What does it mean to be truly equal to someone else? We spend most of our lives comparing ourselves to others, whether it is our accomplishments, our talents, or even our faults. But as believers, we should recognize that we are all equal before God. Paul understood this clearly and incorporated this into his teachings to the early Christian church.
He says in Romans 14:11…
“For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.”
This is an important truth, but Paul unpacks it here in the midst of a lesson about judging others. So why would he put these two thoughts together?
Why We Will All Bow Before God
God’s sovereignty is one of His defining characteristics. One way this power shows itself is in how we will all ultimately bow before Him when He makes heaven and earth brand-new.
Throughout the Bible, God proclaims that all peoples and nations, tribes and tongues, will be subject to him regardless of how much power we accumulate in this life. The phrase “every knee shall bow” is found in several places in Scripture as a testimony to how God will rule over us (Philippians 2:10, Romans 14:11, Isaiah 45:23). Elsewhere, prophets, apostles, and even Jesus Himself declare that God rules over us all (Revelation 5:13, John 12:32, Romans 11:36, Matthew 11:27, Ephesians 1:10).
When this concept is cited in Scripture, it usually means that we will all finally recognize that we cannot stand before God and win on our own merit. We all stand equally sinful before God, and we all have broken His covenant and His law. The grace of God through the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only way to satisfy our debt to Him and be reconciled to Him (Colossians 1:21).
Paul’s Teaching About Equality in Judgment
Although we can usually think of the phrase “every knee shall bow” in our relationship with God, Paul chooses to insert this into a lesson on how we judge others.
Much of the book of Romans revolves around clearing up key points of doctrine and belief. However, true to form with his other letters, Paul ends with a few chapters of practical application and instruction. Chapter 14 focuses on how you should relate to a fellow believer who has a more sensitive conscience.
He gives examples of someone who has objections to certain types of foods (Romans 14:2-3) and of someone who values a certain day over another (Romans 14:5). In each parallel example, one person’s faith allows him to eat any food or work on any day, and another person’s faith keeps him from eating certain foods or working on certain days. In Paul’s time, these were questions the church wrestled with in regards to a person’s salvation.
Paul’s consistent witness and teaching was that belief in Jesus Christ was the only central element to the Gospel (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). In this context in Romans, he applies that teaching to state that we should not pass judgment on other believers because of what their individual convictions of the Holy Spirit tells them what to do or not do. To Paul, either action or inaction in any circumstance should be done with an eye toward God and not to others (Romans 14:6-8).
He then condemns those who would pass judgment and places that sinful frame of mind in the context of God’s judgment over every human soul. He applies the universal truth of our submission to God to this specific area of application by teaching us that we will all be required to give an account for our actions to God (Romans 14:12), and so if we believe an action is sinful then we should abstain, and if we believe an action is allowed then we are free to do it. Either way, God’s blessing will still be valid if we live our lives seeking His glory and lordship.
How Does This Truth Impact How We Relate to Others?
There are so many areas of Christian teaching that can cause division. Certainly, central elements of the Gospel and of what we believe should be the same no matter what denomination you belong to, or what church building you worship in. For example, belief in an almighty God; the sinful nature of mankind; the sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation; and Jesus’ oneness with the Father as fully God and fully man should always be the bedrock of what we believe.
However, there are many aspects of corporate worship, individual discipline, or doctrinal standards that cause as much division now as they did in Paul’s day. Look to any modern denominational conference, and you will see heated arguments over the church’s position on key social issues, our commitment to curing the ills of the world around us, what kind of music to play during a service, terms and conditions of baptism, alignment with conservative or liberal theology – the list goes on indefinitely.
While careful study and attention to the Word of God as the only source of teaching is essential for all Christians, an argument over what kind of food we should eat or whether Christians are allowed to work on Sunday is nowhere required of believers as essential to salvation. In these things, we should lovingly submit to each other and build each other up.
It has been said in church history: “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” As long as we do not use our religious beliefs as a crutch to spread hatred, and as long as we hold tight to the truth of the Gospel of the Bible, we should be quick to accept the sincerely-held religious convictions of others so that we all can stand before God with a clear conscience. As Romans 14:4 says, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand.”
Expert Overview of Romans Ch. 5-16
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.