Is Sincerity Sometimes Enough?

By Stan Cox

Christians have long objected to the demands for union and tolerance among the denominations. We have rightly pointed out that sincerity is simply not sufficient in deter-mining acceptance before the Almighty. The claim that as long as a person is sincere in his worship, he is accepted by God does not jibe with what is revealed in his will. Notice Matthew 7:21-23, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness! ‘ This text clearly indicates that acceptance by God is dependent upon obedience to him. He is accepted who, “does the will of my Father in heaven.”

Other verses teach the same exact thing. Notice 2 John, verse 9, “Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” John is stating that acceptance by God is contingent upon fidelity to his revelation.

We may notice that God expects us to mark and avoid those with whom he has no fellowship. Following the declaration of John noted above, he further states in verses 10 and 11, “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.”

It is alarming that some brethren are now espousing the fellowship of those who teach certain false doctrines, or engage in certain sinful practices. Such clearly is in conflict with the principles we enumerated. However, some believe that they have found a “loophole” in the fourteenth chapter of Romans. The contention is that the principles outlined in that chapter, in which we are to “receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things” (v. 1), should govern our treatment of conscientious brethren who teach false doctrine.

Some assert that the esteeming of “one day above another” as addressed by Paul in verse 5 constitutes unauthorized worship, and therefore, sin. The claim is that the action violates the principle set forth in Galatians 4:10-11. However, the Scriptures reveal that under certain circumstances, this approving of one day above another is acceptable before God (cf. Col. 2:16-17; Acts 21:15-36). The context of Romans 14 indicates that both of the scenarios (eating of meat and esteeming of one day above another) are matters of no consequence to God. To claim that esteeming one day above another as discussed in the text constitutes unauthorized worship is to place Paul’s command to “receive one who is weak in the faith” in direct conflict with John’s admonition to “. . . not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds.”

Notice the following about the scenarios revealed in the context. First, it was equally right to eat meat or eat only herbs, esteem or not esteem a day, as each is received by God (vv. 3-5). Notice that in the fifth verse, in regard to esteeming one day above another, Paul exhorted each to “be fully convinced in his own mind.” It is ridiculous to suggest that Paul was encouraging a man engaged in sinful practice to be fully convinced in his mind that the practice was acceptable. That is tantamount to Paul telling the brother to believe a lie. If this observance was sinful Paul would be encouraging that sinner to repent.

Additionally, the significance of the phrase, “for God has received him” in verse 3, is that God has received him in his eating of meat. The construction of the Greek, involving the Greek participle translated “him who eats” demands this. Harry Osborne rightly observed this in his written debate with Marshall Patton when he penned, “Therefore, the brethren of Romans 14:3 are described as those God received in their actions of eating and not eating meat. Some try to make God’s accepting of them an event solely connected with their baptism, but this overlooks the use of the participle. The point emphasized is that God ‘received’ them as an `eating one’ and a ‘not eating one.’ Their actions were both right or lawful in and of them-selves” (“Romans 14,” Harry Osborne, Faith and Facts, Vol. 19:1 [Jan. 1991], 19). The force of the grammatical argument brother Osborne uses is devastating, but hardly needed. The context of the passage clearly reveals that the one who God is able to make stand is the one who is eating meat.

Finally, one could observe the day or not observe the day “to the Lord” (v. 6). One note about this third point. Some have objected to the phrase “to the Lord” as indicating that this necessarily proves they were accepted by the Lord.

This argument is specious, as the context clearly indicates just that. Remember that Paul revealed God has received the meat eater in his action. Paul indicated that these men were acceptable before God. No distinction was made between the esteemer of days and his potential antagonist, both were acting “to the Lord.” It is significant that Paul used the two scenarios interchangeably in verse 6 of the text. If one dealt with matters of indifference, and the other with sinful worship, Paul would not have confused us with this coupling.

In effect, God does not care whether one eats or not. God does not care if one esteems one day above another or not. They are matters of indifference to God, and therefore those who disagree should receive one another. To insert matters of consequence to God into this passage does violence to the context. If we decide to fellowship false teachers, adulterers, immoral people, idolaters, etc., based upon the application of these instructions from Paul, we twist his words. In fact, the true meaning of Romans 14 becomes clear in the absurdity of these applications. Saying that any Christian could practice sin, or espouse false doctrine and do it “to the Lord” is farcical! There is no comfort to be found in that great chapter for those who would fellowship error. Brethren, let us remain pure!

Guardian of Truth XXXIX: 8 p. 21-22
April 20, 1995