Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
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.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
(Romans 14:5-19, excerpted)
In the interest of space and time, I have only printed the heart of these verses. I would strongly urge anyone to take in the whole of Romans 14.
What the Word is discussing here is the whole matter of what we will call Body Life. These words are for the church. And they reflect the very real problem of Christian conduct. On the one hand, we don’t want to say to our brothers and sisters, “anything goes.” On the other hand, how silly is it to judge every little nuance of how people live that claim Christ as Lord?
Earlier in the chapter, Paul used examples of judging people for what they eat and drink – because at the time much of the food that was available in the marketplace out in the Empire was food that had been sacrificed to a particular local god. This was in sharp contrast to the local custom in Jerusalem, where if you wanted a good cut of meat, you got it from the shop behind the temple where it had been “properly” sacrificed to the one true God.
“To obey is better than sacrifice.” God doesn’t want or need us to sacrifice to him. That’s already been done on our behalf. And so, to require any particular behavior from our brothers and sisters is to place a heavy burden on them that Christ has already borne. What God “requires” of us is to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God. (Micah 6:8) And that, all by itself, leads to a wide, just, and loving lifestyle. We wouldn’t need to keep our people in line if we taught justice, mercy, and humbleness.
Yes, we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God. But the sacrifice that reconciles us to God has already been paid! Besides which, what at one stroke is called the “Judgment Seat” in the next stroke is called the “Mercy Seat.” What else does Romans 10:9 mean when it says that if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart the God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” but that the door is open WIDE. Salvation is not an escape from judgment. Salvation is a marathon run to mercy.
I have always loved the Reformed Faith, the so-called doctrines of Grace. But honestly, if those doctrines stand in the way of someone coming to full faith and freedom in Christ, let them go. They are not worth putting a barrier in the way of someone coming to Christ. The Gate of the Sheep is open wide! We have to go out of our way to shut it again. Serve Christ in righteousness, peace, and joy, not in law, contention, and sorrow.
The righteousness that is by faith stands in opposition to the righteousness that is by law. The peace that passes all understanding stands in opposition to factious contention and denominational strife. The joy of the Holy Spirit stands in opposition to the sorrow that requires men to carry heavy burdens “in the name of Christ.”
Walking with Jesus is a matter of the heart, not of law. And Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and they know me, and I give them eternal life. And no one can snatch them out of my hand.” The way in is very broad indeed. The way out is very narrow. It is so narrow that none can ever pass that way.