On COVID-19, Romans 14 & The Conviction You Keep

People picnic social distancing

One of the marks of a certain type of bad man is that he cannot give up a thing himself without wanting every one else to give it up. That is not the Christian way. An individual Christian may see fit to give up all sorts of things for special reasons–marriage, or meat, or beer, or the cinema; but the moment he starts saying the things are bad in themselves, or looking down his nose at other people who do use them, he has taken the wrong turning.

-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

The recent loosening of stay-at-home orders has ramped up fear of missing out for countless Americans. Friends agonize on a high wire between fear of death on the one hand and fear of missing out on life on the other. It’s FOMO on steroids. Many lack conviction.

Apart from the temptation to let fear dominate us are these others Lewis described: To say the things are bad (wearing masks, singing in church) or that the people who practice- or don’t practice these- are unloving or bad. That quote has been heavy on my mind as our country opens up.

The purpose of this post is not to persuade you to eat inside or make it a picnic, to go out or to stay home, to wear a mask or not wear a mask.

My purpose is to share a bold, jarring truth, a truth Paul proclaimed to those with strong, and opposing, convictions in the Roman church to- get this- promote peace.

Ready?

Disputable Matters & Conviction

Opposing behaviors in disputable matters may both glorify God.

Before I back that bombshell up, we must define disputable matters.

Disputable matters are subjects on which the Bible does not prescribe the right way. In the church of Rome, some Christians felt they could not eat meat, drink wine, or celebrate certain holidays. Those were disputable.

However, adultery and pride, lying and stealing, gossip and envy, to name a few, are not disputable. They are never right. God has spoken on those. And he does not change his mind. (Numbers 23:19)

Jack Arnold offers this background Romans 14. What he calls “doubtful practices” are also called “disputable matters,” or “non-essentials.”

A weaker brother in Romans 14 was one who insisted that because they held the conviction that something was wrong it must be wrong for everyone else. Note: They were not weak because they did not practice these doubtful things, but because they judged others who did. So Paul told them not to judge or condemn others who held opposite convictions.

Which is, as Lewis wrote, a marks of a certain type of bad man.

3 Bad Attitudes about (Coronavirus) Conviction

When you throw mud at others you not only get dirty, you lose a lot of ground.Ravi Zacharias

C.S. Lewis talked about the badness of “looking down his nose” at someone who feels more free to do a thing than we. There are also these three:

1. Irritation. Impatient annoyance gets us nowhere. However much we may disagree, we must try to see the other person’s point of view.

2. Ridicule. No one remains unwounded when that which he thinks precious is laughed at. No one has a right to laugh at what another holds sacred.

3. Contempt. To scorn and disdain is unloving. William Barclay notesOf all attitudes towards our fellow man the most unchristian is contempt.

The point: Have your convictions. Make them motivated by love and faith, to the glory of God. But recognize that there are many paths to the same end. My husband and I take different routes to town. I take Johnson Road and he takes Potter. My route is steeper, his his longer. But, both roads get us there.

Paul’s plea is that the common goal should unite us and the differing routes should not divide.

Each One Should Be Fully Convinced

Romans 14:5 says, “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Note well: Paul does not say “lighten up,” or “let it be.” He says, “Where you see things differently- be fully convinced.” This is not what we would expect.

In a timely message on this text, John Piper says what we’re thinking.

He is not saying as a kind of concession, Each one can have his own conviction. He is saying, Each one should have his own conviction. It’s a command, not a permission: “Let each one be fully persuaded in his own mind.”…It’s the same idea that we find in Romans 14:23, “Whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” In other words, minor matters do not call for mushy faith or flimsy convictions. They call for clear faith and full conviction.

Romans 14 says that Christians who disagree on non-essential things like these can do opposite things to the glory of God. 

Shocking as it may sound, dinner with friends or takeout at home, can both be done by faith, with conviction, to the glory of God.

“Let each one be fully convinced in his own mind.” If God has convicted you that something is wrong- that wearing a mask or dinner with friends is wrong- then you must not do it, but this does not mean that this same act is wrong for another Christian in the area of doubtful things. 

But, whatever is not from faith is sin.

Whatever is Not from Faith is Sin

Romans 14:23 says, Whatever is not from faith is sin. And without faith it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith looks forward to the promises of God, believing that He will keep his word.

If he says all things work for good to those who love him (Rom. 8:28), we believe they do. If he says he will supply all your needs (Phil. 4:19), we believe he will. Which means, by the way, that if we don’t have it, we don’t need it.

In a message on Romans 14:23- 40 years before all this COVID-19 chaos- John Piper said, Coming to church may be sin, staying home may be sin. Eating steak might be a sin, not eating steak might be a sin…Sin is not a list.

Because faith is not a list.

Conviction Comes To You Of Little Faith

To you who still feel anxious and panicky and just not convinced, Jesus loves you. You say, Abigail, easy for you. You’re healthy as a horse and don’t have a family member with fragile health. We just don’t know what’s coming.

Granted.

But guess what? No one but the Good Lord knows what’s coming. My choices must be borne of faith as much as yours. I don’t know if there’ll be another spike in COVID-19 deaths. We don’t know if we’ll get sick from having friend over for dinner or singing maskless at church. You don’t know if you are hugging a friend who is an asymptomatic carrier or if that hug might might do more harm to your body or good for your soul.

We just don’t know.

Exactly. That’s what faith must be: the conviction of things unseen. Unseen.

But, as Paul says in Romans 14, be fully convinced. Do your research and say your prayers and believe that God will care of you through whatever decisions you make, come what may. Have your conviction and carry on.

We walk by faith, not by sight.

Jesus’ Death Defeats FOMO

Let’s not be those who drown in information and starve for wisdom. The research– for and against– is ever new and at our fingertips. What seems obviously good and loving to one person is not so clear to another.

But whoever said love always looks the same?

We don’t need the CDC to tell us that ten out of ten people will die. And still no evil shall befall you. Christians are united by faith to the One whose own death broke “the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil.— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14-15) It’s not just that Christians aren’t afraid of rejection or affliction- it’s that they are free from the fear of death!

Yes, there is wisdom in caution. But he who observes the wind will not sow. We must move forward in our convictions.

The Best Response To (Others’) Fear

Finally, I offer this advice to you who have moved forward in faith with conviction but love someone who is afraid: The best response to fear is to live free of it. And be as gracious as you can be. (Douglas Wilson’s to C.W.’s “Letter to the Editor“)

Back to Romans 14. As if to prove the point that opposite extremes can both glorify God, Paul adds in verse 8: If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 

Talk about taking an argument to its logical end. Living and dying. Both can glorify God. I write this on Memorial Day. All gave some and some gave all. In God’s providence, some faithful soldiers lived to ripe old ages and some died on beaches. Life and death- BOTH to the glory of God.

And if God would ordain some live to his glory and some die to his glory, might he ordain that some don masks by faith, to his glory and some don’t, also by faith to his glory ?

That’s it, folks-Romans 14, Memorial Day, and COVID-19 together. Here’s the end of all three: Live free from fear. Be fully convinced.

And be as gracious as you can be.

Whatever you do, whether you eat or whether you drink, do all to the glory of God.

1 Corinthians 10:31

Fail

When I dropped the ball (and what good came of it.)

The little twist in my gut tightened. As the team talked on, vague unease suddenly turned sure-fire shame. Yup. I did. I dropped the ball. 
Not epic, still big.  
Honestly, I dropped the ball two months ago, but didn’t realize until last week. It wasn’t super huge, nor super heavy. But still, I failed. I forgot. I dropped the ball and didn’t follow-up when I said I would. 
“I totally dropped the ball. I’m so sorry,” I choked to my colleagues around me. 
The ball had left an impression where it fell, there at the long formica-topped table. My lapse would cost the team extra time, more work. My boss would take the force of my fail. 
“Forty lashes,” she quipped, only half-joking. And we began picking up the pieces.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the (humble) Pie 

Surprise gets our attention. Break a pattern and you’ll command attention, write Chip and Dan Heath, authors of Made To Stick. Dropped balls, big mistakes, and even little lapses in the patterns of our lives grab our attention. They jolt us out of our routine. The aftershocks keep our attention.
Mistake refocus our vision. We see that our failures don’t fold God’s plans. He restores our souls and redeems our fails. He deals in dropped balls and works in weakness. His power is perfected in weakness. God gives grace to the humble.
We get up and hope on. O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities (Psalm 130:7-8) 

Judge Not

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. It was scrawled in bathroom stall back in college. I forget it. But when I dropped the ball, it came flooding back. 


Was it just 48 hours ago I’d sunk to play smug judge? I hate to admit it was. The nature of my judging matters here, because the best correction always fits the crime

It wasn’t out loud, like the Pharisee’s. But it was there, self-righteous, under my breath: 

Thank you Lord, that I’m not like one of those- those micromanaging, detail-oriented friends who get overwhelmed in minutia. Thank you, Lord, that I sit loose and rest in my broad-minded, don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff, perspective.

should have applied more Dry Idea.


Sweet Truth #1: Our failure reveals sinful layers might might otherwise lay hidden. For me, it was the “some smug judge” layer (I fear there’s still more.). 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 (Romans 14:10). 


We’ll all stand, big-picture and detail-people alike. So be kind. 


Embrace Weakness

If we never see our failure, one wise man said, we’re either blind or we haven’t taken enough risks.

It’s not as if I had the world on a string. I wasn’t exactly coasting through the last month at work. But maybe a slight saunter, a little too much self-reliance and basking in the glow of modest achievement. A good performance review here, colleague compliments there. 

But weak is where He wants us. Weak means we know we’re deficient and lacking. It means we don’t have what it takes to keep all the balls in the air on our own. I know I can’t say I’d prayed for his strength at work. For friends and family, sure. For missionaries, definitely. But his help at work? Umm. Not so much.

Sweet Truth #2: When the ball falls, we see what was true all along: we’re weak and desperately need a strong God. My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness…For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses…(2 Corinthians 12:9-10).

God loves us where we are, but-praise be, way too much to leave us there.

Forgive Others As Yourself.  

I still wince recalling how I dropped the ball. It’s uncomfortable. I wish I hadn’t done it. I dislike-I loathe-the fact that I’d break my word.

So I stop thinking of it. I forgive myself and keep right on going. It’s just like C.S. Lewis said we must do, we for whom forgiveness is a non-negotiable.

But that doesn’t make it easy. Lewis explores how it is that we forgive those who sin against us.

Apparently ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ does not mean ‘feel fond of him’ or ‘find him attractive’. Do I think well of myself, think myself a nice chap? … In my most clear-sighted moments not only do I not think myself a nice man, but I know that I am a very nasty one. I can look at some of the things I have done with horror and loathing. So apparently I am allowed to loathe and hate some of the things my enemies do…to hate the sin but not the sinner.

For a long time I used to think this a silly, straw-splitting distinction: how could you hate what a man did and not hate the man? But years later it occurred to me that there was one man to whom I had been doing this all my life-namely myself. However much I might dislike my own cowardice or conceit or greed, I went on loving myself… In fact, the very reason why I hated the things was that I loved the man. Just because I loved myself, I was sorry to find that I was the sort of man who did those things. Consequently, Christianity does not want us to reduce by one atom the hatred we feel for cruelty and treachery…But it does want us to hate them in the same way in which we hate things in ourselves: being sorry that the man should have done such things, and hoping, if it is anyway, possible that somehow, sometime, somewhere he can be cured and made human again.  (Mere Christianity, “Forgiveness”)

Sweet Truth #3: We must forgive others as God forgives us, and as we forgive ourselves. We fail and feel bad we’re the sort who do those things. But then, we forgive ourselves. Let’s forgive others the same way: Sorry to find that the man should have done it and loving him still. 

Forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:13).

We all fail and fall down. The righteous get back up. 

Next time you fail and drop the ball- no matter how big or small-just take a breath. Look to Christ and get back in the game. No good thing does he withhold. He disciplines us for our good. Taste and see his goodness. It’s there to be found, even in your failure.

Righteous fall. We all drop the ball. And in God’s good time, we can even be restored, remade, better, more human than before.

“For the righteous falls seven times, and rises again…” 
Proverbs 24:16