One of the most tedious parts of any family vacation to is all the baggage. There are suitcases, extra items such as computers, fun stuff, food, and more. It’s nice to go somewhere and stay put so you don’t have to lug the bags any more than necessary. When you are flying, your baggage has to be loaded into the car, unloaded at the airport and lugged to the check-in area. At the other end of the flight it needs to be retrieved (hopefully), lugged to the car and then removed from the car when you get to your destination.
As tedious as this baggage may be, there is baggage we carry everyday that is even more burdensome. Most of us carry a large load of regret. We have made mistakes, done stupid things, and hurt other people. We are haunted by our past choices. We chose to do things that we knew were wrong and now we are paying the price. Like Paul we look at our lives and realize that often we have done the very things that we knew were wrong. We resolve to do better, we promise we will change, but it easier said than done.
Last week we were relieved to discover that our experience is not unique. Every believer struggles in his/her Christian walk. It is when we seem to stumble and fall again and again that we begin to wonder, “How can a true child of God act this way?”
Romans chapter 8 makes a declaration that seems too good to be true. Paul says there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Over the next several weeks we are going to sift through the treasure of this great chapter. Paul is going to push us to think differently and to find a new strength in God’s gift of His Spirit. The chapter begins with “no condemnation” and ends with the declaration, “No separation”. In between are many wonderful treasures. For this morning, let’s focus on the first truth.
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,
THE FACT: WE DESERVE CONDEMNATION
Notice that Paul says that there is NOW no condemnation. This implies that this was not always the case. He does not say that there is no sin . . .just no condemnation for that sin. We struggle and we fall but we are not condemned.
There was a time when some of us felt we were doing just fine in our lives. We saw no reason for God to condemn us because, after all, “we are better than most of the people”, “we believe in God”, “we are sincere” or “we are doing our best”. We were hoping God would grade on a curve.
Unfortunately God has not set his standard by the lives of those around us. The Lord has told us to “be holy as I am holy” (Lev. 20:26). He says we must “love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.” It doesn’t matter what other people do. It doesn’t matter how sincere we believe we are (it is possible to be sincerely wrong). God’s standard is sure. Even the best of us don’t even get close.
There is a second group of people who come from a different position. These people are convinced they are beyond hope. They have made so many mistakes, they have been criticized so often that they feel they have no shot of ever getting on God’s good side.
Deep down I think we all know that we deserve God’s judgment. We don’t even measure up to our own expectations, much less the expectations and commands of the Lord. We deserve condemnation.
THE REALITY: BELIEVERS ARE NOT CONDEMNED
Paul tells us something astounding and wonderful: there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He is not saying there is less condemnation. There is NO condemnation. In the Greek construction of this passage the point is emphasized. The first word in the sentence is the word “No”. The word Paul chooses is the strongest negative he can find. Paul wants us to understand that there is NO condemnation at all.
- Have you failed in your marriage? . . . He does not condemn you
- Are you struggling to overcome some vice? . . He does not condemn you
- Have you made wrong choices in the past? ..He does not condemn you
- Have you come out of an abusive situation? . . He does not condemn you
- Do you have a criminal record? . . .still, there is no condemnation
But there is a condition. There is no condemnation for “all those who are in Christ Jesus”. Paul is not teaching that everyone is going to Heaven. He doesn’t say that God is giving all of creation a “free pass”. He tells us that those who are true Christians are not condemned.
There are those today who would say, “God is too loving to let anyone go to Hell.” God is loving, but He is also righteous and good. He does not compromise with sin.
Why do we think that God is loving because He overlooks the sin of everyone? If your children had a friend whose parents never set any limits and never exacted any punishment, would you consider those parents to be good parents? Why not? Why don’t we just say, “Those parents are too loving to punish their child?” We don’t say this because a lack of punishment is not love. It is weakness. Children must be trained. They must be shown the limits of appropriate behavior.
In fact, after a time, most children of parents who set no boundaries do not proclaim that their parents are loving; they conclude that their parents “don’t care.”
For freedom to be real, there must be consequences for our choices. If there are no consequences for our choices, if things will turn out the same way no matter what we choose, then the choice is meaningless. We aren’t really free at all. God wants us to freely choose. Those who refuse to respond to His offer of salvation will receive the consequence of that choice. It’s the price of freedom. It is a necessary part of love.
THE REASON: GOD SENT HIS OWN SON
So, how is it possible for sinful people to be free from condemnation? Paul explains,
2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4 in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.
The key is Jesus. Look at what Paul tells us. First, he tells us that the Law was powerless to save us. This is not because God’s Law is weak. God’s Law is perfect and a sufficient guide for our lives. God’s law cannot save us because our sinful nature makes it impossible for us to keep that Law perfectly.
So, God sent his son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. We are told that God sent Christ in the “likeness of sinful man”. The term “likeness” doesn’t mean that Jesus wasn’t truly human. It means that he was flesh and blood just like we are . . . but without the stain of sin that we carry with us.
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he explains that though Jesus was part of God, he set aside his rights as God, and humbled himself and became fully a human being.
When a person becomes President of the United States, their financial holdings are put in a blind trust. They are set aside and cannot be accessed while in office. The reason for this is to minimize the influence these holdings will have on the decisions of the President.
In a similar way, Paul tells us that Jesus put the privileges of His deity (or god-ness) into a “trust”. He was still God, but He did not draw upon His goodness so He could identify fully with sinful man. The difference however is that Jesus did not fall to temptation. He was tempted in every way that we were but was without sin.
Paul tells us that the purpose of Jesus being sent by God was so He could be a sin offering. In the Jewish faith when you committed sin you came to the temple and offered a sacrifice of a perfect animal. The death of the animal turned away the wrath of God for that sin.
Jesus came to earth to be the perfect sacrifice for sin. He is the perfect sacrifice because He pays for all the sin (that which we recognize as sin and that which we don’t) and pays for it completely (you don’t have to continue to offer the sacrifice). So, God can declare us “Not guilty” because Jesus paid for our sin. There is no condemnation because Jesus took our penalty. God is not overlooking our sin; He is dealing with it in Christ.
Suppose you murdered someone’s child. Your act was senseless and brutal. Everyone, including you, understood that your brutality deserved the death penalty. Now suppose the parent of that child came forward and asked to be imprisoned in your place. Suppose the Judge agreed to the arrangement and you were set free while the parent of the child you murdered was executed for the crime you committed. Does that stagger the imagination? Of course it does.
We have offended, hurt, and tried to murder God over and over and over again. We are serial sinners. Yet, God does not give up on us. Instead He sent His Son, Jesus to take on the likeness of sinful flesh.
But this is not all He does. He pays for our sin and then gives us a part of Himself in the person of the Holy Spirit to make us knew and to help us overcome the law of sin and death that is in our body.
The Holy Spirit is to the sin nature like the law of thermodynamics is to gravity. A big airplane is held to the ground by the pull of gravity. As it speeds up and adjusts it’s flaps and stuff the law of thermodynamics makes it possible for the plane to go against the law of gravity.
God’s Spirit makes it possible for us to overcome the law of sin and death. As believers we are just learning about the Spirit’s power (we will hear much more about the Holy Spirit in the remainder of Romans). At first we will fail in our attempts to “fly”. But as we continue to learn how to depend on the strength the Spirit gives us we will at first fly for short distances. As we continue to learn and grow we will eventually learn to soar like a bird.
What we’ve talked about today is what we call the simple gospel message. Do you notice how often Paul repeats this message in the book of Romans? He does this because it is so easy for us to lose sight of this truth.
On the one hand we can begin to think that we have earned our salvation by our church attendance, baptism, giving and service. We need to be reminded that salvation is something that God does for us and in us. We are all sinners who have been saved by God’s grace. We are condemned people who have been set free by the work of another on our behalf.
On the other hand it is easy for us to become weighted down by our sinfulness. We carry the load of guilt, shame, and regret and our Spirit is bent low by the weight of our burden. We know we are saved by God’s grace, but for some reason we seem to think that once we turn to Christ for salvation we now have to prove that we deserve that salvation.
These words of Paul relieve our burden. When we put our trust in Christ we can never lose our salvation. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. What God demanded, He provided in Christ. If a child of God ever goes to Hell, God will be a liar because he has said there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Like the woman who was caught in adultery we stand before Jesus and hear those wonderful words, “neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.”
To be honest, we resist this idea because it sounds like we are saying people can continue to sin and “get away” with it. For some reason we feel that such people are getting a better “deal” than we are. There are two things we must remember. First, continuing to sin is not to “get away” with something; It is to miss out on something! It is to remove yourself from God’s gracious blessing to walk in the way of foolishness. It is like being granted a pardon from prison and choosing to remain in your cell.
Second, we must remember that God is committed to our growth as a child of God. In Hebrews 12 we are told that God disciplines those whom he loves. Understand, such discipline, though sometimes painful, is not punishment; it is an act of love that is designed to draw us back to way that leads to life. Do not make the mistake of thinking that “no condemnation” means there are not consequences for sin.
God gives us His Spirit so that we might be transformed. When we follow Jesus we will not follow perfectly. We will continue to struggle. There will be ups and downs. There will be good days and bad days. But the change has begun. We are in the process of learning to fly. When we put our trust in Christ it is like coming out of surgery. The sickness is removed; and now the rehab must begin.
There is no condemnation. There is no condemnation. There is no condemnation. The burden you carry is not from God. You can leave your past, your regret, your embarrassment, and your shame at the foot of the cross. John Bunyan has captured the idea in his allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress a story about the journey of a man named Christian.
Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulcher. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulcher, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.
That’s what will happen to you if you will come to the cross and trust the Lamb of God who gave His life as payment for your sin.
So the question that remains is this one: have you placed your faith, trust, and confidence in Jesus as your Savior and wonderful Lord? His invitation is simple, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
It doesn’t matter what your background is. The truth is that the person who is most aware of their sinfulness is closer to the Kingdom than the person who considers himself good. Before we can trust Jesus as our Savior we must recognize that we cannot save ourselves. If you have never done so, I invite you to bow your head and talk to God from your heart. Tell Him that you recognize your sinfulness. Receive His offer of forgiveness and new life. Say “yes” to God. Let the burden fall from your soul and trust that He will make you new.
Once you take God at His word, you can start looking forward rather than back. You can look forward to God’s blessing rather than be fearful of His curse. You can begin to hunger for the blessing of heaven rather than dread the horrors of hell. And you can do all this, because God has set you free through Jesus Christ and you never need to worry about His condemnation ever again.