In the early church, some believers struggled with the issue of compromise with the world, specifically regarding the food they ate. Paul was “fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself” (Romans 14:14), yet some believers could not eat meat sacrificed to idols with a clear conscience. Paul taught that each believer must make and follow biblical convictions on disputable matters. When we cannot do something in good conscience, we must not do it at all, for whatever is not of faith is sin, or, as the Amplified Bible expounds, “whatever is done with doubt is sinful” (Romans 14:23).
Eating meat is not sinful. In fact, “all food is clean” (Romans 14:20). The issue of eating or not eating certain foods is a disputable matter. As followers of Christ, we should be studying God’s Word and be led by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13; Romans 8:14) to have our doctrines and convictions conformed to God’s truth. James 4:17 tells us, “If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.” For matters that are clearly defined in Scripture, we should follow the guidance given. For disputable matters or gray areas, we should live by our convictions, following the principle that whatever is not of faith is sin. The Living Bible puts it this way: “Anyone who believes that something he wants to do is wrong shouldn’t do it. He sins if he does, for he thinks it is wrong, and so for him it is wrong. Anything that is done apart from what he feels is right is sin” (Romans 14:23).
Some people approach gray areas with extreme care, while others approach them with more liberty. Some might say it is sinful to go to the movies or to wear certain clothing while others have no problem with doing those things. A believer’s life is marked by seeking to please and glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23). The Holy Spirit also lives within believers (2 Timothy 1:14). Regarding disputable matters, whatever is not of faith is sin. That is, if our conscience produces guilt, we should refrain from that activity. It doesn’t matter if others say the activity is permissible; we must choose to follow our own convictions because “whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). In other words, if you are not fully convinced that what you are doing is good, do not do it. Do not act against a doubting conscience, for whatever is not of faith is sin.
Not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 10:23), even if they are not sinful, and believers will seek to do only those things that please God and edify their brothers and sisters in Christ. Whatever is not of faith is sin. Colossians 1:10 gives a good guiding principle: “Live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way.” When a matter comes up that is not specifically addressed in Scripture, we must consider scriptural principles to help us determine if it will please God. We must ask ourselves, are we seeking to please ourselves or God (Colossians 3:1–4; 2 Timothy 2:4; 2 Corinthians 5:14–15; Galatians 5:16–18)? Is the activity addictive (1 Corinthians 6:12; Ephesians 5:18)? Will my Christian witness be upheld (1 Timothy 4:12; Colossians 4:5)? Will doing this build me and others up to godliness (1 Thessalonians 5:11; 1 Corinthians 10:23)? Our convictions must be molded to obey Christ, and then we must not go against them. “Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (Romans 14:22).