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LIFE > Life in the World > Drinkers of Wine > Christian Freedom > Three Believers   


Three different kinds of believers are living the Christian life and must relate to each other: the weak, the strong, and the legalist. The weak has no knowledge of his liberty in Christ; the strong has the knowledge and embraces the knowledge; the legalist has been given the knowledge, but maintains a previous mindset or a current pious mindset, rejecting the idea and implications of liberty. He moves from being a weak believer to being a legalistic believer.

When the weak believer rejects his freedom in Christ, he also does not accept it for others. When freedom is not granted, a judgmental attitude develops. And when he judges, it is a legalistic judgment, condemning others for doing what is their right to do. Legalistic Christians can be troublesome, aggravating, and exasperating. They judge with a judgment that is vicious and pious, thinking all the while they are spiritual. The strong must not seek to please the legalistic person. Jesus did not.

Limitations placed on the strong believer in the New Testament were not placed on him so he would have to honor the legalism of a brother, but to honor the genuine concern of a brother based upon his previous practices associated with his worship and lifestyle, either in Judaism or paganism.

The limitations focus on the concern of a weak brother because of his pre-believing mindset that has been brought into his believing life; he has not grown sufficiently, become knowledgeable, and come to understand what he has and who he is in Christ. The strong is not to despise the weak nor is the weak to despise the strong, neither judging the actions and motives of the other. Kindness is to be shown to the legalistic brother, but it is a one-way street if one seeks to meet his stipulations.

Weakness cannot be used by one believer to justify manipulation of, or dictation to, another believer regarding that believer’s manner of life. Weakness cannot be used to denounce or censor others. It cannot be used as a basis to forward one’s own concept of spirituality. For one to know enough to claim that he is weak or his conscience has been wounded reveals that the person is not a weak brother but a legalistic brother. To be able to make such a claim reveals more than a cursory knowledge of Scripture.

At times a strong believer must exhibit his strength. In his Commentary of the Epistle to the Romans, Charles Hodge observed: “It is often necessary to assert our Christian liberty at the expense of incurring censure, and offending even good men, in order that right principles of duty may be preserved” (430). David Brown, Principal and Professor of Divinity at Free Church College, Aberdeen, Scotland, in The Epistle to the Romans stated:

Manifestly, the apostle is treating of the regulation of the Christian’s conduct with reference simply to the prejudices of the weak in faith; and his directions are to be considered not as prescriptions for one’s entire lifetime, even to promote the good of men of a large scale, but simply as cautions against the too free use of Christian liberty in matters where other Christians, through weakness, are not persuaded that such liberty is divinely allowed. How far the principle involved in this may be legitimately extended, we do not inquire here; but ere we consider that question, it is of great importance to fix how far it is here actually expressed, and what is the precise nature of the illustration given of it (135).

A sampling of the commentaries of Romans and Corinthians reveals hardly any attention given to the topic of how long deference should be shown to the “weak.” The above two quotes are the exception.

There is a definite difference between a “weak brother” and a “legalistic brother”; Christian liberty is to be conditioned by weakness, not limited by legalism. It is not mandatory for a believer to limit his freedom for a lifetime, just to please or pacify a so-called “weak brother,” who is not really weak but is legalistic and determined to force others to submit to his peculiar understanding of what constitutes sanctified living.

The question is legitimate and the answer is obvious: “Would Paul continue to show deference to one he instructed with the Truth and who stubbornly refused to live according to the Truth?”

When the time to drink wine comes,
drink it.
Chinese Proverb

Return to: Christian Freedom; Next Article: Conclusion

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