There is No Condemnation

This morning, I want to share a message from what I believe is one of the greatest chapters in the Bible.  When you think of the great chapters, you probably think of I Corinthians 13, the love chapter, or Hebrews 11, the faith chapter.  But I think Romans 8 belongs in the same category as those two great chapters.

            Romans 8 is the chapter that you need to come to when you get discouraged or depressed.  This chapter begins with “no condemnation” and it ends with “no separation.”  I don’t think you can read Romans 8 without being encouraged.  If you struggle with guilt, this is the chapter to read.  If you’re going through some tough times, this is the chapter to read.  If you’re struggling with your prayer life, this is the chapter to read.  If you’re struggling with assurance of your salvation, this is the chapter to read — Romans 8.

            In Romans chapter 7, the word “I” is frequent, the law is prominent, and sin is dominant. In chapter 8, the Holy Spirit is frequent (he’s mentioned 18 times, more than any other New Testament chapter), God’s grace and love are prominent, and victory over sin is dominant.

            This morning, we’re just going to look at the first four verses: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:1-2)

            There’s an article that Patrick Hurley has written.  And I’d like for you to see if you can relate to what he says.  Patrick writes, “I went on my journey of self-discovery and found one of my biggest problems was the inability to put past mistakes behind me and move forward.  When I was young and getting into trouble at home and school I remembered that I always felt guilt about these things….Every time I did something wrong it was like I put a stone in a large bag I had thrown over my shoulder. The bigger the mistake, the larger the rock. These rocks never went away; they just accumulated in my bag.  As I grew older…my bag was getting pretty heavy.” 

            Perhaps some of you can relate to those words.  Because what I’ve witnessed over the years is that there are a lot of Christians who live under a heavy burden of guilt because of their past.  “I could have done this.  I should have done that.  Why in the world did I do that?”  And so, they carry around this heavy bag of rocks.

            You would think that Christians – of all people – should understand the concept of forgiveness.  But there are many Christians, perhaps even some of you, who have a hard time believing that God could forgive them of their sins, much less forget those sins and remember them no more.  I think one of the reasons for this is because other people around you like to remind you of your past mistakes.  But I think an even bigger reason is that some Christians just can’t seem to forgive themselves.

            Let me tell you a story about Michael Bryson[1]  Michael was a new father, and he wasn’t about to let his wife’s first Mother’s Day pass uncelebrated.  So, he took his 6-month-old son, Jason, put him in a car seat and drove to the local hospital where his wife Miriam was working as a nurse.  In front of all the patients and co-workers, he surprised his wife with candy and flowers and balloons that said, “World’s Greatest Mom.”  It was a special moment, but after all the celebration, it was time for Miriam to get back to work and so Michael took their son Jason and returned to the car for their trip home.

            But of course, going home wasn’t nearly as much fun as preparing for the surprise.  And getting all that stuff back in the car wasn’t as easy as getting it out.  Michael set the car seat on top of the roof while he tossed the candy into the front seat, got the flowers arranged on the floor where they wouldn’t tip over, then he pulled the balloons in out of the wind and into the back seat.  Finally, he got everything arranged, and headed home.

            On his way home, it was very strange.  People were honking their horns and flashing their lights at him.  Michael couldn’t figure out what was going on until he got up to 55 miles per hour on the highway.  At that point, he heard a loud scraping noise move across the roof.  Michael watched in horror in the rearview mirror as the car seat (which was still carrying his son Jason) slid off the roof, bounced off the trunk onto the highway and began to slide along behind his car.

            Michael immediately screeched to a halt.  He ran back down the highway to the car seat.  Fortunately – miraculously — his son Jason was okay.  As the waves of guilt and fear and relief began to wash over him, Michael fell onto the highway and began to sob.  However, that didn’t stop a passing policeman from writing him up with a ticket.  Nor did it stop the local newspaper from writing a story about it. 

            There’s a part of us that says, “How in the world could he do something like that?” but I think there’s another part of us that relates to Michael Bryson.  We recognize all the mistakes that we’ve made, all the dumb things that we’ve done as a result of hurry or frustration or distraction.  And so, we ask the question over and over, “How could I have done something stupid like that?”

            The 8th chapter of Romans begins with one of the greatest promises in all the Bible.  Paul says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  I suspect that even as I read that verse, there is something in those words that excites you a bit.  Maybe even a part of you that says, “That sounds too good to be true.  I wish it was true.”  To realize that in spite of our sin, God doesn’t condemn those of us who are in Christ Jesus.  Now, that thought by itself is overwhelming.  But when you read this verse in light of Romans chapter 7, it’s even more amazing.

            You see, Romans 7 deals with our struggle with sin.  And Paul gives us a glimpse into his own struggle.  And for me, that’s encouraging.  I sometimes think of the apostle Paul as someone bigger than life.  I see him standing up and defending his faith in front of the Roman governors and even the emperor himself.  I think of him on his great missionary journeys all over the Roman Empire.  And I think most of us have put the apostle Paul up on a pedestal.

            But in Romans 7, we get a glimpse into Paul’s heart, and he’s a lot more human than we might have thought at first.  Paul lets us know that he struggles with sin just as much as we do.  This is not Paul talking about the way he used to be sinful before he became a Christian.  This is Paul saying, “It’s still difficult.  There are times that I still do those things that I don’t want to do.”

            And it’s difficult for all of us.  Earlier in Romans Paul wrote, “There is none righteous, no not one.”  Later, he said, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  But in chapter 7, Paul states it even more personally. Paul says, “I struggle with sin, and sometimes I lose that battle.”  And you can feel the frustration as Paul says,

            “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24)

            How many times a week could you just kick yourself for failing? 

  • You try to be patient with your kids or your spouse or your parents, but in the heat of the moment, you lash out and the words you say have done their damage before you even knew it.
  • You thought you had broken the grip of that nasty habit, but there was that one weak moment, and you listened to the whisper that told you “it will be okay just this once,” and now you feel like a failure.
  • You knew you should have steered clear of that situation, but you thought you could handle it.  Before you knew it, you found out the hard way that you were weaker than you thought.

            A thousand times, in a thousand different ways you have tried to live by the standards that you know are right. But like Michael Bryson, even though you knew better, you did something really stupid.  And now you feel guilty, because you know how God feels about sin.  And you’ve read scriptures like Hebrews 10:26 which says that those who “sin willfully” can expect “a certain expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.”  To use Paul’s language in Romans 7, you feel wretched.

            “Wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.  There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 7:24-8:2)

            I told you that what Paul says here is even more amazing when you understand Paul’s train of thought. You see, Paul admits that there is this struggle that goes on within every human being, and when we try to win by our own strength, we often lose.  And the law of sin and death is a simple law which Paul gave us back in Romans 6:23 – if you sin, you die.  That’s the rule.  That’s the penalty.  But Paul says that “the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”  The great promise of God’s grace is that even when we fail, there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

            There is this beautiful security in our relationship with God.  If we are in Christ, we don’t need to wonder if God is angry with us.  Because, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  If you are a child of God who is striving to please God, you don’t need to fear God’s wrath.  Becauser, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  And it’s not because we’re perfect.  It’s because when God looks at you, he doesn’t see a wretch, he sees a son or a daughter. 

            You remember the story of the prodigal son. The boy disregarded his father, and then disgraced himself in every way possible.  But when that dirty, stinking boy came within eyesight of home, his dad was there to clean him up and throw him a party.  Paul wants to make sure that you understand that God is just as anxious to throw his arms around you. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

            Now let me tell you why it is so very important that you understand that. Because the truth is, there is sometimes condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  But it doesn’t come from God.  It comes from Satan.  The word “Satan” in Hebrew means “accuser”.  And as I said in my sermon last week, Satan loves to accuse us.

            Again, in Revelation 12:10, “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ.    For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.”

            John is talking here about Satan.  Satan is the accuser.  He loves to accuse us and he does it constantly, day and night.  “Real Christians don’t do what you just did!  You’re hopeless!  You might as well admit your hypocrisy in claiming to be a Christian and quit trying to be holy.”   Satan wants to fool us into believing that we are condemned.  He wants to trap us into believing that we are so wretched that God doesn’t want anything to do with us.  He wants us to be like Adam and Eve in the garden after they sinned.  All they wanted to do was to hide from God!

            And the truth is, we’ve all been there. We have failed, and kicked ourselves, and felt condemned.  And we have hidden ourselves from God, and we have turned away, not because we don’t love God, but because we’re ashamed.  We have felt like a wretch, and we have listened to Satan tell us that God condemns us because of our sin.  But if we are in Christ, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

            I heard a story once about a girl who was the daughter of one of the royal families of Europe. She had a big, round nose that destroyed her beauty in the eyes of others — and especially in her own eyes.  She grew up with this terrible image of herself as an ugly person.  So her family hired a plastic surgeon to change the contour of her nose.  He did his work, and there came the moment when they took the bandages off and the girl could see what happened. 

            When the doctor removed the bandages, he saw that the operation had been a total success. All the ugly contours were gone.  And when the incisions healed and the redness disappeared, she would be a beautiful girl.  He held a mirror up for the girl to see.  But this girl’s ugly image of herself was so deeply embedded in her mind that when she saw herself in the mirror, she couldn’t see any change.  She broke into tears and cried out, “I knew it wouldn’t work!”  The doctor had to work with that girl for six months before she finally accepted the fact that she was different now.  But the moment she accepted the fact that she was different from what she used to be, her whole behavior began to change. 

            You see, Paul recognizes a very important truth — that we tend to act according to how we see ourselves.  And if we are deceived into thinking that we are something other than what God says we are, then we are going to keep on acting that way.  And that’s why the way to break the power of the most vicious and evil habit is to see yourself as God sees you.  Then you can begin to act that way.

            So let me ask you a question, how many of you here believe that the Bible is true?  With a show of hands.  OK, good.  If you believe that what God says is true, I want you to repeat these words together with me — “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  Again.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

            The important question this morning is this — Do you believe that?  You may say, “Yeah, I believe that, but I know how much I mess up.”  Guess what?  So does God.  And God said, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

            The challenge that we face is to not just say that we believe it, but to live like we believe it. Don’t let anything that you have ever done, or will ever do to separate you from God.  A little later in Romans 8, Paul is going to ask a very important question —“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35).  Paul lists a long list of things that threaten to separate us from God’s love and then he says that none of them “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39).

            Nothing can separate us from God. But when we do something foolish and we fail, our tendency is to turn away from God in shame.  And in those moments, we need to remember what Paul says here, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  There is never a time when you will turn toward God and not find his arms extended, waiting for you.

            There may a few of you who are saying, “Hold on, Alan, you’ve gone too far.  If folks believe that, then they’re going to have the attitude, ‘We can live any way we want and God won’t condemn us.’”  But Paul is going to tell us in verse 4 that if we are in Christ Jesus, we will walk according to the Spirit, not according to the flesh. 

            I could spend an entire lesson exploring what that means, but for now let me say that if you’re walking in the flesh, then your focus is living the way you want to live with no concern about what God has to say.

            But I don’t know many Christians like that.  Most of the Christians I know are people who are trying to do their very best and when they fail, it bothers them a great deal.  But these are the ones who keep carrying around this huge load of guilt.  Paul reminds us that Jesus Christ died on the cross to take that load of guilt off of us.

            And it’s not that we should never feel guilt when we sin.  I would argue that Christians should feel guilty when they sin.  That guilt stems from the fact that I have violated God’s holy Word.  I have disobeyed my heavenly Father.  Rather than loving my Savior, who went to the cross on my behalf, I have loved the sin that put him there.  Feelings of guilt that lead to genuine sorrow and repentance when I disobey God are appropriate.

            But I should not feel the guilt of condemnation that comes from the accuser.  If I am truly sorry for my sin and am repentant before God, then I need to accept his forgiveness and the blood of Jesus Christ.

            “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  (Romans 8:3-4)

            Paul says that if you are in Christ Jesus, then Jesus has done what you can never do, and what the law could never do for you. 

            You see, law is a good thing.  I can’t imagine living in a country without laws.  But law has some limitations.  Law can tell you what you need to do, and law can tell you what the punishment is if you fail to do what you ought to do.  But once you mess up, the law can’t help you.

            If you’re driving down the Interstate at 90 mph, the law will stop you and give you a ticket with a severe fine attached.  But when you go to court, the law will not pay that fine for you.  It can’t do that. 

            If you fail to pay your income taxes for several years, the law will let you know that not only do you have to pay those back taxes, but you also have to pay thousands of dollars in penalty.  But what the law cannot do and will never do is to pay that penalty for you.

            When you sin, God’s law will let you know that you have done something wrong, and it will tell you what the penalty is.  The wages of sin is death.  But what the law will not do and cannot do is to pay that penalty for you. 

            But, “God has done what the law…could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

            I want to make sure you understand the significance of that phrase.  Sin tries to condemn you.  Satan tries to condemn you.  “Look at what you did!  Look at how you failed!”  But Jesus condemns sin.  Jesus says to sin, “You’re the one who has failed.  You tried to separate someone who is in me from God and you can’t do it.  I have paid the price to make sure that doesn’t happen!”

            As Paul puts it in I Corinthians 15:56-57, “The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

            Do you begin to see why Romans 8 is such an important chapter to read when you get discouraged?  I would encourage you to go home and read the rest of this chapter, because all throughout the rest of Romans 8, there is even more good news.

            But it’s important that you understand that this good news is only for those who are in Christ Jesus, it is only for those who are walking according to the Sprit.  If there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then the opposite is also true – there is condemnation for those who are not in Christ Jesus, because there is nothing to help out when the law of sin and death says, “You have sinned and the penalty is death, separation from God.”

            But, if you’re not in Christ, you can be.  Paul said back in chapter 6, “Do you not know that as many as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Romans 6:3).  That’s how we get into Christ, we’re baptized into Christ.  So, I ask this morning, have you been baptized into Christ?  And, if so, are you living your life with a mind focused on the things of the Spirit?

            If so, leave your guilt behind and leave here this morning with the assurance, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  But if you are not yet in Christ or you’ve been walking with a focus of the things of the flesh, on your desires and not God’s, the good news is that you don’t need to leave here this morning in that condition.  Put Jesus Christ on in baptism and as your sins are forgiven, leave the guilt behind.

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