay on the issue of eating meat. That one is safe because it isn’t a current taboo. It’s easy to accept those folks today because they don’t exist!
Guideline 2: Refusing to dictate to others allows the Lord freedom to direct their lives. I especially appreciate the statement at the end of verse 5: “Let each man be fully convinced in his own mind.” Give people room to make up their minds. Do you have a few new converts who are a part of your life and ministry? Do you want to help them grow toward maturity? Here is how: Let them grow up differently. Let them learn at their own pace, just like you had to learn, including failures and mistakes. If you really want grace to awaken, be easier on them than others were on you. Don’t make up their minds—let them! Don’t step in and push your weight around—give them plenty of space. Whatever you do, don’t control and manipulate them to get what you want.
Be an accepting model of grace. Refuse all temptations to be a brother hasher or sister smasher. We already have too many of them roaming around the religious landscape. And nothing catches the attention of the unsaved world quicker than those times when we Christians beat up on one another. Don’t think the unsaved world doesn’t notice our cannibalism.
Guideline 3: Freeing others means we never assume a position we’re not qualified to fill. This, in one sentence, is enough to stop any person from judging another. We’re not qualified. We lack full knowledge. How often we have jumped to wrong conclusions, made judgmental statements, only to find out later how off-base we were—then wished we could cut out our tongue.
Guideline 4: Loving others requires us to express our liberty wisely. In other words, love must rule. I’m not my own, I’m bought with a price. My goal is not to please me; it is to please my Lord Jesus, my God. It is not to please you; it is to please my Lord. The same is true for you. So the bottom line is this: I don’t adapt my life according to what you may say; I adapt my life according to the basis of my love for you because I answer to Christ. And so do you.