22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.
23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (NIV)
Romans 14 verses 22-23 are about convictions. Particularly, these verses are about having convictions concerning what some people might call “disputable matters” or “gray areas.” That is what is meant by the term “these things” in verse 22. Paul is talking primarily about eating meat which had been sacrificed to an idol in Romans chapter 14. The Christian who is strong in faith realizes that there is nothing inherently wrong with the meat. But the Christian who is weaker in faith believes that such an action would be a sin. By extension, we can take this principle of eating meat and apply it to other “disputable matters.” The Christian who is strong in faith realizes the extent of the liberty he has in Jesus Christ. The weaker brother or sister may still have reservations based on their culture, upbringing, or bad teaching. So, as we consider the matter of the strong Christian and the weak Christian, you will find that there is a contrast between belief and doubt in these two verses, Romans 14:22-23.
First, let’s examine the matter of belief. This is seen in verse 22. “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (NIV) This verse is primarily aimed at the Christian who is strong in faith. And there are two ideas in this verse that we need to comprehend. First, the convictions which you hold, particularly regarding disputable matters, are between you and God. This is seen in the first half of verse 22. “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.” (NIV) We examined this idea in detail when we considered Holiness Principle #3, but it bears repeating here. This is particularly aimed at the Christian who is strong in faith and has strong convictions. I must realize that my convictions may not line up with your convictions. You would not want to live your life based on my convictions, and I would not want to live my life based on your convictions. It is before God that each one of us must stand or fall.
The other half of verse 22 tells is that we can condemn ourselves by what we believe. “Blessed is the man who does not condemn himself by what he approves.” (NIV) There are several ways that a Christian, particularly a Christian who is strong in faith, may condemn themselves by what they believe.
First, you can condemn yourself if your convictions are contrary to the word of God. There are Christians who do not believe that abortion is wrong. That would be a conviction which is contrary to the word of God.
Second, you can condemn yourself if your convictions are not based on the word of God. You might have a conviction that it is wrong to wear a blue suit on Sunday. Your conviction, while it is not sinful, is not based on a principle from the word of God. It is worthless to have convictions about meaningless things.
Third, you can condemn yourself if you do not consider the weaker brother or sister in Christ when your exercise your liberty in what you have right convictions about.
Fourth, you can condemn yourself if you rightly hold a good conviction and then fail to live by it. Job made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at women (see Job 31:1). That’s a great conviction. I suppose that there are many men, me included, who have made that same commitment. And I suppose that there are many men, me included, who fail at keeping this commitment on a routine basis.
Now, regarding the matter of doubt. This is seen in verse 23. “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (NIV) The idea we see here is that I should do nothing unless I am sure that it is right to do. Living in doubt about whether something is right or wrong is a terrible place to be. This means that I need to have convictions developed before I face a particular situation. In the midst of a difficult decision is no place to begin working on a conviction. If I can’t do something confident that it is the right thing to do, it is wrong for me to do it, even if it isn’t wrong to do. I just heard someone out there say “No way! You mean I can sin by doing something that isn’t wrong to do?” That’s right. That’s what the first part of verse 23 says. “But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith” (NIV) The person who does something which they have doubts about sins, even if it wasn’t wrong to do. If you are not sure, don’t do it. How can that be? Here are a few quick thoughts that might put it in perspective.
God doesn’t want us wavering between two opinions. In the story of Elijah battling with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel, we read this interesting verse in 1 Kings 18:21 “Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.” But the people said nothing.” (NIV) These people were wavering between two opinions, and it was a stench before God.
God wants us to live a life which is fully based on faith and not reliance on only what we see. In Hebrews 11:1-2, we read “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for
and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended
God wants us to live a life which is based on convictions according to principles taken from the word of God. Hebrews 4:12 says “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (NIV)
The end of verse 23 is an excellent conclusion to this matter. “and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” (NIV) I have heard this half of verse 23 taken out of context as a proof text to say that the unregenerate person sins in everything they do, because it is not done from faith. I doubt this theology. Taken in context, this is addressing the Christian, not the unbeliever. And taken in context, the end of verse 23 tells us that when we fail to establish right convictions and then live based on those convictions, we sin.
By Berean Husband