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No Condemnation!

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On a rainy September 13, 1814, British warships sent a downpour of shells and rockets onto Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor, relentlessly pounding the American fort for 25 hours. The bombardment, known as the Battle of Baltimore, came only weeks after the British had attacked Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol, the Treasury and the President’s house. It was another chapter in the ongoing War of 1812.
A week earlier, Francis Scott Key, a 35-year-old American lawyer, had boarded the flagship of the British fleet on the Chesapeake Bay in hopes of persuading the British to release a friend who had recently been arrested. Key’s tactics were successful, but because he and his companions had gained knowledge of the impending attack on Baltimore, the British did not let them go. They allowed the Americans to return to their own vessel but continued guarding them. Under their scrutiny, Key watched on September 13 as the barrage of Fort McHenry began eight miles away.
“It seemed as though mother earth had opened and was vomiting shot and shell in a sheet of fire and brimstone,” Key wrote later. But when darkness arrived, Key saw only red erupting in the night sky. Given the scale of the attack, he was certain the British would win. The hours passed slowly, but in the clearing smoke of “the dawn’s early light” on September 14, he saw the American flag—not the British Union Jack—flying over the fort, announcing an American victory.
Our Christian experience is that of two great armies clashing on the battlefield of life – the people of God and the sins that would defeat them. God’s people do not fight as well as they should. Sometimes they even yield to their enemy. But even as the battle rages, well before the promised victory, the Commander of God’s army orders a banner to be raised right in the middle of his troops for all to see. The banner reads, ‘No condemnation now for those in Christ Jesus!’ And that declaration has a remarkable effect upon the people of God. They do not use that assurance as an excuse to defect to the other side. They rejoice in the certainty of their final triumph and are energized to fight on.
Two great armies clash on the battlefield of life – the people of God and the sins that would defeat them. God’s people do not fight as well as they should. Sometimes they even yield to their enemy. But even as the battle rages, well before the promised victory, the Commander of God’s army orders a banner to be raised right in the middle of his troops for all to see. The banner reads, ‘No condemnation now for those in Christ Jesus!’ And that declaration has a remarkable effect upon the people of God. They do not use that assurance as an excuse to defect to the other side. They rejoice in the certainty of their final triumph and are energized to fight on.
raises that banner.
Romans 8:1 ESV
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
We look up at it with joy, and it stiffens our resolve not to quit. It is a plain and forceful cry. No condemnation for sinning, struggling Christians who yearn to be rescued from their frustration and failure! The only thing that will strengthen you to keep fighting is God’s strong assurance of grace.
This Scripture does not free saints to hold onto their sinful ways but fuels them to fight their sinful ways. We look up at it with joy, and it stiffens our resolve not to quit. It is a plain and forceful cry. No condemnation for sinning, struggling Christians who yearn to be rescued from their frustration and failure! The only thing that will strengthen you to keep fighting is God’s strong assurance of grace.
is one of the richest chapters of the Bible. But what is Paul aiming to accomplish here? What question is he answering?
The question driving is this: What can God do for sinners like us who are fighting but too often failing? We want to live for the Lord, but every day we betray him. Our hearts cry out with Paul,
Romans 7:24 ESV
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
.
So what does God provide for Christians with real problems? Does God have something that can outperform the severe, but ineffective, threats of his law?
So what does God provide for Christians with real problems? Does God have something that can outperform the severe, but ineffective, threats of his law? Paul has already whispered God’s answer to our heartcry earlier in his letter to the Romans: Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20). We are not under law but under grace (6:14). We now serve God not in the oldness of the letter but in the newness of the Spirit (7:6). And Paul has just shouted for joy, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (7:25). But how does that actually work out in our lives? What does the gospel have to say to us in the midst of the battle, before the final victory is won, as we struggle and fail – and then fail again? The key word in is Spirit. In chapters 1-7, the word Spirit appears only five times. In chapters 9-16 Spirit occurs eight times. But here in chapter 8 the word Spirit suddenly bursts onto the scene 21 times – usually referring to the Holy Spirit of God – more often than in any other chapter of the entire New Testament.1 So God’s provision for weak Christians is the Holy Spirit. We do need to get tough on our sinful impulses. But our own self-monitoring cannot actually change us. God’s transforming provision for sinning Christians is the sin-expelling Holy Spirit. The reason grace succeeds where law fails is that, while law is empowered by our own good intentions, grace is empowered by the Holy Spirit. We need a fresh rediscovery of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches today. I am thankful for the honesty of John Stott: The best way to begin is to stress the importance of our subject by confessing our great need of the power of the Holy Spirit today. We are ashamed of the general worldliness of the church and disturbed by its weakness, its steadily diminishing influence on the country as a whole. Moreover, many of us are oppressed by our own personal failures in Christian life and Christian ministry. We are conscious that we fall short both of the experience of the early church and of the plain promises of God in his Word. We are thankful indeed for what God has done and is doing, and we do not want to denigrate his grace by minimizing it. But we hunger and thirst for more. We long for ‘revival,’ an altogether supernatural visitation of the Holy Spirit in the church, and meanwhile for a deeper, richer, fuller experience of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.2 We do not need more frightening punishments and more withering scoldings. We need the all-sufficiency of Jesus applied in rich measure to our deepest points of personal need. And that is what the Holy Spirit does. He internalizes the triumphs of Christ crucified within the depths of the human being, so that our inclinations start changing from evil to good. The law cannot do that. The law tells us to pump harder, but the Holy Spirit makes springs of living water flow from within. The law tells us to pedal faster, but the Holy Spirit fills our sails. And that is the power of real holiness. But Paul does not begin Romans chapter 8 with the ministries of the Spirit. After the anguish of chapter 7, Paul first reassures us of our bedrock confidence before God: our union with Christ. Verse 1 declares, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ If God has drawn you to himself, then he has put you ‘in Christ Jesus’. We have been ‘united with him in a death like his,’ and ‘we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his’ (). Jesus used a metaphor to convey the vital intimacy of our union with him: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (). We can see how striking this reality is from , where Paul addresses his letter ‘to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi’ (nasb). Right now I am in Augusta, Georgia. You may be in Los Angeles or in Edinburgh or in Johannesburg. But far more, you and I are also in Christ Jesus. Think of it: ‘in Christ Jesus.’ Could there be a simpler way to articulate our relationship with the Lord than the word in? But the meaning is profound. Among other things, our union with Christ means that his righteousness has been credited to us, in God’s sight (; , ). And that is why there is ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ God has done this, we did not. And it changes everything. It means that we are not holding on to Christ as much as he is holding on to us. It means that God has done something for us larger than our own change of allegiance to him. He has included us in all that the death and resurrection of Jesus are worth. So when we prove again that we are sinners, as we too often do, we may also announce to ourselves that we are also in Christ Jesus, as liable to condemnation as he is.3 God wants us to revel in our union with his Son. Martyn Lloyd-Jones counsels us in how to take advantage of this triumph of grace: If you have got hold of this idea you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life. Most Christian people are miserable, most Christian people fail, and fall into sin, because they are depressed, because they allow the devil to depress them. ‘Ah,’ they say, ‘I have sinned, so how can I make these great statements?’ Have you never heard of the word ‘faith’? This verse is the answer of faith to all our troubles; this is what God tells us about ourselves; and He puts it in this absolute, complete, certain manner.4 Should we not declare to ourselves what God so clearly declares to us here in ? Thirty years ago, as a college student, when I was wrestling with my own mediocrity, I wrote out the following on a piece of note-paper, which I have before me right now: I’m so full of myself. I’m so frustrated. I’m so defeated. I’m so discouraged. I’m so sad. BUT Christ is SUFFICIENT. Christ is VICTORIOUS. Christ is SOVEREIGN. Christ is CAPABLE. Christ is LOVING. AND I’m FORGIVEN. So PRESS ON! AND DON’T LOOK BACK!!! Simply put, but isn’t that the foundation we all stand on? Isn’t that consistent with the plain absoluteness of Paul’s declaration here? What a contrast with the tortuous self-analysis of ! Only an unambiguous proclamation like this has the power to release the human conscience into freedom to live joyfully for God. Interestingly, some manuscripts of the Greek New Testament add something to the end of the verse, to qualify it. The Authorized (or King James) Version translates these manuscripts: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.’ As the Greek New Testament was hand-copied in the course of the early Christian centuries, some scribe could not allow verse 1 to stand in its unqualified simplicity. So he took the last phrase of verse 4 and repeated it here at the end of verse 1, to soften the force of the verse: ‘Sure, there’s no condemnation for those in Christ – as long as they’re walking in the Spirit!’ But this change is more than a corruption of the text. It is a corruption of the gospel. After all, when are we walking deeply enough and consistently enough in the Spirit, to escape condemnation? Paul’s whole point in this verse is to speak peace into the storm of our souls, calming our inner turmoil so painfully described in chapter 7. So who may allow himself to breathe in the gospel’s atmosphere of gracious acceptance? ‘Those who are in Christ Jesus’ – period. You may or may not be walking in the Spirit at any given moment. But there is no condemnation for you, none at all5 – not because your behavior is so Christian but because your Savior is Christ. And this is true for you right now (‘There is therefore now ...’). Not five years from now, when you hope to be a better Christian, but right now, as you are, Jesus Christ is your absolute Savior. Whatever the world may say, the Bible reveals that you and I are not isolated, autonomous, completely self-determining individuals. We are involved in vast and ancient solidarities – either with Adam or with Christ (). Our guilt is more than personal. We inherited guilt from our forefather Adam!6 But in God’s great love for us, he has removed us from our natural identification with Adam, cancelled our Adamic guilt, and joined us supernaturally to Christ Jesus so that we inherit his righteousness. If you are in Christ, then all that he can do for a defeated failure is now yours. You are not going to hell any more! This brief life is all the hell you will ever know. You will never again hear God’s holy law thundering its curses against you. The atoning work of Christ on your behalf is complete, and you cannot add anything to enhance his triumph (). So never qualify the gospel with well-meaning but unscriptural add-on phrases, the way that ancient scribe did with verse 1. Have some respect for what Jesus accomplished at his cross. Let your heart find rest in the wonder of Jesus Christ: ‘God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in him’ ( nasb). Let it sink in: at his cross, Jesus took all our sins on himself as if they were his own, so that now God gives us the righteousness of Jesus as our own. Our holy Lord exchanged places with us sinners. He put us in his place of approval, he put himself in our place of condemnation, and God accepts that exchange. Your only part is to open your heart and receive the finished cross-work of Christ. When you do, you are justified before God. You are not just brought up from minus to zero, to a position of neutrality. You are declared positively righteous in God’s assessment of you, as righteous as Jesus himself. And that is why you are released from condemnation and enter into peace with God (). This miracle of God’s love, which the Bible calls justification, not only secures us in his favor forever. It also puts into the hand of every Christian warrior a strong weapon against moral despair in the warfare of everyday temptation. The gospel is like this. God approaches you and says, ‘I have here a credit card. It is the credit card of justification. It accesses the infinite resources of the merit of Christ. If you take it, you can charge all your moral debts to this card. There is no limit on this card. It will give you a new credit rating in my data base. And you can carry this card with you at all times. Whenever you sin, you can charge it to Jesus. So I will never declare you bankrupt. How about it? Will you accept the card?’ And you and I have believed God’s offer and stretched out our empty hands to receive his gift. So now, when we sin, we know what to do. We take out the card and, by faith, let Jesus pay for it and put us back into ‘the black’ with God. Obviously, we could abuse the credit card. We could hear God’s offer and respond, ‘Think of the possibilities! I can go on a spending spree of sin, with no consequences!’ That, of course, is hypocrisy. The credit card is only for people of faith. And faith hungers and thirsts for righteousness (). That is the only true incentive for accepting the credit card of justification. Justification is for sinners whose hearts are longing to be rid of their sin. And for them, it really is as free and as wonderful as that credit card. Verse one does not say, ‘There are no sins, there are no accusations, there are no valid complaints, there are no disciplines.’ A Christian is not above correction. A Christian is not always right. But a Christian is never condemned under the judgment of God. The gospel does not deny the enslaving grip of sin (‘the law of sin and death,’ verse 2), but the gospel does deny the damning authority of sin. When you affirm your new identity in Christ, you are not playing a pretend game. You are not covering over your problems. But you are seeing yourself and your problems in a new connection – in relation to all that Jesus is worth to you, with his blood cleansing you and his promises securing your future. In fact, your union with Christ says more about you in the sight of God than your own habits and mood swings and weaknesses (and strengths!) say about you. The way God sees it, your real moral guilt died at the cross. So if you are in Christ, then the guilt of all your sins – past, present and future – is already in your past. It is a settled matter in the sight of God even now. You may need to make some apologies to people you have offended. You may need to confess sins and repair damage. But even as you go about doing those things, you go with the smile of God to encourage you along. You can even put your own name right here in the Bible: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for ____________________, who is in Christ Jesus.’ Now, if you have God’s approval in Christ, can it be wrong to relish a sense of his approval? Do not think, ‘If I want to be an earnest Christian, I can’t allow myself to enjoy the smile of God.’ Do not take yourself that seriously. Do not trust in yourself at all. Self-reproach does not bind you to godliness; confidence in Christ does. Trust him as your all-sufficient Savior. is announcing to you with unqualified clarity the absoluteness of your acceptance in Christ. God not only accepts you, he wants you to know that he accepts you, because you will never see liberating breakthroughs to new levels of personal holiness except in the reassuring atmosphere of grace. Living under condemnation actually strengthens sin. How? Given that the demands of God’s holy law are unendurable for weak sinners like us, sinning then becomes an outlet, an attractive escape, a way of easing the pressure. But here is our only remedy: ‘Spiritual health never comes from belittling sin, but from a willingness to bathe its filthy entirety in the compassion of God.’7 Will you bathe your filthy entirety in the compassion of God? He longs for you to. At what point will you allow yourself to let go of your self-hatred and rejoice in the all-sufficiency of Christ? Two things are certain about you today. One, your sins will run up a debt with God, more than you know. Two, God will cover for you. Why? Because the value of the crucified One has been applied to your account. And if God has actually done this, doesn’t it stand to reason that he wants you to feel loved and provided for? If you cannot ‘glorify and enjoy God’ through Christ, how can you fulfill your ‘chief end’?8 But union with our Lord not only saves us from God’s wrath and restores us to his favor. It also opens up to us a new, hopeful arrangement for living: ‘For the law of the Spirit of life has set me free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death’ (v. 2). God has structured for us a new relationship with him, in which every provision for a weak sinner is already built in and it will take nothing less than eternity in heaven to prove how vast its potentialities really are. We cannot overrate the importance of for understanding authentic Christianity. What is Paul saying here? He is only restating what the Bible says many times elsewhere. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, for example, prophesied a new covenant replacing the old covenant (; ). God’s holy law was originally chiselled into stone plates. It rightly condemned our every violation of holiness as real moral guilt before God. But God promised a new arrangement, a new covenant. He promised to take our guilt away and inscribe his law on our very personalities. This he accomplishes by virtue of our union with Christ (‘in Christ Jesus’).9 Basic to Christianity is the contrast between legalism and spirituality. Legalism is externalized holiness, while spirituality is internalized holiness. And spirituality produces the kind of people the law had in mind all along. The ‘law of sin and death’, as Paul calls it here, is human virtue confined to legalism. It is trying to meet the challenge of God’s holy law through our own self-mastery. Really, it only reinforces sin, concealed under a veneer of self-righteousness. But still, legalism is attractive to the human heart, because it reduces righteousness to humanly manageable dimensions. It reduces holiness to sin management, behavior modification. Lacking God’s Spirit, however, it only produces death. It hollows a person out. It turns righteousness into a role play, and make-believe moral character is unsustainable. Paul confessed his own frustration in chapter 7: ‘I see in my members [the way I actually live] another law at war with the law of my mind [the way I know I ought to live] and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!’ (). That voice is the moan of human bondage to sin! Up from the dungeon of sin – it is ‘the law of sin’ in 7:23 and ‘the law of sin and death’ in 8:2 – up out of that misery, our weary hearts cry for liberation: ‘Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ (). And boot-strapping ourselves up by God’s law does not deliver us. It only intensifies our frustration. It binds us to our sinful patterns, even as it makes us pretend to be something we really aren’t. But God has opened up a hopeful future. He has replaced the best that we can do with the best that he can do. The ‘law of the Spirit of life’ has set us free from the inexorable downward pull of the ‘law of sin and death’. You and I will not be sinful like this forever. The sovereign Spirit of God has taken us on as his personal project. could not declare more clearly that true spirituality is different from our own religious intuitions. Paul gives us only two alternatives here – life in the Spirit, and death under the law. And the difference between them is marked by the verb ‘set free’. There is no bondage in authentic Christianity. It is a liberation. But isn’t it interesting that Paul calls our new arrangement for living ‘the law of the Spirit of life’? We are freed from one law, not to be lawless, but to live under another law. The law of sin and death we all understand from bitter experience. But the law of the Spirit of life? Why does Paul describe deliverance – ‘Who will deliver me?’ (7:24) – in terms of another law? Because Spirit-filled living is God’s authoritative replacement for law-punished living. Ironically, in God’s kingdom, legalism is illegal! It violates the law of the Spirit of life. So God’s liberating new order for human existence in Christ is the exuberance of the Spirit setting us free from the exactitude of the law. Spirituality replaces legality. Life transcends religiosity. Archibald Alexander, the nineteenth-century Princeton theologian, was confronted by a man who demanded of him, ‘Sir, have you no religion?’ And Alexander replied, ‘None to speak of.’10 But this godly man had life in the Holy Spirit, according to God’s authoritative decree. Do you see how the gospel humbles us? For a hell-deserving sinner to be given a whole new life at the cost of the Son of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit is a joy to inspire awe. Do you see how the gospel encourages us? To live in a penalty-free zone in Christ and to come under the gracious sovereignty of the Holy Spirit who writes the law of God on the human heart – that is a liberation to energize fighters. And do you see how the gospel searches us? The most deeply probing word here in is the little pronoun ‘me’ in verse 2. Can your heart say with the hymn-writer, ‘No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine’? Can you say with Paul, ‘The law of the Spirit of life has set me free’? Does ‘set free’ describe what God has done in your life? Have you really come into Christ, or are you just devoutly religious? Are you a Christian? Seek the Lord, and do not rest until you can say for yourself, ‘The law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death.’
Paul has already whispered God’s answer to our heart-cry earlier in his letter to the Romans:
Romans 5:20 ESV
Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20). We are not under law but under grace (6:14). We now serve God not in the oldness of the letter but in the newness of the Spirit (7:6). And Paul has just shouted for joy, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (7:25). But how does that actually work out in our lives? What does the gospel have to say to us in the midst of the battle, before the final victory is won, as we struggle and fail – and then fail again?
Romans 6:14 ESV
For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 7:6 ESV
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.
Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20). We are not under law but under grace (6:14). We now serve God not in the oldness of the letter but in the newness of the Spirit (7:6). And Paul has just shouted for joy, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (7:25). But how does that actually work out in our lives? What does the gospel have to say to us in the midst of the battle, before the final victory is won, as we struggle and fail – and then fail again?
Romans 7:25 ESV
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.
Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20). We are not under law but under grace (6:14). We now serve God not in the oldness of the letter but in the newness of the Spirit (7:6). And Paul has just shouted for joy, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (7:25). But how does that actually work out in our lives? What does the gospel have to say to us in the midst of the battle, before the final victory is won, as we struggle and fail – and then fail again?
This sounds great but how does that actually work out in our lives? What does the gospel have to say to us in the midst of the battle?
The key word in is Spirit.
In chapters 1-7, the word Spirit appears only five times. In chapters 9-16 Spirit occurs eight times. But here in chapter 8 the word Spirit suddenly bursts onto the scene 21 times – usually referring to the Holy Spirit of God – more often than in any other chapter of the entire New Testament.
So God’s provision for weak Christians is the Holy Spirit. We do need to get tough on our sinful impulses. However, self-monitoring cannot change us only God’s Spirit dwelling inside of us can accomplish that task. Grace succeeds where law fails because the law is empowered by our own good intentions, grace is empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The best way to begin is to stress the importance of our subject by confessing our great need of the power of the Holy Spirit today. We are ashamed of the general worldliness of the church and disturbed by its weakness, its steadily diminishing influence on the country as a whole. Moreover, many of us are oppressed by our own personal failures in Christian life and Christian ministry. We are conscious that we fall short both of the experience of the early church and of the plain promises of God in his Word. We are thankful indeed for what God has done and is doing, and we do not want to denigrate his grace by minimizing it. But we hunger and thirst for more. We long for ‘revival,’ an altogether supernatural visitation of the Holy Spirit in the church, and meanwhile for a deeper, richer, fuller experience of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.
The Holy Spirit applies the all-sufficiency of Jesus in rich measure to our deepest points of personal need. He internalizes the triumphs of Christ crucified within the depths of the human being, so that our inclinations start changing from evil to good. The law cannot do that. The law tells us to pump harder, but the Holy Spirit fills our sails. One produces a pseudo holiness while the other produces real holiness.
comes after the anguish of . If we are going to live Spirit-filled lives we must learn to fight as Paul. His foundation for fighting was his confidence his union with Christ. If God has drawn you to himself, then he has put you ‘in Christ Jesus’.
Romans 6:5 ESV
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.
Jesus used a metaphor to convey the vital intimacy of our union with him: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (). Can such a small word as “in” change me? What does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus”?
Jesus used a metaphor to convey the vital intimacy of our union with him: ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’ (). We can see how striking this reality is from , where Paul addresses his letter ‘to all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi’ (nasb). Right now I am in Augusta, Georgia. You may be in Los Angeles or in Edinburgh or in Johannesburg. But far more, you and I are also in Christ Jesus.
It means that his righteousness has been credited to us,
Romans 3:22 ESV
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:
; , ). And that is why there is ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
Romans 4:3 ESV
For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.”
Romans , ). And that is why there is ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
Romans 4:23–24 ESV
But the words “it was counted to him” were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord,
And that is why there is ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
)
And that is why there is ‘no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’
It means that we are not holding on to Christ as much as he is holding on to us. It means that God has done something for us larger than our own change of allegiance to him. He has included us in all that the death and resurrection of Jesus are worth. So when we prove again that we are sinners, as we too often do, we may also announce to ourselves that we are also in Christ Jesus, as liable to condemnation as he is.
God wants us to revel in our union with his Son. Martyn Lloyd-Jones counsels us in how to take advantage of this triumph of grace:
If you have got hold of this idea you will have discovered the most glorious truth you will ever know in your life. Most Christian people are miserable, most Christian people fail, and fall into sin, because they are depressed, because they allow the devil to depress them. ‘Ah,’ they say, ‘I have sinned, so how can I make these great statements?’ Have you never heard of the word ‘faith’? This verse is the answer of faith to all our troubles; this is what God tells us about ourselves; and He puts it in this absolute, complete, certain manner.
Should we not declare to ourselves what God so clearly declares to us here in ?
The Truth about myself
I’m so full of myself.
I’m so frustrated.
I’m so defeated.
I’m so discouraged.
I’m so sad.
The Truth about my standing
Christ is SUFFICIENT.
Christ is VICTORIOUS.
Christ is SOVEREIGN.
Christ is CAPABLE.
Christ is LOVING.
AND I’m FORGIVEN.
So PRESS ON! AND DON’T LOOK BACK!!!
This is our foundation! This is Paul’s declaration! What a contrast with the tortuous self-analysis of ! You may or may not be walking in the Spirit at this given moment but there is no condemnation for you, none at all. And this is not of your own doing. This reality exist because of your Savior who stood condemned in your place.
The atoning work of Christ on your behalf is complete. You may or may not be walking in the Spirit at this given moment but there is no condemnation for you, none at all. And this is not of your own doing. This reality exist because of your Savior who stood condemned in your place.
Whatever the world may say, the Bible reveals that you and I are not isolated, autonomous, completely self-determining individuals. We are involved in vast and ancient solidarities – either with Adam or with Christ (). Our guilt is more than personal. We inherited guilt from our forefather Adam!6 But in God’s great love for us, he has removed us from our natural identification with Adam, cancelled our Adamic guilt, and joined us supernaturally to Christ Jesus so that we inherit his righteousness.
The atoning work of Christ on your behalf is complete, and you cannot add anything to enhance his triumph (). So never qualify the gospel with well-meaning but unscriptural add-on phrases. Have some respect for what Jesus accomplished at his cross. Let your heart find rest in the wonder of Jesus Christ:
2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Let it sink in: at his cross, Jesus took all our sins on himself as if they were his own, so that now God gives us the righteousness of Jesus as our own. He put us in his place of approval, he put himself in our place of condemnation, and God accepts that exchange. Your only part is to open your heart and receive the finished cross-work of Christ. When you do, you are justified before God. You are not just brought up from minus to zero. You are declared as righteous as Jesus himself and that is why you are released from condemnation and enter into peace with God
Romans 5:1
Romans 5:1 ESV
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
This miracle of God’s love, which the Bible calls justification, not only secures us in his favor forever. It also puts into the hand of every Christian warrior a strong weapon against moral despair in the warfare of everyday temptation. The gospel is like this. God approaches you and says, ‘I have here a credit card. It is the credit card of justification. It accesses the infinite resources of the merit of Christ. If you take it, you can charge all your moral debts to this card. There is no limit on this card. It will give you a new credit rating in my data base. And you can carry this card with you at all times. Whenever you sin, you can charge it to Jesus. So I will never declare you bankrupt. How about it? Will you accept the card?’ And you and I have believed God’s offer and stretched out our empty hands to receive his gift. So now, when we sin, we know what to do. We take out the card and, by faith, let Jesus pay for it and put us back into ‘the black’ with God.
This miracle of God’s love, called justification, not only secures us in his favor forever but places in the hand of every Christian warrior a weapon to fight against moral despair in the warfare of everyday temptation. The gospel is like this. God approaches you and says, ‘I have here a credit card. It is the credit card of justification. It accesses the infinite resources of the merit of Christ. If you take it, you can charge all your moral debts to this card. There is no limit on this card. It will give you a new credit rating in my data base. And you can carry this card with you at all times. Whenever you sin, you can charge it to Jesus. So I will never declare you bankrupt. How about it? Will you accept the card?’ And you and I have believed God’s offer and stretched out our empty hands to receive his gift. So now, when we sin, we know what to do. We take out the card and, by faith, let Jesus pay for it and put us back into ‘the black’ with God.
Obviously, we could abuse the credit card. We could hear God’s offer and respond, ‘Think of the possibilities! I can go on a spending spree of sin, with no consequences!’ That, of course, is hypocrisy. The credit card is only for people of faith. And faith hungers and thirsts for righteousness (). Justification is for sinners whose hearts are longing to be rid of their sin.
Verse one does not say, ‘There are no sins, there are no accusations, there are no valid complaints, there are no disciplines.’ A Christian is not above correction. A Christian is not always right. But a Christian is never condemned under the judgment of God. The gospel does not deny the enslaving grip of sin (‘the law of sin and death,’ verse 2), but the gospel does deny the damning authority of sin. When you affirm your new identity in Christ, you are not playing a pretend game. You are not covering over your problems. But you are seeing yourself and your problems in a new connection – in relation to all that Jesus is worth to you, with his blood cleansing you and his promises securing your future.
Two great armies clash on the battlefield of life – the people of God and the sins that would defeat them. God’s people do not fight as well as they should. Sometimes they even yield to their enemy. But even as the battle rages, well before the promised victory, the Commander of God’s army orders a banner to be raised right in the middle of his troops for all to see. The banner reads, ‘No condemnation now for those in Christ Jesus!’ And that declaration has a remarkable effect upon
So if you are in Christ, then the guilt of all your sins – past, present and future – is already in your past. It is a settled matter in the sight of God even now. You may need to make some apologies to people you have offended. You may need to confess sins and repair damage. But even as you go about doing those things, you go with the smile of God to encourage you along. You can even put your own name right here in the Bible: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for ____________________, who is in Christ Jesus.’
Hold on Pastor! This all sounds good and I want to think and talk this way but it sounds a little self-centered. Wouldn’t self-reproach bind me to godliness not confidence in Christ? NO! is announcing to you with unqualified clarity the absoluteness of your acceptance in Christ. God not only accepts you, he wants you to know that he accepts you, because you will never see liberating breakthroughs to new levels of personal holiness except in the reassuring atmosphere of grace.
Living under condemnation actually strengthens sin. How? Given that the demands of God’s holy law are unendurable for weak sinners like us, sinning then becomes an outlet, an attractive escape, a way of easing the pressure. But here is our only remedy: ‘Spiritual health never comes from belittling sin, but from a willingness to bathe its filthy entirety in the compassion of God.’7 Will you bathe your filthy entirety in the compassion of God? He longs for you to. At what point will you allow yourself to let go of your self-hatred and rejoice in the all-sufficiency of Christ? Two things are certain about you today. One, your sins will run up a debt with God, more than you know. Two, God will cover for you. Why? Because the value of the crucified One has been applied to your account. And if God has actually done this, doesn’t it stand to reason that he wants you to feel loved and provided for? If you cannot ‘glorify and enjoy God’ through Christ, how can you fulfill your ‘chief end’?
But union with our Lord not only saves us from God’s wrath and restores us to his favor. It also opens up to us a new, hopeful arrangement for living: ‘For the law of the Spirit of life has set me free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death’ (v. 2). God has structured for us a new relationship with him, in which every provision for a weak sinner is already built in and it will take nothing less than eternity in heaven to prove how vast its potentialities really are.
We cannot overrate the importance of for understanding authentic Christianity. What is Paul saying here? He is only restating what the Bible says many times elsewhere. Jeremiah and Ezekiel, for example, prophesied a new covenant replacing the old covenant (; ). God’s holy law was originally chiselled into stone plates. It rightly condemned our every violation of holiness as real moral guilt before God. But God promised a new arrangement, a new covenant. He promised to take our guilt away and inscribe his law on our very personalities. This he accomplishes by virtue of our union with Christ (‘in Christ Jesus’).
Basic to Christianity is the contrast between legalism and spirituality. Legalism is externalized holiness, while spirituality is internalized holiness. And spirituality produces the kind of people the law had in mind all along. The ‘law of sin and death’ tries to meet the challenge of God’s holy law through our own self-mastery. Really, it only reinforces sin, concealed under a veneer of self-righteousness. Legalism is attractive to the human heart, because it reduces holiness to sin management, behavior modification. Lacking God’s Spirit, however, it only produces death. It hollows a person out. It turns righteousness into a role play, and make-believe moral character is unsustainable. Paul confessed his own frustration in chapter 7: ‘I see in my members [the way I actually live] another law at war with the law of my mind [the way I know I ought to live] and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am!’ (). That human bondage to sin! Paul, a former religious leader, is teaching us that boot-strapping ourselves up by God’s law does not deliver us. It will only intensify our frustration. It will bind us to our sinful patterns, as it makes us pretend to be something we really aren’t.
But God has opened up a hopeful future. He has replaced the best that we can do with the best that he can do. The ‘law of the Spirit of life’ has set us free from the inexorable downward pull of the ‘law of sin and death’. You and I will not be sinful like this forever. The sovereign Spirit of God has taken us on as his personal project.
could not declare more clearly that true spirituality is different from our own religious intuitions. Paul gives us only two alternatives here – life in the Spirit, and death under the law. And the difference between them is marked by the verb ‘set free’. There is no bondage in authentic Christianity. It is a liberation.
But isn’t it interesting that Paul calls our new arrangement for living ‘the law of the Spirit of life’? We are freed from one law, not to be lawless, but to live under another law.
The law of sin and death we all understand from bitter experience. But the law of the Spirit of life? Why does Paul describe deliverance – ‘Who will deliver me?’ (7:24) – in terms of another law? Because Spirit-filled living is God’s authoritative replacement for law-punished living. Ironically, in God’s kingdom, legalism is illegal! It violates the law of the Spirit of life. So God’s liberating new order for human existence in Christ is the exuberance of the Spirit setting us free from the exactitude of the law. Spirituality replaces legality. Life transcends religiosity.
Archibald Alexander, the nineteenth-century Princeton theologian, was confronted by a man who demanded of him, ‘Sir, have you no religion?’ And Alexander replied, ‘None to speak of.’ But this godly man had life in the Holy Spirit, according to God’s authoritative decree. Do you see how the gospel humbles us? For a hell-deserving sinner to be given a whole new life at the cost of the Son of God and by the power of the Holy Spirit is a joy to inspire awe.
Do you see how the gospel encourages us? To live in a penalty-free zone in Christ and to come under the gracious sovereignty of the Holy Spirit who writes the law of God on the human heart – that is a liberation to energize fighters. And do you see how the gospel searches us? The most deeply probing word here in is the little pronoun ‘me’ in verse 2. Can your heart say with the hymn-writer, ‘No condemnation now I dread, Jesus and all in him is mine’? Can you say with Paul, ‘The law of the Spirit of life has set me free’? Does ‘set free’ describe what God has done in your life? Have you really come into Christ, or are you just devoutly religious? Are you a Christian? Seek the Lord, and do not rest until you can say for yourself, ‘The law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death.’
the people of God. They do not use that assurance as an excuse to defect to the other side. They rejoice in the certainty of their final triumph and are energized to fight on. raises that banner. We look up at it with joy, and it stiffens our resolve not to quit. This verse is like a banner because, in Paul’s Greek text, it has no verb. Our English Bible says, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ But Paul’s text is simpler: ‘Therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!’ It is a plain and forceful cry. No condemnation for sinning, struggling Christians who yearn to be rescued from their frustration and failure! The only thing that will strengthen you to keep fighting is God’s strong assurance of grace. is one of the richest chapters of the Bible. But what is Paul aiming to accomplish here? What question is he answering? The question driving is this: What can God do for sinners like us, fighting but too often failing? We want to live for the Lord, but every day we betray him. Our hearts cry out with Paul, ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ (). So what does God provide for Christians with real problems? Does God have something that can outperform the severe, but ineffective, threats of his law? Paul has already whispered God’s answer to our heartcry earlier in his letter to the Romans: Where sin increased, grace abounded all the more (5:20). We are not under law but under grace (6:14). We now serve God not in the oldness of the letter but in the newness of the Spirit (7:6). And Paul has just shouted for joy, ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’ (7:25). But how does that actually work out in our lives? What does the gospel have to say to us in the midst of the battle, before the final victory is won, as we struggle and fail – and then fail again? The key word in is Spirit. In chapters 1-7, the word Spirit appears only five times. In chapters 9-16 Spirit occurs eight times. But here in chapter 8 the word Spirit suddenly bursts onto the scene 21 times – usually referring to the Holy Spirit of God – more often than in any other chapter of the entire New Testament.1 So God’s provision for weak Christians is the Holy Spirit. We do need to get tough on our sinful impulses. But our own self-monitoring cannot actually change us. God’s transforming provision for sinning Christians is the sin-expelling Holy Spirit. The reason grace succeeds where law fails is that, while law is empowered by our own good intentions, grace is empowered by the Holy Spirit. We need a fresh rediscovery of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our churches today. I am thankful for the honesty of John Stott: The best way to begin is to stress the importance of our subject by confessing our great need of the power of the Holy Spirit today. We are ashamed of the general worldliness of the church and disturbed by its weakness, its…
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