Romans 14:22, “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.”
As Paul draws near the conclusion of his discussion of Christian freedom in Romans 14:1-15:7, he gives some encouraging words to those who are strong in the faith and have a sound understanding of what is acceptable in God’s sight, but must at times not revel in this freedom before others. True, the Apostle says, we must keep to ourselves our convictions regarding matters of moral indifference if publicizing them would inflict undue harm on the consciences of immature believers (14:22a). However, even as we do so, we enjoy a special blessing for understanding our freedom properly. That is Paul’s point when he says in today’s passage that “blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves” (v. 22b).
The Apostle seems to be reflecting on the difference between the mature Christian conscience and the immature Christian conscience. Immature believers will often condemn themselves for wanting to do things that they are actually free to do, but from which they refrain because they mistakenly believe these things to be sin. For example, a believer with an immature conscience might believe that it is a sin for him to watch a movie of any kind. Now, since the Lord has not spoken to the issue of watching movies directly, the Christian who holds such a conviction is wrong that watching any movie is sinful. Of course, Paul’s call in Philippians 4:8 for us to think on what is honorable, lovely, pure, and praiseworthy has something to say about the kinds of movies we watch (though even here there is room for differing applications of the principle), but there is nothing in Scripture that forbids us from watching movies at home or in the theater. The person who believes otherwise will be racked with guilt if he watches or wants to watch a movie. To be full of guilt is certainly not a state of blessedness. But the individual who is more mature in the faith and does not feel guilt when he sees a movie, because he knows movies are not in themselves forbidden, is blessed indeed. He understands his freedom, and he can enjoy it.
With John Calvin, we must emphasize that Paul is speaking in Romans 14:22b about the person who understands the Word of God and allows it to form His conscience. Plenty of people suppress their knowledge of the Lord to the point that they sear their consciences and feel no guilt when they do what Scripture explicitly reveals to be wrong. All we can do for such people is continue to preach the gospel and call them to faith and repentance.
Though we sometimes feel guilty for things that are not actually sins, we should always pay attention to the voice of our consciences when we experience guilt. When we feel guilt, we must endeavor to understand, according to God’s Word, whether the guilt is true or false, whether it reflects an actual sin or something we wrongly believe to be a sin. If it is true guilt, repentance must be our response. If it is false guilt, we may set it aside and thank Christ for our freedom in Him.