22 Do you have faith? Have it to yourself before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. 23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:22–23, NKJV)
The personal “faith” of which Paul speaks here, is one’s personal confidence (trust) of conscience to participate in a God-approved liberty. Paul adds a warning not to violate one’s conscience in using these liberties: “But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (v. 23). His exhortation and warning about one’s conscience and God-allowed liberties agrees with his earlier statement, “Let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). Today’s passage is not at all suggesting that every person decides for himself what is sin, and what is not. God sets that standard, and when we violate it, we sin (John 17:17; 1 John 3:4; Romans 3:23). Before we engage in an activity, we must be sure from Scripture that it has God’s approval (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22; 2 Timothy 3:16-17). In matters of liberty (a God-allowed, but not compulsory, action), our conscience must be clear. We must not violate our conscience in these liberties, nor force our conscience upon others (Romans 14:13-16).
16 Thus says the Lord of hosts: “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, not from the mouth of the Lord. 17 They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The Lord has said, “You shall have peace”’; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” (Jeremiah 23:16–17, NKJV)
The false prophets in Jerusalem during the life of Jeremiah sound much like the false preachers today, who tell people such things as, “Let your conscience be your guide,” and, “join the church of your choice,” and, “God will accept every person who has a sincere heart” (that was the very falsehood for which God punished His people, verse 17). Living “according to the dictates of his own heart” brings a person under God’s wrath, not God’s approval and pleasure. Such worthless teaching made the people spiritually worthless (verse 16). When Jeremiah opposed these false prophets, they tried to have him killed (Jeremiah 26:4-14). A person who tells you God’s truth is not your enemy; don’t make him out to be one (Galatians 4:16). Speaking God’s truth has never been popular. But, we must speak truth, attempt to save souls and please God. We dare not speak error to please men, for by doing so, we lose our souls, and they remain lost, too (Galatians 1:10; 4:16; 1 Timothy 4:16).
1 Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to disputes over doubtful things. 2 For one believes he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats only vegetables. 3 Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. (Romans 14:1–3, NKJV)
There are quite a number of folks who try to insert questions of morality and doctrine into Romans 14. For them, “let each be fully convinced in his own mind” (verse 5) means you are at liberty to choose from a variety of studied views on topics of moral and doctrinal import. We can all be united, they say, by letting each one decide what is right for himself and herself on subjects like divorce and remarriage, drinking alcohol, immodest clothing, and many other such things, that, when taught or practiced, constitutes sin in the Scriptures. But, this is not at all the context and application of Romans 14. In this chapter, the items over which conscientious disputes are to cease are matters that, when practiced, do not produce sinful immorality or doctrinal error. We are to receive each other when our scruples of conscience differ over issues of liberty. These are “doubtful things” – not sinful things. If one can put moral and doctrinal differences into Romans 14, then God is made to have already “received” those in immorality and error (v. 3). That, He does not do; and neither must we (2 Jno. 9-11).
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Romans 14:13, NKJV)
Understanding the context of a passage of Scripture is crucial to making proper application of it. Without respecting context, Scripture is twisted and perverted (2 Pet. 3:16). For example, some believe one should never render a judgment concerning another person. One appeal made to support this conclusion is today’s verse . Yet, Jesus said we are to “judge righteous judgment,” and, “Yes, and why, even of yourselves, do you not judge what is right?” (Jno. 7:24; Lk. 12:57). His inspired apostle said the local church must judge “those who are inside” it (1 Cor. 5:12-13). So, there are judgments we can and must make. The context of today’s verse concerns how to treat each other when differences arise over matters that make no difference to God (Rom. 14:1-5). It addresses matters that are not sin and error, since whether one practices it or abstains from it, God equally accepts both (Rom. 14:3, 6). This text concerns things over which God allows us to exercise personal liberty, since no sin occurs in such things (like eating meat or not, 1 Cor. 8:8). In context, Romans 14:13 forbids the critical condemnation of one another’s personal liberties. We must not demand that others conform to our own conscience when that matter makes no difference to God. To do so puts a stumbling block before another. It is binding where the Lord has not bound.
10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” 12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. (Romans 14:10–12, NKJV)
Nobody will escape standing before “the judgment seat of Christ.” Therefore, it is essential we do not condemn (judge) or despise (show contempt for) one another over things that are indifferent to God (see the context of Romans 14:1-6). In this context, the apostle urges us to stop the critical condemnation of each other’s personal liberties precisely because we will each give account of ourselves to God (Rom. 14:12-13). Paul is not advancing unity in moral and doctrinal diversity (the false notion that we can agree to disagree over revealed truth with Christ’s approval, Jno. 17:17, 20-21; 1 Cor. 1:10; Eph. 4:3-6). The Lord does not grant us liberty to sin with His approval! When it comes to God-given liberties, we are not to bind our personal conscience upon others. Knowing we are accountable to God ought to persuade us to respect each other’s liberties, rather than demanding others live by our conscience concerning matters that are indifferent to God (Rom. 14:3-5). One who binds his conscience on others has made himself superior to his brethren. He has forgotten his own accountability to God. He will not escape the judgment of God.
14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void.” (1 Corinthians 9:14–15, NKJV)
A mark of spiritual maturity is the ability to see and assess a situation beyond oneself, to see the broader implications and outcomes of one’s actions, legitimate though they may be. And then, to forego one’s right for the sake of others. Here, Paul showed such maturity, acknowledging the right to be materially supported for preaching the gospel. Yet, in the case of the Corinthian church, he chose to forego his right for the sake of their spiritual development (see 1 Cor. 9:16-18). Too many times we say, “I have a right” (liberty) to do something, then press our freedom regardless of how our action impacts others. Such a decision is evidence of spiritual immaturity that can contributes to sin. For instance, Paul also said he would not eat meat if, by doing so, a brother who was weak in conscience was led to sin by violating his conscience (1 Cor. 8:10-13). Would you give up eating meat for the sake of your brother’s soul? Or would you proudly profess, “I have a right to eat meat, and I will, regardless of the circumstances.” Having a liberty does not make using it mandatory. At times, it is wiser to forego a liberty, and by so doing “save some” (1 Cor. 9:22).
21 Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, 22 who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God, with angels, authorities, and powers having been subjected to him. (1 Peter 3:21-22, ESV)
Although many reject water baptism as having anything to do with being saved, Peter’s statement remains very clear: “Baptism…now saves you” (v. 21). Who gave water baptism the power to save? Not the church. Not a creed. Not the one being baptized. Not the preacher. Not the water. It is none other than the resurrected Christ who empowers water baptism to save you from sin’s death. The blood of Christ cleanses the conscience from the works of sin when the sinner is baptized into His death (Heb. 9:14; Rom. 6:3). To conclude that water baptism has no power to save is in direct conflict with the word of God and the power of Him who is in heaven “at the right hand of God” (v. 22). Instead of opposing the word of God, appeal to God for a good conscience. Be baptized to be saved – not by your own merit – but “through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”.