BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES FOR MAKING DECISIONS WHEN THERE IS NO CLEAR-CUT ANSWER

Terrot R. Glover (1869-1943), former professor of classical literature at Cambridge University, once wrote, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might—but remember that someone thinks differently.” In summary, that is what Paul is saying in Romans 14. In the church at Rome there was great diversity. There were Jews who had embraced Christ’s wonderous grace, and realizing that the Mosaic Law was no longer binding they no longer observed certain holy days and food restrictions. However, there were Jews who had also been saved who continued to observe special days and follow certain dietary laws. Then you had Gentiles in the church who had been saved out of idol worship, and realizing that an idol was no god had no problem eating a porter-house steak that had been offered to an idol. There were other Gentiles who had been saved, but because the meat at the local supermarket had been offered to an idol would not eat it. While Paul writes to help both groups understand and be in unity with one another, his comments are addressed more toward the mature believers exhorting them to be patient and understanding with Christians who thought differently and continued to hold to various holy days and food restrictions.

The instructions Paul wrote to his Roman readers gives us guidelines and principles for many choices Christians must make in matters regarding Christian liberty, questionable matters and problematic issues that the Scripture doesn’t specifically address. There are times we are confronted with decisions in our Christin life where there is not a clear-cut answer; so how do we make a decision that will honor the Lord? There are times we are confronted with decisions that leave us scratching our heads. What are we to do? There are principles found within Romans 14 that will guide us in making a decision that will honor the Lord. The principles of Romans 14 are applicable to all similar cases of difference of opinion or circumstances concerning what is right and the proper decision we should follow with a clear conscience and, again, honor the Lord.

The insightful writer G.K. Chesterton wrote, “We have found all the questions that can be found. It is time we stopped looking for questions and started looking for answers.” Found in Romans 14 are seven principles of conduct for Christians to consider when wrestling and praying for answers regarding questionable and problematic matters.

First, am I fully persuaded in my heart the decision I am making is right. Paul writes, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. 4 Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:1-5).

When praying over a matter which we are wrestling to make a decision, Paul gives us two laws to consider the (1) the law of liberty and (2) the law of leniency. Regarding the law of liberty, is there any direct scriptural command or prohibition against what I am praying about? If there is, then that ends the discussion. However, if it is allowable within the law of liberty, while it is permissible doesn’t mean it is always a wise course of action to take. The law of leniency also needs to be considered. Will our decision cause division and disputing among other believers or the church; if so, then the law of leniency would prohibit from taking the course of action under consideration. It may be allowable under Christian liberty, but not wise if it will create confusion in an individual’s soul or corporately in the Body. If we are not fully persuaded in our heart we have made the right decision, then we don’t proceed.

Second, can I give thanks to the Lord for the decision I am making. Paul wrote, “He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks” (Romans 14:6).

While Christian liberty may lead two individuals to make different decisions in questionable matters, Paul says the key is can we give genuine thanks to the Lord for the decision we have made. If we can’t give thanks to the Lord that our decision will honor Him and lift up His holy name, then it is not the path we should take.

Third, can I maintain a good testimony for Christ in my decision. Paul writes, “For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. 9 For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14:7-9).

As Christians we cannot live our lives apart from Christ’s Lordship, neither do we live on an island, we live before others. As we consider a decision in a questionable or problematic matter, it may be allowable within our Christian liberty but will it enhance or diminish our testimony of his Lordship in our lives? Will the decision we make damage our testimony and influence before others? If there is an inner check in our spirit that the action may damage our testimony of His Lordship, then we should not engage in the activity or action.

Fourth, will my decision stand the test at the Judgment Seat of Christ. Paul writes, “But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: ‘As I live, says the Lord, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.’ 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God” (Romans 14:10-12).

As Christians someday we will have to stand before the Bema Seat of Christ to give an account of the Christian life we have lived and the decisions we have made. Is the decision we are about to make one we can stand before Him with confidence? John said, “Let us abide in Him that when he appears, we will not be ashamed before Him at His coming” (I Jh 2:28). If we are not confident our decision will stand the test of his penetrating eyes at the Judgment Seat, then it is a decision we should avoid.

Fifth, will my decision cause my brother to stumble. Paul writes, “Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. 14 I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. 15 Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. 16 Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; 17 for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. 21 It is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (Romans 14:13-21).

Paul is clear, his Christian liberty allowed him to eat meat that had been offered to idols since the idol is a meaningless image, but he says if my decision will cause my brother to stumble I will bypass eating the steak. Paul exhorts that more important than being right is walking in love (v. 15) and living righteously before the Lord and others (v. 17). “Let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (v. 19). While decisions we are about to make may be allowable in our Christian liberty, will it cause our brother to stumble; if so, then it is a decision we need to steer away from making. For “it is good neither to eat meat nor drink wine nor do anything by which your brother stumbles or is offended or is made weak” (v. 21).

Sixth, does my conscience condemn me. Paul writes, “Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves” (Romans 14:22).

Augustus Strong called the conscience, “The echo of God’s voice.” If there is no peace in our conscience and we don’t hear his “still small voice” of assurance, then it is a decision we need to put on hold until we sense a clear conscience. If we are restless on the inside and no settled conviction, then that is clear indication that it is a path we should not take. There is nothing worse than going against one’s conscience and later look back and regret the action taken.

A renown nineteenth century British writer early in his career was praying about some tough decisions, when he received a letter from his mother who wrote to her son: “Let us not be careful what the world thinks of us, if we can say with good conscience with [Augustus] Toplady, ‘Care not, myself a dying man, of dying men’s esteem; Happy, oh Lord, if Thou approve, though all beside condemn.’ Be of good courage my dear son, and seek God for your guide.” [1] That is still excellent advice!

Seventh, if in doubt don’t do it. Paul writers, “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23).

The verse is clear, if there is any doubt in our mind about the decision before us, then we don’t act. If we can’t give our full heart to what we are considering, then we don’t embark upon that path. Vernon McGee writes, “You are to believe in what you are doing. If you don’t believe in it, you should not be doing it. Here is a new definition of sin for the believer. Any line of conduct or any act which is not the outflow of faith becomes sin. This is the Holy Spirit’s answer to questionable things.” [2]

We are living in days when the spiritual climate is such that Christians are facing more and more decisions that we must make that are not always clear-cut. But if we prayerfully consider the principles Paul sets forth in Romans 14, God will lead us to make a decision that will bring Him honor and glory and honor His Word.

Blessings,
Dr. Dan

Footnotes
[1] T.R. Glover, Poets and Puritans, (London: Methuen, 1915), 291.
[2] Vernon McGee, Romans – Vol. II, (El Camino Press, 1976), 270.

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