A Question I Was Asked:

Whatever is Not of Faith is Sin; Meaning?

The Question:

I have difficulty understanding what the meaning of "anything that is not of faith is a sin" from the Bible. I don't want to guess what it is..thank you and God Bless. I am from [a church in] Singapore.

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, as always, it is essential to take note of the context within this chapter. We need to start in verse one of Romans 14:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person's faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living. You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: "'As surely as I live,' says the Lord, 'every knee will bow before me; every tongue will acknowledge God.'" So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God. Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval. (Romans 14:1-18, NIV throughout).

The point Paul is making here is that we should avoid judging those who are weaker in the faith and who have less understanding. For sure, all should be encouraged to move forward in biblical/spiritual knowledge (Hebrews 5:11-12; 2 Peter 3:18), but some are not able to move as fast as others. We should respect the consciences of the weak. Paul was discussing the eating of meat which had been sacrificed to idols; his 'bottom line' was something like, 'Hey, it's only meat, eat by all means, but don't eat in the company of one who is offended by this.' So we should respect the conscience and level of understanding of others.

The strong Christian should not be contemptuous toward the opinion of a weaker brother on a doubtful question, although neither - one should say - should the weaker believer be censorious toward the stronger because of what conscience allows him. Both have a right to opinion and both are responsible to God for it. If ones level of faith prohibits a certain thing, a possibly stronger brother or sister in the Faith should nevertheless respect what might be the weaker faith and understanding of that brother or sister.

But all of this has an even wider application. In his exposition of this chapter, prodigious Bible scholar Albert Barnes points out the following:

"Whatever is not done with a full conviction that it is right, is sinful; whatever is done when a man doubts whether it is right, is sin." This is evidently the fair interpretation of this place.... the discussion pertains to Christians; and the whole scope of the passage requires us to understand the apostle as simply saying that a man should not do a thing doubting its correctness; that he should have a strong conviction that what he does is right; and that if he has "not" this conviction, it is sinful. The rule is of universal application. In all cases, if a man does a thing which he does not "believe" to be right, it is a sin, and his conscience will condemn him for it. It may be proper, however, to observe that the converse of this is not always true, that if a man believes a thing to be right, that therefore it is not sin."

On one occasion many years ago I stopped going to a particular place of worship because I knew that the pastor was quietly plotting against certain people. I could no longer listen to that man in faith. It's not that we should expect any minister/preacher to be perfect (none of us are!), but whenever I listened to this man I no longer thought about his message but about certain (deeply regrettable) intrigues in his life. I did not listen in faith so decided never to listen to this man. There is a sad footnote: eventually this man caused havoc to the spiritual lives of several people. So we should strive to act on faith in all areas of ones life. So this is a somewhat different application of the 'whatever is not of faith is sin' principle.

Paul's emphasis throughout Romans 14 is that many of the things which men so easily make rules out of, by which they judge one another, are in themselves of little consequence (14:14). What is important is the motive behind what we do, that all things should be done as unto the Lord, as springing forth from faith.

To take one or two possible examples: it does not matter whether one prefers to worship on a Sunday (although the evidence is strong that the early Christians considered this the best day for Christian worship, so it is not a bad precedent). I tend to oppose those who worship on a Saturday not so much because they are choosing "the wrong day," but because of the dreadful legalism which usually accompanies seventh-day worshipping, plus the dreadful and unwarranted things some of these people say about Sunday-worship. Nevertheless, one may worship God at any time.

I happen to believe that it is better for Christians to take communion just once per month; you may disagree - that is fine, but my wife and I prefer to stick to once per month. We should not judge each other in such areas.

Some believe they should only take unleavened bread (rather than ordinary bread) at communion; personally I think they are wrong but that is their choice. It is no problem to me, except that certain of these people have in the past judged me rather harshly for teaching otherwise.

Those who are younger in the faith can sometimes become very strong-minded, and very vocal, about many things which they think should or shouldn't be done by Christians. The wisdom of those stronger in the faith, however, is to avoid such disputes over earthly things, avoid giving their weaker brethren offence through their own conduct, and to constantly be mindful of and exhort their brethren regarding the life of faith which is founded upon heavenly things. In the past we have all made mistakes in certain areas. It can be only too easy to scold a weaker believer for repeating the mistakes which many of us once made; but we must respect what they believe and understand at the current moment.

Okay, Romans 14 concludes in this manner:

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22-23).

Robin A. Brace. October 12th, 2012.