Keeping Faith to Yourself
“The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God.”- Romans 14:22a
Jesus has left us free in many areas to follow our consciences. There are objective standards for our conduct, to be sure, and we must deny our consciences if they are telling us to engage in what God declares clearly to be sins. Yet the Lord has also chosen not to speak on many issues, and on those matters we are bound only to do what we believe is the holiest course of action as long as it does not bring harm upon other believers (Rom. 14:14, 19, 20a). To be sure, we must inform our consciences by the Word of God so that we do not bind ourselves where the Lord has released us, and so that we do not fail to understand what is plainly right and what is plainly wrong. Through informing our consciences by Scripture, we will grow in our understanding of just how free we are in Christ.
However, Christian love always shapes Christian freedom. Love is patient (1 Cor. 13:4), so there are times when—out of love for our fellow believers and out of patience in waiting for them to mature in the Lord—we choose not to exercise our freedom publicly. On occasion, as Paul says in today’s passage, we must keep the faith that we have between ourselves and God. The Apostle does not refer here to the content of the Christian faith, the good news of salvation in Christ alone. Paul is not calling us to say nothing about Jesus to others. Instead, the Apostle uses the term faith to refer to our personal convictions of Christian freedom in situations where weaker brothers may not understand or share our views on matters that are morally indifferent in and of themselves. We are never to doubt our freedom in the Lord, but at times the best course of action is to not make a show of it before those who might be enticed to sin against their consciences by our actions. John Murray, in his commentary Romans, writes that the strong “have this conviction in the presence of God and may not surrender it. But they are not to brandish it to the destruction of others.”
In his larger commentary on Romans, Dr. Douglas J. Moo interprets today’s passage thusly: “The ‘strong’ are not to brag about their convictions before the ‘weak’ and, especially, that they are not to propagandize the ‘weak.’ ” Our aim as Christians when it comes to indifferent matters is not to convince weaker brethren that we are right and they are wrong. Our purpose is to live in such a way that we do not put up a stumbling block that will impede immature believers’ sanctification (Rom. 14:3). Our aim is to walk with them toward a greater understanding of Christian freedom, not to beat them over the head with it.
Commentators on this passage also note that the idea of keeping our faith to ourselves does not mean we may never share with weaker believers our convictions regarding matters where God has left us free. We may, and indeed must do so, for that is one of the ways the immature will begin to grasp the true meaning of Christian freedom. But we are not to do so in a pushy or obnoxious way. We are to persuade with gentleness and patience, not with arrogance.
Passages for Further Study
1 Thessalonians 4:9–12
2 Thessalonians 3:11–12