So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. The one who thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and has human approval. Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat; it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.
The faith that you have, have as your own conviction before God. Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. But those who have doubts are condemned if they eat, because they do not act from faith; for whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:16-23 (NRSV)
This morning I read a devotion regarding the importance of confession. Confession is an odd thing. As a Protestant, I believe that I can confess my sins directly to God without need of an intermediary. But I wonder, would I confess more intentionally if I confessed to a priest or pastor? Would I be more open or more likely to hide my sin?
I believe there is value in confessing to others and hearing words of forgiveness spoken out loud. A confessor doesn’t need to be extra holy or ordained. They do, however, need to be faithful and able to balance grace and accountability. Confessing to someone who is just going to give you a free pass or offer harsh judgment and “advice” won’t work. I appreciate the freedom of going directly to God but also value the fellowship of confessing to another.
But back to my personal confession.
It seems like a non-question to wonder if I would be more open when confessing to another versus in the privacy of my relationship with God. Of course, we’d all be more likely to keep our deepest, darkest confessions private rather than share them with another human being, right? But honestly, I don’t know that I hold myself as accountable as I should. It’s easy to go over the obvious sins of commission and not really dwell on my sins of omission. It’s easy to quickly go through the Big Ten and figure I’m doing pretty well. But I think we’re called to more.
Challenged by the devotion this morning, I included a confession in my morning prayers. I tried to examine myself critically. As I was nearing the end, this verse came to mind:
For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin. – Romans 14:23b (NRSV)
Every time I read this verse in Romans, I always stop a little short. The situation with the Romans was that they were acting in judgment (rather than accountability – see Accountability or Judgment). Ironically, their judgment was based on promoting righteousness but it actually promoted sin. Why? Because they are more concerned about what they thought honored God rather than honoring God (so it became just another form of idolatry).
My reflection on this verse raises two difficult issues as I try to walk in the newness of life as part of the Body of Christ:
- What are the things in my life (and my faith community) that I do out of misguided faith, and are therefore sin? Where is the line between upholding commands in Scripture out of faithfulness and making upholding them an idol? For example, divorce. Jesus says no divorce. If I support my friend in her divorce, am I proceeding in sin or from faith? If I do not support her, am I failing to love her? Can I condemn her action based on Scripture but not judge? If I do not condemn the action, am I a sinner? And what if her decision – and my decision to walk with her – are made out of faith?
- What are the things in my life that are “good” but do not proceed out of faith, and are therefore sin? For example, where is the line as I live out my call to ministry (which I respond to in faith) where it becomes more about people pleasing than God pleasing? When does my devotion to God, expressed in my ministry, cause harm to my family?
Overall, I’d say I’m a good person. I’m not just thinking more of myself than I ought (Romans 12:3); I think this is true about most of the people I know. Most people are not murderers, extortionists, violent abusers, or hate mongers. But this may be the problem for us American Christians.
Jesus said it and Paul says it here: our heart matters. If the good things we do are not proceeding out of faith but for some other reason, it’s sin. Sure giving to the poor, going to church, helping others are good things but why do we do them? And if they are being done in response to a living faith, then I can’t be doing them out of mere obligation or to boost another’s opinion of myself. That makes my “good” an act of unselfishness (that is, actually selfishness) rather than selfless-ness.
The Christian life is a good life but it’s not easy. Confession keeps us honest, and our participation in the Body keeps us accountable. May both our confessions and actions proceed from faith bringing honor and glory to God.
Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. – James 5:16 (NRSV)