In Romans 14 Paul says:
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 14:23, NIV)
What does this phrase mean?
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Throughout his work Paul is redefining some metaphysical terms. "Faith" is perhaps one of the best examples of this. It is a key element of his teaching in the book of Romans. He introduces faith in chapter 1:1-17. He picks it up again in 3:21-5:2 then refers back to his expositions on faith throughout the rest of the book.
So faith is a key term for Paul by which he is referring to (in very basic terms) the soul's right position before God. If one has faith then one's soul is correctly positioned with God. If one has "unbelief," one's soul is ill-positioned with God. To understand what this right position is, one needs to read the entire epistle paying close attention to Paul's use of "faith".
In this specific example Paul is applying this new (revised?) concept of faith to a practical question of community. The question comes up--where "obedience of faith"(1:5) is opposed to Law how can the community react without turning this new Faith into merely a new Law? He applies the question to the situation of meats. Freedom from the Law means that there are now no dietary restrictions to condemn the believer. However, that doesn't leave one free to eat without consideration. If the soul is positioned correctly before God (i.e. one has faith) then the decision of whether or not to eat is not based on a Law but rather one's "own conviction before God"(14:22). So for Paul the decision to eat or not to eat is not as important as the status of one's soul before God. The believer is seen as a moral agent that is no longer a slave to a static set of rules (see Galatians' "elemental things") and is now free to submit to God according to a new (or newly revealed) type of relationship defined by "faith." Under this relationship sin is not defined by the law. Sin is now defined by one's obedience to his faith. If the moral agent makes a decision that is contrary to his soul's right position before God, that is contrary to God's desire and is therefore sin.
Contrary to the fairly normative *mis*interpretation in much of Protestantism, all Paul is saying is that if you don't have absolute faith that the act you are about to perform is right, then it is sin to do it. This has zero reference to the idea that everything a non-believer does is a sin even when its morally good. That's not what Paul is talking about in context. He's talking about the question of whether or not a Christian should eat something when they have doubts as to whether it is a sin to do so.
Like, if I wasn't sure if it was Ok to eat meat or not, and I eat it anyway, then it would be a sin because I had a doubt. Even though eating meat is not actually a sin under normal circumstances, if I thought there was a possibility that it might be and did it anyway, then to me it would be a sin due to violating my conscience.
See verse 5:
If you are not persuaded in your own mind that every day is equal, but if you rather (for example) think that a particular day is special, then to you to not honor that day as special would become a sin (even though for everyone else it isn't). That's the principle Paul is trying to get across.
"Faith" here is used in a broad way. The fuller context is:
So he is primarily addressing the mature Christian -- the one who knows that it is ok to eat the meat in principle, but it would cause his weaker brother to stumble. What's happening is that the weaker brother thinks it is sin to eat this meat. So if he ate it while believing that, it actually WOULD be sin for him because he did something he thought he shouldn't do (see also Rom 2). And if the mature Christian put that weaker Christian in the position to do that, it is condemnation for him because he was not loving (at worst) or unwise (at best).
So when Paul says, "Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin," what he has in mind is that it is sin if you do something that you believe is wrong. You believe that it would be a sin if you did it, yet you did it anyway. That is not an action proceeding from faith.
What it does NOT mean is, "If you believe something is ok, then it is ok." No! Just the opposite (again, Rom 2)! It means, "If you believe something is NOT ok, then it is NOT ok FOR YOU." We must strive to conform our consciences to the law of God.
The weaker brother hamstrung by legalism must mature in his understanding of liberty; and the mature brother must be willing to constrain his liberty for the sake of the weaker brother.
The teaching of Faith is a response to Sin. So by understanding Sin we can learn how Faith is the answer and how it should be applied. Then by seeing how Faith is the answer to Sin we can see how everything that does not come from Faith is sin. To do this we start at the root of sin.
1. Understanding Sin
So in the beginning there was only One Law, and that law was.
And breaking this One Law started sin
We were not to "know" good or "know" evil
Adam before eating the fruit
How is this the Root to sin?
What does Good and Evil mean?
Once you know what is Good, Right, Correct, Pleasing to the Eye, and of Functionality, then you also can see what is Evil, Wrong, Error, Not Pleasing to the Eye, and Dysfunctional.
What is the Result of Knowing This
2. How Faith is the Answer to Sin Now that we know these things, how does Faith destroy the power of knowing these things?
Did you see how we can be free in regard to righteousness? And how as a second perspective he shows how we can be set free from sin? For the Laws of Right and Wrong are only applicable to those that know Right and Wrong.
Faith however is not on the metaphorically horizontal Right and Wrong, but is metaphorically vertical leading down to Right and Wrong. At the top metaphorically is Freedom from Sin and Life and at the metaphorical bottom is the Law and Death.
So although freedom was awarded to those that could continue in righteousness, the result of the righteousness of the Law was still death, and by Law I Specify to the Laws of Right and Wrong and of Punishment.
The Defining of Faith
Applying Faith to the Knowledge of Error There are many ways that Faith can be applied to the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Yet for simplicity we can focus on the Knowledge of Error, and we can choose one error "The Bad Report Card" for example without faith. A Child gets a report card from school, and upon receiving the knowledge of Evil (the Bad Grade) begins to fear punishment.
Here is an example to the application of faith. When the Child receives the Knowledge of evil (the Bad Report Card). The Child does not worry because he hopes that his dad will give him forgiveness. When he hands it to the Father and the Father becomes angry. When the child receives the Knowledge of Evil (the upset parent) he does not worry because he hopes that the punishment will pass. When the child receives the Knowledge of Evil (the punishment has been given) he does not worry because he hopes that it will be over soon, and better times are ahead, even in death.
So it is by faith that hope preserves our attitude.
3. How everything that does not come from Faith is sin Without Faith is Denial. And from Denial: Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Anxiety. Attitudes that is displeasing to the Father for the Father wishes to collect only those that can continue to display Love, Peace, and Joy.
Without the Holy Spirit that Brings Forth the Attitudes
Conclusion Since Faith overcomes the power of the knowledge of good and evil, without faith there is no power to overcome sin.