Scripture Text: Romans 14:7-12
Last week, we read about essential things and non-essential things. We read that the Church must agree on those things that are essential to our faith, such as our universal sin, our need for a Savior, and Jesus is the only Way to salvation. For those things that are not essential, the Church must strive for tolerance and understanding, emphasizing our unity and love of one another regardless of our personal convictions. Rupertus Meldenius understood the need for unity and love. He once said, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Every Christian has a certain freedom to conduct himself in such a way as to please his Master. We have to at least give other believers with whom we differ the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to do what they are doing to honor Christ. We have to respect their convictions and respect the fact that every brother and sister is a person who wants to do the will of God. Some things just do not matter. May God give us wisdom to see what is essential and what is not.
Now, the lordship of Jesus Christ is foundational to the unity of the Church where there are diverse opinions. As Christians, we have the same Master and Lord, and that Lord is Jesus Christ. Christ died for us in order to purchase our salvation. As followers of Jesus Christ, we must submit to the Lord Jesus in all things if we are to ever come together as His Body with many members and many diverse gifts. We should be reminded how our Lord was treated when throughout His ministry He was accused of being a wine-bibber, a glutton, a friend of sinners and a Sabbath breaker. Jesus broke with Jewish custom and man-made traditions to live a life He thought was pleasing to God. Because we will all have to give an account of our lives to God, we must be free from the judgmental constraints of others in matters that are really not essential. In regard to this, Paul described several things from this passage relating to the lordship of Jesus Christ and the implications it has on a Church with diverse people and opinions.
We Live and Die for the Lord
Let us first consider sports. We have no trouble knowing who dedicated fans of a sports team are. Dedicated fans attend their team’s games faithfully, almost religiously. They support their teams in any weather, rain or shine. Some wear their team’s colors. You can look across the stadium and you know exactly who the dedicated fans are. They also talk enthusiastically about their team. They will passionately talk about their team, whether you care about it or not. This is quiet natural, for they speak passionately about what they love so much. What if Christians had that same passion for their church? What if they had that same passion about Jesus Christ? Can you imagine what the world would be like if Christians were as passionate about Jesus as the most dedicated sports fans are? What do people know about us? What do they say about us? Is it, “They love Jesus.” Is it, “They care about others.” Is it, “They belong to God.” The truth of Christianity is that we do not belong to ourselves. If we have accepted Jesus as Lord and Savior, we belong to Him. Look at the following verses from this passage.
Romans 14:7-8 7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. 8 For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.
No one likes slavery, but in essence, Jesus owns us. That is the implication of this passage. We belong to Jesus Christ. God has a total claim on our lives. All the way back in Romans chapter one, Paul acknowledged God’s total claim on his life by basically calling himself a “slave of Christ Jesus”. (Romans 1:1) Fundamental to our faith in Jesus Christ is the reality that our lives are not our own. Both in life and in death, Christians belong to the Lord, and He alone is their judge. We sometimes forget this. I sometimes forget this. We may believe in God being our judge in the afterlife. We may look forward, either in anticipation or anxiety, to facing God in death. But what about now? Do we live our lives in such a way that God sees our every move? Do we live our lives in such a way that shows we belong to Him now? Or maybe more apropos to the current passage, do we treat one another as though we each belong to the Lord?
This idea of God owning our lives is somewhat like what Paul wrote to the church in Corinth. He told them that they were bought with a price and owned by God, and because of that, what they do with their bodies matters (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Our bodies are temples of the living God and we must treat them as holy places for Him. How holy are you treating your body? We must glorify God with our lives. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul again reminded us that our lives are not our own. If we have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, then we have really been crucified with Him. It is not longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. Look at the following passage.
Galatians 2:20 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Are you crucified with Christ? Does your life show marks of crucifixion? Does your life indicate that God owns you? Oftentimes, we live our lives as if we are calling the shots. I certainly do! I want to be in charge, I want to be the boss, and I suspect that is true for most of us. Scripture says something else, though. It says that in life and death, we belong to God. He is the One in charge. Does your life indicate that you belong to God? If so, what are you doing today for the Lord? What is this church doing for the Lord? What will God say when you see Him face-to-face? Will He say, “Well done, good and faithful servant? You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” Will He say, “You have been unfaithful?” What will it be?
Christ Died and Lives to be Lord of All
The second thing Paul mentioned about the lordship of Jesus Christ was about His death and life. Jesus’ death and resurrection purchased us for Himself. It is because of His death and resurrection that we have died to ourselves and are now alive in Him. The cross and the empty grave purchased life for us, and according to Paul, Jesus’ death and resurrection are also the reason for His lordship. Look at the following verses.
Romans 14:9-10 9 For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 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 to this end”, which could also be read as “for this reason” or “for this purpose” (v. 9) is explained by the final part of the verse — that Jesus might be Lord of all. The purpose of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the reason He came, lived, died, and lived again, was “that He might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.” Jesus’ lordship is universal. Because He died and lived again, Jesus alone is Lord of all. The cost Jesus paid to become Lord of the dead and the living was immense. It cost Him His life. It shows how inappropriate it is for anyone else to assume the role of judge. To do so means to usurp Jesus’ authority. There is nothing in all of creation that is outside of Jesus’ lordship and those who are subject to the lordship of Jesus Christ are not merely those who are alive at the present time. All who have died previously are also subject to His authority.
Because all are subject to Jesus, He is the righteous Judge of all. He alone is Judge, and therefore, we should not judge one another because of our convictions. For the essential matters, yes, we need to judge rightly, but for the non-essential things, we are not to judge. So, when Paul mentioned “passing judgement” in verse ten, he was referring back to what he wrote earlier. If you recall, there were two groups of Christians in the church in Rome — the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. The Jewish Christians were the traditionalists. They were probably reluctant to give up certain aspects of their religious heritage and some judged the Gentile Christians for failing to follow “the way it has always been”. The Gentile Christians, on the other hand, were the contemporary folks. They embraced their new freedom in Christ and did not hold to the Jewish traditions. They brought all sorts of new ideas and new ways to do things. Some of them despised the Jewish Christians for holding on to tradition and trying to enforce that tradition on others. One group judged, the other group despised. Neither was right.
Why then, asked Paul, do you weak believers (who abstain from certain things like food and insist on certain days to observe) pass judgment on your brothers in Christ (who do not abstain from such things for the sake of conscience)? Paul was saying that God is their Judge, not you. We have no right to judge another believer for non-essential things. And turning to the strong believers, Paul asked why they held their weaker brothers and sisters in contempt. It was wrong for them to look down on those who were not yet able to set aside their tradition that previously controlled their religious life. God will judge the hearts and convictions of each person. In matters of conviction or preference, we need to leave it to the righteous judgement of God to determine whether one stands or falls. That judgement does not belong to us, therefore Paul said we ought to stop trying to be God to one another. Jesus alone earned the right to be Lord of all.
Everyone Will Bow and Confess Jesus As Lord
At the end of verse ten, Paul wrote that each and every believer will stand before the judgment seat of God. This judgment is not in regard to one’s salvation. Paul was not questioning a believer’s position before God, for we have eternal life when we accept Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 5:24). Paul already wrote, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) We are saved and possess eternal life at the moment we receive Jesus Christ and God adopts us into His family. Every believer will, however, be judged for the quality of his or her faithfulness. In addition to this, Paul also revealed that everyone, believer and non-believer, will one day recognize Jesus Christ as Lord. Look at the next two verses.
Romans 14:11-12 11 for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
This future day of judgment Paul mentioned was foretold by the prophet Isaiah, which Paul quoted in this passage. The prophet Isaiah was quoting God as declaring that He alone is God and there is no other. God also declared through Isaiah, “Every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:22-23) Every person, believer and non-believer, will one day recognize God’s sovereignty and will bow down to Him. In one sense, this ought to comfort us in the sense that God has a missionary focus. He is pursuing all nations to come to Him. In another sense, however, God promises us that He is the Judge and everyone will give an account to Him. This could be frightening. The strong should not despise the weak, and the weak should not judge the strong, for everyone will stand before God on that last day. Paul also quoted the same passage of Isaiah in his letter to the Philippians, where he revealed just who the exalted Judge is that everyone will one day acknowledge. Look at the following passage.
Philippians 2:9–11 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Jesus is the exalted Judge. He is the Lord before whom all people, believer and unbeliever, will acknowledge. Every person will give an account of his life to Jesus at the judgment. Though justification is by faith alone in Christ alone, what those who follow Jesus Christ do will affect God’s evaluation of their service to Him and the rewards they will receive. Every believer “must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) This will be a judgment based on works. Each believer will give an account for how he or she used the gifts, the opportunities, and the responsibilities God gave. God will hold each one of us accountable for how we used what He gave us. What will He say to you? What will His verdict be to you? What we do with what God gives us is the most accurate indicator of what we really believe. Therefore, what do our works reveal about our faith? Just how faithful are we?
For the unbeliever, this ought to be a frightening passage. God is telling us that every person will one day give an account of himself or herself. For those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, they can look forward to eternal life and the riches of heaven. For those who have not trusted in Jesus Christ, they can only look forward to a life separated from God full of misery and pain. If you have never received the grace of God through His Son Jesus Christ, then you are living in open rebellion to God. You are separated from Him and facing eternity in hell. What will you say when you face the judgment seat of Christ? Will you point to some good deeds that you have done? Will you point to your family, your name, or your life in the church? None of these things will save you. Only Jesus Christ can save you. If you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, then do so today, before you have to face the judgment seat of God and hear the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you!”
In closing, this passage tells us a few things about the lordship of Jesus Christ. If we have accepted Him, then we belong to Christ. He owns us. We must live our lives as if He truly owns us and He is calling the shots. Because of His death and resurrection, Jesus is Lord of all. There is no place where His lordship is absent and because Jesus is Lord, we ought to leave judgment in non-essential matters to Him. We have no right to usurp Jesus’ authority over His people. Lastly, this passage reminds us that there will be a final judgment one day in which everyone will bow before Christ and confess Him as Lord. The question is, will you confess Jesus as Lord because you have faith in Him as your Savior, because you have trusted in Him as the only Way to save you from eternal death. Or, will you confess Jesus as Lord because you finally, but too late, realize that He is exactly Who He claimed to be? Will you face the judgment seat of Christ to hear the words, “Well done, my good and faithful servant,” or will you hear the words, “Depart from me, I never knew you.” Each of us then will have to answer to God. What will your answer be?
This sermon was delivered at Good Hope Baptist Church in Wake Forest, NC. More information about Good Hope may be found at the following site: www.GoodHopeBC.org.