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Faithlife

A Strong Conscience

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We have considered the weak conscience, and now we want to think about the strong conscience. In Romans 14 and 15 Paul dealt with a conflict among the people in the church—some had weak consciences and some had what he called a ‘strong conscience.’

Paul began by saying, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations" (Rom. 14:1). This means, "Don't argue about doubtful things."

The Christian life contains some doubtful areas that good and godly people have disagreed on down through the centuries. The specific details may change from age to age, but the basic problems are the same. What can a Christian do? How far can a Christian go?

In the Roman assembly the problem centered on food and the celebration of special days. The weak Christians would eat only vegetables, while the strong Christians ate all foods. The weak Christians commemorated certain days that were very special to them, while the strong Christians realized that every day was a special day with the Lord. Unfortu­nately, the weak Christians judged the strong Christians, and the strong Christians despised the weak Christians.

In Romans 15:1 Paul said, "We, then, that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves." He was talking about being strong in conscience. He was not talking about physical strength but about the spiritual strength that comes when you have a strong conscience.

So the strong conscience is opposed to the weak conscience. Notice that a person can tell when he has a strong conscience. Paul used the word "we" instead of "they": "We, then, that are strong." If you had asked the Apostle Paul, "Paul, are you a man with a strong conscience?" he would have replied, "Yes." Somebody might say, "Well, aren't you being proud?" No, this is not pride at all. If you know you have a strong conscience, there's no reason to hide it. If you have a strong conscience, you have some very important responsibilities.

I. Characteristics of a Strong Conscience

What are the characteristics of a person who has a strong conscience?

A. Spiritual Knowledge

To begin with, he is a person with spiritual knowledge. He knows the Word of God and what it teaches about various matters in the Christian life.

For instance, various kinds of food were a prob­lem in the Roman assemblies. The strong Christian knows that scripture declared all foods to be clean.

For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving:

For it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.

1Tim4:4-5 

Paul knew that God had made everything good. Peter discovered this same truth on a housetop when he was waiting for his dinner to be prepared (see Acts 10:9-16). He was taught by the Lord that all foods are clean. So the Christian with the strong conscience has spiritual knowledge. He is not living according to superstitions, customs or the Old Tes­tament Law. He's living by New Testament truth. He understands the truth of the Word.

 

B. Discernment

Second, the person with a strong conscience has discernment. He has exercised his conscience, his spiritual faculties and senses. He knows what is right and wrong and is therefore able to make the right decisions. He exercises his conscience. He's not afraid to obey the Word of God.

Jesus said in John 7:17, "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine." Obedience results in spiritual knowledge. The person with a strong conscience is discerning because he exercises his spiri­tual faculties. He steps out by faith and believes and obeys the Word of God.

 Are there levels of discernment? Yes there is.

A child, with the right training hopefully can tell the difference between what’s good and what’s bad. All most anybody can, even lost people can. Most Christians can. Most know what’s good for them and what’s bad for them.

Yet, that’s not the only level there is; Oh, my if that’s was all there was when it come to making decisions the world would be an easier place to live.

Choosing between the good and bad is child’s play. But where you and I live mostly is choosing between what’s good for us compared to what’s best for us! That’s what separates the children from the Adults; that separates the immature Christian from the mature Christian, being able to discern the best that God wants form you as a person. 

  

C. Enjoyment of Freedom in Christ

This leads us to a third characteristic: He enjoys his freedom in Christ. He knows that in Jesus Christ he has freedom, that all things are his and that God gives to us "richly all things to enjoy" (I Tim. 6:17). He realizes that God is a gracious and generous God, that every good gift and every per­fect gift comes down from God (see James 1:17).

Therefore, the Christian with a strong conscience appropriates the truth by faith, and he enjoys his freedom.

If you had visited some of the members in the Roman assemblies, you would have seen a contrast between freedom and bondage. The weaker Chris­tians were in bondage. They were living by Old Testament rules and regulations, and consequently they were not enjoying their freedom in Christ. The mature, strong Christians were enjoying their lib­erty in the Lord because they had appropriated and practiced Bible truths.

 

D. Tolerance of Differences in Others

Not only does the person with a strong conscience have spiritual knowledge and spiritual dis­cernment, not only does he enjoy his freedom in the Lord, but he is tolerant of the differences in others. This is an important thing. A person with a strong conscience is not easily offended.

We noted that the person with a weak conscience is easily wounded. If somebody does something he doesn't like, he is deeply grieved and offended by it. This is a sign that he has a weak conscience. When a person has a strong conscience, he realizes that good and godly people disagree on some practices, and he does not get offended.

I mentioned my friend that pastors in the old soviet republic area, Croatia. Most if not all of his converts were once Roman Catholics before they were saved. Once they were saved they realizing just how lost and in darkness the roman catholic church had them in, they truth disliked anything that was associated with the Roman Catholic Church.

They dislike them so much that because the Roman Catholics celebrate the Lord’s birth at the same time we do; those newly saved Croatian folks swore off anything and everything that had to do with celebrating Christmas. My friend; their pastor had three kids and his wife, and they were definitely from America. But because it was so strong of an issue, my friend being the mature Christian he is; tolerated this different viewpoint in his people.

Well, four or five years passed, they came back on furlough and for the very first time for his kids, were they able to see Christmas trees, Christmas lights, exchange gifts and so on, why because they out of love and maturity tolerated that non sestina issue that they might could get along at church with his people.

But when they were back in the states they celebrated Christmas just like you do.

 You may say, "But isn't that rather inconsistent?" No, not at all. The Christian who has a strong conscience realizes that good and godly people can disagree on practice. We aren't talking about doc­trine. The fundamentals of the faith are true regardless of whether you are in Asia, Africa, Australia or America. But practices have a way of changing with culture. We're talking about this area of questionable things. The Christian who has a strong conscience is tolerant of differences. He realizes that differences do not necessarily mean that one person is better or worse than the other. You will notice changes as you go from place to place and from culture to culture. The person with a strong conscience is not easily offended. The strong believer doesn't stumble and get hurt. He doesn't sit and nurse his wounds. He doesn't get critical. The Christian with a strong conscience enjoys his free­dom and is willing to give that same freedom to others.

II. Responsibilities of the Strong Christian

But the strong Christian also has some responsi­bilities. Romans 14 and 15 were written to the strong Christian primarily, and these chapters state our responsibilities if we claim to have a strong Christian conscience.

 

A. Receive the Weak

Our first responsibility is to receive the weak. "Him that is weak in the faith, receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations [questionable things]" (Rom. 14:1). We are not to keep people out of the church fellowship because they haven't grown up yet. The church is God's nursery for helping babies to grow. We have the responsibility of receiving the Chris­tian who has the weaker conscience.

 

B. Do Not Argue

Second, we have the responsibility not to argue with him. I would strongly advise you not to argue with people about these areas where you disagree. We can discuss principles, we can discuss biblical doctrine; but in areas of taste and custom, there is simply no way to agree.

 

C. Do Not Despise the Weak

Third, those who are strong are not to despise those who are weak. Romans 14:3 says, "Let not him that eateth despise him that eateth not; and let not him who eateth not judge him that eateth." In other words, the strong Christian is not to despise the weak Christian, and the weak Christian is not supposed to condemn the strong Christian because he enjoys his freedom.

 

D. Do Not Cause the Weak to Stumble

Fourth, and this is very important, the strong Christian is not to cause the weak Christian to stumble. Romans 14:13 says, "Let us not, therefore, judge one another any more; but judge this, rather: that no man put a stumbling block or an occasion to fall in his brother's way."

This brings us to what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 8, 9 and 10. The problem in Corinth was, If you are invited to a feast at the local temple, should you go? After all, that's an idol's temple, and that meat was offered to an idol. Paul said it may not hurt you, but it might hurt your weaker brother. If your brother sees you in that temple, he may be tempted to go against his conscience, and you will cause him to stumble. I can do many things that may not hurt me, but they might hurt somebody else.

We are not to cause the weak to stumble. We are not to grieve our weaker brother by our liberty.

Romans 14:15 says, But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died. We should walk(Live) to please our weaker brother, not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification.”  (15:2).

You may say, "Well, why should I give up my liberty just to please my brother?" Because that's Christian love. Why should you use your freedom to cause somebody else to stumble? We have to be very careful how we handle these matters. We should walk in love.

 

C. Make Peace

The stronger Christian has another responsibil­ity: He should make peace. "Let us, therefore, fol­low after the things which make for peace" (Rom. 14:19). Some Christians are forever declaring war! They are constantly looking down on people they feel are inferior to them. Paul said, "Don't do that. Do the things that result in peace. What difference does it make whether you eat meat or don't eat meat? The important thing is that your brother and you get along. An unsaved world is watching. Don't be caught fighting one another."

Not only should we make peace, but we should build up the weaker brother. We should do those things that help to edify others. The reason we receive the weaker brother and seek to please him is that we might help him grow up.

You cannot force your faith on somebody else. "Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God" (v. 22). You cannot push truth down someone's throat and force them to digest it! We have to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15). We must demonstrate patience, love and kindness if we are to help these people grow.

The important thing is for the stronger Christians not to abuse their freedom. In Romans 15 Paul used the Lord Jesus Christ as our example: "For even Christ pleased not himself" (v. 3). Think of the freedom that Jesus deprived Himself of so that He might help others! He was the perfect Son of God who knew all things, and yet He deliberately humbled Himself, He deliberately limited Himself so that He might be able to minister to us. The result, of course, brought glory to God.

"Wherefore, receive ye one another, as Christ also received us to the glory of God" (v. 7). That settles the matter right there. The weak Christian is not to break fellowship with the stronger Christian over such things as amusements, food, Bible trans­lations, different kinds of music or methods of teaching. It is so easy for the weaker Christian to feel threatened, to get defensive and to say, "I can't fellowship here any more. These people do too many things that are wrong." He never will grow up if he has that attitude. However, if the strong Chris­tians have an attitude of superiority, there will be trouble in the church.

In I Corinthians 8:9 Paul warned, "But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumbling block to them that are weak." I have the right to enjoy my freedom, but I also have the free­dom to give up my rights. That's a part of my freedom in the Lord. I have the right to enjoy all things that God has created. But if, in using that freedom, I rob you of blessing or I hurt you, then it isn't freedom at all. It has become bondage. Those who are strong in the Lord must be very careful not to look down on those who have not matured. However, those who have not yet grown in the Lord ought to start growing. There ought to be such an atmosphere of love, knowledge and acceptance in the church that the weakest Christian can receive the Word of God and grow.

I suppose you can summarize it by saying that we belong to each other, we affect each other, and we need each other. The strong Christian needs the weak Christian, and the weak Christian needs the strong Christian. We all need the Lord. If we live to please ourselves and to boast about our knowledge and our freedom, then we will cause division, dis­sension and destruction in the church. But if we live to please the Lord Jesus and to please one another, if we show preference to those who are weaker, then we are going to help them grow. At the same time, we are going to grow, and there will be a beautiful atmosphere of love in the church. The spiritual babies will grow up and help other babies grow up. God's work will progress, and Jesus Christ will be glorified! [1]

Closing: Two things to close with because of all this:

1. Be careful what you make an issue out of.

The issue that was hurting the church, wasn’t about sin, or about doctrine; but about foods and days of the week. So childish. When sin or any doctrine is not at stake you ought to respect and follow the leadership that God has for you. That’s exactly what Paul was trying to get these Christians to do. Follow his lead!  But when ther is sin and there is doctrine at stake, you better watch out because the bible makes no allowances!

2. It’s a sign of maturity in a Christian when they prefer the other Christian before them. Just the opposite is true as well.


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[1]Wiersbe, W. W. Meet Your Conscience (21).

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