Easter is the grand celebration of the Christian Calendar and for good reason. It is a celebration of a significant historical event. Easter is about a real man (Jesus) who was really killed (decisively) and then came out of His grave nearly 40 hours later, alive. He was then seen by hundreds of witnesses who heard Him teach and even ate with Him over and over for a period of 40 days. It is the most significant event in history so far. It will only be eclipsed by His return.
However, it is a mistake to think of Easter simply as a historical event to celebrate (like the 4th of July). We celebrate Easter because of what that resurrection continues to mean for you and for me and for every generation before us and after us.
This morning I take you to a non-traditional Easter text: Romans 8:1-4. This passage describes some of the rich, wonderful, and life-changing fruit of Easter. I believe if you understand what this text is saying it will revolutionize your life.
What Paul writes in chapter 8:1-4 is conclusion from what has come before. He has explained the good news of the gospel. He teaches about sin, faith, and what God has done to make us right with Him. He told us that because of what God has done we don’t have to live in sin anymore. In chapter 7 Paul tells us that we died to the demands of the Law of God. What he says next is often misunderstood but is very important.
So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. (Romans 7:14-19)
We Are a Mess
What Paul says here is really important. The problem is not the Law of God. The Law is good. It was given to us by God so it can’t be anything but good. Our problem is not the external standards of the world. It is not the unrealistic expectations of others. The problem is not outside of us, it is inside of us! We are a mess.
Paul explained earlier in chapter 7 that the purpose of the Law was not to make us better; it was to show us our need of God’s transforming work in our life. The more we become familiar with the law, the more we will realize how messed up we are.
This is something we miss. We understand that we cannot earn our way into Heaven. Most of us here would confess that we need God’s grace to save us. Where we get messed up is after we turn to Christ to save us. We know God has saved us by grace and we now think we have to work hard to make sure we stay saved and earn God’s blessing.
This results in endless frustration because one of two things happen: either we find ourselves endlessly frustrated because of failures, or we become self-righteous thinking that somehow we are doing better and God should be pleased. This has a huge impact on the church. When we think we are good people we will look down on those whom we consider to be bad people. However, when we recognize that we are all people who are broken there will be a bond and love between us like soldiers in a war who are in a foxhole while the bombs crash around them.
Think of Jesus when he called Peter to get out of the boat and walk on the water. Peter was doing fine until when? Until he looked down to see how he was doing! It is the same in our Christian life: when we focus on how we are doing we are in trouble. The irony is this: we are growing the most when we are least concerned about growing and most concerned about loving and resting in Christ!
Think about how much time we spend trying to demonstrate how spiritual we are. Think about all the time we spend trying to impress others with our competence and our achievement in life. All the time we know it is a lie! We are not good people! We are deeply stained, wounded, and crushed.
At the end of Romans 7 Paul writes,
24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.
This is the key: when we realize we are a mess, when we give up all hope of saving ourselves in any way; when we recognize that the answer is ONLY in Jesus, then we find what we so desperately need.
So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
In the Gospel of John in chapter 8 there is a story about a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. She was brought before Jesus and the crowd and Jesus was asked, “The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” (v. 5)
Put yourself in the sandals of this woman. Perhaps she was a woman who sold her body to make ends meet. Maybe she was lonely and craved love and made a bad decision to get involved with the husband of another woman. Maybe the excitement of “feeling attractive again” made her abandon her vows to her husband. We don’t know. We can be pretty sure that as she stood there she knew she was guilty. She had done what was wrong and to make it worse, it was now part of the public record. She was humiliated, ashamed, and afraid. She knew that people latch onto a scandal much like sharks are drawn to blood.
Jesus knew this drama was really meant as a trap for Him. He ignored the question and wrote in the dirt (there are all kinds of theories as to what He wrote). When they kept pushing Him for an answer He said, “All right, let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he went back to writing.
One by one people slipped away. No one wanted to declare that they were without sin. Then Jesus looked at the woman and he commented that no one was left to condemn her. Then he said, “Neither do I [condemn you]. Go and sin no more.” Jesus recognized her sin. He didn’t say what she did wasn’t wrong. He said He did not condemn her. There is a huge difference. R.C. Sproul asks,
“How much would it mean if Jesus looked at us and spoke those words? “From this day forward I will not condemn you; you never have to fear condemnation from me. The world may condemn you—even the church might condemn you—but if you are in me, you are safe.” Only Paul’s words can take us from the wretched misery of the ongoing struggle and failure with temptation and sin to the glorious conclusion that, despite the struggle, we have passed beyond the threat of death and judgment. There is no condemnation left for us.”
Every one of us carries a burden of regret for things we have done in the past (not near as much regret as we should have but enough to severely weigh us down and rob us of joy). To think that the final and only true Judge will not condemn us but instead will extend to us grace, mercy and even make us a part of His family and His Kingdom, is almost too good to believe!
But the promise is even more amazing! The Bible tells us not only are we assured of no condemnation for what we have done in the past; we are also assured of no condemnation for what we do in the present and in the future! The word “no” is the strongest negative. It is put at the beginning of the sentence to emphasize the negative. The point is that Paul is saying, “Not only is a Christian not in a state of condemnation now. He never can be; it is impossible.” Jesus paid not only for our past sin but also our present and future sin. It is unthinkable that after Jesus suffered as He did that any other sacrifice for sin is necessary.
Max Lucado writes,
For those in Christ, these promises are not only a source of joy. They are also the foundations of true courage. You are guaranteed that your sins will be
filtered through, hidden in, and screened out by the sacrifice of Jesus. When God looks at you, he doesn’t see you; he sees the One who surrounds you. That means that failure is not a concern for you. Your victory is secure.
We have a hard time believing this. We become depressed over our failures and allow the Devil to doubt God’s promise. Faith is trusting God’s promises more than we trust our feelings. The saying is true: Jesus + NOTHING = Everything. We contribute nothing to our salvation.
How is This Possible?
Not everyone is in this state of “no condemnation”. Paul says, “So now there is no Condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus”. Those who do not “belong to Christ Jesus” still face condemnation and Judgment for their sin.
Paul explains that the Law (or trying to do good) cannot and will not save us. The Law shows us God’s standard. The Law shows us what God desires but it has no power to change us.
We are unable to save ourselves yet there are many who spend their lives trying to “get saved”. You hear people say sometimes, “Compared to other people I think I am living a good life”. The thing is that God does not compare us to “other people”, He measures us by His Law. He sees us as people who engage in idolatry (we worship or devote ourselves to things that are not Him). He sees the way we use and abuse each other. He sees us as those who make promises we don’t keep, and do things we know are wrong.
God’s solution was to send Jesus into the world. He was fully God but also fully man. He lived the perfect and consistent life we were not able to live. He willingly gave Himself as a substitute sacrifice for our sinfulness. In other words, He took our punishment upon Himself. He traded His life for ours. He paid the ransom. His life, of infinite value, can cover (pay for) the sin of all who come to Him.
The Resurrection is an important part of this. It proves that the transaction was acceptable. Anyone can say they are the Messiah. Anyone can claim to give their lives for another . . . only Jesus rose from the dead to verify His claim. The Resurrection shows us that the promise of “No Condemnation” is real.
So what does it mean to “be in Christ Jesus?” It means several things.
- First, we have to admit our brokenness. We have to stop trying to earn Heaven (to think we can earn Heaven shows we either have a view of sin that is too weak or a view of ourselves that is too great).
- Second, we must recognize that only God can save us. He has made this possible through Jesus. As the Son of God, His life could be traded for ours. He could pay the debt we could not possibly pay. He could remove the stain that enslaves our soul.
- Third, we run to Him and rest in His Love. Our security is not found in our efforts, our goodness, or even our spiritual growth. Our security is found in His love for us.
This is why this is an Easter sermon. The state of “No Condemnation” is the fruit of what Jesus accomplished through His death and resurrection.
Does This Mean What I Do Doesn’t Matter?
Paul says, “we no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit”. When you are truly loved you are drawn further into the relationship. You do not do things because “you have to,” you do things because it is your delight and your joy. It is not that we don’t start living differently . . . we will but not because that is what we are trying to do. It is because growing deeper in God’s love changes our hearts and our desires.
Paul says those who have put their TRUE faith in Christ (meaning it was more than an emotional and impulsive decision) will want to follow Christ because the Holy Spirit lives in them and is helping them to do so. The truly faithful believer understands that the Lord’s plan for us is superior to anything we can desire or dream up. God sees with the wisdom that we lack. If we really believe Jesus is our Savior and our Master, we will follow Him joyfully like lovers walking on the beach.
Trusting Christ is not merely about reaching a point of crisis, saying a prayer, and then going back to the life you were living. When we turn to Christ as our Savior we are not making a transaction, we are entering into a relationship that is a more committed relationship than anything we have ever known.
So, here is the question: have you entered into a relationship with Jesus or have you only had an “experience”? The person who is truly “in Christ”, the person who can claim the promise that there is now “no condemnation” is the One who has entered into a saving relationship with Jesus. Does that describe you? If not then I encourage you to embrace the freedom that comes from admitting the truth about your stained heart. Run to Jesus! Receive His love and begin your new relationship with Him.
Our hope and our salvation is built on nothing less, nothing more, and nothing other than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. When we stand before the Lord in Heaven we will not list the good things we have done, we will point to Jesus.
The message of Easter is this: because Jesus came, died in our place, and rose again, our life changes forever. Think about it,
- You can stop looking over your shoulder wondering when all that sin is going to catch up with you.
- You can stop living afraid that you will get kicked out of Heaven because you fail. You can dare to live and risk making mistakes.
- You can stop worrying about the crowd of people who clench rocks of condemnation. The Righteous Judge, the final court of appeals has declared you not guilty!
- You can face death without fear. You know where you are going! Your salvation is not dependent on being “good enough,” it is anchored to what Jesus has done in your place on the cross. He is the Resurrection and the life. Whoever lives and believes in Him will live even though he dies”. It’s God’s promise.
- You can stop pretending. You can be honest about your struggles and failures because you are forgiven. You can live as one who has been set free by the grace of our Lord Jesus. It is liberating to be able to confess to others: “I am a mess, but God is working to clean me up.”
- You can relax and enjoy the journey. It is like the difference between worrying about good grades and loving to learn. The person worrying about grades is always looking at performance. The person who loves learning soaks in data and tests become simply a way to measure what has been learned. The person who loves learning may get a better education than the person focused only on grades. The truth is, most people who relax and enjoy the process of getting an education usually don’t have to worry about grades; they come naturally.
Dr. Steve Brown sums up the message of this text and of Easter pretty well,
If you belong to Christ, God’s not mad at you. You’re loved and you live by grace.If that doesn’t give you reason to laugh, nothing will.
Brown continues to point out that the message of the gospel is joyful news and infectious news. And then he adds . . . “why not let it go to your head”.
Yes, that’s the message of Easter. God loves us. He’s rescued us. He has set us free. The stains are removed. The barriers are lifted. Like a young calf who has escaped the pen: run, play, and enjoy what God has given! This is news worthy of a celebration. Not just today, but every day of our lives.