Question: At the end of Romans 14 it is talking about eating. The very last verse, 23 ends with, “for whatever does not originate and proceed from faith is sin.” Can this apply to other activities as well? Does the word faith in this verse mean being confident that God approves of the action?
This is a great question, one whose answer will help us better understand the scripture. We must remember, first and foremost, though scripture is written for us, it was not written to us. Romans for example was written to the Roman Christians. Not only that, it was written to them addressing certain issues of their time. Misunderstanding this can at times lead to misunderstanding certain things like tithing, women preachers, and various customs and ordinances. As we learn, we need to be able to sort out which things are specific direction for us and which things are principle.
This is one of those cases. Paul is in fact talking about food. But here he adds something to the verse helpful to us, and the word is translated “whatever”. Yes the truth here is that eating without faith is wrong, which we can clearly see is the point. But by adding “whatever” to it he is expanding it to apply to more. Whatever we cannot do in faith, is indeed sin.
There is another scripture that similarly can confuse people. Mark 16:16 (NASB) says, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” Some have used this to try and prove a point that one needs to be baptized in order to be saved. However, if you look at it carefully, it says the one condemned is the one who has not believed. Condemnation does not come from not being baptized, it comes from not believing. In fact, without believing, baptism means nothing. I would say here also that baptism can be a proof of belief, not the proof of salvation. I’m sure there are people who have been baptized and yet remain unsaved.
The word faith used here is the same one we commonly use and is best translated trust in God. Romans 14 brings out an interesting concept I think we can often over look. That is, how something that is not necessarily spelled out as sinful can become sin if it cannot be done while trusting God. The reason for this is because God desires us to be sensitive to our consciences. This is the first place as we grow that we learn the guiding of the Holy Spirit. If we don’t stay sensitive to our conscience when we are young, it will be harder for God to get through to us when we are older.
An example of this is the times and societies we live in. If you travel to a violent war torn area of the world, you will discover people, even children, who are much more calloused to danger. They grow so accustomed to it that it is just normal to them. That is because they are desensitized to it. It doesn’t mean they enjoy it, it just doesn’t have the same effect on them as it does someone who has never experienced it. The first time I saw an animal butchered was when I was an adult. As a result, it has never been easy for me to just think about doing that.
This faith sensitivity is what helps us to stay right in our Heavenly Father’s eyes. We do not ever want to grow desensitized in our spirits or our consciences. When we know God approves of an action then we can do it freely as long as we maintain that peace. This is how the Truth sets us free. It takes away the bondages of what we do by revealing to us what God approves. Christians who don’t spend time in the Word or with God often get in trouble at this point.
It’s in this place of learning what God approves that we learn the voice of our God! Keep your conscience clear and look for His direction when you are deciding to do something. God will lead you into His truth and blessing, when you know what it is He approves.