14:22–23—Faith, freedom, and conscience.
22 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.
23 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.
Paul has been warning the strong believers not to do anything that would cause their weaker brothers and sisters to stumble. Now in verse 22 he encourages the strong believers to be content with their liberty and to regard their clear conscience as a blessing.
Faith and freedom
To be strong in faith is to know that the gospel has set believers free to enjoy everything in life the Bible does not prohibit. Strong faith yields a mature conscience that values Christian liberty. Presuming that the strong believers in Rome have a biblically informed conscience, Paul encourages them to enjoy food, drink, and anything else, but to do so in private between themselves and God. Enjoy a tender ribeye steak with Cabernet Sauvignon, if they wish, and thank God for these and other gifts (see verse 6).
Freedom with integrity
But they must not flaunt this liberty before others, nor try to convince others to do as they do.
Liberty restrained can itself be a source of joy between God and ourselves in private (Matthew 6:16–18).
The happiness of a clear conscience
In the second half of verse 22, Paul speaks of the person who does not condemn himself for what he does. The person with a clear conscience is “blessed” (happy or fortunate). Marvin Vincent says on this point, “Christian practice ought to be out of the sphere of morbid introspection.” People with an overly sensitive conscience often live under a cloud of guilt, drizzling judgment not only on themselves but also on others.
In verse 23, Paul speaks of these people as eating food they do not think they should so they condemn themselves. Not living from a mature faith, they are ruled by a fastidious conscience that seeks to avoid sinning but actually and quite ironically causes them to sin. Their “doubts” condemn them.
Back in the 70s I knew a young believer who wanted to buy a radio but questioned whether God wanted him to have a radio. He prayed about it but still didn’t feel confident, so he said he felt he could go ahead and buy the radio if he only listened to Christian stations. Bound by his religious mindset, this young soul set himself up for condemnation if he ever turned the dial to a top-40 station.
At the same time, this fellow did something quite praiseworthy. He heeded the qualms of his conscience, not caring if anyone else thought him foolish. And if he did only listen to Christian stations until his conscience matured, he strengthened his resolve to follow his conscience on more serious matters in the future.
Blessed are we who know the grace and freedom of Christ’s gospel.