Paul makes a pretty startling claim in Rom. 14:23 – “Everything that does not come from faith is sin.” – and the implications are vast and terrifying.
When we think or teach or talk about sin, we usually frame it in terms of things we can and can’t do. We each make lists of things that are sinful and not only avoid those but also work hard to be sure others avoid them as well. We also make lists of things that are faithful and try to do these things but also work hard to be sure others do them as well. Our lists can go something like this:
Sinful: lying, swearing, killing, hating, not being nice, not going to church, not going to our church, nudity, gossiping about me, not believing in the same things I do…
Faithful: telling the truth, working hard, praying, going to church (as long as it’s one of which I approve), helping those who aren’t as rich or powerful as I am, checking in with sick or hurting friends, going to church activities…
And the lists go on and on, filled with God things and personal preferences which mix and intermingle dangerously. We judge people based on our lists and live according to them, trying to avoid everything on the Sinful list while doing everything on the Faithful list. The logical outcome of this train of thought, which we never get to, is that if we could just succeed in this, try hard enough, be good enough, then we could be righteous based on our lists. Paul calls these “The Law” and teaches us differently.
Paul says that this list is (1) not the way to righteousness, that only comes through faith in Jesus Christ, (2) different for everyone (and the Pharisees claim, “heresy!”) according to Rom. 14:14, and (3) incomplete when it comes to righteousness, for the “Sinful” list includes everything (yes, everything) that is not on the “Faithful” list.
So can we stop living by our lists and spending our effort trying to root out our “sins” (as if we could achieve that) and instead spend our effort building our relationship with God who has forgiven our “sinfulness” and just wants us to love and live with Him?
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