Romans 14
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Principles Governing a TG’s Behavior in Christ-Romans 14

A guide for dealing with disputable issues with emphasis on transgendered living

Disputable issues are those areas of Christian living that are not clearly defined in the Bible; the “gray” areas. These issues are often the greatest cause for conflict within churches and between believers. Rarely are doctrinal issues or statements of faith the source of disagreements or divides. Where the Scriptures are clear the Church has, in general, developed a remarkable degree of unity. Where the Scripture is less clear – in these disputable areas (which would include transgendered living) - is where believers often assume that their perspective (or tradition, culture, personal bias) is the superior one to which all others must subscribe or else be relegated to the category of “sub-Christian”. This is the very issue which the Apostle Paul addresses in Romans 14; how do we deal with matters that are not sin but for which we may have differing beliefs. [Readers are encouraged to read the entire chapter for the context of all Bible references. Relevant passages are included for easy reference. All references are from the New International Version.]

Romans 14: 1 - Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

 Romans 14 is often referred to as the text dealing with relationships between the weaker and stronger Christians. While this descriptor is helpful, it can also get in the way since those with difficulties or hang-ups concerning the freedoms that other believers may have are classified as the “weaker” Christians when in reality they often see themselves as the morally or spiritually stronger due to their more “disciplined” ascetic lifestyle (in spite of Paul’s reminder in Colossians).

Colossians 2:13,14 & 20-23, 13 - When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.  

The opportunity for constructive dialogue might be greater if we look at Romans 14 as a guide for dealing with “disputable”, non-essential areas in our Christian walk. (The “non-essential” language comes from Augustine: “In essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.” His argument was that believers should unite around what is absolutely critical, give liberty in areas that are not essential to our salvation, and be led by love/charity in all things.).  The discussion might be best framed by setting it in the larger context of discerning between sin and disputable areas in our lives and learning how to deal with each Biblically. How do we do that?

 The starting point for every believer should always be to ask if the action or thought they are examining is sin. Sin can be defined as doing what God clearly says not to do and/or not doing what God clearly says to do. Anything that separates us from God’s desire for us is sin. The Bible is clear about many things that are identified as sin. When we use good practices of Biblical interpretation there is usually little doubt about what can be clearly labeled “sin”. As a believer, if the Holy Spirit reveals to us some from of sin in our lives we must seek to stop sinning (even as we recognize that this side of Heaven sin will always be a struggle) and repent and turn back to a more faithful, God-honoring life. It is an action we may have to repeat more than once. If it is not clear that something is sin, we still should proceed with caution.

 Many things that aren’t sin can lead to sin. Eating cream puffs is not a sin for most of us, but can lead (like all food) to gluttony. Drinking wine is not sin, drunkenness is. Sexual appetites and desires can be part of a meaningful, God-honoring marriage or they can lead to vices which destroy our walk with God. Even apparent virtues can become vices; a practice of the Pharisees for which Jesus reserved some of his harshest language. So, even something that is not inherently sinful must be practiced with temperance and caution to avoid the sin trap. Paul’s reminder that we should do everything for the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31) is a good measuring stick. Is what I am doing for the glory of God? Is God glorified in my actions and my attitudes?

 Where Romans 14 adds even another layer of Christian responsibility is in our relationship to other believers in Christ. It is possible that the exercise of my freedom in Christ may lead others to sin against the dictates of their own conscience, based on their level of spiritual maturity. Paul makes two important points in terms of the responsibility of the more mature believer. First, we should not flaunt our freedom in Christ but be sensitive to those who are still growing in their understanding and experience of liberating grace. Second, we must not let our freedom in Christ – what we know to be good – to be spoken of as evil (v. 16). Note that Paul does not say abandon your freedom, but rather he stresses the importance of exercising freedom in a responsible way.

 The starting point for the believer’s exercise of freedom is first to be firmly convinced that the freedom is ours. We must clearly see our freedom in Christ as something that is neither directly prohibited by Scripture nor in direct violation of any clear, applicable Biblical (not cultural or traditional) principles. With a clear conscience the believer (“strong” believer in Paul’s language – we might say “mature”) lives in grace with no doubts that God is glorified in his/her position. 

Romans 14:23 - 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. 

From this starting point the believer exercises two responsibilities in his or her relationship with other believers. First, the more mature believer makes every effort to not cause the “weaker” brother with less freedom to act against their own conscience.

 Romans 14:1 & 13-15 1Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 14As one who is in the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is unclean. 15If your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.

This does not mean abandoning one’s freedom in Christ, but it does mean responsible use of it. Paul did not abandon eating meat, but would do so temporarily when in the presence of those he knew would be troubled by his freedom. The responsibility of the more mature believer is for temporary restraint of the exercise of our freedom when we know it is problematic for others. 

The second responsibility of the more mature believer is less talked about but even more important. This is the responsibility to make sure that what we know is good is not called evil.

 Romans 14:16 - 16Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil.

Colossians 2: 20-23 - 20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21"Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!"? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

 

In many ways this is the greater responsibility because it implies the need to seize the teachable moments when the weaker or less mature believer brings a disputable area and use it as an opportunity to help this believer grow in their freedom in Christ. The disputable areas are often areas where less mature believers are still captive to human tradition or legalism. The opportunity for us (transgendered believers) is to make sure that our freedom in Christ is not “spoken of as evil”. In doing so, the mature believer provides an opportunity for God’s grace to undo the chains of bondage to spiritually unhealthy, cultural, man-made laws (see Colossians 2:13,14 & 20-23 as referenced earlier). The mandate to “make every effort to do what leads to peace” is balanced and offset by the mandate to “mutual edification”.  

Romans 14:19 19Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 

The mature believer does not surrender his or her freedom to a “peace” that ignores the truth.                       

A third aspect about our relationship to others in the body of Christ is to recognize that there will always be some with more maturity than us and some with less. As we have seen, our dual responsibility to those with less freedom is to see that our liberty in Christ does not due any damage to their faith and to help them to grow in their knowledge of the grace of God. At the same time, our responsibility to those with more freedom is to not judge them simply because they do not adhere to the position we have taken on a disputable matter and think about the possibility that we may still have room to grow.  

Romans 14:3 & 13  3The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. 13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way. 

One final relational issue has to do with our response when other believers approach us, convinced that the freedom we are exercising is not something that is disputable but rather something that is sin. Paul speaks to this circumstance as well in reminding us to be absolutely sure in our hearts that what we are doing is good.  

Romans 14:5 & 22, 23 5One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 22So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. 

The mature believer will accept the invitation from other believers (in keeping with the principles of Matthew 18:15-20) to look at the Scriptures to see if a behavior or attitude we believe is freedom might really be sin.  

Matthew 18: 15-20 15"If your brother sins against you go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. 16But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.17If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.
18"I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.
19"Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them."  

The important caution here is to remember the principles addressed earlier and be sure that what is called sin is clearly and biblically defined as sin using established principles of interpretation. While all of us are capable of blind spots in examining our own lives, the zeal of those living under law (enslaved to legalism and man-made rules) and not living under liberating grace often causes them to see the speck in the eye of another and ignore the log in their own.  

Matthew 7:1-5  1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.  

We must be ready to repent of sin that the Holy Spirit (not self-appointed designees) convicts us. At the same time we must remain vigilant in defense of the grace-given liberty that we have in Christ. The Kingdom of God is not served well when the liberties that grace brings are abandoned to protect the chains to law or culture of the less mature believer. It is then that we must not let the truth we know to be spoken of as evil and be willing to speak the truth in responsible love.  

Ephesians 4:14-16 14Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. 15Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. 16From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. 

How does all of this apply to the transgendered Christian? Our expression of our transgendered lives is an area of freedom and not sin. The Bible does not address (much less condemn) the transgenderedness that is us. We too are made in the image of God. Others may have problems with who we are or how we express our freedom in Christ, but that simply makes it a disputable area subject to the principles that Paul outlines in Romans 14.  

To summarize, here are the key points of direct application:

1.                  Be absolutely convinced that your expressions of your transgendered nature are not sinful and are God-honoring.

2.                  Don’t flaunt your freedom. Be mindful of the believer that has less liberty than you. Don’t wound them unnecessarily.

3.                  At the same time, be ready to defend your freedom in Christ against those that would call it evil. Do so gently, patiently, Biblically, and, if needed, persistently.

4.                  Be always ready to be convinced by Scripture and the Holy Spirit that sin may be in your life and need to be dealt with.

5.                  Don’t back down from the freedom and celebrative life that God has called you to. Praise God – in word and deed - for how He has made you, where He has led you, and what He is still doing in your life. 

Our transgendered lives are gifts from God to be used responsibly for His glory and the good of the body of Christ.  

1 Corinthians 12:4-7 & 27 4There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6There are different kinds of working, but the same God works all of them n all men. 7Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 27Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 

May God give us the grace, peace, and fortitude to do so.

 

Last modified: 12/24/13