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Does Romans 14 Cover Sin?


One need not look far to find Christians divided on a host of spiritual issues. Some turn to Romans 14 as a balm to cover all but the deepest injuries to Christian fellowship. But, is this consistent with Scripture? Does Romans 14 permit application to any sins? If so, which sins? In short, no, no sins are covered by Romans 14, but let us examine the Scriptures on the following points to see for ourselves.

Limited by the Context

Specifically, some have looked to Romans 14:4 as a prohibition against all judgment against an individual, thereby denying drawing any lines of fellowship. Notice how Wes McAdams words this directive (emphasis, mine):

There will be times when we see things differently and we will have to continue to reason together to “discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2). But when we disagree, we MUST NOT condemn one another: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand (Romans 14:4). (McAdams, How to Determine if an Issue is a Salvation Issue)

Rightly, McAdams points to disagreements between brethren beginning with conversation. Only in the most extreme cases should we jump straight to withdrawal (1 Corinthians 5:1-5). Generally, other Scriptures implicitly first require exercise of brotherly love, patient exchanges, careful study, and humble listening, while working through our differences (Ephesians 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; Philippians 2:1-5; Romans 12:9-17; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 3:8-11; 2 Peter 1:7; Matthew 7:7-12). Wherever we have opportunity to restore a brother or achieve unity, we should first pursue that goal through this process before leaping to judgment and assuming the worst possible outcome (1 Corinthians 1:10; 13:4-7). As God’s servants, we owe Him a presentation of the truth (Ephesians 5:11-17), not to mention our own peril if we fail to warn (Ezekiel 3:17-21; 33:1-11). If we love our brother or sister, we owe them a chance to hear the truth and maybe even provide some gentle push back (James 5:19-20; 2:15-17; Jude 3). (I know I have not listened readily to the truth more than once, because I did not immediately understand, and in some cases I did not want to understand. I am thankful to the people, who did not quit on me so easily.)

But, what should we do after that process is exhausted? Can we rightly determine, as McAdams stated, “when we disagree, we MUST NOT condemn one another”? Does Romans 14:4 prohibit our judgment? Can we assume the erring brother’s salvation is sure despite his sin? As some might wonder, “After all, how can one ’be made to stand’, if he is not in a fallen state?”

Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)

Clearly, this brother has indeed fallen, but we must answer from the context: Before whom has this strong brother fallen? Was it before God or before his brethren? In other words, who judged that this brother had fallen? Taken out of context, a case might be made for either possibility: Will God make him stand who truly has fallen before Him, or will God make him stand whom the weak brother thinks has fallen?

(In the context of Romans 14, the so called “weak brother” was “weak in the faith”, meaning his understanding of the objective faith, the truth - not weak in his personal conviction or sincerity. Specifically, he was struggling to understand or accept that all foods had been made “clean”, Romans 14:2, 14. For similar uses of “the faith”, see: Jude 3; Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; 24:24; Romans 1:5; 16:26; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Ephesians 4:13; and many more. The “strong” are more knowledgeable in this context and possessed a correct understanding of this issue, nothing necessarily more, Romans 15:1; 14:2, 14.)

First, since the fallen brother is identified as the “strong” in this context (Romans 14:3), we can safely assume that the one judging was the “weak” brother. (Throughout this chapter, the weak were instructed not to “judge”, but the strong were separately urged not to “despise”, “show contempt”, “grieve”, “destroy”, or “please ourselves, Romans 14:3, 10, 15, 20; 15:1.) Since the weak brother was performing the judgment, his judgment must have been incorrect. Therefore, the other brother, the strong, had not really fallen; otherwise, the weak brother’s judgment would have been true, his understanding correct, and his identity strong. Simply, the fallen brother could not have fallen before God by virtue of who was doing the condemned judging in the context, the weak brother.

Second, the following verses from the chapter not only eliminate the application to matters of sin, they also eliminate the possibility that the “fallen” brother had truly fallen before God. Ultimately, there was no one to “make stand”. Only in the weak brother’s mind had he imagined that the strong brother had fallen. Please notice from the immediate context:

Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. (Romans 14:3)

I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. (Romans 14:14)

Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. (Romans 14:16-18)

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are pure, but it is evil for the man who eats with offense. (Romans 14:20)

Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God. (Romans 15:7)

If a brother is doing something truly sinful, and if he has truly fallen before God, for which he needs “God to make him stand”, then how could Paul say that:

  • “God has received him”?
  • It is “nothing unclean of itself”?
  • It is doing “good”?
  • It is part of the “kingdom of God”?
  • It is a “service to Christ”?
  • It is “acceptable to God”?
  • It is reckoned by God as “pure”?
  • And, he has been “received by Christ”?

How can a person be in all those states and truly fallen before God? This is paramount to saying someone can be saved and lost at the same time! If we interpret Romans 14:4 as teaching that this brother has truly fallen before God, then we have pitted Paul against Paul, God against God!

The context limits us to cases where the person is fallen only in the weak brother’s judgment, not before God, not without contradicting the specifics of the context.


Prohibited Judgment

What kind of judgment was prohibited by Romans 14:4? To answer, please compare Paul’s prohibition to a similar form of judging condemned by James:

Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (James 4:11-12)

Notice the similar wording and argument compared to Paul again:

Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)

Paul noted that only God determines if a brother “stands or falls”, while James explained that only God is “able to save and to destroy”. This is the same point with similar wording. Where James indicated that God is able to save”, Paul told us that God is able to make him stand”. Again, same point, similar wording. James pointed to God’s unique role as “Lawgiver and Judge”, whereas Paul emphasized God’s exclusive role as “another’s servant’s … own master”, both of which are the peculiar role of God and make the same point. Paul opened with the rhetorical question, “Who are you to judge another’s servant?”, whereas James closed with almost the same, “Who are you to judge another?” Same point, almost the exact same wording.

The points and principles are identical. Only the specifics of the applications varied. In James’ case, middle class Christians exhibited both prejudicial and hypocritical judgment of impoverished Christians for their poverty, not because of sin (James 2:1-9). God’s Word declared these saints justified by their obedience (James 1:9, 21-22; 2:5), but the erring Christians became “judges with evil thoughts” by their contempt and partiality (James 2:5). In so doing, they placed themselves above God’s justifying Word, tacitly placing themselves above God Himself!

In Paul’s case, “eating of meats” was thought condemned by “he who is weak” (Romans 14:1-3), similar to the problem addressed by Paul in 1 Corinthians 8-10. However, God already revealed His indifference about meats and days when Cornelius was converted (Acts 10:9-20, 28; 11:1-18), which occurred before A.D. 44 (Waldron, Go Tell the Good News, 1st ed., p.69). For this reason, Paul later wrote:

For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5)

Certainly this revelation would have become widespread common knowledge because of the events recorded in Acts 15, which transpired about A.D. 48 or 49 (Waldron, 96), long before Romans 14 was written in the winter of A.D. 57 (Waldron, 163). However, despite over thirteen years transpiring, some brethren remained unconvinced or apprehensive in Rome; therefore, like the middle-class Christians of James 2, these weaker brethren of Romans 14 condemned their stronger brethren “in the faith”, despite God’s justifying Word.

In both cases, judgmental Christians “spoke evil of the law” by superseding its vindication with their own condemnation, which was prohibited by both passages.

Should we understand this prohibition more generally, denouncing all judgment as others who know only Matthew 7:1? (“Jesus said, ’Judge not!’”, they will proclaim.) Clearly, no, we must exercise some form of judgment, because later in the same epistle, Paul instructed that we must judge who is teaching “contrary to the doctrine which you learned”, and we must execute disciplinary judgment by “noting those … and avoiding them” (Romans 16:17). So, this prohibition cannot be understood generally without making the Holy Spirit contradict Himself. Rather, by both the context and parallel passages, the prohibited judgment must be limited to matters where one brother condemns another where God has already revealed His approval.


Judging Another’s Servant

Despite all this, because of Romans 14’s general emphasis upon God’s exclusive authority to judge His servants as their “master”, as highlighted below, one may still be reluctant to rebuke a brother continuing in sin - especially to withdraw fellowship from them:

Let not him who eats despise him who does not eat, and let not him who does not eat judge him who eats; for God has received him. Who are you to judge another’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. Indeed, he will be made to stand, for God is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks. For none of us lives to himself, and no one dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living. But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the LORD, Every knee shall bow to Me, And every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. (Romans 14:3-13)

As noted previously, the entire chapter is repeatedly marked with limiting phrases, restricting application to matters that God has revealed as indifferent to Him, so it can only be used to condemn judging of matters of indifference - not sin; otherwise, its context is violated. Furthermore, if God instructed His servants to correct each other when they err, and if He commanded them to withdraw fellowship when they fail to repent, then is it humility or hubris when we refuse our responsibility to Him? (Not all appearances of humility are genuine, Colossians 2:18, 23; 2 Timothy 3:7.) Given His instruction to pass judgment where His Word passes judgment, our ongoing reluctance can be in fact rebellion to our Master.

When I say to the wicked, ’You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. ”Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:18-21)

Generally, most people want to be gracious and enjoy the resulting peace, harmony, and unity (Psalm 133:1). However, we must not offer a false hope of peace, when God’s Word condemns them:

And their houses shall be turned over to others, Fields and wives together; For I will stretch out My hand Against the inhabitants of the land,“ says the LORD. ”Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, Everyone is given to covetousness; And from the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, Saying, ’Peace, peace!’ When there is no peace. (Jeremiah 6:12-14)

In extending “peace when there is no peace”, not only do we fail our common Master, but we also deny our brother grace to repent before his master (James 5:19-20; 2:15-17). Furthermore, we also deny the benefits gained only from the discipline and punishment that the Lord has commanded (1 Corinthians 5:5-6; 1 Timothy 1:18-20; 2 Thessalonians 3:14). How will the Lord judge us, if we extend unauthorized mercy and pledge peace, where He has commanded us to warn, possibly even discipline? Consider this example from King Ahab of Israel:

Then a man of God came and spoke to the king of Israel, and said, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Because the Syrians have said, ”The LORD is God of the hills, but He is not God of the valleys,“ therefore I will deliver all this great multitude into your hand, and you shall know that I am the LORD.’” And they encamped opposite each other for seven days. So it was that on the seventh day the battle was joined; and … Ben-Hadad fled and went into the city, into an inner chamber. Then his servants said to him, “Look now, we have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings. Please, let us put sackcloth around our waists and ropes around our heads, and go out to the king of Israel; perhaps he will spare your life.” So they wore sackcloth around their waists and put ropes around their heads, and came to the king of Israel and said, “Your servant Ben-Hadad says, ’Please let me live.’” And he said, “Is he still alive? He is my brother.” Now the men were watching closely to see whether any sign of mercy would come from him; and they quickly grasped at this word and said, “Your brother Ben-Hadad.” So he said, “Go, bring him.” Then Ben-Hadad came out to him; and he had him come up into the chariot. So Ben-Hadad said to him, “The cities which my father took from your father I will restore; and you may set up marketplaces for yourself in Damascus, as my father did in Samaria.” Then Ahab said, “I will send you away with this treaty.“ So he made a treaty with him and sent him away. Now a certain man of the sons of the prophets said … to him, ”Thus says the LORD: ’Because you have let slip out of your hand a man whom I appointed to utter destruction, therefore your life shall go for his life, and your people for his people.’“ So the king of Israel went to his house sullen and displeased, and came to Samaria. (1 Kings 20:28-43)

Likewise, if we exercise unauthorized mercy contrary to the Lord’s commands (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6, 14-15; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 1 Timothy 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-4; Galatians 1:8-9), we do no one any favors. Instead, our misplaced humility brings judgment from our Master upon us as well as them.

Finally, let us not be the “hireling”, who flees when he should stand and protect:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. (John 10:11-13)

If we turn a blind eye to sin and false teaching, what influence are we introducing to the flock, whether it is the sheep of our children, our families, or the local church (Matthew 7:15-23; 1 Corinthians 15:33; 5:6-7; Galatians 5:7-9)? Naturally, younger inexperienced Christians will be the most uncomfortable with such actions, which is why older experienced Christians should lead and the younger can question but should generally follow and learn with rare exception (Judges 8:20; 1 Peter 5:5; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 1 Timothy 5:1-2).


Identifying the Weak Brother

Some will reasonably ask, “How can we identify the so called ’weak brother’?” “How will the ’weak brother’ know he is the weak one?” The “strong brother” sees both sides and understands that God has revealed His approval to both, because it is a matter of indifference to Him. (This indifference assumes each is “fully convinced in his own mind”, acts “from faith”, and does not “show contempt” or “destroy” his brother; otherwise, what is “pure” may become sin, Romans 14:5). However, the “weak brother” believes his brother has fallen into sin. What should he do? Simply, follow the Biblical process outlined above. How does he know he is the weak brother? He likely may not know, so he needs to follow the above outlined process!

Through patient, kind, loving Bible study - maybe even over multiple sessions, eventually the weak brother’s inconsistency with Scripture (i.e., “the faith”) will become apparent. Eventually, the weak brother will be logically forced by Scripture into one of the following outcomes:

  • Admit the strong brother is correct, and so he will drop his concern.
  • Admit the strong brother is correct, but he still feels uncomfortable, so he will continue to refrain from participating.
  • Admit the strong brother might be correct, but he needs to study the issue more to solidify his own understanding and conscience. (Continued study must be prompted at the weaker brother’s discretion and readiness, Romans 14:1, because the strong brother cannot drive the issue if the weak brother is not being divisive).

Regardless, the weak brother will necessarily continue in fellowship with the strong brother, dropping all barriers and half-hearted measures (Romans 14:3).

Other possible outcomes include:

  • The weak brother fails to relent despite the logical and Scriptural weakness of his case. If he insists on dividing the group with his error, forcing it to be a matter determining fellowship or comprising public teaching, he must be noted and fellowship withdrawn (Romans 16:17; Titus 3:9-11; Galatians 2:1-5).
  • The weak brother sustains his case, and the strong brother is found to be the one in error, but he refuses to repent.

Unless the brother in error repents, then both these cases will inevitably lead to division, since Romans 14 cannot be applied to cases involving unrepentant sin.



Understandably, no one generally wants conflict and division. Harmony, peace, and unity are eagerly desired by all, it should be assumed (1 Corinthians 13:7). The Lord Himself prayed for our unity (John 17:20-21); however, that fellowship must be bounded as God limits; otherwise, God will frustrate and disrupt our unity outside of Him, as He did to those united in building a tower to touch the sky (Genesis 11:1-6). Recognizing this, Romans 14 does not permit fellowship over sinful matters. The context limits application to matters of indifference to God, provided everyone’s attitudes are correct. The only type of judgment prohibited in Romans 14 is that parallel to James 4:11-12, where one condemns a brother exonerated by Scripture. Any general principle induced from Romans 14 must be reconciled with God’s commands for His servants to execute judgment in confronting sin in His other servants, even withdrawing from those stubbornly continuing in it (Romans 16:17-18; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6, 14-15; 1 Corinthians 5:11-13; 1 Timothy 6:1-5; 2 Timothy 3:1-7; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-4; Galatians 1:8-9). Failure to submit in this way is no better than persisting in unjustified judgment against a shared Master’s exonerated servant. Both constitute willful blasphemous rebellion, if we persist defiantly. Any uncertainty in identifying the “weak brother” is resolved by following the same Biblical process for dealing with erring brethren. Simply, go, talk, and study patiently with them (Ephesians 4:1-3; 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15; 2 Timothy 2:23-26; Philippians 2:1-5; Romans 12:9-17; James 3:13-18; 1 Peter 3:8-11; 2 Peter 1:7; Matthew 7:7-12). Why would we be reluctant to do so? If we persist in reluctance, how does that reflect on our brother or sister, God’s Word, and ultimately Him? What does our ongoing abuse of Romans 14 to fellowship sin reveal about our judgment of them?


Unless otherwise noted, all quotations are from the New King James Version, copyright © 1994 by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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