Digging in Deeper: 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.”  (ESV)

Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin?  Really???  This seems like an awfully broad statement.  “Everything” is a pretty all-encompassing word.  

And yet…think about it for a minute.  As followers of Jesus, what would it mean for something we do to not be done out of our faith in Christ?  Well, let’s step back a minute even from there and ask a bigger question: What does it mean that we have faith in Jesus in the first place?  It means that we have a confidence in who He is rooted in the evidence of what He has done that leads us to behave in a certain way.  In other words, the behavior comes out of the belief (the confidence).

The truth is, every behavior flows out of a belief, even if we cannot give word to what the exact belief is.  Let me tread carefully here for a minute.  If we do something–anything–there is a belief on our part that lies behind that action.  Because of that, the ultimate morality of a particular action may not be obvious from a simple observation of the act itself.

For example, a man may help an old lady across the street because he believes that it is right to honor his elders as a broader application of God’s command to honor his father and mother, a command he seeks to uphold because he believes the Scriptures are true and good and worth obeying because he believes they are from the mouth of God who is true and good and worth obeying.  This act would then be a God-honoring act that advances him down the path of righteousness.

Let’s say, though, that the same man helps the same woman across the same street because he is looking for an opportunity to steal from her purse as he does.  Now, the very same set of actions are motivated by an entirely different set of beliefs which are not good and thus the act is sinful.

Or let’s look at the actual issue in the context here.  Whether or not a follower of Jesus could eat meat that had been sacrificed to an idol was a really big issue in the early church.  Gentile believers were fine with it; Jewish believers were not.  Jewish believers considered the act sinful.  This conviction was so strong in fact that had a Jewish believer eaten such meat, even though the eating was not itself sinful (Paul makes this much clear here and more specifically in 1 Corinthians), his eating would not have proceeded from his faith in God (and in fact would have been a violation of it), and thus it would have been sinful.

What this means for us is that we need to examine our motives.  What is the reason we are doing the things we are doing?  Are we working in order to make money to spend on ourselves and advance our own pleasure, or because we want to honor God by using the skills He has given us to provide for our families and share generously from the abundance He provides for us?  Are we pursuing this or that hobby to honor God with our time and talents, or to scratch some fleshly itch and create a fantasy world to escape from the real one and its responsibilities?  Are we going to worship for the obviously right reasons, or so that we can be seen doing the Christian thing in order to gain the respect of others so that we can wield some amount of power over them?

Are we doing what we are doing because of our faith in God, or because of some other reason?  If it is for some other reason, then we are in a world of sin.  The act itself may not be, but our attitude is.  Let us follow the command Paul offers in 1 Corinthians when talking about the same issue and do whatever it is we do for the glory of God alone.

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