David Brandt Berg
I remember a story about the famous singing evangelist Mordecai Ham, who won Billy Graham to the Lord. He smoked big fat cigars, but he said that every time he got down to pray, “That big cigar would come up between me and God as big as a telephone pole. It condemned me and was coming between me and the Lord, because I felt guilty about smoking.” So he quit smoking.
You see, “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Romans 14:22).
Ham had a guilty conscience about the cigar, since he thought it was bad. He said he knew it wasn’t merely the nicotine in the cigar, but it was just because it was something he hadn’t yielded to the Lord, so the Devil used it to condemn him.
The Devil is God’s prosecutor, and quite frequently he condemns you for things you do, sometimes justly, sometimes unjustly. There’s a difference between the conviction of the Holy Spirit and the accusations of the Enemy. You’re not convicted of a sin until the judge, God, has made a decision. But frequently the Enemy will come and accuse you of sins or accuse you of some things which aren’t even sins and condemn you for it.
First John 3:21 says: “Beloved, if our heart condemns us not, then have we confidence (or faith) toward God.” In other words, if you have such strong faith in the Spirit and in the Word that you know what you’re doing is right, and you feel convinced in your own heart that what you’re doing is the right thing because of the Word and the Holy Spirit, you can do things that some other Christians would feel condemned about doing.
I knew a man who said he couldn’t be a Christian because he had to work on Sunday. He was being condemned by his own ignorance, because he didn’t know that working on Sunday was no sin. The church had taught him that working on Sunday was a sin, that Sunday was the Sabbath. Well, it’s not even the Sabbath.
I tried to enlighten him on it, that Sunday was not the Sabbath and you could work on Sunday or the Sabbath, but he wouldn’t listen. He was wrong all the way around. In the first place, Sunday isn’t even the Sabbath, and in the second place, we don’t have to observe the Sabbath anymore. So it was no sin for him to work on Sunday, and I tried to convince him of that.
But because of his ignorance of the Word, his own heart and conscience condemned him. He thought it was wrong, so it was wrong for him; it was a sin for him. If you’re doing something you think is wrong, then it is wrong for you; it is a sin for you. He thought it was wrong, so it was a sin for him. Because he was condemned in his own heart that it was wrong, he couldn’t have the faith for it.
It was probably wrong for Ham to smoke in public, and it probably did cause some weaker brethren to question it or stumble. The scripture on it is very clear in Romans 14: “Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. For one believeth that he may eat all things; another, who is weak, eateth herbs” (Romans 14:1–2).
People have to operate the way their faith goes. They have to follow their faith, and they cannot operate outside of the limitations of their faith or they go beyond their faith for things they don’t have faith for, and then to them it is sin. And that’s what Paul says further down in this chapter:
“I am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself. But to him that esteemeth anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean!” Remember this, Romans 14:14, and watch out. Because if you think it’s wrong, then to you it is wrong, and you’d better not do it. That’s why you need the Word to clarify some of these points.
“Whatsoever is not of faith is sin”—if you haven’t got the faith for it, then it is a sin for you. “For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink”—it’s not fleshly nor earthly, but it’s “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Ghost” (Romans 14:17)—no matter what things you eat or drink.
But, “for meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure; but it is evil for that man who eateth with offence” (Romans 14:20). In other words, it may be perfectly all right for you to do a certain thing because you have the faith for it and you know it’s scriptural and so on. But if somebody else who thinks it’s wrong sees you do it and you cause him to stumble, then that’s bad.
“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” (Romans 14:21). In other words, even though it’s right for you, it can be wrong for him because he hasn’t got the faith for it, and therefore he can think that it’s wrong for you, and if he sees you do it, you could cause him to stumble.
“Hast thou faith? Have it to thyself before God.” In other words, if it’s something that might cause your brother to stumble, then keep it private just between you and the Lord. “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Romans 14:22). It’ll make you happier if you’re not doing things which you feel condemned about, or about which you feel guilty or have a guilt complex, things that you’re not sure are right. In fact, if you’re afraid maybe it’s wrong, then it is wrong for you.
But every Christian on earth cannot forgo everything that other people condemn and accuse them for, or they couldn’t do anything. It’s just like the old story about the man, the boy, and the donkey: When they were both riding on the donkey, people condemned them for being so cruel to the poor little donkey to make it carry them both. So he made his little boy get off, but then they said, “Oh, look how cruel you are, making your little boy walk!” So the man got off himself and put the little boy on the donkey. But then they said, “Oh, look how cruel that little boy is to let his poor old father walk!” So then they both got off and walked, but people said, “Look how ridiculous they are. They’ve got a donkey, but they’re both walking.” Finally, as the story goes, they both wound up carrying the donkey!
So you can’t please everybody in everything. You can please some of the people all the time, and all the people some of the time, but you can’t please everybody all the time.
It makes it pretty clear in this passage (Romans 14), that if you have faith for it between yourself and God—in other words, in private—it’s perfectly all right for you. It may be a bad testimony outside in public, but if it’s something you know it is fine to do or you’re supposed to do, you can’t let it always bother you even though it’s going to sometimes stumble some.
The best cure of doubts is the Word. “Faith cometh by hearing the Word of God” (Romans 10:17). And faith is the opposite of doubt.
So when in doubt, don’t—but when in faith, do! “According to your faith be it done unto you” (Matthew 9:29).
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