Authority, Part 5: Conscience
Romans 14:2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand….But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin.
I Corinthians 8:4-7 Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one…. However, there is not in everyone that knowledge; for some, with consciousness of the idol, until now eat it as a thing offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.
God’s authority is inconceivably large, yet also finds itself in the smallest corners of our hearts. His sovereignty as God includes an authority we cannot hope to understand, and yet we, created in His image, are allowed to have some of this authority in the deepest parts of ourselves. This is the authority of conscience.
Romans and I Corinthians make it clear that there are strong and weak believers, those who understand the freedom we have in Christ, and those who do not. While recognizing that there is indeed a stronger, freer believer, Paul tells us not to judge the weak brother or sister. We are encouraged to be a good example of our Christian freedom and to teach the weaker ones in the proper context. But we are forbidden to force people to do anything against the authority of their conscience, even if we have no issue with the action ourselves.
God insists that He is “all over” this: “Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand.” For issues of conscience like this, we need to allow the weaker believers the space to do or not do according to their own views. If it has to with food, or holding one day as more special than another, or any other similar issue, the only sin would be acting in violation to one’s conscience.
If we can do a certain action in good conscience, good for us. But if someone believes that action to be against his/her conscience, it is sin for them. “For whatever is not from faith is sin.” This may seem silly, or sad, or even laughable to us. But our call from God is to leave it alone and not force either the issue or the action. God promises to take care of it in His way and in His time.
We need to remember that it is only the Holy Spirit that can truly convince anyone of anything. We can persuade, and we can model what we believe to be mature Christian behavior. But it’s God and God alone that can reach into a heart and settle an issue, especially one that means moving away from a bondage to a truth. (False guilt and the enemy’s taunts can be quite a battle for a person to overcome.) So for the free and mature believer, our challenge is to honor God by honoring the authority of His creation’s conscience, and leaving transformation up to Him.
Prayer: Help me to grow in sensitivity to issues of conscience that others are dealing with. May I know all the freedom You’ve purchased for me in Christ, but help me to honor the authority of others’ consciences that feel differently than I do, trusting in You to do the convincing.