The Thirty-Fifth in a Series of Sermons on Paul's Epistle to the Church in Rome
Having made the case that God justifies the wicked through faith in Jesus Christ, at some point in this epistle Paul must address the subject of Christian liberty. The issue is simply this: Since we justified by the merits of Christ, who fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law by his perfect obedience, this means that we are not bound in any sense to those things not commanded in God’s word. But how do we relate to those who still think it wrong to do certain things, even when such things are not forbidden in Scripture? Paul discusses this matter using the categories of weak and strong, the weak being those who have scruples about things not forbidden in Scripture.
The fact that there are both weak and strong in the church in Rome is the reason why in Romans 14, Paul pronounces all foods clean. Paul must prevent the weak (the Jews) from trying to force Gentile converts to Christianity to live as Jews and keep a kosher diet, in effect, speaking of good things as though they were evil, something the apostle forbids. The feuding between the weak and strong is also why Paul exhorts the Christians in Rome to keep the particulars of their Lord’s Day observance as a matter between themselves and God, before going on to exhort them not to judge their brothers and sisters when it comes to any disputable matter. Since we all belong to the Lord, who alone is judge of all things (including our personal behavior), let us not bicker about such things as food and drink, or what we do or do not do on the Lord’s Day. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of food and drink, but a matter of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.
In Romans 12, Paul began the so-called practical section of this letter by exhorting Christians to stop being conformed to the pattern of this world and to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. As we learn to think like Christians and stop thinking like pagans, our conduct will change accordingly. As Paul has pointed out, this change in our behavior will manifest itself in a number of ways: genuine humility, love for our brothers and sisters, submission to legitimate governing authorities, prompt and full payment of our debts, and a biblical sexual ethic in which fornication and adultery are regarded as sins. Paul speaks of this change in our thinking as clothing ourselves in Jesus Christ. While are already clothed with Christ by virtue of our baptism and union with Christ, we also are to clothe ourselves with Christ on a daily basis. We do this by putting to death the deeds of the flesh and as we daily rise to newness of life. As we are clothed with Christ we will begin to manifest the kind of behavior described throughout these final chapters of Romans.
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