“Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin” (Romans 14:22-23).
The context concerns the eating of food that had been considered unclean under Old Testament law (Romans 14:14 cf. Leviticus 11; Deuteronomy 14). The Old Testament was no longer in force (Romans 7:7 cf. 2 Corinthians 3:6-ff; Ephesians 2:14-15; Colossians 2:16-17). Its dietary laws were no longer binding (Acts 10:9-16; Romans 14:14; Colossians 3:16-17; 2 Timothy 4:4-5). However, some Jews, who were Christians, were not sure that they should eat. They had been reared to avoid such food.
Paul teaches that one should not violate his conscience. Lester Kamp comments, “Whenever there is doubt about whether one should do certain thing, that alone should be enough to dissuade him from the practice. When one violates his conscience, he sins. When one believes something is wrong and does it anyway, he always sins. Motivation to act on such occasions cannot be from a desire to do right and to please God. If there is doubt, we must not do it! The fact that one believe what he is doing is right, however, does not make it right (Acts 23:1)” (Ed. Dub McClish, Studies in Romans, pp. 267-268). Moses Lard comments, “But how is it that such an act can be sin? It is sin because it is reckless and presumptuous – reckless, in being rash and careless – presumptuous, in being performed… without conviction that it is right” (Lard, Commentary on Romans, pp. 428 – 429). Foy Wallace Jr. comments, “One who will do a thing he believes to be wrong – is doing wrong – whether the thing he does is wrong or not. The thing may be right – but if he thinks it wrong and does it – the right thing becomes wrong to him” (Wallace, Commentary on Romans, Galatians, and Ephesians, p. 70).
Some thoughts to consider: (1) The conscience is not always objectively correct in its discernment. A student in Bible class once asserted that – once one becomes a Christian, his conscience will provide him with Biblically accurate information. I suppose that he thought that the Holy Spirit somehow directly guided the conscience. This man’s assertion was wrong. This is evident from Romans 14:14. (2) It is necessary, sometimes for conscience sake, to be stricter on self than what God has actually bound (Romans 14:23). (3) It is never acceptable to be less strict on self than God is (Acts 26:9; 1 Corinthians 4:4). The conscience is not the objective standard.
We should care about pleasing God (2 Corinthians 5:9; Galatians 1:10; Colossians 1:9-10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4; 2 Timothy 2:3-4). May we test all things by the scriptures (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If we have doubts that an optional matter (something that does not have to be done) is acceptable, let us not eat (or do anything) without faith (Romans 14:23).