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Jack Graham - Right or Wrong?

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    Jack Graham - Right or Wrong?
TOPICS: Essential Gospel

Take your Bibles and turn with me to the book of Romans, chapter 14. This is our ESSENTIAL GOSPEL series. For some months now we have been taking a deep dive into the book of Romans passage by passage, scripture by scripture. It is the essential truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And the fourteenth chapter of this book of Romans is very important because it has to do with decisions we make, discernments by which we live our lives. So I'm simply calling this message from Romans 14, it's a question: "Is it Right or Wrong?"

We’re talking about life decisions; we’re talking about choices that impact now and forever in our lives. And so the question of right or wrong, you're going to find yourself, all of us, with more freedom than ever before. We are free in Christ. "You shall know the truth; the truth shall set you free". But our freedom in Christ is the freedom to live fully for Christ. No longer under the power and dominion of sin, our old life; but now we live in this brand-new life and liberty that is in Christ. So how are we to do this? You know, one thing: the way to hurt a child is to give that child everything they want. That's why you don't give a a small child a knife to play with. Not a good idea. That's why you don't say to your toddler, "Go play in the street. Have fun". No, you put boundaries and restrictions up.

And I remember when I was first a grandfather, when our grandson Ian was born and he was 4 or 5 years old, and I took him to the Ranger game. And being a great, great, wonderful granddad, I gave him everything he wanted. Cotton candy multiple times, hot dogs, soft drinks, By the time I got through with him at the ballgame he was yakking in the parking lot. Giving your child everything they want is not a good idea. And so, one of the challenges parents have now with these graduates and many of you who are raising children, you know, it's when to release the restraints and the restrictions and give more freedom. And, of course, you're going have more freedom than you've ever had before as you leave home.

So this message is very, very important for all of us to hear. Let’s begin reading at verse 13, chapter 14 of Romans: "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Or as implied, a sister, a Christian) I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. This is a matter of conscience and religious training and tradition", verse 15, "For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died". And that word destroy there is a vivid word. It means to crush your brother. Don’t crush your brother by the things you choose to do in your life: "For if the brother is grieved by what you do, you’re no longer walking in love but what you do, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let", this is verse "what you regard as good to be spoken of as evil". We'll explain that a little later.

But here's a key verse, verse 17. One that I have underlined in my Bible. It's actually a verse that we adopted at PowerPoint years ago as our key verse: "For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (That is, these external things, but the eternal things) of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ (Serves Christ how? In righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit) is acceptable to God and approved by men". We serve for an audience of one! The Lord Jesus Christ. God Himself. "So then (in living our lives, making our decisions) let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding". I’m to be building people up, not tearing them down. Not crushing people but loving people.

"Do not", verse 20, "for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. (which is the work of Christ in His Church) Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another one stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything", circle that word "anything". Whether it is the media I use, the entertainment I choice, what I put in my mind, what I put in my heart, whether it has to do with fashions, style of clothes, whether it has to do with the kind of worship I like. All of these things that are not matters of sinful behavior but questionable issues in our life. Things that are not black and white. Now we have liberty in Christ and therefore, we have unity. A great Christian of yesteryear put it this way, and if we could live by these words, we would find great peace and productivity in our lives. He said, "In unity", or rather, "In essentials, unity".

So all the essentials of the faith, the doctrinal truth essentials, our core beliefs. These are not up for discussion or debate—on the deity of Christ; the authority of Scripture; the Trinity, the expression of God-Father, Son and Holy Spirit; salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and many others—These are core convictions and not only do we have core convictions, we have, therefore, because we believe, we have core values. Our belief leads to our behavior, how we choose to live our lives. And so we are in all these things that are essential, to seek unity, because the devil would love to divide and destroy a church and its people with non-essentials and preferences and opinions, the things that aren't core to our convictions and our commitment to Christ. Got it? Say, "got it". All right. "In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty". Freedom to make decisions based upon your own conscience and your own understanding of God's Word, not outside of Scripture, but in concert with Scripture, liberty. "And in all things, charity". Which is the word, of course, for love.

Now remember, we're not talking about matters of sin and obedience to God here. God has given us the Ten Commandments. He's not repealed His Moral Law. It is still wrong to kill and steal and to lie and to covet and to commit adultery and to worship idols and to dishonor your parents. We're to honor our parents. And so the Ten Commandments are not obsolete; they are absolute for our lives! The Moral Law of God is not in question here in the decisions we make. This is not a question of: Is abortion right or wrong? Clearly, the Scripture teaches that life is sacred in the womb and to take life in the womb takes a human life. I mean, that's not a black, that is not a gray issue if you know your Bible. That's a black and white, it's a clear issue. And matters of morality and immorality, all these things! So hear me clearly! When we talk about decisions that we make regarding our behavior, some of the things we choose to do.

Again, I just, I'll refer to the entertainment we choose, the movies we watch, what we eat, what we drink, all these kinds of things that are more disputable and debatable. Here's how we need to bring these together. Because you can grow up in one of two ways in a church. There, you, you, there are some people that are extreme in regulations and rules and restrictions. I know some of you may have grown up in a church that worried about how long your hair was, whether you had facial hair or not, whether you went to school dances or didn't. I know this sounds like the dinosaur era to some of you down here. But it is a fact that some of us grew up in very restrictive environments and religious environments and rituals, and all the rest, that became, we call this legalism. That's legalism.

But the extreme of that is license, and license is thinking that "I can choose to do anything that I want to do because I am a Christian, I am in Christ, and so I can choose to do whatever I want to do; it doesn't matter". Typically, people like this, who practice this are self-centered and often self-righteous. And I don't want to be, and that's liberalism. I don’t want to be in a legalistic church; I don’t want to be in a liberal church. I want to be in the Lord’s Church! I want to be in God’s Church where the Word of God is taught and we make decisions based upon truth, not trends or traditions! So freedom in Christ is the willingness to lay down personal rights on behalf of others. Don’t miss that! Because the first principle that I’m giving you right now regarding whether it is right or is wrong is to live in this liberty that doesn’t put each other down because of what you believe, or judge one another on your personal preferences.

Like Williams Barclay, a Bible commentator, said, “A new age would come down to the Church if we remembered that our rights are far less important than our obligations.” It would be a new day among Christians if we thought more about our obligations and our responsibility to love one another and to love God than “my rights”. Paul said in Romans 12:18: “As much as is possible live in peace with all men.” So I am just saying in the first part of this message that we are to live in this liberty and make decisions based upon our liberty in Christ. And secondly, there is the principle of lordship. Go back to verses 7 through 12 in this passage. For it says: "For none of us live to himself and none of us die to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then whether we live or whether we 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 the living. (So why do pass judgment on your brother or you...) Why do you despise your brother"?

That's a very strong word there which parenthetically despise your brother, have disdain, look down upon them. Did you know the first sign for a marriage that is going under that will end up in divorce, I can guarantee the first thing that happens in a marriage that goes south, blows up the home and the family, the first sign is disdain for the other person, that there is disrespect, disdain. You know, the rolling of the eyes. That's a sure sign that your marriage is in trouble. So he's using a word like that. Don't disdain, don't despise your brother "for we all stand before the judgment seat of God".

Now this is not talking about the judgment of the world and the judgment of the sinner lost before God. But this is the judgment, the bamah seat. When we travel in the ancient world we often go to Ephesus and you can actually go to a bamah seat at Ephesus where judgment took place within the city. It is the bamah; it was a place of judgment. It was also used in the Roman, the Grecian, the Olympian games to... The bamah was the place where they would award the athletes who won and crowned them. And so when he speaks here of this judgment, this is not a judgment of the sinner outside of God. That’s what is called in the Bible the great white throne judgment. You don’t want to be at that judgment! But you will be at the judgment seat of Christ as a Christian, not to be judged for your sins. Your sins were judged at the cross!

“There’s now in Christ no condemnation.” So we’re not judged at this judgment seat of Christ for or because of our sin, but rather this is the judgment of evaluation and rewards of service and sonship in Christ. Jesus said, "I'm coming; My reward is with Me". Paul referred to this same judgment in 1 Corinthians chapter 3 as building your life on the foundation of Christ not with wood, wood hay and rubble. Sticks and rubble, but with gold, silver and precious stone, that which lasts. Cause when the heat gets turned up, because judgment is an illustrative thing of just turning on the heat on our lives and our works and everything that was not done for Christ will not last. And some are going to have nothing but the wasted embers and the burned embers of a wasted life to place in the hands, the nail-scarred hands of Jesus.

Don't waste your life. Don't waste a second of it because it matters now and it matters then. Jesus said some will suffer loss on that Day. I can't imagine what that life, or what that loss will be in heaven but it will be a loss. Certainly, a loss of reward. So we live our lives as I said for an audience of One, because one day we're going to stand before God and we will be judged not by someone else's behavior, not how someone else preferred to worship. I guarantee you're not going to be asked "Did you like the worship style of your neighbor in church"? You're not going be asked, "Did you like what that other person ate or drank"? You're going to be asked about your life; you're going to be giving a report on your life.

So Paul was saying here, stay out of everybody else's business and take care of your own business. Because we're all going to stand before this judgment seat of Christ. And therefore, we ought to live under this lordship. Every dispute that we have regarding whether it's a dispute with one another on matters of questionable things, politics, that's another one. So if we can get every one, all of us, under the authority of the Lordship, submitted to the Lordship of Christ, so many of these petty things and preferential things would disappear because of the Lordship of Christ. What am I saying? I'm saying you have one person to please so run your own race. Discipline and devote yourself to Christ. Make decisions that honor God and godliness and pursue Him. Like Paul said in 1 Timothy 6, "But pursue righteousness and godliness and love and faith and steadfastness and kindness. Pursue these things; seek the reward of Christ. Run in the victory that you have in Christ".

Therefore, you don't worry so much about what everybody else is saying. Whether they mock you or criticize you, you do what God has called you to do, and do it well, and do it all the days of your life. Just live with your eyes on the Lord and your knees on the floor and your nose in the Book! That’s the Lordship of Christ. And I made some decisions as a personal choice, a Christian, and I've made decisions as a pastor. Things I choose to do; things I choose not to do, based on my accountability before God and before people. And so there's some things that I might could do if I wanted to do them, that I don't do. Because I'm laying aside some rights to take up some obligations and responsibilities. And let me just tell you this: There's not one thing I've ever given up for Christ that He has not paid back full force. Nothing compared that I've laid down for the Lord as compared to the joy of serving Him and living for Him. I promise you that!

So again, what is the kingdom of God? It’s not eating, it’s not drinking, not all these external things, extraneous things. But rather it is righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. And so that brings me to the final principle. There’s the principle of liberty and there’s a principle of Lordship; there’s the principle, above all, of love. Look back at your scripture. We’re going to close the message but I don’t want you to miss this. Look at verse 13 again, "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother". He says, "So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding".

Is what I’m doing constructive and helpful and productive in building people up or it destructive in tearing people down? Again, same subject, verse 21, "It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble". So as Christians we make choices and decisions based on love, our love for God and our love for people. You say, "Well, I have my rights; I have my liberty to do what I want to do". Love trumps liberty every single time. And so I don't want something that I do in my life to cause someone else to stumble in their faith, to fall in their walk with God. I want to keep my testimony strong and true, and my witness vibrant and believable. And when I do that, I often ask myself some questions about decisions. I especially did this in my younger days when I was making choices as to what I was going to drink or what I was going to do or what I was going to watch and so on.

So here’s some questions you might ask yourself. Is this thing I'm about to do, will it be habit forming? Paul said in 1 Corinthian 6: "I will not be enslaved or controlled by anything". If anything is potentially addictive or controlling in my life, I want to stay away from it. I don't want to take a risk of letting something form my life. You know, they say regarding alcohol, first a man takes a drink, and then the drink takes the man. And I've seen that many, many times, of course. So will it be habit forming? And you say, "Well, I don't know whether it will be or not". Check it out! Be wise! Will it build up or tear down? That’s something else.

In other words, is this thing that I’m doing as I said just a moment ago, is it helping people in their walk? Because the Bible says: “All things are lawful for me, but not everything is profitable.” That, again, is 1 Corinthians 6:12. So is it constructive? Is it helpful? Is it profitable what I am doing? And then I ask myself will it lead to excess? Is this behavior, this decision I make, will it lead to doing something excessive? Ephesians 5:18 says, "Don't be drunk with wine (which is excess) but be filled with the Holy Spirit".

And then, will it offend a weaker brother? We talked about that. Will it hurt or will it help? And then, am I certain? Here's kind of the bottom line. Am I certain, am I clear that what I'm about to do is right? You do have a conscience and if your conscience is informed by Word of God, the Scriptures, your conscience is enlightened by the Spirit of God, then your conscience can help in guiding you. And so if it's a doubtful thing, that maybe it's a disputable thing even among Christians whether this thing is right or whether this thing is wrong, ask yourself, "Is this thing truly right for me to do"? Look at verse 23: "For whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats because the eating is not in faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin".

So if I cannot do this in good conscience and in faith, if I cannot ask the blessing of God upon it, if I can't say, "Lord, what would You do"? So sincerely ask yourself regarding any decision you're making: Could Jesus go with me here? Would Jesus join me in this activity? Can I do this by faith? Can I really pray about it and then do it? These are simple questions really, aren't they? But I remind you of these because it's so important that you make these decisions that honor God in your life. I've lived by a little parable, or rather, a little motto: When in doubt, don't! When in doubt, don't! If I'm not getting a green light from the Scriptures and within by God's Spirit. If I'm getting yellow light, red light, it's no.

The enemy wants to distract you and ultimately defeat you. And the way you make good decisions is by cultivating a close daily walk with the Lord, to be filled with the Spirit, to keep your eyes on Him and trust in Him. “In essentials unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things charity.” And we are to love Jesus so much and love one another so much that we would never do anything to disbelieve either or to offend either. What a beautiful bride the Church would be if we all lived by this in the love of Christ and loving one another. Wouldn’t you like to be a member of a church like that?
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