The Thirty-Fourth in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Romans
In the first eleven chapters of Romans, Paul defined the gospel in terms of the revelation of a righteousness from God received through faith alone. In these same chapters, Paul also described how those who receive this righteousness will also die to sin and rise to newness of life. Beginning in Romans 12, Paul exhorts us to be renewed in mind and to stop being conformed to the pattern of this age. Paul then moves on to describe how the righteous status that is ours through faith, is worked out in nitty-gritty details of daily life. Now in Romans 14, Paul discusses Christian liberty which is directly connected to justification and essential in understanding how Christians are to relate to one another.
Far too many Christians consider the subject of Christian liberty to be only incidentally related to the gospel. But this is not the case–Christian liberty is absolutely essential to the gospel. If we say that we believe the gospel of justification by grace alone through faith alone based upon the imputed righteousness of Christ and yet deny Christian liberty, do we really understand the gospel? I’m not so sure that we do! For the apostle Paul, freedom in Christ was the wonderful fruit of a right-standing before God and therefore something absolutely necessary to fight for. To lose Christian liberty through apathy (not defend it) or through a misunderstanding of justification (through efforts of legalists, such as the Judaizers) is to seriously undermine the gospel.
The importance of this freedom can be seen in Galatians 5:1, where Paul writes–“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” To divorce Christian liberty from justification, or to deny that Christian liberty necessarily flows from our justification, is to live inconsistently with the truth of the gospel. This subject is so important that it provoked one of the few disputes among the apostles recorded in the pages of the New Testament. As he recounts the story in Galatians 2:11-21, Paul thought the matter of Christian liberty so vital that he confronted the Apostle Peter directly to his face, telling Peter that his actions in withdrawing from fellowship with the Gentiles while at the same time allowing the Judaizers to force Gentile converts to live as Jews, was not only cowardly, even worse, Peter was not acting in accordance with the gospel. Thus justification sola fide without Christian liberty, is not justification sola fide. It is something else, something completely distorted from its biblical ideal.
To read the rest of this sermon, click here