Home > Bible Study, doctrines, postmodernism, Romans, S. Lewis Johnson > Christian Liberty: Should The Strong Always Yield to the Weak?

Christian Liberty: Should The Strong Always Yield to the Weak?


Much has been said, and often, about Christian liberty.  In some cases it is misrepresented, or certain aspects of it are emphasized while other areas neglected.  Romans 14 and 15, and the S. Lewis Johnson Romans series, consider the proper balance.

Paul’s text presents both sides:  the strong Christian should not look down on the weaker brother who eats only vegetables, and the weak Christian should not despise the strong one who eats everything.  The strong Christian should also take care to not do anything that would cause the weaker brother to stumble or wound his conscience.  In normal situations, though, the strong believer recognizes that everything is of the Lord, that there are no other gods, and so has greater Christian liberty to eat meat and other things which might bother the conscience of a weaker believer.

Christian liberty (of course) refers to morally indifferent things, and not to things which are revealed in the scriptures as clearly wrong or unclean.  The tendency among many believers, though, is to overemphasize only the part about the stronger believer giving up his liberty so as not to injure the weaker brother.  However, as SLJ points out, the strong Christian should not always give up his liberty.  In the first place, all Christians are in the growing process, and the weaker Christians will (or at least should) grow and mature to become strong Christians.  That at least is the goal and the desired outcome.  More significantly, though, when the stronger Christians always give up their liberty, a dangerous situation results in which only the most narrow and “lowest common denominator” belief is set forth as representing true Christianity.  Then the outside world, unbelievers, see this very narrow interpretation – the view of the weakest Christian – as actually being true Christianity.  As Johnson observes:

At times, it is probably proper for us to indulge in our liberty, because after all, what the Bible teaches is important for us to understand.  The cause of Jesus Christ is never advanced by having every strong Christian in a congregation always and completely forego his rights, because what happens then is that the question is settled on the basis of the narrowest and the most prejudiced person in the congregation.  The person who is most narrow in his viewpoint and most prejudiced, it is his viewpoint that ultimately prevails.  … what eventually becomes involved in this is that the outside world then begins to think that a Christian is a person who, if in order to be a Christian, must give up this and must give up that and must give up the other thing, and the result is that our salvation by grace becomes confused with things that have to do with human works.  And thus we give a false picture of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Lord Jesus, I think, illustrates this in the way in which he treated the Sabbath.  It was a day.  And some observe the Sabbath very strictly and others observed it more leniently.  The Lord Jesus did not hesitate to do some things on the Sabbath days that offended the weaker consciences of some of the people in his day.

A few further thoughts … as understood from the context of Romans 14-15, and the similar texts in 1 Corinthians, Christian liberty also has nothing to do with the question of how we handle doctrine, the things revealed and taught in God’s word.  Yet I have seen the concept of “Christian liberty” taught, by the doctrinally shallow and weak, as an excuse for not being dogmatic and certain about what God’s word teaches.  Christian liberty is thus misconstrued to encompass the overall post-modern worldview and its attack on the clarity of God’s word, rather than those things which truly are indifferent.  By such distorted reasoning, certain doctrines, things set forth in God’s word, are equated with the morally indifferent issues of food and drink.  (I have in mind particularly the prophetic word, that which Peter even said we would do well to pay attention to, 2 Peter 1:19.) That error is compounded with imbalance: the idea that one group must always defer to the other; in their case, the ones that are certain about a particular doctrine must yield and “not cause division.”  Thus this twisted view attempts to justify continual biblical ignorance and spiritual babyhood, because after all, these are really things of indifference and those who dare to have an opinion about them are really the ones being divisive and causing trouble.

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  1. June 19, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    That’s it. Christian liberty is not, as the French would say “libertinage doctrinaire.”

  2. June 19, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    Help! I cannot understand the reference to 2 Peter 1:10 fitting…nothing about a prophetic word to pay attention to:
    2 Peter 1:10(KJV) Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall:

    • June 19, 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Oops, a typo, thanks for catching that. It’s 2 Peter 1:19. I’ve updated the post and the link to the correct verse.

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