Biblical Principles for Christian Maturity

John H. Stoll, Th.M., Ph.D

Copyright 1996, John H. Stoll

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Chapter 19 - The Neutral Area of Life - Romans 14

Though the Bible has specific principles for the Christian, that constitute what God has given as guidelines for proper living, there is a vast area unprescribed as to whether these behaviors are right or wrong. This is commonly known as the "gray" area of life, which has become controversial among Christians. It is this area that has provoked the greatest misunderstanding within the church.

Romans 14 is the chapter written to provide for us basic principles that act as a guideline to help us make the proper decisions, so that our lives are spiritually enhanced, rather than adversely affected. Rather than call this the "gray" area, we should refer to it as the "neutral" area, until a decision is made as to whether it is proper or not for the Christian.

God could easily have listed in His Word every controversial element, and prescribed it for us as to behaviors, but as a loving and wise Heavenly Father He wants us to mature spiritually, and be able to make the proper decisions of life accordingly. Therefore, God has provided principles upon which we are able to make decisions that are not only right according to God's standards, but personally beneficial to us. It is somewhat analogous to the parent/child relationship. Good parenting does not prescribe every decision for children as they develop, but gives the responsibility to the child, in an incremental manner as the child grows, so that personal responsibility for decisions becomes a part of the maturing process. Just as every parent has ultimate veto power over bad choices of the child, in order for protection, so God can veto our decisions for our good. Also, when we willfully go against God's principles, He does punish us to bring us back into the way of Holiness (See Heb. 12:10,11).

In this chapter there are three guiding principles to help us come to the right decisions. As we evaluate these principles it is important to ask ourselves concerning the decision made on any or all of them; will it enhance or detract from our spiritual maturity? The reason for this is that God wants to allow us to come to Spiritual maturity through making right decisions according to His Word and will for us. The process itself is part of the maturing. The guideline for us is the enhancing or detracting of that maturation process.

I. The Vertical Principle - Romans 14:8. This principle has to do with one's relationship to God. It requires one to consider that which is entered into or indulges in, as to how it will affect his relationship with the Lord; will it help or hinder that relationship? Since as Christians, we belong to God by the right of divine redemption (I Cor. 6:19,20) it is important that we make no decision that would adversely affect our relationship with Him.

II. The Inward Principle - Rom. 14:12. This principle has to do with one's self, as to the effect the decision has on his life. The question here is, does it build the Christian up spiritually, or does it tear one down? Since maturity in Christ is the primary and foremost desire of God in the lives of His children (See: I Peter 2:2 and II Peter 3:18), it is important to evaluate indulgences in the context of how it affects the individual.

III. The Horizontal/Outward Principle - Rom. 14:13. This principle relates to the responsibility each Christian has to others. The Christian has two types of people with whom to relate: 1) The fellow Christian, and 2) The unregenerate person to whom one is to be a testimony.

In relation to a fellow Christian, one is not to be a stumbling block to that person's spiritual development, but to be a positive, building example so that others may see the character of the Lord Jesus Christ in one's life and behaviors.

As to the unregenerate person, the Christian is to be a testimony of righteousness, so that the individual may be desirous of becoming a Christian. Therefore, the Christian must consider as to that which he indulges in, does it help or hinder the testimony of the Lord to that person?

IV. Postscripts to Amplify the Principles - Rom.14:14-23. In the remainder of the chapter, there are a number of elements to help one understand how to apply the principles, as well as answering questions that may arise from the application of the principles.

As human beings we realize that it is impossible to please everyone at all times, since we inherently look at things differently. Therefore, if we are to be careful of how we judge things in the neutral area, how can we be assured that which ever way we decide, we won't offend someone. This is true, and this is why God has given to us of the Holy Spirit, to give us wisdom to know how to apply these principles, so that we will have the mind of Christ in our decisions (James 1:5). When we earnestly desire to follow the Biblical principles, and allow the Holy Spirit to apply them to the decision making process, then we can be assured of God that whatever the outcome will be, it will be the right one according to His will for us. In this we can rest, even with the knowledge that we can't make perfect judgments.

Verse 14 points out that in the "neutral" area there is nothing unclean or wrong, per se, but that which the Christian considers to be wrong, to him it is wrong, but not necessarily in itself, nor to another Christian. In the neutral area it could mean that at certain times or places the decision could go either way, and this is precisely why God did not specify absolutely certain decisions.

An excellent illustration of this is seen in a missionary family who went to another country. They included the game of checkers for their children to play. But, when they arrived in that country they found that the Christians were aghast that they would allow the children to play checkers, since that game was used for gambling purposes in that country. So, the missionaries put the game away while they were there, but did allow their children to play the game when they were on furlough. To apply the principle of the neutral area in this manner would be understood that the game of checkers in itself is neutral, not inherently wrong, but the association of its use to gambling would cause some to stumble, when they saw missionaries children playing. So, in order to have a beneficial testimony to the natives of that country the missionaries put the game away. When they came home they allowed their children to play the game, since in this country checkers is not normally associated with gambling. In this way they were able to make a proper decision based on Biblical principles.

Verse 15 explains to the Christian that just because one evaluates something to be all right according to Biblical principles, does not necessarily give one the right to use their liberty that might adversely affect another person (See I Cor. 8:1-13). As Christians we are to exercise our liberty in love for one another, and be mindful of their weaknesses or immaturity. As verse 16 notes, "Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil".

Verse 17 points out that the neutral area which may be evaluated differently by Christians is not the essential element in God's kingdom (i.e. the rightness or wrongness of a thing), for the kingdom of God is not essentially determined by these things. Rather, His kingdom is evaluated in our lives by RIGHTEOUSNESS, and PEACE, and JOY in the Holy Spirit. Therefore, whatever we judge in the neutral area should be done to, "Make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification" (v.19), rather than selfishly doing as we please. Our responsibility to fellow Christians should be to build one another up in the faith.

Verse 20,21 explains the fact that God's work is not destroyed by our wrongful behaviors, when we judge wrongly, but we should be careful that we do not become a stumbling block to someone else. Though we may judge a thing to be all right, it may not be so in other's point of view. Thus, we must decide which is more important, do as we please and maybe hurt a fellow Christian, or be sensitive to their needs and minister to their development as a Christian. In Romans 8:18, the Apostle Paul exhorts us to realize that the sufferings of this life are not worthy to be compared to the glory that will be ours when we arrive in heaven.

Verse 22,23 concludes the Biblical admonition on our judgment of the neutral area by saying that if we judge a thing to be all right, then we are to enjoy it, but if we have any doubts as to any one or all three principles, then it is not of faith, and we should refrain from indulging. For "Whatsoever is not of faith is sin".

In Romans 15:1,2 there is a concluding admonition based on the principles of chapter 14, and that is, "We who are strong (i.e. in mature faith) ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up".

The Bible stands like a rock undaunted,
Mid the raging storms of time;
Its pages burn with the truth eternal,
And they glow with a light sublime.

The Bible stands like a mountain towering,
Far above the wrecks of men;
Its truth by none ever was refuted,
And destroy it they never can.

The Bible stands, and it will forever,
When the world has passed away;
By inspiration it has been given,
All its precepts I will obey.

The Bible stands every test we give it,
For its author is divine;
By grace alone I expect to live it,
And to prove it and make it mine.

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