Romans 14:23. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
Because we are in Christ we have been given liberty. We are free. But our freedom is to be bounded by love. Our “right behavior” can still be wrong if it is not done in love. But we must not miss an even deeper truth. Our liberty must also be bounded by faith – For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
What is sin?
Paul has just given us a much bigger definition of sin. Sin is anything not done in faith.
The Weak of conscience in Rome would have a long list of things that are sins. The Strong of conscience in Rome would probably have a much shorter “sin list.” But what Paul is saying here is that sin is no longer a list of behaviors. Or to put it another way – literally EVERYTHING could be on your sin list. Because anything can be done without faith. Eating steak can be sin. Not eating steak can be sin. Drinking wine can be sin. Not drinking wine can be sin. Going to church could be sin. Not going to church could be sin. Preaching could be sin. Reading your Bible could be sin. Any moral behavior could be sin. If it is not done in faith.
The context here in Romans 14 is about violating your own conscience. So the Christian with a weak conscience, if they did something that violated their conscience, even if it is morally acceptable, for them it would still be sin. Why? Because it was not done in faith. But faith in what?
What is faith?
Faith is of course what saves us from sin. By grace we are saved through faith. Our faith is in the past work of Christ on the cross. But our faith is not just in what happened to us in the past. In order for our faith to sustain us it must also be in what God is doing in our lives right now through the indwelling life of Christ. Our faith is in the promise of God to transform us into the image of Christ.
This faith is what makes our liberty possible. God has given us faith so that we can be truly free to choose. Free to love AND free to sin.
Blue pill or red pill? Faith, freedom, truth, love.
What we do in faith will lead to love. What we do apart from faith is sin. Why? Because it proceeds from the self and not from God. What we do apart from faith, even if morally good or “obedient” is actually always done for selfish reasons and therefore it falls short of the glory of God and his grace and love. It is not Christ IN US.
Think about what God says about good works done by those who are without Christ. Everything they do, even the good things they do, are sin – rubbish, filthy rags, trash. Why? Because they do not proceed from faith. For the unbeliever, good works can only be done to earn what God is graciously offering for free from his love. These good deeds, done apart from faith, are actually a rejection of God and cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).
For us who are in Christ this truth still holds that everything we do apart from faith is a stinking dumpster fire to God. But the good news of our union with Christ is that WE DO HAVE FAITH. We have the faith of Christ inside of us. Therefore, we can trust that God is always at work for our good, to transform us into Christ (Romans 8:28-29). We can trust that God will finish the good work he has started in us (Philippians 1:6). We can trust that what God has in store for us is of far greater glory than anything we will experience in this life (2 Corinthians 4:17). So the Christian that is Weak in conscience must still obey his convictions because in doing so he is trusting God to conform him to Christ. He is trusting his union with Christ. He is trusting that the promise of God is far better than the pleasure he will get if he violates his own conscience.
One last thought on faith and conviction – we can see that our convictions and our conscience, that Paul (and God) tells us must be obeyed, must always be connected to faith. Faith in the sanctifying work of Christ. Faith is what makes it a conviction to be followed. If your conviction or conscience is not connected to faith in this work of Christ in you, then it is not a conviction, it is simply a preference or an opinion. Do you like hymns over Hillsong? But is it because of a conviction concerning the sanctifying work of Christ in you? Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe it’s just a style preference. And if it is, sing both hymns and Hillsong. A better conviction might regard the theological content of the songs (just a thought).
“To live is Christ” holds us to a much higher “standard” than we probably ever thought. It’s not about a list of behaviors, and it’s even deeper than the law of love. It’s also about faith. Faith in the transforming work of God by the Spirit into Christ. Now everything we do, we do from this faith. But don’t panic. This faith is in you. It’s Christ in you. Will you do many things apart from faith and thus sin? Yes. But you are forgiven. And you are free. Free to actually live from faith in Christ. So let this challenge you. And don’t be surprised if you actually find yourself living more and more of your life from faith in your union with Christ.
A hymn about faith
A Hillsong song about faith