Makestraightpaths.com examines the teachings of the religious
group variously known as “the Family,” “The Family International,” the “Children
of God,” or the “Family of Love,” and evaluates these teachings from a Christian
This page is one of a
series examining the concept of 'sin' within the Family.
Whatever is Not of
Faith is Sin (Rom 14:23)
contains a couple of verses important to the Family’s doctrines on what
actions are and are not sin.
Rom 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats,
because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is
How the Family sees Rom
This verse is
frequently used in the Family to support the doctrine that personal
faith justifies actions. So, if someone wasn’t sure if something was
right or not, this means that they wouldn’t have the ‘faith’ for it, and
for them the action would be wrong. However, if someone else prayed
about the same situation and felt peace in their heart about it, this
person could declare that he or she ‘had the faith’, and so for them the
action would be right. “Whatever is not from faith is sin” thus becomes
“whatever is from faith is right.”
This reasoning is
used to justify all kinds of actions, such as personal capabilities (“I
have the faith that I could learn how to drive”), minor decisions (“I
believe I should go witnessing down town today”), decisions when there
are potential problems (“I know the car has been breaking down a lot
lately, but I have the faith to drive it today”), situations where
something is lacking (“I have the faith that God will supply our rent”),
and even major decisions (“I have the faith to go to Africa”).
This kind of
thinking is also used to support Family member’s decisions regarding
sex. A Family member might reason, “I have the faith to have sex with
that person, so therefore for me it is no sin. If you don’t have the
faith for such an action then you should not do it, because for you it
would be sin, but for me it is OK because I have the faith.” The same
reasoning is used to give blanket approval for sexual activity within
the Family as a whole, while acknowledging that it remains sin for
non-Family church Christians. The implication is that Family members may
indulge in sex because they have more faith than non-Family Christians.
Romans 14 also
has an “all things” verse:
Rom 14:20 Do not tear down the work of God for the sake
of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the
man who eats and gives offense. NASU
“All things” are
clean, so does this mean that literally everything is lawful? Doesn’t
this imply that certain things only become ‘unclean’ when people ‘eat
with offence’? If this is true, then a lot would depend on our motives
whether or not something is sin, and this is a view commonly held in the
Family. After all, Romans 14 also says that there is nothing that is
Rom 14:14 I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that
nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to
be unclean, to him it is unclean. NASU
(according to the Family) Christians actually have immense liberty in
their choice of actions that are lawful before God. Specifically, it is
the Family’s position that the Ten Commandments no longer apply to
Christians. Further, as “nothing is unclean in itself” and “all things
are clean” this necessarily includes sexual relations outside of
At the height of
the Family’s involvement in FFing (a form of ‘witnessing’ using
sexual attraction and often, sexual intercourse; FFing was
discontinued largely due to the fear of AIDS making inroads into the
Family), the founder published a compilation of Bible verses containing
the phrase “all things”. As there are a large number of such verses (171
in the KJV New Testament), the point made was that (according to the
founder) there is overwhelming support for his position that sex outside
of marriage is justified and lawful in the sight of God. Although the
practice of FFing is no longer permitted in the Family, it is
precisely the same theology that is used to justify current sexual
practices, which include sex outside of marriage, sex before marriage,
sex with one’s girlfriend or boyfriend whether or not marriage is
contemplated, sex between older teenagers, sex between younger and older
adults, and sex for the sake of sex.
examines the purpose, meaning and application of these verses in Romans
14. Can we use them as the basis for such decisions? Does one’s personal
faith actually determine whether or not something is sin? If all things
are clean, does that really include such actions as sex outside of
The book of Romans
written in about AD 57 by Paul to the church in Rome, which he neither
founded nor had the direct oversight of. It seems that as Phoebe was
planning to visit Rome (16:1,2) and as Paul had long wanted to travel
there, he decided to send a letter to his many acquaintances discussing
the particular issues the Roman Christians were facing.
In doing so, he
penned the book that has had more influence on Christian history than
any other book ever written. Paul argues logically and persuasively to
get his points across, as he grapples with the thorny issues surrounding
the integration of Jewish and Gentile believers in the Christian church.
It seems as though there had been some contention regarding the extent
that Gentile believers should adhere to the Jewish law, especially
regarding circumcision, Sabbath observance and food laws.
Paul answers the
practical question of whether Gentiles should adhere to the Jewish law
by first examining the theological question of how true righteousness
comes. He demonstrates that human sinfulness is universal, that Christ’s
sacrifice amply paid for that sin, that true righteousness comes from
faith in Christ and from the gift of the Holy Spirit, and that God
provided salvation for both the Jews and the Gentiles. Finally, he
explains what true righteousness looks like with various practical
applications of the preceding theology. This last point is where Romans
chapter 14 fits in, with its dissertations on food and days (Fee).
It is important
to take the entire book of Romans as a whole. It is not merely a series
of vaguely related sermons, but it is a well-planned argument from start
to finish. Therefore, everything in Romans should be kept in the context
of the whole argument of the book. Sweeping statements like “all things
are clean” cannot be removed from the whole argument. Everything in
Romans 14 must be understood in the light of what Paul had already said,
particularly in his extensive doctrinal explanations in chapters 1-11.
In Romans 14 Paul
brings up a couple of quarrels people in the church had been having, and
draws some spiritual lessons from the situation. Apparently there had
been arguments in the church between those who thought they could eat
certain foods and those who did not agree. The ‘eaters’ and the
‘non-eaters’ looked down on and condemned each other. Others in the
church believed that a certain day was particularly sacred, and argued
with those who disagreed. It seems that these disagreements became so
intense that people were hurt, and God’s work was hindered. Paul decided
to step in, not to resolve the particular issues about food or days, but
to correct the pride and contentious attitudes of those involved,
referring them to what he had said in earlier chapters about God’s
provision for both Jews and Gentiles.
to bear in mind about Romans 14:
- Romans 14 is
not part of the principle theological argument of Romans, but is
part of the section that details various practical applications.
Therefore, the passage will pertain to practical application of
Christianity, rather than being a major theological doctrine.
- Romans 14
cannot be separated from the rest of Romans. Anything Paul says in
Romans 14 must agree with what he says in the rest of the book. For
example, when Paul lists various sins throughout the book, Rom 14:23
does not negate those lists. No matter how much faith you have,
those things are still sin. For instance, as sexual sin of various
kinds is explicitly and repeatedly condemned in the book of Romans
(Rom 1:25-27, 2:22, 13:9, 13:13) then Romans 14 does not contradict
that counsel. Romans 14 does not provide a ‘loophole’ to get around
restrictions mentioned elsewhere.
- Romans 14
deals specifically with two minor, practical issues, that of which
food a Christian may eat, and which days are to be considered holy.
introduces the food dispute. Paul’s immediate concern is not to take a
stand on one side of the argument or the other, but to caution both
parties that they should not look down on each other.
Rom 14:4 Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? NIV
Verses 5-8 talks
about the dispute about the observance of certain days as holy. Paul
here reminds his readers that whatever their position, as Christians
they belong to the Lord first and foremost.
Rom 14:8 If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die,
we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.
continue this point, that as it is God who is the Lord of all, we have
no call to condemn each other.
Rom 14:10 You, then, why do you judge your brother? Or
why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before God's
judgment seat. NIV
Paul then returns
to the food issue for the remainder of the chapter. Regardless of who is
actually right in the issue at hand, it is far more important that
Christians live together as brothers and sisters in love.
15 If your brother is
distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do
not by your eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
19 Let us therefore
make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.
comments about the food issue are again directed to the goal of loving
unity. Christians’ faith for minor issues is between themselves and God,
which means there should be no cause for confrontation between
Christians on petty matters.
Rom 14:22 So whatever you believe about these things keep
between yourself and God. NIV
The key points in
this chapter deal with making “every effort to do what leads to peace”
(Rom 14:19 NIV), not about what actions are or are not permitted for
Christians. In fact Paul goes out of his way not to side with either
“Notice how, in marvellous argumentation, he sides with
the Gentiles theologically (14:17-18) but with the Jews practically (vv.
What about ‘all things’?
14 I know and am
convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to
him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.
20 Do not tear down
the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but
they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense.
In verse 14, Paul
says that “nothing is unclean in itself”, and in verse 20, “all things
indeed are clean”. The primary meaning of the phrase in verse 14 must,
of course, have to do with food, for that is the topic under discussion:
the next verse begins with a linking word variously translated as ‘for’
(NASU, NET), ‘yet’ (NKJV) or ‘but’ (KJV), which indicates that what is
to follow gives a reason or explanation. That is, verse 15, which
explicitly mentions food is given as the explanation of verse 14.
Rom 14:15 For if because of food your brother is hurt,
you are no longer walking according to love. Do not destroy with your
food him for whom Christ died. NASU
“unclean” in verse 14 means “unholy, Levitically unclean” (Thayer).
Verse 20 also
specifically mentions ‘food’ as the topic. Interestingly, according to
its method of translation in which the translators give preference to
the overall meaning before a literal word-for-word rendering, the NIV
inserts the word ‘food’ into both verses:
14 As one who is in
the Lord Jesus, I am fully convinced that no food is unclean in
itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for him it is
20 Do not destroy the
work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is
wrong for a man to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.
however, is whether these passages can be applied to situations other
than food. Is it legitimate to take the principles of Romans 14, and
apply them to situations not explicitly discussed by Paul in this
The truth is that
the correct application of the Bible should be the goal of all Bible
study. The Bible is not merely a historical reference book, nor a jumble
of individual verses available for our use in any situation as it takes
our fancy. The Bible is God’s word for today, and so we should search
the Scriptures to find the correct application for ourselves. This
cannot be done without first gaining an understanding of the passage in
its original context. Once we have done that, then we may carefully look
for corresponding situations in our own lives. The process is this:
- What did the
Bible say to its original hearers?
principle does the original message illustrate?
- How does
that principle apply to me?
For more, see
Basic Bible Interpretation.
So, did Paul say
that Christians may now participate in any action they want as long as
no one is offended? He said nothing of the kind! In fact, as pointed out
above, he gave many examples of actions no Christian should ever do!
Clearly he did not believe in giving Christians carte blanche to
do anything they wished.
There are a few
issues which come up several times throughout the epistles of the New
Testament, regarding which Paul exhorts his readers to follow principles
of Christian love above strict adherence to the Jewish law.
Romans 14: food
and observance of days.
food, observance of festivals, the Sabbath, circumcision
1 Corinthians 8:
1 Timothy 4: food
The food issues
have to do with three separate, but related situations: people who were
vegetarians, Jews having difficulty eating Levitically ‘unclean’ food,
and people eating food sacrificed to idols.
however, the issues regarding food, circumcision and observance of days
are the particular issues that clearly separated Jews from Gentiles in
cities outside Israel. They have to do with Jewish identity, rather than
rebellion against God. They certainly have nothing to do with questions
about whether Christians have ‘freedom’ to break the Ten Commandments.
By contrast, in
almost every book he wrote, Paul strongly condemned sexual immorality as
a sin against God (the references for the book of Romans are given
above). At no place does he ever give licence for sexual activity
outside of marriage. He never even hints that such actions may be
legitimate among Christians. Never.
principles of Romans 14 must be tied to the fact that Paul was
specifically discussing arguments about rule-keeping; he was not
discussing rebellion against God or offences against His moral law. The
application of Romans 14 can have nothing to do with whether or not
Christians can break the Ten Commandments.
Whatever is not from faith
The final few
verses of the chapter conclude Paul’s remarks. They aren’t a summary of
the chapter, but rather a few additional admonitions to those involved
in the squabbling.
22 The faith which
you have, have as your own conviction 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 his eating is not from faith; and whatever
is not from faith is sin.
The faith you have, keep to yourself before God. Blessed is the one who
does not judge himself by what he approves. 23
But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not do
so from faith, and whatever is not from faith is sin.
What is his
point? If your conscience convicts you about something, then you should
not do it, no matter what anyone tells you. If you have a feeling that
some thought or action is wrong, then you’d better stay away from it,
because that nagging thought in your conscience might be the voice of
God trying to prevent you from sinning.
Notice also what
Paul does not say. He does not say that if your conscience does
not convict you then the action is not sin. He does not say that if you
feel sure it is right, then it must be right. He does not say that the
reverse is true, that everything from ‘faith’ is not sin.
In fact Jesus
Himself spoke of people who commit great wrongs although believing they
are doing the right thing before God:
John 16:2 They will put you out of the synagogues; yes,
the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God
“whatever is not from faith is sin” works in one direction only:
whatever is not from faith is indeed sin, but not everything that is
from ‘faith’ is always right.
Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says:
in an ethical sense,
persuasion or conviction (which springs from faith in Christ as the sole
author of salvation; concerning things lawful for a Christian: Rom
‘Faith’, as used
in this verse, does not signify a revelation from God or some other way
that God speaks to man. Here, ‘faith’ is man’s personal conviction
regarding what he should or should not do. The fact that this ‘faith’ or
conviction is based in man means that it is not to be seen as the
ultimate assurance of whether or not something is God’s will. Now, the
word ‘faith’ is used in many ways in the New Testament and in many
contexts, but here in Romans 14:23 it obviously signifies a personal
conviction. Paul gives credence to the value of a conscience giving
warnings that we might be doing something wrong, and he obviously
expects each person to be “fully persuaded in his own mind” (Rom 14:5
However he does
not say that we should look to our conscience, our conviction or our
persuasion to determine whether or not something is lawful in God’s
eyes. True faith, true conviction, true persuasion can only come from an
understanding of what God says in the Bible (Rom 10:17). It is the
Bible, and only the Bible that is the ultimate test of whether or
not our proposed actions are lawful in God’s sight.
First, we should
recognise that the exact issues that Paul addressed in Romans 14 are
generally not visible in modern Christianity. There is very little
contention between Christians regarding whether or not they should obey
the Mosaic food laws. There may be issues in some churches regarding
Sabbath observance (for example in the Seventh Day Adventists).
Otherwise, as the vast majority of Christian church are Gentile-based
(i.e. of non-Jewish origin), the emotional issues described here
regarding Jewish identity in a foreign land simply don’t exist in most
It is probably
reasonable to extrapolate that Paul’s counsel would also apply to other
minor issues, but minor issues only. For example, there may be technical
or organisational differences between one church and another, perhaps a
different system of church elections or questions regarding the
involvement of laity in the decision making process. It may also be
legitimate to apply the principles contained in Romans 14 to other
issues such as how often Christians should take communion or the most
appropriate dress code. One thing is clear: it is certainly not possible
to apply the principles in this passage to activities condemned as sin
elsewhere in the Bible. There isn’t the slightest suggestion that the
principles in this chapter can be extended to anything other than these
Thus it seems
that Paul is exhorting the arguing factions not to make more of the
small issues than they should. They should certainly examine themselves
whether they really believe that their actions are right before God, but
even then that would not necessarily mean that they are right.
Therefore, they should refrain from arguing about them.
When a Christian
is trying to make a decision, he or she should go a lot further than
merely an introspective “do I have the faith for this?” That question is
important, but it is far from enough, as although our personal
conviction may indicate whether something is right or wrong, it is also
true that we could be mistaken.
To say that
Romans 14:23 justifies actions that are elsewhere specifically condemned
as sin is to grossly misrepresent the verse, Paul’s intentions, the
entire book of Romans, and God’s will itself. Romans 14 does not support
the Family’s doctrines of a subjective, personal approach to
decision-making or a human conscience-based means of judging right and
wrong. God has decided what is and is not sin, and those things remain
sin whether or not we are aware of His ruling, whether or not we are
pricked in our conscience, whether or not we ‘have the faith’.
Christian with access to a Bible will be able to plead ignorance of His
word. God has spoken, and seen to it that His word has been kept through
the ages in the form of the Bible. It is not His fault if we don’t read
Sin: a Definition
Unto the pure all things are pure
Fee: How to Read the Bible Book by
Book, Gordon D Fee & Douglas Stuart, 2002, Zondervan
Publishing House, Grand Rapids MI.
Thayer: Thayer’s Greek Lexicon,
2003, Biblesoft, Seattle, WA.
© 2007 Make Straight Paths