Individual Soul Liberty

     Throughout my time growing up in churches one thing was clear: everyone did things differently. In most cases it shouldn't cause any issues, but there is an off chance that it can. Being in churches since I was born I've seen many different beliefs and attitudes play-out across a wide spectrum of churches and families. Most times they coexisted in harmony with little to no issue However, there were times where a certain group or family thought that their way was the 'right way' and the 'best' way to honor God. Often times these individuals would cause many divisions by treating others poorly, loud lectures and attempting to force their way on others. As a child it confused me, as a teenager it would anger me, as an early adult it would annoy me, and now it just concerns me that many don't understand this topic of Individual Soul Liberty.

     The Bible talks about this issue in depth because apparently this idea of "we do things the best way" has been around since the early church. This of course comes to little to no surprise. Pride can get in the way of many things. The best biblical example of this is probably found in Romans 14.

     Many people are familiar with this passage or at least its contents. In Rome all the meat that was sold to the populace was first offered up before the idols. This caused some debate, and I'm sure some divisions, among the early Christians. Some believed since the meat was offered before false gods it didn't matter. Others believed they shouldn't eat the meat because it was partaking in idolatry. So basically...

Group 1: These false gods are false so to not eat the meat would be stupid.

Group 2: These false gods are idols so to engage in anything surrounding that idolatry is stupid.

     Who was right? Who was wrong? Which group would you have landed in? Let's see what Paul has to say about this issue...

Romans 14:5-12 "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. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 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; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”So then each of us will give an account of himself to God."

     I want you to notice that Paul acknowledges that both groups do so in thanks to the Lord. This is important when talking about various issues that come up. Each do various things in thanks to God. Some may choose to abstain from certain activities while others choose to engage in such activities, but as long as it doesn't go directly against scripture: it's acceptable to God. Each person will give an account to God. Each person is responsible for themselves. Each person has Individual Soul Liberty to make various choices based on their own Spirit lead conscience.

Stumbling Block Principle

     The passage above reads further where Paul continues to talk about something else. He tells us not to be a "stumblingblock". What does that mean?

Romans 14:13-23 "Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding."

      Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin."

     Now many people read this and go "Ah-Ha! See? We should abstain from anything that could offend someone!" or "If a Christian is offended by you doing _____ then you shouldn't do it!" I've also heard people say "If you truly love another Christian you will avoid offending them in all things" Well, let me help clarify this issue. Notice the word he uses is not 'offend' he uses the word 'stumble'. This is important, to offend someone is very different than causing them to stumble. Let me explain...

      If you go to church today people can be offended by anything and everything. I've known people who are offended because my wife wears pants, because of the jeans I wear, or the color of my shirt (i'm not kidding...) not wearing a tie while leading a youth group, not always using a KJV Bible, the music I listen to, and even that I own a TV or gaming console. These are just some of my personal experiences. Most likely you have your own stories. Gauging what people are offended by and trying to predict that is impossible. People can be fickle and can get offended by little things. This is the reality. To live in fear of possibly offending someone and avoiding all things that could offend would put us not only subjective to the views of man, but be impossible to predict. (See more on this topic here) This is why Paul is not referring to offending, but instead stumbling.

      This becomes more clear when we discuss what's happening within the context. Causing someone to stumble means to actually cause a spiritual issue within a person. Possibly pulling them back to their worldly ways before they were Christians. In short stumbling someone is tempting them to go back to their previous sinful nature. Before these Christians believed in the Lord Jesus Christ who did they worship?


     They worshiped the idols the meat was offered to. So here you have these new converts being told that these were "false gods" and not to worship them, then they turn around and see Christians from church waltzing up to the temples, snatching up meat, and eating it. Suddenly the new convert is like "wait..didn't I see him at church? Why is he going to the idolatrous temple?" Which could cause a weaker and newer Christian to stumble back into idol worship, engaging back in paganism, or being drawn away by old friends. This is very different than offending someone.

Here's a practical application...

     I've written on how drinking alcohol is not a sin. Now, if I have a friend who struggles with any kind of substance abuse, especially alcohol, and we invite him over for dinner, serve wine with our meal, then that is putting a stumbling block directly in front of a weaker brother. There are many examples of how this could be applied, but bottom line is if you love your brother you will help prevent him from stumbling in his spiritual walk. Paul deals with this kind of issue again with the church of Corinth.

I Corinthians 8:1-3​ "Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God."

     Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

      However, not all possess this knowledge. But some, through former association with idols, eat food as really offered to an idol, and their conscience, being weak, is defiled. Food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do. But take care that this right of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died. Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble."

      Notice how Paul points out that this is for a 'weaker' brother. This emphasizes that we are not talking about offending, but instead stumbling. Jesus offended many people with His teachings (ask the chief priests) the fact that He did miracles on the Sabbath offended them. Paul was talking to Christians who were not thinking about how their actions could hurt a new convert. A convert who is trying to honor the Lord and may still be spiritually weak or vulnerable..

Regarding this Liberty of Yours

     Let me be clear, we all have liberty in Christ and each and every one of us will choose to engage or not engage in various activities based on our own conclusions or consciences. No one's way is better than another's. Remember, Christ died to free you not to bind you. However, a few notes about this soul liberty of yours.

1) We are each responsible for ourselves and our own walk with God. God holds us each individually responsible and we will all give an account. In short, worry about your life, and you will find you have a lot less time to stress out about other's lives.

2) Individual Soul Liberty is not a license to sin against scripture. Your liberty is in Christ, therefore, within the boundaries of scripture.

3) A believer should not use their liberty in a fashion that could hurt another's spiritual walk.

4) Stumbling someone's walk is different than someone being offended. If a mature Christian is becoming easily offended because they don't 'like' something, then they are causing divisions based on their own opinions and preferences and thereby causing division. Division is caused by worldliness (1 Cor. 3)

5) Liberty does not permit one to be separate from the local Body of Christ. We are all commanded to fellowship and engage in the assembly of Believers. Your liberty does not excuse you from that responsibility. You still ought to be engaged in a church.

6) No one should attempt to force or push their own thoughts and standards on another Christian. We all walk our Christian walk differently. Show respect in all things.

7) Liberty means the individual is free to hold their own beliefs, thoughts, and standards. Even if what the individual believes goes against what many would consider to be conventional wisdom or the cultural norm. All that Christians do ought to be first rooted in scripture.

     Many people acknowledge this doctrine, but few seem to actually apply it. Many seem to have the mindset of "We all have individual soul liberty, but we prefer you not to use it..." and this is not allowing each person's relationship with the Lord to grow individually, and even bottle-necks the work of the Holy Spirit.

     In short, we all have freedoms and each Christian will live this out differently. We shouldn't let these differences divide us or allow us to be offended by what another Christian chooses to engage in. (unless it's directly contrary to scripture) Also, none of our rules, standards, or ways of living are better than another person's. We must acknowledge that this liberty exists or else we can dangerously fall into a rigid performance based Christianity and that is exactly what the Bible teaches against. Remember, to honor God and his authority in all your choices, and everything else will fall into place.

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