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Particulars of Christianity:
305 Liberty in Christ

Addendum: Romans 14,
the Conscience, and Morality

Liberty in Christ: Extended Introduction
Liberty in Christ: Introduction

Definitions and New Testament Survey
Synonyms for Liberty in Christ
Liberty and Death
Liberty, the Law, and the 10 Commandments
Origin of the Law of Liberty
Liberty and Yet Prohibition
Incorporating Pagan Practices in the Old Testament
"Christianizing" Pagan Practices
What is Observing Times?
Liberty, Bondage, and Righteousness
Liberty and Meat Sacrificed to Idols
Liberty and 1 Corinthians 8
Liberty, 1 Corinthians 10, and Idolatry
Liberty, 1 Corinthians 10, and Your Neighbor
Summary and Practical Applications
Addendum: Romans 14, the Conscience, and Morality

With regard to the issue of whether or not right and wrong are a personal matter of conscience, some Christians might point to Romans 14:1-15:3 in an effort to demonstrate that right and wrong are a matter of personal conscience.

Here is the key passage in that regard from Romans 14.

Romans 14:20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence. 21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. 22 Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth. 23 And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.

The first thing to notice is that while Romans 14:1-15:3 may sound similar to 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, NOT ONCE in Romans 14:1-15:3 does Paul mention eating meat sacrificed to idols. Therefore, we should not jump to the conclusion that the issue in Romans 14 deals with meat sacrificed to idols at all. Instead, the issue in Romans 14 is Jewish dietary laws and Christians who felt so guilty about breaking Jewish dietary laws regarding what meats were acceptable and not acceptable, that they were eating only vegetables.

This is very similar to Daniel 1:8-17, where for fear that by eating the king's meat he might defile himself, Daniel asked to instead eat only vegetables. So, we can see that it was not unheard of for Jews who were concerned about violating the Mosaic dietary laws to behave in such a way as to eat only vegetables. Thus, unlike in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, the "meat-eaters" in Romans 14, were not eating meat sacrificed to idols, they were simply eating meat. And conversely, those who were not eating meat in Romans 14, were not simply abstaining from meat sacrificed to idols, but instead they were following in the footsteps of Daniel who for the sake of the Jewish dietary laws, ate only vegetables. Therefore, even though Romans 14:1-15:3 may sound similar to 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, Romans 14:1-15:3 does not in any way deal with the issue of eating meat sacrifice to idols.

The second thing to notice is that here in Romans 14:1-15:3, Paul is giving instructions for how to carefully "build up" those who are weak. So, in Romans 14-15:3, the idea is not to leave the weak in their weak and incorrect doctrine, but to build them up in a way that won't cause them to sin along the way by violating their own consciences.

The third and most important thing to notice from Romans 14:1-15:3, is summed up in verse 20, "it is evil for that man who eateth with offence." The idea presented here is that if a man thinks something is wrong, then for him it is a sin, even if it is not in reality a sin. However, this is the only extent to which right or wrong are determined by our conscience.

Most significantly of all is the fact that in reality, this only works in the negative. Our conscience can only make something wrong that is in reality permissible. What Romans 14:1-15:3 does not say is that our conscience can make something permissible that in reality is wrong. Or, in other words, while thinking something is wrong can make that activity sinful even if it is not, the converse is not true. Thinking something is acceptable, when in reality it is not, does not make that thing acceptable for us.

So, in conclusion, Romans 14:1-15:3 does not make right and wrong a matter of personal conscience for Christians. Nor can Romans 14 and 15 be used to support such a notion. Romans 14-15 does not negate that there is an objective absolute moral standard for Christians. Romans 14-15 merely adds one slight detail to Christian morality, namely that beyond the absolute standard of right and wrong, which are true for all of us, things that are not really wrong according to that absolute standard can become sinful for us if we do those things while believing they are wrong.