Romans 14:3-6; 12-13, 23
3 The one who eats everything must not despise the one who does not, and the one who abstains must not judge the one who eats everything, for God has accepted him. 4 Who are you to pass judgment on another’s servant? Before his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. 5 One person regards one day holier than other days, and another regards them all alike. Each must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day does it for the Lord. The one who eats, eats for the Lord because he gives thanks to God, and the one who abstains from eating abstains for the Lord, and he gives thanks to God. 12 Therefore, each of us will give an account of himself to God. 13 Therefore we must not pass judgment on one another, but rather determine never to place an obstacle or a trap before a brother or sister. 23 But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin.
When I was first saved twenty-six years ago, one of the first things the LORD convicted me of was that I was not going to celebrate the pagan holidays of our culture. I was to come out and be separate. Little did I know at that time how much persecution I would get for such a small decision that truly was only intended to impact me. Similar convictions that I have held have included abstaining from alcohol, home education, monitoring media, parenting decisions and dressing modestly. Definitely swam against the current of mainstream in some of my decisions, but fully convinced in my mind about them.
I have also been on the other end where friends have had convictions that I have not had and I respected them for it. Some convictions are spelled out in Scripture for all believers while others are very personal, given by the Holy Spirit to individuals. When you set out to do something different than you have done before, even though it is between you and the LORD, it can make others around you very uncomfortable. I am a peacemaker by nature, so I never wanted anyone to feel uncomfortable around me, but realized in time that it was something I had to trust the LORD with.
I was baffled why people would become angry at times when I chose silently to abstain from wine, for instance. Unkind comments and judgment abounded and I had not said a word. I realized then that my personal conviction was convicting another. I had not judged the other person’s decision to imbibe their choice of alcoholic beverage, but they were judging mine to refrain. Why?
Ultimately, we all want to believe we are “ok”; taken to an extreme, we want others to respect us for our life’s decisions. Heaven forbid that we would make a mistake. The thing is, we all do. Somehow, when another person is walking before God in a perceived more “orthodox” manner, the natural fleshly response is to judge that person as if they are weakened by legalism. Ironically,the judgment given causes us to sin. We can begin to dumb down convictions because they are uncomfortable and think that judging those with convictions we do not have will make us feel better, but it does not. Likewise, the one with a personal conviction can begin to become self righteous in that conviction and it can become sin, as well.
Over time, some of the earlier convictions we held might change. I had such an occasion last summer. Surrounded by neighbors who all might have interpreted my abstaining from alcohol as religiosity, I was taken aback by a stirring in my soul to take a couple of sips – to be relateable in that circumstance. Far removed from the college party scene where peer pressure and alcohol were a temptation, this moment I was more effective to partake. For those of you wondering, no, I have not imbibed since then, but I was fully convinced in my mind with my decision in that moment. You see, I do not want to be legalistic about my convictions, either. Much like a missionary eats what is put in front of them in a different culture, my desire was that they would not feel judgment, but love and acceptance from me in that moment.
Iron sharpens iron. If we ever grow comfortable enough in our faith to think we have arrived or have more freedom than others, God help us. Our freedom in Christ came at a high price – not so we could indulge in worldliness, but so we could be free from it. We need to ask God how we are to walk before Him. John the Baptist’s convictions were different than Jesus’, but both were obedient to God. We can learn from one another’s convictions and encourage one another to draw nearer to God. The conviction itself is not to be worshiped – but a tool to guide us to be faithful to our Savior. We are not meant to be cookie cutter believers, but to have an intimate walk with God who knows us best and knows our weaknesses and strengths. He knows what we need to avoid and what we need to cling to, and we answer to Him alone.