Have you ever run into a Christian who is all about what you can or can’t do? The Christian life, in their humble opinion, is all about rules, where you can go, what you can eat or drink, what you should or shouldn’t say. Being around such people is tiring…and guilt-inducing.
Romans chapter 14 is about these kinds of folks, and it culminates in a wonderful word in verse 17…
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (ESV)
So the true Christian life in the Kingdom of God is not about rules of eating and drinking and therefore passing judgment on one another; instead it is really about three things:
1. Righteousness. Clearly Paul’s meaning here is the righteousness of Another, imputed to me, for this has been the topic of his letter so far…
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. Romans 3:21, 22 (ESV)
This is what, first and foremost, the Kingdom of God is about: God has loved us so much not only to forgive our sins, but also to give us Christ’s righteousness.
It’s like the story of the man who was deep in debt to a local bank, on the verge of bankruptcy, so he went to the institution in question to see if there was anything they could do to help him. And as he sat down with the bank manager, she told him that she had the most incredible news for him – the bank was going to totally forgive all his debts. The man was now totally debt free. And yet, if you consider it, his condition was in some ways no different than when he had walked in. He was still flat broke. But then she said something even more amazing – the bank was going to put his name on its account books as a holder of all the bank’s assets. Everything the bank now held was his also. He was now wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.
Such is what has happened to us as well. God has not only forgiven us our sins, but He has granted us Christ’s righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:21). We the ungodly are now gloriously rich in righteousness.
2. Peace. People who are about eating and drinking and rules never quite find peace. But righteousness from God leads to this glorious state. Since we are completely righteous in God’s eyes, we need never again fear that God will reject us. Having been justified (declared righteous) by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). My son wrote about this quite wonderfully here.
3. Joy. I hope you’re not surprised to find this one on the list. We shouldn’t be, for these three incredible gifts from God all flow together. If I have peace with God, then all is right with the world – and I am therefore full of joy which leads to all sorts of other wonderful outcomes, like strength (Nehemiah 8:10) and hope.
And Paul has a concluding exhortation: So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. (Romans 14:19) While we want to help one another pursue holiness, and we are called to turn one another from the error of our ways (James 5:20), the best way to do this is not to point the finger and list the rules. To be sure, sometimes we do need to distinquish clear biblical right and wrong for our brothers and sisters, but beyond that we point to the cross and list our hope in Christ. And the end result is righteousness, peace…and joy.
Tomorrow, Thursday, April 9th: Romans 15