||I want to concentrate,
this evening, on Romans 8:1. This is a familiar
passagewe always need to be reminded of that which
is familiar. We always need to remember that regardless
of how sophisticated we may become theologically, we are
simply sinners saved by grace. This is what Paul reminds
us of when he writes: "there is no condemnation to
those who are in Christ Jesus."
Before we get to that directly I want to talk about the character of Romans 8 just for a moment. Romans 8 has been likened to a sparkle of a diamond; that is if the whole of the epistle to the Romans is a diamond, then the sparkle of the diamond will be Romans chapter 8, and I think that is an appropriate comparison. No matter how many times we read it, Romans 8 always impresses us as being the same, as being an outstanding dimension of the Word of God. One that speaks comfort, one that speaks hope, one that ministers to us in this veil of tears in which we live.
"regardless of how sophisticated we may become theologically, we are simply sinners saved by grace"
|It is the poetry of Romans 8
that captivates us. One thing about poetry is that even
though you might not understand precisely what is being
said, poetry sets a mood. Sometime ago I was listening to
one of Schuberts Lieder Cycle, The Winter
Journey. Its about a man who has lost his love
and hes wandering through the snow of winter
lamenting this lost love. Its all very tragic. Now
I dont really understand very much spoken German,
but when I heard this piece, the mood of it was
unmistakable. Romans 8 conveys a certain mood, if you
will, it sets the mood of triumph, of good news
especially in contrast with the bass note that is sounded
in Romans 7.
Romans 7 is the anguished cry of frustration of Paul who wants to do the right thing but yet cannot do it. He finally cries out "O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" Now that certainly sets a mood! Then he says, "I thank Godthrough Jesus our Lord" and that parallels what he says in 1 Corinthians 15 when he writes, "thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ," talking of what is going to happen in the last day when he is raised up and given a glorious body like unto the body of Christ.
Romans 8 comes to us as the good news of the Gospel. Our age needs some good news. It needs good news desperately, does it not? We hear bad news all the time. We are hearing in the daily news about President Clinton, about the ice-storm in Quebec, and about Saddam Hussein. Our age needs good news and the gospel comes to us precisely as good news; this is why Romans 8 is a favourite with us.
In the second place, besides being good news, Romans 8
is a hymn of triumph because we are more than conquerors
through the one who loved us.
I want to look at Romans 8:1 from the perspective of there being no condemnation, so it is a negative point that we are making even though it amounts to a great positive. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The word condemnation is probably the most awesome word in the English language, or in any other language. It is an awesome word because it brings us into the courtroom, into the presence of the judge. I remember when I was growing up in a little town in Arkansas that the mayor of the town was also the municipal judge. He was a good old boy in many regards. We would shoot the breeze with him on the street corner, he was a chum and a pal to a certain extent. But some of the young guys who got hauled before him in his capacity as judge were amazed at how stern old Willie Ray could be when he was sitting behind the bench, because he had ceased to be their pal on the street and had become their judge, and was there to administer justice. So this word condemnation brings us precisely into the courtroom, into the presence of the judge.
Human justice is an awesome thing. When I had some pastoral responsibilities, some thirteen years ago in the north of England, the young son of a woman in our church was sexually abused by his cricket coach. The coach was found out and sent to jail. Incidentally the woman witnessed to him in jail and he became a Christian. I had the privilege of hearing his first public confession of being a Christian there in Durham Jail.
|When the day of his trial came, I thought I pretty well knew everything relevant to the case but then the judge started reading all of the charges. Things came out that I was totally unaware of. The man had no choice but to bow his head in shame because the charges were read, the facts were presented, and it was all brought out. How would you like to have all your misdeeds brought out in the open court? It is an awesome thing. If human justice is an awesome thing, then divine justice is all the more so , because the judge in this case is one who is omniscient, the one who knows everything, who understands the motivations not just the actions.|
|And so when Paul says, There
is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in
Christ Jesus, "he means precisely this: condemnation
is what has been negated. He means that one does not have
to come before the judge in his capacity as one who
condemns. However that is not the case for many of the
human race because people will come before the judge on
that Great Day and they will hear the pronouncement
precisely of condemnation and added to that will be the
fact that for many this is going to overtake them quite
I remember just after I became a Christian, which incidentally was through study of the book of Romans, I read a tract one night that someone had put in the bank where I was working, and it told the story of a woman who had been condemned to death for the crime of murder. The night before the execution she had a dream that she had given birth, and that she had the child in her arms giving love and tenderness as a mother to an infant. It was a beautiful dream. It was a sweet dream. But then came the tap on her shoulder and it was time to wake up to reality and to face the death sentence. Its an awesome thing, is it not? Condemnation overtakes many quite unawares but each one, in the end, has to confess that it is deserved.
What Does Condemnation Mean?
What does condemnation mean? I think that the awful reality of condemnation, of retribution, of Hell, is conveyed in Scripture through a variety of terrifying words. It is described as darkness and fire. Fire speaks of destruction and darkness speaks of chaos. So it can be both things together. It is a destruction which falls on that part of the human race which has chosen to turn its back upon the gospel. It is this process of consuming as it were and yet never being fully consumed. It is a chaos. Perhaps the most literal description of this is to be found in Romans 1.
Condemnation: The Opposite of Justification
What I want to do is concentrate on the meaning of condemnation in the context of Romans itself.
|For one thing it means the
opposite of justification. Justification is the great
exoneration that God pronounces on behalf of his people.
It means to vindicate. Indeed, charges are read and God
says that this person is vindicated, this one who stands
before me. There must be one who stands up on that
occasion to vindicate those who are vindicated. This
person is none other than Christ Himself. When God looks
at me, if I am in Christ Jesus, He sees only Christ
Jesus, not me. It is because I am in Christ, not having a
righteousness of my own, that God looks upon me and he
says: You are exonerated, you may go free.
But we are
saying that the opposite of justification is
condemnation, there is no-one to stand up for you. There
is no-one whose righteousness is effective on your
account but rather you have to bear in your own person
all of your sins and all of your evil doing. I know that
is a word that is somewhat out of vogue in these
daysevilbut there is evil, there is
wickedness. It is a whole life lived in opposition to the
grace of God. And what a horrific thing it must be to be
unvindicated in the Day of Judgment.
Condemnation: The Opposite of Love
In the second place, its the opposite of things
like love, acceptance, assurance. Dont we need to
be loved. Dont we need to be assured of that love.
Dont we need to be accepted. Have you ever been
ostracized, for example, from some group, maybe from your
own family? Ever been shunned? That can be a very
unpleasant experience. People go either way to avoid
contact with you, wont speak with you. People are
looking for love, theyre looking for acceptance,
theyre looking for assurance and they go to all
kinds of sources to find it, do they not? They go to
movies, they go to trashy novels, they get involved in
affairs. Maybe they seek to drown their sorrows in a
bottle and then they come to find out the real problems
can swim. But condemnation, you see, is going to be an
eternity with no love, no acceptance, and no assurance.
What a horrific thing.
Condemnation: The Opposite of Hope and Joy
I think condemnation is also the opposite, in the third place, of such things as hope and joy. Someone said that hope is to the soul what breath is to the body. And thats true. Maybe every once in a while you see that sarcastic bumper sticker that says "Once I gave up hope I felt much better." Thats intended to be ironic of course, because when you give up hope you dont feel better, you feel worse. Condemnation is precisely an existence of no hope.
In Dantes Comedy, written above the door of the
inferno of hell is, "All hope abandon, ye who enter
here." Now I grant you that a lot of what you read
in Dantes Inferno is Dantes imagination, a
lot of it is not Biblical at all. But at least he got
that part of it right. Imagine an existence of no hope!
Every day you wake up with hope, hope of something better
than you have perhaps, but in that day, when condemnation
becomes a reality, there is no hope and consequently,
there is no happiness of any kind. There is no joy, no
excitement, nothing to get up for in the morning, as it
were, it is the opposite of hope. And so thats
precisely what condemnation is.
Condemnation is Abandonment
And then finally condemnation is abandonment. There
are several times in Romans 1:18ff where Paul says that
God gave them up. He gave them up to do
precisely what they want to do. He gave them up
to the gratification of their desires. This is probably
the most awesome thing of all. Now these are terrible
words, "God gave them up." But the problem is
that they are unappreciated by those about whom they are
spoken, precisely because those outside of Christ are doing
what they want. J. I. Packer has it right when, in Knowing
God, he says that men have wanted to be without God,
apart from God, apart from His presence in their lives
and he says they shall have their wish. So
condemnation is an awesome word indeed.
A Glorious Negative
Now heres where the glory of the text comes in,
the power of the text. The force of the text is that
there is no condemnation for those who are in
Christ Jesus. There isnt any, it has been negated,
and so a glorious negative leads to a glorious positive.
No Condemnation Contrary to what The Accuser Says
I want to pose that there is no condemnation contrary to several things, in spite of several things that may be true. First of all it is contrary to what the accuser says. In Romans 8:33-36 Paul is reflecting on Isaiah 50, which speaks of the servant of the Lord. As Paul applies this he isnt talking about the servant but rather about Christians; he takes what applies, strictly speaking, to Christ and he applies it directly to us. So he asks the question in Romans 8:33, "Who shall bring a charge against Gods elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?
It is Christ Jesus who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?" Then Paul goes on to name various things that might try to do so: tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril or sword. Then he finally answers: "No. In all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us." Now this is the last day, the judgment scene. This is all of the nations who are gathered together, every individual.
|Now I believe that what is
implied in the text is that there is going to be one last
attempt on the part of Satan to condemn the people of
God. Remember how he is referred to as the one who
accuses the brethren night and day in heaven. And what
great grounds he has with which to condemn us because in
the course of a lifetime there is not just a mountain of
sin but a whole mountain range of sin. Anyone who knows
his or her own thought life knows what I am talking
about, because a great deal of our sin has to do with our
thought lifethose times of jealousy, of suspicion,
of hatred, those times of really wishing evil upon
others. If our thoughts were revealed to everyone they
would all be shocked at our inner person.
But on that day God is going to say to Satan: "Shut up, because they are mine. They have been accepted into Christ Jesus. It is in him that they have become the very righteousness of God. It is in him that they are accounted as just, and for that reason they go free, for that reason they inherit the great eschatological kingdom of God."
So the accuser can bring up many things with which to
condemn us, but because of this glorious positive of
being in Christ Jesus none of it counts for anything.
That means that we can look forward to judgment with
confidence. It means that we can look forward to the day
of death with confidence. I dont look forward to
the process of growing old and dying. I dont look
forward to the prospect of taking that last trip one day.
But yet with confidence I can face it because I know that
all of my sins have been laid upon one who bore them to
the cross and who was raised from the dead for my
justification. And so there is no condemnation contrary
to what the accuser says.
No Condemnation Contrary to what I May Say to Myself
But then in the second place there is no condemnation contrary to what I may say to myself. You know assurance is a problem to some Christians. It shouldnt be from a certain point of view. James Denny said that in Protestantism assurance tends to be a quest, something to be attained at the end of a journey. He was thinking about Puritan tradition. In Catholicism it is presumption to think that you could have assurance of salvation. But he said that in the New Testament assurance is simply a fact, we are in Christ and Christ is in us. Yet some Christians have problems with assurance.
|This is where Romans 7 comes
in. Paul, especially in verse 24-25, is describing a
struggle. He is saying, on the one hand, I want to do
what is right. He says: "I will to do what is
right." The very fact that Paul can "will to do
what is right" indicates that he has been made a
part of the new covenant. Go back to Jeremiah, where he
speaks of the way the law is going to be written on the
heart. He speaks of the way they are all going to know
the Lord from the least to the greatest. The fact that
the law is written on my heart indicates that I want to
comply with it, with its standards and demands, and it is
my privilege so to do. Pauls will is all-important
in understanding this passage. He says I delight in the
Law of God. In Psalm 119 there are a dozen references to
the way that David said that he loved or delighted in the
law of the Lord. Very interesting then, that at the end
of Psalm 119 David spoke of himself as a sheep who had
wandered away. But notwithstanding his wanderings he came
back. That is Paul in Romans 7. That is us in Romans 7.
John Murray once said that Romans 7 was the Christian at
his best, not just in a bad day but at his best!
So how does this sentence in Romans 8:1, "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus," hook up with what has gone before? Because although Paul ascribes a willingness to his own spirit he says, on the other hand, I cant do it. He says, "Wretched person that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?" There is this struggle going on.
But then, strangely enough, he says there is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ. Dr. Lloyd-Jones in his exposition wants to connect that "therefore" to the last thing Paul said in chapter 5, and maybe that has a place in the overall flow of thought. But I dont think that Paul wants us to hold our mind in complete abeyance from the end of chapter 5 to the beginning of chapter 8. The direct connection is precisely with what he has talked about in chapter 7, that it is those who experience the tension, those who feel the impact of the old age and the new age simultaneously, it is they precisely who can be assured that there is no condemnation because the fact that they are struggling, the fact that they are always getting up after they fall down indicates that they are alive. It is the struggle which is the sign of life.
|If you go to a funeral home
and go up to the casket and shout in the ear of the
corpse, what kind of response do you get? Or if you take
out a pin and prick the corpse in the hand, what kind of
a response do you get? The answer is, no response because
the corpse is not sensitive to physical stimuli. So it is
with those who are simply dead, there is no struggle.
There is simply a life which is given up to the things of
the world and the things of the flesh. What Paul is
telling us is that we are flesh and spirit at the same
time. We live in two worlds at the same time. So this is
why he says there is therefore no condemnation.
Maybe youve had a bad week, maybe you had a bad two weeks, maybe a lousy sixteen weeks and you wonder: Is there any hope for me? I seem to be in the Slough of Despond, down here in the mud flats. The answer is: Yes. There is hope for you, because you're the one being described and youre the one being assured that there is no condemnation for you. So in spite of what I say to myself there isnt any condemnation. Now who can think of a better definition of grace than that? There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, especially in light of what we may say to ourselves.
No Condemnation Contrary to what Circumstances Seem to Imply
And then in the third place, there is no condemnation contrary to what circumstances seem to imply. When we are going through the pain of suffering, at that moment, it seems that God our Father is very much against us. We cry out for relief and yet there is no immediate relief and we can conclude that He must not be for me, that there must be condemnation that awaits me, because of what is happening at the present time.
As you keep on reading through Romans 8 you find out that at the present time the creation is groaning in travail. That is just whats happening in our circumstances, in our lives. We are caught up in the groaning, in the creation itself. We are individual manifestations of the fact that this is still the present evil age, and we must live in the present evil age, even though the new age has begun in Christ. Circumstance, as such, doesnt mean anything. Nothing at all.
Now we come to the point where we simply have to cease being controlled by our emotions and take a grip upon the objective, revealed Word of God. Are we all creatures of emotion? Im a creature of emotion. I can grant you that, I have no problem conceding that point. Many are the times Ive wrung my hands and have wondered what is going on, and yet it is not circumstance, it is not providence, which is Gods will, as such, but rather what He has written. And He has written that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. And so in spite of what the circumstance may be saying, rest assured.
Now if this glorious negative of no condemnation has come to pass in the experience of Gods people, how has it come to pass? Has it come to pass because they are better than other people? There was a time, when I was back in high school, when you might have asked me, and I had even pondered the question, "Are you a Christian?" I would have said no, because I am not really good enough to be one. I knew what I was like, I knew what was in my thought life, I knew my aspirations. Not good enough to be a Christian.
But then the word came home one day that it is precisely for those who see that theyre not good enough that there is no condemnation. Its not by becoming a better person, its not by joining an ethical society of some kind, its not by helping elderly people across the street and thinking that for some reason youre going to receive a reward in heaven for it, but rather its by the fact of being in Christ Jesus. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. We dont have time to say a lot about what it means by being in Christ Jesus so well cut to the chase and say it means being involved in a personal relationship with Him.
Its true that there is a historical dimension. Now, at the turning of the ages, where Christ has done his whole and his complete work, I belong, I belong in that time. My values indeed have become the values of the new age. You see Christianity has been a new age movement from the beginning, because the age of righteousness has dawned.
|To be in Christ also has a
personal dimension. The older writers used to speak of
the mystical union with Christ. Now mystical probably
doesnt quite say it exactly right, but I am hard
pressed to find a better alternative. There is a
subjective element that is involved here, because it is a
relationship. The Lord as the Spirit comes and takes up
His residence within the hearts of His people and within
the congregations of His people. So that there is
something which is felt; there is something which is
known in the inner person. There is a reality which I
have a grip on, that those who are outside of Christ
cannot begin to grasp.
The Word of God and the Spirit
of God are co-witnesses in our hearts. And where both of
these witnesses do not exist, there is not and there
cannot be faith. But if we have faith, thank God He has
given it to us as a precious gift. And so it is in Christ
Jesus that I become the righteousness of God and
therefore there is no condemnation for me.
How do I get in Christ?
But then the question is, "How do I get in Christ?" If this is altogether necessary then how do I do it?
It was Martin Luther who put his finger on it when he speaks of the wedding ring of faith. We get into Christ simply by the act of faith.
|The wedding ring of faith,
it is by faith, thats how I get in Christ.
Why is it by faith? What is there about faith? The answer is that faith reestablishes the relationship of trust that was operative in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam, because that was a marriage like relationship. One partner in the covenant trusting the other partner in the covenant. Then Adam broke faith and all of that came to an end, but its all restored in Christ. How do I get in Christ? It is by faith and I wear for the rest of my days the wedding ring of faith.
Now I close with a quote from the Heidelberg Confession, one of the great documents of the Christian church. In a sense perhaps a greater document than the Westminster Confession or the 1689 Confession in that it brings more of the aspect of the devotional warmth of the Christian life into it. It asks the question: "What is thy only comfort in life and in death?" The answer is this: "That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him."
Now thats a question in a catechism that children were expected to memorize. Its all essentially one long sentence, but thats not what I want you to take away. Take away this, "I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own," because I have come into Christ Jesus and I have become Gods righteousness in Him. I belong to my faithful Saviour who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins. Now I ask you this evening, "Has Christ Jesus fully satisfied for all your sins?" God grant that before you leave this building this evening you will have come to grips with this basic question: Has he satisfied for all of your sins? Are you ready henceforth to live willingly and heartily unto him? God grant that that will be the case. Romans 8:1 is a great text, it is a great passage, it is great poetry. Let us absorb and imbibe what it means that there is no condemnation. None! There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen.