What should inform our convictions? And if we say the Bible, is the Bible enough?
This kind of question always makes me a bit apprehensive. Should Christians (and do we as a church) believe that God’s word is inspired, infallible, and even sufficient? Yes! Of course we do! But the very Word of God (our Bible) tells us that we must rightly divide it. In other words, the Bible is sufficient with respect to what it is addressing. It is not sufficient for issues like putting together IKEA furniture (and neither are the IKEA instructions at times). But even what it is sufficient for it requires that we interpret it properly.
In every situation we have to use a sort of sanctified common sense. We’re to employ both wisdom and discernment in rightly dividing God’s truth. Fortunately for us God didn’t leave us without tools to accomplish the task. He gave us the whole of His word, which is truth (Psalm 119:160), He gave us a process of maturity and gaining wisdom. He gave us gifts to instruct us (Pastors and teachers etc.), He gave us His Spirit, and He gave us one another to sharpen each other every day.
So to answer the question; our convictions should be informed by a wise and discerning interpretation and application of God’s word. Anyone who says that they just believe the Bible and yet can’t defend their position with sound reasoning is often (not always) but often biased and unwilling to be wrong. Just be warned.
How do we walk by faith in matters of conviction? Or how do we determine practical steps?
Hebrews 11:1 covers conviction and faith together because they are in fact inseparable. “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, (faith is) the conviction of things not seen.”
The writer of Hebrews also said, “without faith it is impossible to please God…” – Hebrews 11:6a
Faith is conviction. Conviction is required. And therefore it must be rooted in some absolute assurance—this is what sets faith apart from mere wishful thinking. This is again why right interpretation is so vital. A right interpretation becomes the assurance upon which genuine faith rests.
Once conviction happens the practical steps also become subject to God’s word. In other words God’s word tells us what to believe and how to live it out. For example when the devil tempted Jesus in the desert he spoke true words to our Lord. However, he manipulated the interpretation therefore changing its application.
What the devil said was true, God would not have let Jesus’ foot strike a stone (Matthew 4:6), but proper interpretation and application meant not putting God to the test (Matthew 4:7). Both our convictions and their application require submission to the whole of God’s word.
So the answer for question two is that we must rightly divide God’s word gaining assurance and when we have that assurance, we are to trust the word enough to live it out the way God tells us to. In other words, even our walk by faith will be defined by God.
However, our main objective in these last two posts (and please don’t forget this) is to learn how to live at peace with those who hold differing convictions and walk a slightly different walk. This of course leads to question 3.
- How do we walk in faith when others don’t share our convictions—specifically Christians in the church?
I hope you notice something about this question. It presumes that the one asking it is correct to begin with. The reason I bring this up is that even if we were correct in all of our convictions we should still remain humble in our dealings with others. I’ll elaborate more on this as we go.
I’ve already made it clear that peacemaking is the M.O. of the Christian. But this plays out in very real and unambiguous ways, within the church.
Romans 14:1-4 says, “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”
Please don’t get hung up here on who has the weak faith or who has the strong faith. We will deal with that for sure but to jump to that first is 1. to miss the point and 2. it does no good since the solution is the same for both. What’s the solution? Don’t hold each other in contempt and don’t judge/condemn.
Although we are able in this case to see who is the one ‘of faith’ and the one who is ‘weak’ it is not so easily determined when we look at other issues in the church. We pretend that it is but it’s not simple!
So when we’re deciding on a response to say everyday issues or even obedience to governing authorities, we have to remain peaceful to those around us who hold different convictions. This doesn’t mean we can’t determine right and wrong. It doesn’t mean we can’t reason together toward what is absolute. But it does mean that if we refuse to reason together peacefully we’re in sin and we will get nowhere!
Let me show you. Paul goes on in verse 5-9,
“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. For not one of us lives for himself, and not one dies for himself; for if we live, we live for the Lord, or if we die, we die for the Lord; therefore whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” – Romans 14:5-9
If we parallel this with today’s convictions, we should never presuppose doubt, or fear, or rebellion. Instead, we would do well to assume that others genuinely desire to obey God to the best of their ability. After all we are talking about Christians aren’t we? And love (which we are to be known for) believes all things, right?
Sadly, friends are divided and the church is fracturing because of judgement and contempt for one another and all because we disagree about a conviction. This is neither who we are, nor who we should be!
According to Paul, Christ is the Lord of all those who desire to serve Him with a whole heart. Even if their conviction isn’t fully informed. Paul immediately continued to say we will all stand before God. In other words, God sees perfectly the condition of our faith. So what did Paul tell us to do? Let’s see:
“Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way. I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.”
Two things here: 1. There is an absolute “in the Lord…nothing is unclean in itself.” and 2. There are other convictions.
“15 For if because of food your brother is hurt, you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what is for you a good thing be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who in this way serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men.”
Three things here: 1. Hurting another because of a conviction (even one that is objectively true) is unloving. 2. The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Again, we’re back to peace. 3. Don’t miss that in this scenario both parties are trying to please God (and they’re acceptable to Him) in their actions. Just FYI the same principle is true with respect to COVID and obeying governing authorities. We don’t all agree but in so much as we are aiming to please the Lord we should accept one another. And trust if we can’t do this with the issues of our world we will never be able to do this with eternal matters such as doctrine.
“19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.”
Do you actually see who the problem is here? The person who tears down another because they have a particular freedom (which God gave them). Paul said that such actions are evil. Them’s fightin’ words. This is going to be hard for some American Christians to hear, but if your freedom is more important to you than the bond of peace and unity between you and another believer, you are Biblically in the wrong. Paul went even further in the final few verses:
“21 It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.” – Romans 14:13-23
Our convictions matter, Church. So much so that if we are not operating in a conviction in order to please God, we are in sin. But our convictions should never lead to contempt, condemnation, or even division in the body. If they do, Paul says we’re practicing evil.
When we’re talking about food this idea seems clear, but when Paul adds “anything” to the list above, the principle then applies when we’re talking about… well… anything! So our convictions on obedience to a particular interpretation of Romans 13 or Covid apply here as well. It’s no coincidence that Paul backed up all of Romans 13 with owing nothing to others except the debt of love.
The answer to our initial question is that we are to love one another even when we don’t see eye-to-eye, in so much as that we are attempting to please God. And love (believing all things) is going to give the other person the benefit of the doubt.
I said at the outset that this particular question presupposes that we are correct in the conviction we are holding. Please consider that the issue of eating clean versus unclean food was no small issue to the Jewish mind. Both parties in Paul’s scenario believed themselves to be in the right. Both parties are being instructed to show grace to the other. And yet the side that is objectively right is not to allow their freedom to crush the side that disagrees. In our next post we will finish up with question 4.