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I've been a Christian for about 5 years now and I'm in a non-denominational setting. However, I'm having a hard time agreeing with my pastors, who are telling me that if I believe in Jesus (a type of belief that shows fruit of the Spirit of course, which I do), I'll go to heaven.

The core of the issue for me is Romans 14:23 - "But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." I'm not as much concerned with the command in particular, but more the thought that this passage is saying whoever sins (at least in this way) is condemned (and remember, the context is very clearly talking about a Christian with a weak faith).

All the Christians I know always quote Romans 8, which says there's no condemnation for those in Christ - they use it to assure themselves of going to heaven when they feel guilty. I hope you can see my dilemma here? The word 'condemned' here is the same word in Greek here as in Romans 8!! And the same word Jesus uses when talking about people being condemned if they don't believe! I see the same word for 'condemned' used to talk about final judgement again in 1 Corinthians 11:32, also talking specifically about believers.

One commentary I saw said the word condemned doesn't necessarily mean condemned to hell, but I just haven't seen good evidence for that. Why would the biblical writers use a main word for how the Bible talks about final judgement in a context where it didn't mean that? That would just confuse and scare people unnecessarily!

I'm confused because the Bible does genuinely say we're justified by faith. But, in light of these verses, it seems almost to mean we're justified by our moment-to-moment obedience to faith, with some evidence that God will get us to heaven eventually, even perhaps through periods of being condemned. That's the best I've got without finding some way around these verses about condemnation.

I wish I could believe what my church believes - that if I just have faith in Jesus (that shows fruit of the Spirit), I'll go to heaven. But I just don't see solid evidence for that perspective in light of these verses. Do any of you have any perspective on this?

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    – agarza
    Dec 30, 2023 at 5:05

9 Answers 9

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How I can sympathise with your dilemma! I was brought up to view people who spoke with assurance about their salvation, and who believed that the Lord, who had started a good work in them would see it through to its conclusion (Philippians 1:6) were deceived. The group I was born into claimed that such people were arrogant to be sure of going to heaven. My leaders said nobody could be sure because anyone could, at some point, fall into unbelief or such gross misconduct that they would die condemned. It wasn't till my mid-twenties, and getting out of their Svengali-like hold, that I realised they said that because they had no assurance of salvation themselves! In all walks of life, it's common for those who don't have a certain 'something' to ridicule those who do.

Sticking to what the Bible says, and avoiding denominational interpretations, or cherry-picking of proof-texts, takes time. It's always a good idea to shut out the clamouring, conflicting voices, and prayerfully take your time to slowly study whole chapters on the subject. Some Bible commentaries are helpful. Others are not.

Yes, the Bible teaches salvation as the gift of God alone, through faith in Christ alone. But the moment people try to tack something on to that (like 'good works' or 'legalism', those two often going together) the gospel of Christ has been corrupted and is accursed (Galatians 1:6-8). Once you see the pure simplicity of God's way of salvation, your confidence will be in him to see you through, not in your own efforts or ideas. (See 1 Thessalonians 5:9 & 22-24 and 1 Corinthians 1:8-9.) It's because the way of salvation is actually so straight-forward that people think it's too simple - too good to be true - and add other things on to it.

Already, answers here have shown that Romans ch. 14 (esp. vs. 23) has got nothing to do with the risk of Christians being condemned by God. It's about not stumbling other Christians by doing things that their weak consciences won't allow them to do - like eating certain foods. If you eat a food their conscience says "No" to, and they follow your example, their conscience will condemn them. They will feel guilty, that they have sinned, and Paul is therefore using that illustration to show that the clean conscience we received from God when he pardoned us must be maintained. Equally, we must not stumble others whose conscience might be more tender. To knowingly do anything our conscience objects to is sin. When we do sin in that way (and all Christians do), we seek forgiveness for that. We don't lose salvation! God doesn't hold salvation out to us like a carrot on a stick, dangling ahead of us!

As for the way the word condemnation is used in the Bible, there are various meanings, and it's too easy to muddle them up, and so get into a right state of confusion. Just remember that (for a Christian) faith includes believing the promises of God and living in accord with them, not doubting. To doubt the promises of God would be to sin because that would show lack of faith in God. "And all that is not of faith is sin." God has promised to save those who put their faith in what Jesus Christ did to save them. That ought to be the starting point for beginning to live for God, with a God-cleansed conscience, and our appreciation for that unspeakable gift will help us keep our conscience clear.

So, no - we're not justified by our moment-to-moment obedience to faith, with some evidence that God will get us to heaven eventually. The gift of faith and the gift of salvation go hand-in-glove, and God does not take away his good gifts.

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    Thanks so much, Anne! I do think that's a solid argument, that condemnation in this verse is talking about self-condemnation (so guilt), I'll have to ponder that. And I agree that the Bible is super simple about salvation, faith alone! But man oh man if there aren't some difficult verses to reconcile! Dec 31, 2023 at 20:58
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    "It's because the way of salvation is actually so straight-forward that people think it's too simple - too good to be true", I think that understates the human desire to be in control. It's not that salvation is "simple", but that we want to be in control of it, and so want to make it about what we do. (This is especially evident in all non-Christian, i.e. false, religions!) That quibble aside, good answer! đź‘Ť
    – Matthew
    Jan 3 at 22:51
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Your quote from Romans 14:23

But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

refers to people's actions being sinful or not and does not refer to their eternal destiny.

In this case, there were people who had previously eaten meat that had been offered to idols as part of a pagan worship ritual and felt like they were participating in a pagan ritual when they ate the meat offered to the idols, so they could no longer do it. Other people had never been pagans and had never practiced that ritual and didn't have that association with the meat. Support for this position can be found in the commentaries on this verse at BibleHub.

The condemnation of one sinful act is not the same as the condemnation of the future destiny of their eternal soul; it is a way of stating that the act was a sin that needs to be repented of. Every human being, even those who have surrendered their lives to ("believed on") Jesus and have been granted eternal life, will sin on this side of the grave, just not necessarily deliberately or habitually.

The story of Jesus washing the disciples' feet in John 13 contains a verse that speaks to me about the eternal security of true believers; John 10:13

Jesus said to him, He who is bathed has no need except to wash his feet but is clean every whit.

I hope that helps and makes sense. For further clarification, here's an example from my life of the type of thing this passage is talking about:

The denomination I attended as a child and teenager drifted from their spiritual moorings and left their traditional beliefs, but I didn't. That drift was accompanied by a shift to popular music styles (rock, etc.), and as a result, I associate that style of music with drifting from one's spiritual moorings. I know someone else who left a denomination that used only traditional music and was not preaching the gospel to go to a Bible-believing church that only used newer music and popular music styles, and they associate the traditional music that means so much to me with a church that is spiritually dead.

While they don't have a problem worshiping the Lord using popular music styles, I do. We are each convicted in part by our backgrounds and life experience, and we each need to follow our own convictions while respecting the other person's convictions that were caused by their different life experience.

If I tried to worship with popular music styles while still holding that inner association with churches leaving sound doctrine, it would be sinful because of what I associate it with due to my past. But if it doesn't affect someone else in the same manner, I'm not going to criticize/condemn them for feeling differently based on their life experience.

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  • Thanks very much for your reply. I had completely forgotten about the passage about Jesus washing our feet and calling the disciples clean, despite their sinfulness. That's big. I also like how you mention how the condemnation of one sinful act is not the same as the future destiny of condemnation. That helped me out. Dec 31, 2023 at 20:42
  • You're very welcome! Jan 1 at 3:26
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The most important thing here is to read Romans in context. Read the entire book end to end in one setting prayerfully asking God for wisdom and it will make much more sense. There are many parts of Romans that if taken out of context appear to contradict the doctrines of the Scriptures and even Paul’s own teachings. But Paul didn’t write his letters to be read in sentence-sized bites out of context anymore than I’m writing this answer to be read that way, and so he didn’t take pains to guard each sentence against being taken out of context (it would have gotten super messy anyway and probably wouldn’t be possible).

Read in context, even just all of Chapter 14, Paul isn’t talking about momentary sin, he’s talking about leading your brother out of repentance and back into sin, causing them to stumble—he is talking about salvation but he’s not saying “every time you sin, you’re lost” but rather “don’t lead your brother into an ongoing sin that will shipwreck their faith and lead them away from Jesus to ultimate damnation”. This parallels his discussion about food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8. I recommend you also read that book in one setting to better understand Paul’s point here.

Much Scripture in the NT makes it clear that as long as we remain in faith and repentance we’re saved even though we sin because God’s grace covers our sins, but if we cast aside our faith or willfully turn back to sin (this is the opposite of repentance, the latter being where we decide we no longer want to sin but to please God, knowing that moment to moment we will still sin, sometimes intentionally and sometimes not, but always ultimately wanting to please God and yielding to conviction from the Spirit; the former being deciding we’d rather please other selves after all and not God, choosing not to listen to the Spirit any more), then we have walked away from Jesus and we're not saved (and arguably never were). But this is not something trivially done and it’s not something you can do on accident.

Anyway I recommend spending time reading through the entire NT, ideally one epistle at a time and breaking up the gospels as needed. Reading everything in context prayerfully will make it much more clear. Also it’s important to reflect on your standing before God. If you’ve repented of your sins and you believe in Jesus and thus have the Spirit, you are a believer and are equipped to understand God’s Word with the help of the Spirit, but if you’re not then the Scripture itself says that you won’t be able to understand God’s Word. So if you’re not a believer, becoming one is required to be able to understand God’s Word (it’s aso the single best thing you could ever do in your life, but I’m assuming you are a believer and already know that. :) )

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  • Happy to help! That sounds like a good plan. That’s a good question. I think the key is what the person’s heart is and if they yield to the Spirit at some point, returning to repentance or not. As an example see 1 Corinthians 5 and 2 Corinthians 2. It appears as though you have a man sinning horribly who is cast out of the church, repents, and is welcomed back as a brother. If that man had refused to repent and when confronted with conviction of his sin had instead hardened his heart, never yielding, then at some point I think he would make the conscious decision to live in sin. Totally…
    – bob
    Jan 1 at 3:02
  • …different from someone who sins and then (possibly after a long time) when shown their sin by the Spirit repents, because that person ultimately desires to serve God even though they still sin.
    – bob
    Jan 1 at 3:05
  • There’s a verse in one of Paul’s letters that indicates that God’s patience for his children is unlimited and also a verse in the NT that seems to indicate that someone can wander from the truth and be brought back though I confess I’m not 100% of the details. But God’s grace for those in Christ is far greater than we can imagine. And by definition the one who rejects Jesus won’t want to repent or believe again—their decision will be permanent. So while the warnings in Scripture against falling away are to be heeded, they’re not about worrying if you messed up and lost your salvation over…
    – bob
    Jan 1 at 3:15
  • …this or that but over deceiving yourself and hardening your heart past a point of no return. It’s very different. This coming from someone who spent a lot of time struggling over fear of having lost my salvation. Anyway I hope this helps.
    – bob
    Jan 1 at 3:16
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This website has contributors from a wide variety of self-identifying groups all of which identify as 'Christian'. It sounds to myself that you are associated with Protestant Trinitarianism and possibly a Reformed setting. It might be an idea to adjust and edit your question to invite assistance from a particular denominated group.

You clearly are sincerely concerned about sin, and about being justified. The passages you quote deal with sin itself, 'condemnation' and justification.

I would extend a warning to you that many err in this area and there are many controversies and many seek to undermine true faith with false words.

Your sincerity is clear and your desire for truth is clear.

What you obviously need is clear teaching of a doctrinal kind in regard to the words used by the apostles, particularly Paul, in order to satisfy your conscience concerning your own thoughts, your own actions, your own conscience and your own standing before God in regard to your own justification through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus by the shedding of his blood.

The conscience will never be satisfied until God himself satisfies it. Until God himself pronounces justification. Until faith sees, demonstrably, a redemption in the blood of Jesus Christ which satisfies Divine Righteousness.

Thus is the conscience of the troubled believer put at rest - in the sufferings of Jesus Christ for committed sins and in the death of Christ for sin itself, to remove sin in his own death, he having been 'made' sin (or 'effected' sin) and then dying, to take sin away in his own humanity, through death.

This is clear doctrine but it does need to be clarified in your own mind and this is not a small matter nor is it done in five minutes. These things take time. (I speak as a mature Christian in my seventies.)

I wish you well. Your question is intelligent and sincere.

If you look at my profile you will see my website and my email address. I suggest to you the book I have written 'Jehovah Tsidkenu - The Lord our Righteousness' which is on my website, free of charge without registration.

It covers, in detail, all you have asked.

Fare thee well.

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  • Thanks so much for your reply, Nigel! I don't think any denomination is 100% right, so I try to seek the truth that's actually there (Although some denominations are certainly more correct than others). I'm open to answers from all denominations. Dec 31, 2023 at 20:40
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To answer your question am going to ask you a question about the thief to the right during the crucifixion, his whole life he stole what did not rightfully belong to him and yet just before he breathed his last, confessed that Jesus is the promised Messiah by requesting Jesus to remember him when he comes in his kingdom. I really don't know where this thief got that knowledge about Jesus coming in his kingdom for a second time but he must have been paying attention to Jesus' teachings passively which must have stricken a guilt in his heart due to his wrong doings but then didn't confess until the moment of truth arrived on the cross

This thief expressed faith with his request to Jesus to remember him because you can only have faith that Jesus will come back in his kingdom. This faith displayed by this thief is what pleased God and was blessed immediately and was added to the lamb's book of life that instant.

If we reason by works then the thief didn't deserve to go to paradise but God, to show the world that justification is through faith and faith alone immediately promised the thief that he will be with Jesus that day in paradise after he confessed and expressed his faith, it is the best justification through faith in the Bible after Abraham's.

It is also shows us that faith is a consequence of repentance and confession

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OP: The core of the issue for me is Romans 14:23 - "But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin." I'm not as much concerned with the command in particular, but more the thought that this passage is saying whoever sins (at least in this way) is condemned (and remember, the context is very clearly talking about a Christian with a weak faith).

So, the Christian was eating something, like ham, which is forbidden in the Mosaic Law. This causes doubts in another Christian. This second Christian understands it's not what goes into your stomach that matters, but what comes out of your mouth. Yet, he feels condemned. He is not eating with thanksgiving, but with guilt. Thus, he is condemned.

What happens to a condemned Christian?

Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; Romans 14:10

The word "judgment seat" is bema. This is not the same word for the unbeliever who partakes of the great white throne judgment (Rev 20:11).

Bema is for Christians to receive what is due them, which is not salvation, which is by grace through faith.

The point of Romans 14 is instruction about condemning yourself and brothers/sisters in Christ.

So, if you feel condemned as a Christian, listen to your conscience, make things right, and live in faith.

Hope that helps from a pentabaptist sort of view.

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  • Your answer would be stronger if you addressed verse 23 which is the verse OP is concerned about.
    – bob
    Dec 30, 2023 at 23:16
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    I'll try to make it clearer.
    – SLM
    Dec 31, 2023 at 5:19
  • That's a really helpful perspective. I had no idea that there were two different words used for the judgement seat of Christians and non Christians! And Jesus does in fact say that believers won't be judged (assuming that means that great white throne). Scriptures sure can take a lot of cross-referencing to understand! Dec 31, 2023 at 21:01
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    One thing that may help is to consider the "not clear" in light of the "very clear". IOW, Paul isn't going to contradict himself about "saved by grace through faith" with "you gotta work for or to keep your salvation". Then look at some of the words. In this case, the judgment seat (bema) is not the same as great white throne (thronos). So, keep your bro/sis in mind as you live it out.
    – SLM
    Jan 1 at 18:08
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Welcome to the site!

"Those in Christ" when used as you describe, "to assure themselves of going to heaven when they feel guilty" by itself is an oversimplification that misses valuable context:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Romans 8:1)

Paul is not saying that all we have to do is make a one-time decision to be "in Him", but that those who are in Christ do not walk after the flesh, but after the Spirit. In other words, we sincerely try to do what is right in our day to day. There is no condemnation if we walk after the Spirit rather than the flesh.

John agrees:

Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he hath given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:13)

And further:

And he that keepeth his commandments dwelleth in him, and he in him. And hereby we know that he abideth in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us. (1 John 3:24)

The writer of Hebrews affirms what you find in Romans 14:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

The meaning of the word "damn" is "to inflict damage or loss upon". This is not a trivial subject, especially when speaking eternally, I agree. Permanent loss would be too high a price to pay to accommodate our vices or unbelief. We do indeed sin every time we fail to exercise faith in God. For this reason, the Son of God came preaching,

Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John 3:16-17)

The good news of the Gospel is that if we repent, we will be enabled by the blood of Jesus Christ to transform our lives more fully, to exercise faith in Him and so have Him purge the condemnation which would otherwise consume us because of the law of justice. We can live free of guilt and condemnation by keeping His commandments.

When you feel convicted or guilty by your conscience, you can be glad because this is not the final judgment, but it is the Spirit of God informing you of your sins and preparing you for His eternal judgment. Look one verse previous to the one about eating in doubt: "For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged." 1 Corinthians 11:31

Therefore it is most appropriate and pleasing to God that we should "judge ourselves", taking serious thought for the welfare of our souls, asking Him for mercy, and sincerely repenting of our sins, so that the Atoning blood of Christ may cover our sins, and by the endurance of faith in keeping His commandments we may be accounted spotless before Him at the last day, and even be joint-heirs with Him if we suffer the crosses of the world jointly with Him. (see Romans 8:16-17)

Whenever I don't understand something in the Scriptures, I find that the answer is always in more Scriptures, more prayer, and more keeping of God's commandments. This is the upward spiral of joy.

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  • Thank you for your reply! I appreciate the time and thought you put in to that! Dec 30, 2023 at 1:41
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    I generally agree with this but it sounds like it’s advocating salvation through faith + law. We’re saved by grace through faith and our lives are a demonstration of our repentance. If I’m not mistaken “his commandments” in 1 John refer to loving each other and God? You may well have meant that but it’s not clear in the wording of your answer, which could be read as “believe in Jesus and obey the law and you're good” which is not true—the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 firmly established that observance of the law is not at all part of salvation.
    – bob
    Dec 30, 2023 at 19:38
  • Faith without works is dead. Anytime you see real faith there will be works also. Paul says we are not saved by the law of works, but by the law of faith. God's commandments include all that He every asked us to do or will ask us to do. "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God". God's commandments survive the law of Moses. He proved this by giving additional commandments that strengthen the meaning of the law, giving the higher law.
    – pygosceles
    Dec 30, 2023 at 20:04
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    Faith without works is indeed dead, but works prove our faith; they are not part of the gospel. As Paul says in Romans, if salvation were by works that would nullify grace. Salvation is never in any way earned.
    – bob
    Dec 30, 2023 at 23:10
  • Faith takes work. Repentance takes work. Without effort on our part, there is no Gospel except the resurrection and final judgment, which would invariably lead to damnation without penitence and the Savior's mercy on those conditions.
    – pygosceles
    Dec 31, 2023 at 0:55
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In Greek the middle voice is mostly differentiated through context. The word is actually functioning as middle voice, not passive as to be condemned by God or any other agent. The context is clearly about self judgment and clear conscience, not divine judgment. You should not misunderstand the context by the semantic use of the word alone. It should actually be translated as self-condemned for clarity.

(ESV) Romans 14:22-23: “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 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.”

The opposite of not judging himself is condemning himself. There are some writers who wrongly claim that he is condemned by God, you can ignore such inaccurate arguments to clear your conscience and faith. Judith Gundry Volf writes in Paul and Perseverance: Staying in and Falling Away - Page 91. Read more on the Google books preview.

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  • Wow, that's so helpful! Thank you so much!! Jan 7 at 2:57
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The quote in question deals with the supposed "sin" of eating food sacrificed to idols. Paul actually thinks that it is NOT a sin do unless you wrongly believe the idol actually has power. [see note below] This is clear from the verse immediately preceding the one in the OP. He says:

Keep the faith that you have to yourself in the presence of God; blessed is the one who does not condemn himself for what he approves.

Thus, it is only a sin for those who doubt - those whose faith is weak. So the doctrine of justification by faith is not compromised. The person is not condemned by God. The one who doubts is condemned by a false conscience if he eats, but "the one who does not condemn himself" is blessed. However, this does not really answer the question of whether a person is condemned for post-baptismal sins. Paul is quite clear that serious sins must not be allowed, even calling for the excommunication people who engage in serious sins habitually. (1 Corinthians 5:5, 11) On the other hand, the issue would become a matter of controversy in the early church as Christians had to decide whether only actual saints were saved or whether believers who habitually sinned could also be included among the elect.

As @NigelJ pointed out, this is a matter that is dealt with differently in various denominations. Catholics, Anglicans and the Orthodox use the sacrament of confession and penance to resolve the issue. Protestants sometimes handle the problem through private repentance and prayer, but others have a tradition of public confession or pastoral counseling. Some teach a doctrine of "once saved always saved" so that any post-baptism sins are covered, although a person must still strive to avoid them by manifesting the fruits of the spirit.

Conclusion: In this verse, Paul does not actually teach that it is a sin to eat food sacrificed to idols; he teaches that it is a sin only for the person who has insufficient faith. So this does not compromise his doctrine of justification by faith. On the other hand the issue of post-baptismal sin is a difficult problem handled in various ways by various denominations.


Note: Paul also taught that a person should refrain from eating food sacrificed to idols if a fellow Christian's faith would be compromised by it. Thus he says "Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to become a stumbling block by eating; 21 it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble."

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  • Thanks so much for your response, Dan! I like you briefly summarized how the different denominations deal with post-baptismal sins. The churches I've been to do say we must confess our sins, but that it's a relational forgiveness rather than justification related. Dec 31, 2023 at 20:53

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