By Pr Ay Nee Ng
A monkey approaches a jar with bananas convinced that all it needs to do is to put its hand inside and grab them to get the bananas. But as it grabs them, it cannot get its hand out of the jar. Hunters then capture the monkey, which is slowed down by the jar because it doesn’t want to let go of the bananas. So it can be with our personal convictions at times. What we are convinced about can trap us and slow us down!
Last time, we dealt with personal convictions and how our personal convictions can pose problems and challenges to our biblical convictions in our daily walk with our Lord Jesus Christ. We also touched base with our church’s convictions or indisputable truths, which are the following.
1. We are Bible-based and the Bible is the Word of God.
2. We are Christ-centred. We believe that Jesus was virgin born and is 100% God and 100% man (the hypostatic union). He died a substitutionary death on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin and the bodily resurrection guaranteed that Christ’s mission was fulfilled. We have forgiveness of sin and salvation solely through God’s grace by faith in Jesus Christ.
3. We are Spirit-empowered. “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen” (1 Pet. 4:10-11).
4. The blood of the Lamb brings a value-added change in our lives. Church, let’s have the full conviction that Jesus Christ is our loving Saviour, that we have a life in Him, and that He has given us a plan and a purpose—that His will be done on earth and His Kingdom come. We are not to stay stagnant but to share, preach, and teach God’s Word. It is about mentorship (1 Tim. 2:2).
5. We believe in discipling and fulfilling the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20).
Today, I am teaching on this fifth conviction of SGC. Church, let’s have the full conviction that Jesus Christ is our loving Saviour, that we have a life in Him, and that He has left us a plan and a purpose for there is work to be done. We are to fulfil His Great Commission, allowing His will be done in our lives on earth and His Kingdom come.
So let’s look at how our personal convictions (views and opinions) can affect our effectiveness as disciples of Jesus in fulfilling the Great Commission, that is, in discipling another believer. Remember Church, our personal preferences or convictions should not pose a problem to our biblical convictions or to discipling. If they do, then we need to review our personal convictions. Therefore, we need to know what our personal convictions are, align them to our church’s convictions, and leave the disputes. If we need to change, then we need to understand that change brings harmony and goodwill to all men and women. We need to know what the indisputable truths are and to grow ourselves spiritually; we need to mature in our spiritual life to grow others.
As a Church, we each have the strong conviction of fulfilling God’s Great Commission, especially regarding discipling. But don’t forget that there are grey areas in life, and in these areas, we need to apply the principle of stumbling from Romans 14.
Let’s first read what our Great Commission is in Matthew 28:18-20. “Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.
Now, some grey areas can be issues mentioned in a letter addressed to Dr. Roger Barrier on 20th Nov 2014.
My Christian friends hold a very different set of values than I do. They permit their kids to celebrate Halloween; they engage in social drinking and hold dances at their church. I can’t imagine how we can have fellowship with each other when our convictions are so different. What do you think?
From this example, how can we be good disciples of Jesus Christ and disciple young believers? Are our views too liberal, or do we feel “more righteous” because of our convictions? Based on our views, opinions, and convictions, are we effective disciples, that is, fulfilling the Great Commission? Remember that “L” wrote about his personal convictions, disputable things.
Differences between Biblical Truths and Personal Convictions
Too often we confuse the two. We live and die for biblical truths. Our passion arises from biblical truths, and we are motivated and Spirit-empowered by them. On the other hand, personal convictions are not nearly as foundational to the Christian life. They are what we are convinced about in our minds to be true and good for us. They have more to do with our consciences, which are trained to respond one way or another to particular situations and issues.
Church Fights over Disputable Issues
Church, we are no different to the days of Paul. We Christians have been divided over what Paul referred to as “disputable issues” ever since the first century. Most of the church fights from the first century down to the present day haven’t been over biblical issues but over personal convictions regarding personal consciences and the way we do church.
The Roman Christians were having great difficulty in deciding just which activities were acceptable and which weren’t. They were arguing, among other things, about whether or not it was all right for Christians to eat meat that had previously been offered to idols and then sold in the markets near pagan temples. Paul wrote specific guidelines for settling “food fights” among brothers and sisters in Christ in Romans 14. He taught how to settle disagreements among God-loving Christians who are trying to live out the Christian life in grey areas.
Moreover, the Christian Jews were arguing about circumcision and what they called “unclean”. Peter himself had the conviction that the Gospel was only for the Jews until his dream. The vision Peter had changed his personal conviction and opened the ministry of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Believing in Jesus as our Saviour isn’t only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles.
Settling the Indisputable Truths and Loving Our Neighbours
We need to settle what the indisputable truths are and focus on them because they bring unity and harmony. Let’s not frown on what our neighbours do but be spiritually aware and pray for them. We shouldn’t argue with them on disputable matters. Instead, we should rally around the indisputable truths, for it is one of the best ways to enhance relationships, unity, and peace.
Paul wrote in Romans 15:5-6: “May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.
Applying the Principle of Stumbling from Romans 14
Romans 14 clearly explains that our convictions can affect how effective we are as disciples of Jesus Christ and how we disciple a weaker brother or sister in Christ. Have you heard that “one man’s meat is another man’s poison” or “what is rubbish to you may be another man’s treasure”? Let’s look into the principle of stumbling.
Read Romans 14 from the Message version (MSG).
Cultivating Good Relationships
1 Welcome with open arms fellow believers who don’t see things the way you do. And don’t jump all over them every time they do or say something you don’t agree with—even when it seems that they are strong on opinions but weak in the faith department. Remember, they have their own history to deal with. Treat them gently.
2-4 For instance, a person who has been around for a while might well be convinced that he can eat anything on the table, while another, with a different background, might assume he should only be a vegetarian and eat accordingly. But since both are guests at Christ’s table, wouldn’t it be terribly rude if they fell to criticizing what the other ate or didn’t eat? God, after all, invited them both to the table. Do you have any business crossing people off the guest list or interfering with God’s welcome? If there are corrections to be made or manners to be learned, God can handle that without your help.
5 Or, say, one person thinks that some days should be set aside as holy and another thinks that each day is pretty much like any other. There are good reasons either way. So, each person is free to follow the convictions of conscience.
6-9 What’s important in all this is that if you keep a holy day, keep it for God’s sake; if you eat meat, eat it to the glory of God and thank God for prime rib; if you’re a vegetarian, eat vegetables to the glory of God and thank God for broccoli. None of us are permitted to insist on our own way in these matters. It’s God we are answerable to—all the way from life to death and everything in between—not each other. That’s why Jesus lived and died and then lived again: so that he could be our Master across the entire range of life and death, and free us from the petty tyrannies of each other.
10-12 So where does that leave you when you criticize a brother? And where does that leave you when you condescend to a sister? I’d say it leaves you looking pretty silly—or worse. Eventually, we’re all going to end up kneeling side by side in the place of judgment, facing God. Your critical and condescending ways aren’t going to improve your position there one bit. Read it for yourself in Scripture:
“As I live and breathe,” God says,
“every knee will bow before me;
Every tongue will tell the honest truth
that I and only I am God.”
So tend to your knitting. You’ve got your hands full just taking care of your own life before God.
13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it.
15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning!
17-18 God’s kingdom isn’t a matter of what you put in your stomach, for goodness’ sake. It’s what God does with your life as he sets it right, puts it together, and completes it with joy. Your task is to single-mindedly serve Christ. Do that and you’ll kill two birds with one stone: pleasing the God above you and proving your worth to the people around you.
19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you? I said it before and I’ll say it again: All food is good, but it can turn bad if you use it badly, if you use it to trip others up and send them sprawling. When you sit down to a meal, your primary concern should not be to feed your own face but to share the life of Jesus. So be sensitive and courteous to the others who are eating. Don’t eat or say or do things that might interfere with the free exchange of love.
22-23 Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.
What Paul teaches in Romans 14 can help us settle disagreements among God-loving Christians who are trying to live out the Christian life in gray areas. We, whose our righteous acts are like filthy rags (Isa. 64:6), should not be casting the first stone on a weaker brother or sister in Christ or a fellow human being.
In Romans 14:1-3 Paul wrote: “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.” Paul goes on to say that what is acceptable to one may not be acceptable to another.
Church, unfortunately, disputable issues still divide and hurt Christians today such as drinking alcohol, smoking, dancing, clothing style, movies, music, video games, holidays, tattoos, body piercings, bodily augmentations or “upgrades,” worshipping with uplifted hands or instruments, hands uplifted in prayer, praying in tongues, home schooling, female church leaders, the way to conduct church service, the way church looks, and the list goes on. Don’t let it divide you and “them”. We tend to label people as “them” as if to say they are outcasts and put barriers that separate us from them.
Two Extremes to Avoid When Deciding What is Acceptable Behaviour
- Legalism. The righteous people say that must conform to the rules. We must attempt to impose our personal convictions as normative for others.
- Libertinism. Liberals says: “Since Jesus has set me free, I’m free in Christ. The Bible doesn’t forbid these things specifically (sometimes we interpret the Word of God to suit our wants), then I’m free to do what I like!”
In Romans 14:13, Paul directs this counsel primarily to the mature, urging them to practice self- limitation in exercising their liberty less they offend others (Rom. 14:20-21). The principle of stumbling is not doing something that may cause a weaker brother or sister in Christ to be shaken in their faith or to stumble.
In the end, whatever your personal convictions are, whether they are too liberal or too legalistic, let them go. Christians can eat all foods and need not to follow the dietary laws of the Old Testament. The dietary laws are relatively trivial (Rom. 14:17) and their fulfilment is not essential to God’s reign in our lives. Of far more importance is to cultivate the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). This is one of the indisputable truths that will help build the Kingdom of God and teach us to be a good disciple of Jesus Christ and be effective discipler.
In the end, where do we stand with God and the world and His people? As Romans 14:22 says, faith gives us the conviction that we are free from all unnecessary scruples (feelings of doubt or hesitation with regard to the morality or propriety of a course of action). But it doesn’t give us the right to flaunt our liberty recklessly over the weak in faith.
Now, if we have scruples (are hesitant or reluctant to do something that one thinks may be wrong; Rom. 14:23) about matters that are wrong, we mustn’t act contrary to our conscience. Violating our conscience isn’t acting in faith; it is sin. It is better to abstain from doing what you aren’t supposed to do and explain that you aren’t doing that, when asked to do it, because of your personal convictions and in order to not offend others.
In the end, are we being good and effective disciples of Jesus Christ based on our personal convictions? Are our convictions based on biblical truths that will bring the fruit of the Spirit in my life and the lives of others? With biblical convictions, we will be more effective disciples for Jesus and restore harmony, unity, peace, and goodwill! In the end, we will have a value added change in our life!
Church, may our personal convictions be biblical convictions that will build the Kingdom of God as disciples that Jesus Christ looks down with favour and blessings.
“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:22-25).
“For You have delivered my soul from death, Indeed my feet from stumbling, So that I may walk before God In the light of the living” (Psa. 56:13).
Let us pray.
Lord, by the blood of Jesus Christ that cleanses us now and continually, we ask that our biblical convictions grow as our mind is renewed by the Word of God and as it throws light onto the personal convictions we need to change. Help us to change and to grow the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives so we are effective disciples of Jesus Christ. And please forgive us. May our hearts burn with passion for your kingdom works to fulfil the Great Commission! Thank You for Your loving favour upon us. Thank you that, in Christ Jesus, we are restored in Your peace, grace, and mercy. In Jesus’ name. Amen.