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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 perspective.

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)

Romans 14 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 sin.   NKJV

How the Family sees Rom 14:23

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 inherently ‘unclean’:

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

Therefore (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 marriage.

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.

This page 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 marriage?

The book of Romans

Romans was 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.

Romans 14

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.

Important points 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.

Romans 14:1-4 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. NIV

Verses 9-12 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.

Rom 14:15,19

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.


Paul’s final 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 faction.

“Notice how, in marvellous argumentation, he sides with the Gentiles theologically (14:17-18) but with the Jews practically (vv. 19-21)” (Fee).

What about ‘all things’?

Rom 14:14,20

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

The word “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:

Rom 14:14,20

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 unclean.

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.


The question, 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 particular situation?

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:

  1. What did the Bible say to its original hearers?
  2. What principle does the original message illustrate?
  3. 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.

Colossians 2: food, observance of festivals, the Sabbath, circumcision

1 Corinthians 8: food

Galatians 2: circumcision

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.

Generally, 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.

Therefore, the 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.

Rom 14:22-23

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.


In another translation:

Rom 14:22-23

22 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 service. NKJV

Obviously, “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:

Faith (NT:4102)

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 14:1,23;


‘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 KJV).

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 Christian churches.

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 minor issues.

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’.

Finally, no 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 it.

See also

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.




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