Hard Call: When the Bible Is Silent - Part 1

Romans 14:1-15:13

Tom Pennington  •  September 28, 2008
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For the next several weeks I want us to take a break from our study of Ephesians. We find ourselves at the midway point there. As we moved from our position–who we are in Christ, to our practice–how we ought to live. I want to take a breath because there's a topic that has been on my heart and mind now for more than a couple of years that I've wanted to work through with you, specifically concerning issues of conscience. How do we decide what to do about those moral choices when the Bible is silent. It's an issue that faces all of us.

It has to do with the conscience, and so last week we looked at the role of conscience; specifically, the role of conscience in the life of an unbeliever. Every human being has a conscience that has been informed by the basic requirements of the Law of God. There is, inside of each of us, a kind of courtroom of the soul where every moral choice is recorded. Those moral choices are weighed and measured against what we believe to be right and wrong. And then the conscience pronounces us, based on the evidence, either guilty or innocent. And if it finds us guilty, it then begins to execute against us the sentence of regret and remorse and feelings of profound guilt. That's how conscience functioned inside each of us before Christ. After Christ, the conscience continues to have a role. And today, I want to begin a several weeks' study of one function of conscience in the life of the believer. Specifically, the role of conscience when it comes to making decisions about what the Bible does not clearly address. There are choices and decisions we have to make in every age, and Christians have to address in every age, about issues the Bible either doesn't mention at all, or the Bible mentions but is not entirely definitive on all of the decisions related to that issue. There are, as I think you are aware, a wide variety of specific moral choices on which Christians disagree. And at the risk of treading where angels fear to tread, let me give you some examples that I think even are here present within our own church family.

Some examples of those moral choice on which we, sitting here this morning, would disagree with each other. For example, drinking alcoholic beverages. There are some Christians who believe there are almost no limits on what a Christian should imbibe. And now, there are others who are complete teetotallers. And sitting here this morning, I'm sure that we have that and everything in between those two extremes. Consider the style of music to be used in worship. One end of the spectrum sees no limits on any style of music being used in worship. There are others, perhaps even some in our church family, who, given the option, would sing only the Psalms, or perhaps would use no musical instruments at all. Another example of the moral issues that can divide Christians is the issue of how to educate our children. Some have attended public schools when they were in school and they see no reason why their own children should not attend public schools as well. There are some in our congregation who are very committed and loyal private or Christian school aficionados. And there are parents who will only home-school their children. And perhaps even see that as the only Biblical way to educate their children. We differ on parenting. There are some parents who, essentially, turn their kids entirely over to the church to train spiritually. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are parents who have embraced a kind of patriarchal system in which the family is rarely separated, and even adult daughters are expected to live at home. We undoubtedly differ on entertainment choices. Take television for example. There are some Christians, perhaps some here in our church family, who keep the television on 24 hours a day practically, as kind of a white noise machine in the background of their lives. There are others who don't have a TV in their home at all. Some are fairly open in what they will go to a theater to see. Others won't step foot in a movie theater at all. On the issue of music outside of worship, there are almost as many distinct views about that as there are people represented in our church family. When it comes to the issue of how to select a spouse, the possible options range from the traditional dating model to a courtship model to eHarmony.com. When it comes to clothing choices, any Christian woman or parent would agree that the Bible commands modesty. That's not up for discussion. But there are a wide range of views and different standards on what constitutes modest. When it comes to how we speak, some Christians are comfortable using certain slang words and certain forms of speech that other Christians see as entirely forbidden for the Christian. These are just a few of the issues on which Christians disagree. And there are many many other examples that I'm sure can come to your mind as well as to mine.

The discussion about these questionable issues goes by many different names. Perhaps the most common is the name Christian liberty. The specific choices are called issues of conscience, because as we will see this morning, conscience plays an important role in making these decisions. But conscience is only part of the process. Here's the good news. While there are many of these issues that can potentially be difficult for us to make decisions about, and potentially can be sources of division among Christians, God has not left us in the dark about how to make decisions regarding these questionable things. Although, listen carefully to me, He has not specifically and clearly told us what decisions to make, He has specifically told us how to make them. He's given us criteria in the New Testament by which we can make these choices. If you're struggling to decide any of these areas, you should do a careful study on two New Testament passages, and they're the ones I hope to look at in the coming weeks. They are Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10. Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians chapters 8 through 10. By the way, I will refer to these passages today and in the weeks ahead by those very simple descriptions, but that is a bit of an over-simplification. Technically, if you want it for your notes, the passages are Romans 14:1 through 15:13, and 1 Corinthians 8:1 through 11:1. But if you just remember Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10, you'll have the big idea.

Now, Romans 14 does not use the word "conscience." But in 1 Corinthians, Paul addresses exactly the same issues and there he does relate these decisions to conscience. Turn over to 1 Corinthians 8 for a moment, and you'll be back and forth between these two passages, so you can kind of mark them somehow there in your Bible. First Corinthians 8, and notice verse 7. Here's his first reference to this word "conscience" and its role in these decisions. He's talking about things sacrificed to idols. By the way, we will talk, probably next week, about the specific illustrations Paul uses. Do not let the first century illustrations Paul uses get in the way. Even though these particular illustrations are not appropriate for us today, the principles that Paul describes here are timeless. So, just know that the illustrations will be stuck in the first century; the principles are without any restriction whatsoever. So if you look at chapter 8 verse 7, notice he says that there are those who eat food sacrificed to an idol and their conscience, by doing that, is defiled. In verse 10 he brings up the conscience again. Verse 10 he says, if someone sees you dining in an idol's temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols. Verse 12, you see the conscience mentioned again. By sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. This is a serious thing. Over in chapter 10, verse 25, he comes back to how conscience is involved in this. There are certain decisions in which conscience should not be involved. Verse 25, "Eat anything sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience' sake";. verse 27, "If an unbeliever invites you and you want to go, eat anything set before you without asking questions for conscience' sake." So don't worry about it. "But," verse 28, "if anyone says to you, 'this is meat sacrificed to idols,' do not eat it for the sake of the one who informed you, and for their conscience' sake. Alright, so conscience, and how conscience plays a part in these doubtful or questionable things is the theme in both of these passages, although the word "conscience" only appears in 1 Corinthians 8 to 10.

Over the next couple of weeks, we're going to look at both of these passages, Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8-10. We will use Romans 14 as the primary passage that we'll work our way through, but we'll refer often to 1 Corinthians 8-10 as well. Today, I have a very simple goal. And that is, to lay down a foundation for you on which we can study these two passages. We're not going to have the opportunity, today, to study these two passages at great detail. We will do that. Today, we're going to lay a foundation for that study. Because there are several key questions that we have to answer before we're really able to study these two passages, and can legitimately make decisions about these issues of conscience.

Let's look at those key questions we need to ask and answer together to build a sort of foundation on which we can study. The first and most obvious question is what is the conscience? What is the conscience? Now, we looked at this last week so let me just briefly review for those of you who weren't here or who have forgotten. The Greek word translated "conscience" literally means "to know together with." To know together with. To know within yourself what is right and wrong. God has placed within every person this mechanism—this witness—that shouts to us about the character of God, the nature of God, and, particularly, that He is a lawgiver who has set a standard in the soul of man. Now here are a couple of definitions of conscience that I gave you last week. Webster's Dictionary defines conscience as "the sense or conciousness of right and wrong." The sense or consciousness of right and wrong. A more thorough definition from one of the dictionaries of theology that I have in my office that's a good definition I like a lot. "That faculty of the soul by which one distinguishes between the morally right and wrong. It urges us to do that which we recognize to be right, and restrains us from doing that which we recognize to be wrong. It passes judgment on our acts and executes that judgment within the soul." That's the conscience. So the conscience, then, is the faculty of the human soul that is concerned about the moral decisions you and I make. It weighs and evaluates our moral decisions and renders a verdict—a judgment—on them. That's what the conscience is.

Now let's move on to some new ground that we didn't look at last week, and to a second key question. What is the conscience is the first question. The second question is: how does the conscience work? How does the conscience work? Well, the key to understand this is contained within the word itself. Remember that the word conscience is made up of two Greek words. One of those words, and the main word, is the word for knowledge. It simply means to know. Now this is very important for understanding how the conscience works because at the heart of how your conscience works is knowledge. Knowledge. It's based on what you know. Let me show this to you in both of these passages. In Romans 14. Look at Romans 14:14. And here—and I'm going to come back to this verse and explain it a little later, but I just want you to get the big picture. He says, "I know," Paul says, "and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself." He says, because I have this knowledge, I make certain decisions, and my conscience evaluates me based on that knowledge. So, obviously, here in Romans, Paul brings in the issue of knowledge. He does in 1 Corinthians as well. If you look at 1 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 1, he comes immediately to knowledge. We know that all have knowledge about these things sacrificed to idols. There is a knowledge they have that has informed their consciences. It's based on what he knows. Verse 7, "However not all men have this knowledge" and so their conscience is weak as a result of that and can be defiled verse 7 says. So, based on the conscience, you make one decision because of the knowledge you have; if you don't have that knowledge, you make a different decision. So it comes back to knowledge. Verse 10. Same point is made. If someone sees you who have knowledge, but doesn't have knowledge, then they see you doing that they are going to be caused to sin. Verse 11, he comes back to it again, "For through your knowledge." Now, listen carefully because this is foundational. How the conscience works has to do with knowledge. It has to do with what we know. This means that your conscience is only as accurate and effective as your knowledge is—as what you know. Your conscience judges your moral choices based on the knowledge that it has. Now we saw, last time, that you started out well. Every human being is born with the hardware, to use the computer analogy, the hardware of a conscience. And that conscience, that piece of hardware that is a faculty of your soul, comes pre-loaded with the software of the basic understanding of God's law. We saw that in Romans 2 verses 14 to 16 last time. So every conscience has that understanding—has that basic understanding of God's standards of right and wrong written on the heart.

But, and this is very important. Like you and I can add other programs and other information to our computers, we can and do add other information or knowledge to our consciences. Over the years, we add knowledge to our consciences. Now, if that knowledge is correct—if it's a Biblical knowledge of God's truth, great. The problem is that often knowledge gets added to our consciences that is either flawed in some way, or is just flat out wrong. Now how does that happen? How do we get this bad information in this conscience God has given us? How do we get the wrong knowledge? Every day there are a number of influences outside of us that are informing our consciences. For example, you grew up in a home. Your parents, as you grew up, shaped and trained and helped form your conscience—your knowledge of what was right and wrong. They taught you certain things were right and certain things were wrong. To the extent that what they taught you conformed to the Scripture, great. But to the extent it didn't, your conscience was shaped by that knowledge. Our peers do the same thing. Our peers shape us and influence us with their standard of right and wrong. We interact with them. We rub shoulders. We see them do various things. We hear them talk. And their standard of right and wrong, their knowledge of right and wrong influences our conscience, informs our conscience. Our teachers, Christian books and literature and websites—they may not be biblical—and, unfortunately, often aren't, or at least are mixed truth and error, but whatever we find there left unevaluated can easily affect our conscience. One of the greatest influence on our consciences is the culture around us. What we watch and what we listen to and what we read and what we see around us. Things that 20 years ago, were unacceptable for Christians, today are acceptable. How did that happen? It's because, as the world changes its standards of right and wrong, we are shaped and influenced as the church by those same standards, and we float along with them. So you can begin to see that there's a big problem here. While conscience is a great gift of God, through all of those influences, our consciences can be distorted. The knowledge that we have can be wrong. Now, what happens? Well, by that wrong knowledge, you can have a distorted conscience in the sense that it is insensitive, or undersensitive. Your conscience can allow you to do things that are in fact wrong by God's standard. Let me give you an example. Our culture is constantly reinforcing the dubious moral perspective that lying is only wrong, what? If it hurts somebody else. You know, that means, by definition, little white lies as they are called are relatively harmless, and are morally acceptable. And so you hear this all the time. You turn on the television, you watch the news, you see commercials, what do you see? You see people lying and other people laughing. And over time, our consciences are informed with that. And if you have listened to the culture, and you have allowed its knowledge of right and wrong to influence you, guess what? You can begin to tell those same sort of little white lies, as they're called, and feel perfectly comfortable and feel no pangs of conscience, because your conscience has been given a different knowledge base.

Let me use another example. Your own sinful heart can tweak and train and distort your conscience. For example, over time, your own sinful heart may convince you to redefine for your conscience what stealing is. There are Christian employees who regularly steal from their employers and don't feel any pangs of conscience about it. How does that happen? Well, it's because they've convinced their conscience that it's really okay because they deserve it. After all, you know, look at what I do around this company. I don't get paid what I deserve. It's only right that I could have a certain…I'll pay it back later. I mean the best. Because you've convinced your conscience of that, then when you do it, sometimes you don't even feel the pangs of conscience, especially over time. Because you have convinced your conscience. You have effectively retrained your conscience with a skewed view of morality that's based on a flawed knowledge base. So various influences can cause your conscience to be insensitive or undersensitive. On the other hand, because conscience works on the basis of knowledge, you can have an over-sensitive conscience. Or as Romans 14 calls it, a weak conscience. This is when your conscience condemns you, when in fact, what you're doing is something the Bible allows. Let me just pick a wild example, because I'm walking on really dangerous ground here, so I'll just choose a sort of wild example. If you grew up in a home where you were taught that it is morally wrong to wear pink shirts, then that's the knowledge, over time, your conscience became informed with. That's the knowledge your conscience has. So what happens then, when you put on a pink shirt? You feel what? Guilt. Why do you feel guilt for wearing a pink shirt? Is that because there's anything biblically wrong with wearing a pink shirt? Some might say yes. No. No. It's because the knowledge with which you're conscience has been trained tells you that wearing a pink shirt is wrong. So our consciences are only as accurate as the knowledge with which we train them. Think of conscience like a warning light in a car. It simply responds to how it's been pre-programmed.

When I was in high school, my dad went through, and I, I hate it when this happens, and you kids probably hate this when this happens to you. My dad went through a nostalgic period. So, when it came time to buy the family a second car, he had the idea that he would go buy, and he actually did this, a baby blue, 1953 Plymouth. As it turned out, in God's providence, to humble me, that was the car that took me to school every day of my freshman year of high school. I can tell you as a high schooler that, for me, it was the essence of "not cool." Thinking back, the only real advantage to that car was that—I, I thought this at the time—you know, if we're ever in an accident, we will destroy everything in our path, because the thing was a tank. But I must admit, I was greatly relieved when, after a full year of being taken to school in that thing, during the summer before my tenth grade, one of my sisters asked my dad if she could use the blue bomber, and to my great relief, dad agreed. About six months later, he got a call from my sister, telling him that that wonderful piece of automotive engineering had died. I was personally devastated. It took me several days to get over it. But it didn't take the mechanic very long to decide what the problem was; the car had overheated, it had thrown a rod, and had destroyed the engine. And the cause was completely obvious. It's because there wasn't sufficient oil in the engine. Well, like all good fathers, my dad decided to do a little investigation. And when he investigated with my sister, he discovered that a little warning light on the dash that said in red "oil" had come on about a month before, and she intended to deal with it. She intended to mention it, but life is busy and distracting, and it never happened. Even though she'd been told to watch the dashboard for the warning lights, it came on, she ignored it, and the results were disastrous—unless you're a ninth grader. Think of the conscience like that. The conscience is like a warning light on the dashboard of the soul and you cannot ignore it without damaging your soul. But, it's a warning that is based solely on what it's been pre-programmed to recognize. That oil light comes on because it's been pre-programmed to come on when the oil drops below a certain level. That's how the conscience works. It comes on, if you will—it warns you—based on what it's been pre-programmed to warn you regarding. That's how the conscience works. By the way, this is why it's so important for us to be in the Word of God every day. Because we have to train our consciences with the Scripture. Because if we don't, there may be things we should feel guilty about that we don't feel guilty about, based on the knowledge of our consciences. There may be things that we feel guilty about that we shouldn't feel guilty about, based on faulty and flawed knowledge. So our consciences are only as effective as their knowledge of God's word and what God says.

So, what is the conscience? We've looked at that. How does the conscience work? It's like a warning light that uses the knowledge it has to inform us that we're violating the knowledge that we have. There's another important question for us to better understand before we begin to work our way through these two passages. And that's what exactly is an issue of conscience? What exactly is an issue of conscience? You've heard me use that expression several times. How do you decide if some decision or choice you need to make is an issue of conscience, and is governed by the principles of Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 to 10? Well, fortunately, in those two passages, Paul give us some direction. Paul provides us with a clear criterion for deciding if the moral choice we face is in fact an issue of conscience. A moral decision is an issue of conscience if it meets one clear biblical test: there is no clear biblical prohibition, and no clear biblical command. In other words, the Bible doesn't clearly command that we do that thing, or the Bible doesn't clearly command that we not do that thing. There is no clear biblical command to do it; no clear biblical prohibition against doing it. That's the test. Let me show you from both of these passages how this works out. In Romans 14, let me just show you just sort of how this builds. I don't want you to take my word for this, so let's walk our way through here, because this is crucial. This is how we decide if something should be governed by these principles. We begin to get a little idea of what Paul's talking about in Romans 14:1. He says, "Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment (watch this) on his opinions." Literally, on his own thoughts—on his own reasonings back and forth. You begin to get the idea that whatever we're talking about has to do with something that we can have our own individual opinions about. We can have our own thoughts and ideas about separate from the clear direction of Scripture itself. This becomes clearer down in verse 14. We read this a moment ago but look at it again. "I know and am convinced," Paul says, "in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean." Now, this verse has often been distorted and, and really badly interpreted. The word "unclean" is the key word here. And the word "unclean"—the adjective translated "unclean" speaks of something that is ritually clean or unclean as prescribed by the Old Testament Law. We're not talking now about God's moral standards. We're talking about unclean, ritually, as the Old Testament ceremonial law prescribed it. And he's saying, I am convinced in the Lord that nothing is unclean; nothing that has previously been called ceremonially unclean is, in fact, unclean in and of itself. Where did he get that idea from Christ? Well, if you remember Christ's ministry, particularly in several of the gospels but I'm thinking Mark 7. In Mark 7, you remember that Jesus says "it's not that which goes into a man that defiles a man, but that which comes out of the man," and then Mark, probably quoting Peter, says, By this Jesus was declaring all foods what? To be clean. That's what Paul's referring to here.

So, Paul then is talking about things that aren't inherently evil, like different kinds of foods. You get a little more clue down in verse 22, where he talks about your own conviction before God–what you approve, the end of verse 22, so we're talking about personal convictions. But I think it becomes clearer over in 1 Corinthians. Look at1 Corinthians chapter 8 verse 8. First Corinthians 8:8, "But food will not commend us to God." He's talking about clean food versus unclean food, or food offered or sacrificed to an idol, verse 7. He says food will not, literally present us, to God. Food won't bring us near to God. And then he says, the end of the verse, "we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat." Literally, what he says is, we are not lacking if we don't eat—we are not abounding if we do eat. In other words, an issue of conscience is something that intrinsically is not going to give you a spiritual advantage by participating, nor will it be to your spiritual disadvantage if you don't participate. It has no direct bearing on your relationship to God or your spiritual health. This is our liberty. Notice verse 9, "This liberty of yours.". But there's one passage, I think, that makes it crystal clear. Turn over to chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians, and verse 23. Here, he defines what an issue of conscience is. "All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify." Twice here, Paul says "all things are lawful." Now, clearly, Paul is not saying that every moral choice without exception is lawful. God's law puts many things off limits for Christians. Paul is not saying here that adultery is really okay; that lying and dishonoring parents and taking God's name in vain are really morally neutral. So what is he saying? Paul is defining the boundaries of Christian liberty. Listen carefully. He's saying our Christian liberty is defined only by what God, in His Law, allows. He's talking about those things that God's Law allows. Or to say it differently, if God's Word doesn't directly forbid it or directly command it, then we are talking about our Christian liberty. We are talking about an issue of conscience. If there is no clear biblical prohibition against it, you have the liberty or right to do it. If there is no clear command to do it, then you have the liberty not to do it. This is called Christian liberty.

Now, there's a lot of confusion about this, so let me give you, very briefly, what Christian liberty involves. Christian liberty is liberty in three ways. It is, first of all, Christian liberty is liberty from obeying the Law of God as a means of earning salvation. Liberty from obeying the Law of God as a means of earning salvation or of earning a right standing before God. This is what Galatians is all about. You remember Paul was dealing with Judaizers. These were people, Jewish people, who said they embraced Christ, but they said, if you want to really become a Christian, then you not only have to embrace Christ, but you've got to get circumcised; you've got to keep Old Testament Law as the means of salvation. And Paul said, absolutely not. In Galatians, he says that's "another gospel" and in chapter 2 of Galatians, verse 4 he says, these who are teaching this are false brethren who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage. Chapter 5 verse 1 of Galatians, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and don't be subject again to a yoke of (bondage)or slavery". Down in Galatians 5:13, "For you were called to freedom, brethren." What Paul is saying is, we are free from the law as a way to earn a right standing before God. That is our Christian liberty. Secondly, we have liberty, as a believer, from keeping all of those Old Testament ceremonial laws. We have liberty from keeping all of those ceremonial laws, all the sacrifices and holy days and everything else. Colossians chapter 2 verse 16, Paul says, don't let anyone judge you in respect to those things, because they were merely shadows, and now the body is here. Christ is the body; they were shadows. You're not bound to keep those Old Testament ceremonial laws. In Romans 14:14, that's essentially what Paul was saying. All those things that used to bind our consciences no longer do. We have liberty. We can eat what we want. The third form of Christian liberty—liberty from obeying the law of God for salvation, liberty from, as a believer keeping all of the Old Testament ceremonial laws. The third demonstration of our Christian liberty is liberty from keeping man-made rules about what a Christian ought to do or ought not to do. And this is a lot of what 1 Corinthians 8 to 10 is about, as we will see in regard to this food sacrificed to idols. Now, understand, this third category, very few Christians would say, my rules are man-made, even if they are. What are they going to say—well, it's biblical. It's biblical. And it may remotely tangentially be. There may be an application of a principle of a principle that's biblical. But even if something appears to be connected to the Bible, the fact that you think your convictions have a biblical basis doesn't mean they are, in fact, biblical. The question is, is there a clear chapter and verse command to do it or is there a clear chapter and verse command not to do it. Without either of those, it falls into the category of Christian liberty. Enjoy liberty in Christ. Don't allow your conscience to be bound by anything but the word of God.

Now, that's the foundation. A couple of implications, as we close. A couple of implications of the foundations we've laid this morning. Number one, Christian. Enjoy your liberty in Jesus Christ. You do not have to obey the law as a means of salvation as a way to earn favor with God. You are accepted in Christ. You have been declared righteous before God's law, by an act of grace and mercy. Understand that you don't have to keep all those Old Testament sac-ceremonial laws with its sacrifices and religious days. Every day is holy to us as believers. And understand that you are under no obligation to follow anybody's man-made rules about what Christians ought to do or ought not to do. If they can't show you a clear biblical command to do it or a clear biblical command not to do it, then your conscience is not bound.

Now, let me make a quick comment here about children or young people. As long, and the Bible is very clear about this, you're to obey your parents. As long as you are in your parents' home, they're paying for your food, putting a roof over your head, providing for your sustenance, you have a responsibility to obey them. That means not only—and you always should obey what the Bible teaches—but you must also allow their perspective about issues of conscience—these questionable things—to direct your behavior. The day will come when you are out on your own. You must still obey the law of God; that's still binding on your conscience, but then you will have to make these decisions based on the principles we'll look at for yourself. But as long as you're in their home, you have a responsibility to follow their stipulations about these issues of conscience.

Number two. So enjoy your Christian liberty. Implication number two. Educate your conscience. Educate your conscience. Remember, your conscience is only as effective as the knowledge it has. So we need to desperately make sure that our minds and hearts are saturated with the word of God. Otherwise, we might find ourselves excusing what God condemns, or refusing what God condones. Educate your conscience with the Bible. Number three. Beware the dangers of Christian liberty. Although we have the freedom or liberty to make these choices, our Christian liberty is not without limits. In fact, the focus of these two passages is not on exercising our liberty or rights. The focus is on limiting the exercise of our liberty and rights. Because there are very real dangers to avoid. Yes, we have Christian liberty. Enjoy it. But there are serious dangers you'd better beware of. These dangers are the focus of both of these passages and we'll look at them in detail in the coming weeks, but let me just briefly give you a preview. Using your Christian liberty is dangerous when these things are true: number one, it causes disunity; number two, it causes another Christian to sin; number three, it violates your conscience; number four, using your Christian liberty is dangerous when it becomes an excuse for sin and not mere Christian liberty—it becomes a license to sin. Number five, when I use my own choices in these doubtful things as a measure of the spirituality of others. That's called legalism, and the Bible forbids it. Number six, when liberty becomes all about myself—when it becomes self-focused. When it's all about my rights and what I want to do, and I have a right to do this, rather than about my Christian brothers and sisters. Rather than about the unsaved, and rather than about the glory of God. All of those points are made in these passages. We'll look at it together. Christian, use your liberty, enjoy it. But you better beware of the dangers.

Maybe you're here this morning, and you know in your heart that you're not a true disciple or follower of Jesus Christ. Your conscience often condemns you for your sinful choices. Please, please, don't ignore your conscience. It's God's warning to you. It's God's grace to you to show you that you need a Savior. And if you ignore it, you do so to your own disaster. Perhaps you've heard the story that John MacArthur tells in his book, "The Vanishing Conscience." It was in 1984 that an Avianca Airlines jet crashed in Spain. When investigators located the little black box they found that a tragic stream of events occurred on the cockpit voice recorder. As they listened to that recording, they found that just several minutes before the jet slammed into a mountainside, there was in the cockpit this shrill computer generated voice that said "pull up, pull up, pull up!". The next thing the investigators heard horrified them because they heard the pilot say, thinking that the unit was malfunctioning, apparently, they heard the pilot say, "shut up gringo." And then he switched off the system and several minutes later that airplane flew into a mountainside and everyone on board was killed. If you're not a Christian, don't ignore the warning light that's going off in your soul. It's not a perfect system, conscience, but it's telling you that something is desperately wrong in your soul, and that you need to deal with your own violations of God's law, the violations of your conscience. You need forgiveness. You need a Savior. You need Jesus Christ. Don't ignore the warning light.

Let's pray together. Our Father, we thank You for Your word. We thank You that You have not left us without direction. We thank You that we have all things that we need in Your word for life and Godliness, and not only have you given us clear commands and prohibitions, but You've even given us the principles for making decisions about things You haven't directly addressed. Father, I pray that You would help us in the coming weeks to learn Your mind on all of these things. Father, I pray for the person here this morning who knows in his or her heart that they're not in Christ. Lord don't let them ignore the warning. Let them see, in the constant pangs of conscience, Your grace, Your love calling them to repentance, calling them to Christ. I pray it in His Name and for His sake. Amen.