What Does It Mean That “Whatever Does Not Proceed From Faith Is Sin”?

This question was recently submitted via the page on this site where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic:

Hi, a question coming from your recent sermon on May 2 about belief and doubt. You were talking about how doubt is held in a sort of middle ground, not to be vilified or esteemed too highly. Today I came across these verses in Romans regarding eating by conscience:

The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 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. (Romans 14:22‭-‬23 ESV)

That last sentence feels very strong in that ANYTHING not from faith is sin. How does this relate to the topic on Sunday?

Additionally, where do we draw a line to keep from absurd conclusions about this? When I go on a bike ride for health, I’m not doing it in faith – I just want to keep fit. What about choosing the right date for traveling on vacation? This verse could easily cause a person to stop making decisions due to fear of sin.

The sermon mentioned in this question is from the series The Risen Life, in which we looked at the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus in the Gospels for the season of Eastertide. The sermon was from John 20:19-30 and was called “From Doubt to Belief.”

In John 20:24-29, in the story of "doubting Thomas," we see that moving from doubt to belief involves hearing testimony, seeing the evidence, and responding in faith. — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/whitefieldschurch/support

Doubt and Faith in Romans 14:23

In Romans 14:23, Paul is talking about “gray areas” or “disputable matters” in the Christian life. At that time, some people said that it was acceptable for Christians to eat meat which had been sacrificed to idols, whereas others said that it was not acceptable. Each side had their reasons.

Similar discussions exist today: Is it acceptable for Christians to drink alcohol? To participate in Halloween festivities? To do yoga or martial arts?

In some of these cases, it may be that something may not be categorically wrong, but it may be wrong for a particular person because of their particular propensities. Furthermore, that person may have a strong conviction that they ought not to do something, even if it wouldn’t necessarily be a sin for anyone to do that thing.

Paul is saying that if you have a sincere conviction before God that you should not do something, then you should act on that conviction in faith, and do so as unto the Lord. This, Paul says, honors God. However, if you do something in contradiction to your conviction that you should not do it; i.e. if you have doubts about whether that thing is acceptable or permissible for you to do – then for you to do it anyway would be sin.

Thus, the way doubt and faith is used here is different than in the sense in which we talked about doubt and faith in the above mentioned sermon, where our focus was rather on doubting versus believing in God’s existence, God’s goodness, the validity of God’s Word, or the reliability of God’s promises.

Is Everything that Does Not Proceed from Faith Really Sin?

I believe the answer is: Yes. Let me explain, and I’ll explain how this applies to situations such riding your bike and choosing dates for vacation:

In Hebrews 11:6 we are told that “without faith it is impossible to please God.” In Romans 4:20, faith is correlated with giving glory to God. In 1 Corinthians 10:31 we are told, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

The point therefore, is that acting in faith is all about giving glory to God in our actions. If you doubt whether a particular action brings glory to God, then for you to do it anyway would be a sin. It is in this way that anything that does not proceed from faith is sin.

The Question We Often Ask, & the Question We Ought to Ask

I find that too often, we tend to ask the question: “Is it permissible to _________” or “Am I allowed to _________.” What this passage (and others) teach us is that the question we ought to be asking instead is: “Will this action glorify God?” or “Will God be honored, pleased, and glorified through this action?”

If you can do that action in faith so that your motive is to glorify God, then good. If you have doubts about that, then to do it anyway would be sin – at least for you.

This is why Augustine argues that for those who act apart from faith in God, even their virtues can be sinful: because if you do something good – apart from faith in God – your motive in doing so is not to glorify God, but must be either to glorify yourself, or to justify yourself. Thus, even virtuous actions, apart from faith in God, can be sinful. Tim Keller often speaks, quoting the Puritans, of how it is important therefore that we repent not only of our evil actions, but of our good actions done for self-justifying or self-glorifying motives.

May we be those who endeavor to do everything for the glory of God!

Jerks for Jesus?

Sometimes you spend hours preparing for Sunday’s sermon, but the one thing you say that gets remembered most was something you said off the cuff, that wasn’t in the notes. That happened to me this past Sunday.

I was teaching a message called “Thriving in Exile” in which I was looking at Daniel and Jeremiah and what it took for the people of God to live faithfully in the Babylonian exile, especially since the Apostle Peter states that the Israelites in exile in Babylon is a perfect picture of what it means for us to be Christians in the world today.

During a section in which I was pointing out that the exiles needed to have conviction in order to live faithfully in exile, I pointed out that Daniel and the others with him were also very courteous towards those in Babylon who didn’t believe what they believed, which is notable since it seems that some people think that to be a person of conviction means to be a “Jerk for Jesus.”

In contrast to that, the example we have throughout the Scriptures and from Jesus, Paul, and Peter specifically is that rather than an adversarial approach, we are to take a missionary approach to those who believe and think differently than we do, so that we might be used by God to help bring his light, love, and truth into their lives.

The fact is, it’s pretty hard, if not impossible, to influence people who can tell that you despise them. Those bombastic people who think they are dropping “truth bombs” tend to only embolden those who already agree with them and further alienate those who don’t – rather than wooing them to consider the beauty of the gospel.

Below you can listen to the podcast of this discussion and/or watch the video of it.

Here is a link to the book Mike and I discussed, in which I heard the phrase “Jerks for Jesus:” Accidental Pharisees: Avoiding Pride, Exclusivity, and the Other Dangers of Overzealous Faith by Larry Osborne. I recommend this book. In it, Larry Osborne points out how the pharisees never set out to become “pharisees” – they started out as people who cared about truth and following God whole-heartedly, but this devolved into pride, exclusivity, and creating rules which God never ordained, as well as fences which God never put in place. For those of us who truly care about truth and walking with God, this should be a warning to us lest we accidentally become pharisees ourselves. The book of course goes into much more detail and explanation. I especially appreciated what he had to say about Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and the “secret disciples” mentioned in the gospels. It’s definitely worth a read.

Also embedded below is the video I mention about Ray Comfort, the Kiwi evangelist. I watched this film with my kids, and it was so inspiring. He speaks with so much compassion and empathy, and is a good example of how to not water down the truth, but still be courteous – and how many doors that opens for effective gospel ministry. The movie is called The Fool

Sermon Extra: What Does It Mean to Glorify God? White Fields Community Church | A Christian Church in Longmont, Colorado

In this week's sermon extra, Pastors Nick Cady and Michael Payne discuss what it means to give glory to God with our lives,  and the freedom that brings, and a bonus update on Pastor Nick's former roommates. — Support this podcast: https://anchor.fm/whitefieldschurch/support
  1. Sermon Extra: What Does It Mean to Glorify God?
  2. Do All to the Glory of God
  3. Sermon Extra: Should Pastors Be Paid?
  4. Setting Aside Our Rights for the Sake of the Gospel
  5. Sermon Extra: Does Christian Liberty Mean Being Held Captive By Every Whim?