No Condemnation

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. —Romans 8:1

Here is what God wants you to know. This message of no condemnation – by that negative statement God is strongly asserting that there is glad acceptance, full inclusion, total forgiveness for everyone in Christ. All you need, to qualify for all that blessing, is to be a sinner in Christ, not a rehabilitated sinner, not a tidied-up sinner, but the sinner you are in Christ. Jesus said he came not to call the righteous but sinners (Matthew 9:13). He has no interest in good people. He attracts bad people. We are bad people. But if we are in Christ, we have God’s grace right now while we are bad.

Here is the thread of Paul’s thought leading up to our passage: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:3-4). “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). “Now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the written code” (Romans 7:6). “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). It’s a whole new way to live, really live. It’s all of grace, and grace alone. If God used any yardstick for measuring what we deserve, if “no condemnation” were limited to “good” Christians, it would mean condemnation for all other Christians. Any grading-scale would be the law. And the law doesn’t bring us to God. It does the opposite. The law pushes us away in anxiety and hiding. Fear of rejection kills love. Fear of rejection turns our relationships into charades, faking love but really manipulating God and one another in order to get something. But the gospel announces to us all, All you bring to the table is your guilt and sadness. God brings his mighty love. God moves toward you not in judgment but in mercy, because his fury was spent at the cross of Christ. Jesus lived the life we should have lived and died the death we deserved to die. You don’t have to be perfect; Jesus was perfect for you. When you receive this grace with the empty hands of faith, God places over your head this banner: “No condemnation!” Forever. Period. So you can relax in Christ your Savior. The old hymn nailed it:

Cast your deadly doing down, down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone, gloriously complete.

If you are in Christ, you are a righteous sinner. It’s not an either/or, it’s a both/and. In Christ you are righteous right now, fully acceptable to the all-holy God because Christ is covering you, and at the same time in yourself you are still a sinner. Don’t be surprised when you look like Romans 7 – not entirely able to get your problems under control. But if you are in Christ, you also belong right here in Romans 8 – no condemnation. God has made up his mind about you in your favor, and you have a great future, because Christ died and was raised again.

Don’t you see? The most important thing about you is not the sins you may or may not commit or the virtues you may or may not demonstrate. The most important thing about you is whether or not you are in Christ. And the worst sin we commit is not the one we might think. The worst sin of all is not to be a stripper or a porn-addict or a corrupt politician. The mega-sin is not trusting in Christ. And we all commit that sin every day. Academically, we believe God treats us on terms of grace. Emotionally, we sometimes feel that God treats us in terms of crime and punishment. That dark emotional world of guilt and fear is very personal. But it’s also social and cultural. We’re swimming every day in an ocean of mostly unspoken but powerfully felt criticism and judgment. We can’t spell, so we’re embarrassed to write an email. We can’t dance, so we’re afraid to go to a party. We all fail to measure up in so many ways, but we don’t want anyone to know. Living under threat of exposure and rejection is the mentality that gets beaten into us as the years go by. How many times have you heard, “If you ever . . .”? How many times have you heard an accusing voice within? How many times have you silenced that terrifying voice by criticizing others? The worse they look, the better you look. I justify my existence by my career, my achievements, my money, my house, my kids’ success, anything to make me, especially if it makes me look better than you. My life is about me. And when I do feel happy and secure, I’ve earned it, and don’t you threaten it. This is the world every human being lives in personally and socially. This intense drama of self-justification is why the world is so tense and explosive. It’s why the world needs the gospel message of free justification in Christ. What is all our self-focus about? It’s us saving ourselves. We think about ourselves. We love ourselves. We hate ourselves. And we cannot help ourselves. But everything starts changing under the gospel. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, the British preacher, told us where the Lord wants to take every one of us today:

Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. . . . Never look back at your sins again. Say, “It is finished, it is covered by the blood of Christ.” That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you. What you need is not to make resolutions and to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! You just begin to say, “I rest my faith on him alone, who died for my transgressions to atone.”

Last week I found this from Martin Luther: “It ought to be the primary goal of every Christian to put aside confidence in works and grow stronger in the belief that we are saved by faith alone.” How would you define the primary goal of every Christian? Holiness? Evangelism? Luther thought the primary goal is to get out of our heart-killing strategies of self-salvation and grow stronger in the joy that I don’t have to do one more thing as long as I live to get God’s attention. My primary goal is to let Christ save me. That’s the primary goal of every Christian, Luther said. And if you’re not a Christian believer today, I want you to know what Immanuel Church stands for. This church is not here to tell you how wrong you are. This church is here for all of us to discover how wonderful Christ is. Maybe that should be our mission statement: “Immanuel Church exists to reject our own righteousness and grow stronger in the happiness of being saved by God’s grace.” That helps. It’s freeing – for sinners, both believers and unbelievers.

In Romans 8 Paul is still having his Q & A session. This time the question is unstated. We have to surmise it from what Paul does say. The new question is this. After his personal admission of failure in chapter 7 – we all identify with him – the question is this: What grace does God have for people like us who often sin? How does God help sinners? The answer is not the law. The law of God condemns us, because we are law-breakers. How does the gospel help us?

We’ve already heard the answer hinted at: “Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:25). Now in chapter 8 Paul tells us how that actually works in our lives. And the key word in this chapter is the word Spirit. In chapters 1-7, the word Spirit appears five times. In chapters 9-16, the word Spirit occurs eight times. But in chapter 8 the word Spirit appears 21 times, more often than in any other chapter of the New Testament. So then, how does God help people like us who sin in grand Romans 7-style? God gives us his very lifeblood, as it were – the Holy Spirit. Grace succeeds where law fails because grace brings the power of the Holy Spirit. Grace works miracles, and we all need miracles. We do not need more withering scoldings, not even within our own thoughts. We need a Helper, the Holy Spirit. He knows how to internalize the grace of God in our hearts so that we actually start changing.

Here’s how it works. God starts out by relocating us in an environment of overflowing acceptance that has nothing to do with our sins or our morals. It has everything to do with Christ:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. —Romans 8:1

Could it be any clearer? Remember Paul’s tortuously complex self-analysis back in chapter 7? There’s no hope for us in self-focus. No release there. We need to listen to God, and here’s what he has to say:

Now – not five years from now when you’re a better person but right now in the present where you actually live, where you need help

No condemnation – not less condemnation but no condemnation; the word “no” is the emphatic word in the verse; none at all; it’s over, as far as God is concerned

In Christ Jesus – not living up to the law but simply being in Christ on terms of his grace

If you belong to Christ, don’t think of him as far away, scrutinizing you to see if you make the grade. Paul has already told us, “We have been united with Christ in a death like his. We shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Romans 6:5). You have already died. You are now living your posthumous life. The old you, concealing your guilt under a veneer of okayness, smiling but sad – that tragic old you, that fits in so well here in Nashville, was nailed to the cross of Christ. Your sins have already been punished, and your morals have already been made irrelevant. You still sin, but the guilt and punishment of your sin are already in your past, dealt with 2000 years ago at the cross. You may have some apologies to make to people in the present. There may be difficult consequences to your sins, but there is no condemnation as you stand before God.

And then your Savior was also raised again from the dead. A new you lives now and will live forever. You have been joined to and redefined by the risen Christ. You can see in his story your own story, and the next step for you is resurrection. The deepest truth about you now is not your mood swings and your habits and your ups and downs. The deepest truth about you is that God has put you safely in Christ. That’s the first way God helps us. We receive Christ by faith, and the all-holy God declares over us, “No condemnation!”

Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. . . . Never look back at your sins again. Say, “It is finished, it is covered by the blood of Christ.”

There’s more. God helps us in another way. First, God declares over us no condemnation at all when we come into Christ. Then, secondly, he gives us a whole new arrangement for practical living:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. —Romans 8:2

What is this? It’s our new relationship with God – not law but grace. But Paul calls it the law of the Spirit of life. Has God traded one law for another? In a way. “The law of sin and death” is how Paul how sums up chapter 7. The law of God confronted him and exposed him and frustrated him and damned him. That law was chiseled into stone tablets. It was unbending, hard, cold, heavy. Paul tried so hard to live up to it, but he failed, and he hated himself for failing, and that made him only more frustrated and more unable. We’ve all experienced the vicious cycle of sin and death, sin and death, sin and death. We try so hard, we fail so obviously and suffer so intensely. That’s the Old Covenant. It doesn’t help. Nothing but grace helps sinners. And that’s what God has made so practical now. God has a new arrangement for us, called the New Covenant. Now God sends the Holy Spirit to write the goodness of the law into our hearts (Jeremiah 31:31-34). The Holy Spirit internalizes the character and humanness and beauty the law describes. The Holy Spirit changes our very personalities into people who don’t have to be prodded into doing the right thing. We come alive. We find in ourselves, to our own surprise, a new love for God, a desire to grow, a passion for the Bible, a tender humility, a ready willingness to bend with the will of God and serve God and put him first. Only the Holy Spirit can make us like that. And when he enlivens our hearts, we’re finally alive. It’s why Paul calls it “the law of the Spirit of life.” And he calls it law because this new way of living is authoritative. Grace isn’t a compromise. God isn’t bending his rules. In his kingdom, legalism is illegal because the new law is grace. Legalism and all forms of self-justification violate the wonderful law of the Spirit of life. God’s new order for you and me is the exuberance of the Spirit setting us free from the exactitude of the law. Spirituality replaces legality. Life outperforms religion. And Paul’s whole point is that this isn’t an ideal God is asking you to live up to. This is God’s new way of grace with you, your new relationship with him, in which he provides everything you need through the finished work of Christ on the cross (verse 1) and the wonder-working power of the Holy Spirit (verse 2).

If you’re not yet in Christ, he said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Why do you hold back from Christ? He is inviting and commanding you to come to him, be forgiven and live again. Will you come to him today?

If you are in Christ but not feeling set free, if those two words here in verse 2 (“set free”) do not describe you, here’s what you need to do today:

Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. . . . Never look back at your sins again. Say, “It is finished, it is covered by the blood of Christ.”

Don’t drag your guilt with you into Christ, as if feeling really bad about it makes you more worthy of forgiveness. That is self-justification. Christ was punished in your place. That is what you believe. Well, believe what you believe and let your past go, to the glory of Christ. Look away to Christ, and you will be wonderfully set free.