21It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall. 22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he allows. 23 But whoever has doubts comes under condemnation if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin (Rom14:21-23)
Whilst I am not claiming that the heading of this post is the point Paul is focusing on here, it does follow from what he writes and supports the broader providence I am outlining. The context of the passage is that Christians who, like Paul, know perfectly well that it is OK to eat meat and drink wine (or else Christ has sinned Mt11:18-19) should nevertheless refrain from doing so if it offends another Christian in their company who believes to the contrary. But the key point I am focusing on is Paul’s generalized statement in verse 23 that everything that does not spring from faith is sin.
The context makes it clear that the “faith” of which Paul speaks pertains to the conviction of one’s conscience – in this case whether or not it is right to eat or drink certain items. Any action on one’s part which the conscience opposes is indeed sinful even if what is being done is in fact pure and acceptable. But it follows that any action that one does as a result of following the dictates of one’s conscience is not only not sinful, it is itself an act of faith. This again can be demonstrated from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew chapter 25 – in particular the fact that “faith” in that context is not restricted to religious faith, such as a Christian’s trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The compassionate activities of the Matthew 25 “sheep” did not pertain to religious practice but were simply the response of a compassionate nature. Yet Christ declared them to be good – savingly good in terms of the “sheep” being accepted into God’s eternal Kingdom. These acts of compassion therefore must have sprung from some form of faith for the point Paul is making in our featured passage is that it is impossible to do anything pleasing to God except faith be present. Likewise, it is not the acts of compassion per se that justified the Mt25 sheep (being fallen human beings their acts of kindness were bound to have been incomplete and inconsistent). It was the “faith” from which they sprung. This is that “common faith” understood by some of the earliest Church Fathers and considered in more detail in one of my recent posts.
Central to such “faith” is conscience, which does not pertain merely to the flesh but to the spirit, being that part of us that survives physical death. Unlike the body and brain, it was not procreated from our parents, ultimately from fallen Adam, for that part of man which is spiritual and eternal could never be derived from sperm and ovaries. As creationists rightly understand the spirit is directly planted by God at birth (Eccles12:7). The conscience, the promptings of which are of course processed through the brain, is a spiritual faculty. It has been universally provided but is not utilized by all. Paul when referring to certain false teachers speaks of them as having their consciences seared with a hot iron (1Tim4:2). The Greek word Paul uses is interesting: Kautériazó (G2743) from which we derive the word cauterize. It is as if the spiritual nerve endings of the conscience have been numbed such that the faculty no longer functions. If you research the internet you will see that this lack of a functioning conscience is sometimes evidenced in such people’s brain structure**. Such, I say, are the children of the devil and they have been defined in Scripture: “By this the children of God and the children of the devil may be distinguished: anyone who does not practice what is right is not of God, neither is he who does not love his fellow man” (1Jn3:10 cf. v12). Being God’s law written on the heart (Rom2:15), the conscience is ultimately concerned with how our actions impinge upon others. For as Paul affirmed in the previous chapter “loving one’s neighbor” is the summary and purpose of God’s Law, whether it be written on stone, parchment or the fleshly tablets of the heart (Rom13:9 cf. Jer31:33).
Such aspects of natural law determine what one is and where one is heading; the religious aspects that the Bible primarily focuses on concerns the preparation of the people of God: His elect who shall become the Consort for His Son (cf. Rev19:7-8). Another mystery necessary to appreciate God’s munificent purposes for humanity as set out in “The Little Book of Providence” (free PDF HERE)
** The “lateral frontal pole prefrontal cortex” responsible for the processing of moral decisions and empathetic responses. Amongst mammals, only humans possess this feature which is not the conscience itself (for that is spirit) but the area of the brain in which its promptings are processed. For a few there is little to process and it is an area of the brain that has been found to be clearly and visually underdeveloped in the case of certain psychopaths that have been studied. [Caveat: not all psychopaths are criminals – au contraire: 2Cor11:13-14]