Life in the Spirit: No Condemnation

Sermon by David Strain on April 26

Romans 7:21-8:1

Well let me invite you now please to take a Bible in hand and turn to Romans chapter 8; Romans chapter 8. We are beginning a new series working our way through this great chapter. As I thought about what might speak comfort and encouragement to our hearts during this strange, uncertain time, it seemed to me there are very few places in Scripture that offer more help to us than the eighth of Romans. It is rightly beloved because it surveys, doesn’t it, the entire landscape of Christian blessing – from our justification, as we’ll see today, our right-standing with God, through sanctification and adoption, to glorification and on even to consider the new creation at the end of the ages. Here in Romans 8 our drooping heads are lifted, our fearful hearts are comforted, our doubting minds are assured, and we are reminded of the riches that are ours forever in the Lord Jesus Christ. 

We are calling this sermon series, “Life in the Spirit,” and if you cast your eye over the chapter you’ll quickly see why. It might surprise you, actually, to learn that until now in the letter to the Romans, Paul has mentioned the Holy Spirit only twice – first in chapter 1 verse 4, and then again as we’ll see later on in chapter 5 verse 5. Chapter 5 and chapter 8 have many connections, both linguistically and thematically and this is one important place where that is so. But only twice has he mentioned the Holy Spirit. And then as chapter 8 begins, starting with the second verse of the chapter, suddenly, the Holy Spirit is mentioned twenty times over! What makes this chapter so important, so impactful, is the way the intimate involvement of the Holy Spirit’s person and work, in almost every possible aspect of our salvation, is exposed to our view and applied to our lives. 

Now I don’t know about you, but it is my sense that many of us, mature, thoughtful Christians though we may be, have a much clearer grasp of the Biblical teaching regarding the person and the work of God the Father and especially of His Son, our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. But the truth is, we have, perhaps, only a rudimentary awareness of the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Maybe we have the sense that only Pentecostals and charismatics talk about the Holy Spirit. Maybe you feel somewhat uncomfortable dwelling on the Holy Spirit’s role and His work in our lives, and so we’ve given little attention to Him and to His ministry. And yet many of us also have to confess that we are struggling with sin, we are burdened with guilt, we are overtaken by doubt; we are aware, more aware of our own frailties than we are of God’s purposes for our good and His glory. We are at a low spiritual ebb, lukewarm, fear-filled, weighed down, living well below our privileges. And I’m persuaded that one important reason for that, for that sad state of affairs, is our lack of thorough acquaintance with the person and work of the Holy Spirit. And so it’s my prayer as we go forward – I hope you will join me in this prayer – that God would use our study of Romans chapter 8 to address that lack. 

Well, and this morning we’re going to focus our attention on the most famous line of this most famous chapter in the great book of Romans. The very first verse, Romans 8 verse 1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We will back up in a moment and read the end of Romans chapter 7 to help make some of the connections in Paul’s thinking. So let me invite you to take your Bibles in hand and turn there, if you haven’t done so already – Romans, chapter 7 at verse 21. As we read, I want you to notice three themes that we’ll consider together from Romans 8:1. First of all, no condemnation. Three “C”s you might say. No condemnation is “in Christ.” That’s the first “C.” Then secondly, no condemnation is contemporary, the second “C.” Chapter 8 verse 1 says it is “now.” There is “now” no condemnation. Then thirdly, no condemnation is consistent with conflict. That’s the third “C.” It is consistent with conflict. And here, we need to remember the end of chapter 7 and read Romans 8:1 as part of the same flow and train of thought. And that has massive pastoral applications for us. 

So do you see the three “C”s we’ll be considering? No condemnation is in Christ Jesus, it is contemporary, and it is consistent with conflict. Now before we read, let’s pause again and pray and then we’ll consider God’s Word together. Let us pray.

O Lord, open our eyes that we may behold wonderful things in Your holy Law, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Romans 7 at verse 21. This is the Word of God:

“So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Amen, and we praise God for His holy Word. 

Condemnation. It’s a chilling word, isn’t it? We picture the courtroom. You can see it, can’t you? And we ourselves are standing in the dock. We are the condemned. The evidence is presented. The Scriptures say of each of us “we were conceived in sin,” Psalm 51 verse 4. We are sinners from our mother’s wombs. Paul argues in Romans chapter 3, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So this is a universal condition. And in Romans 5, as we’re going to see, he explains that quite apart from our own voluntary, sinful behavior, we are constituted sinners in Adam. That is, the guilt of Adam’s first transgression is counted to all of his descendants after him. And so as Jesus put it in John 3:18, “Whoever does not believe is condemned already.” There is therefore now, so far as we can see, in ourselves considered naturally, no hope for us as the Judge comes to take His seat. 

Condemnation is the condition under which every single human being naturally lives. Condemnation is the state of things for your parents and your children, your neighbors and your friends, the best people you know and the worst offenders you hope never to meet – all stand before the bar of heaven’s justice condemned in themselves. Unless God intervenes to save us, soon the dreadful sentence will be pronounced and judgment rendered and condemned we will be dispatched to the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, to dwell under the wrath of God in the blackness of darkness forever. That’s the natural predicament of every one of us according to holy Scripture. Condemnation.

And so the words with which Romans chapter 8 begin can be no trite slogan. Can they? We see them all over the place in the evangelical subculture that we inhabit on greeting cards and bumper stickers and they roll off our tongue like a trite slogan. But these are electric words! No condemnation? How can it be that someone like me – a son or a daughter of Adam, born a sinner, guilty by covenant, guilty by inheritance, guilty by nature, guilty by instinct and inclination, guilty by personal preference, guilty by thought and word and deed – how can it be that I, the guilty one, standing in the dock of the heavenly courtroom, can hear this sentence, this sentence – “Not condemned”? What a wondrous shock it should send down the spine of everyone over whom these words are spoken. “No condemnation!” How is it possible?

Paul himself actually seems to feel something of the wonder of these words. As it was originally written, Romans 8:1 contains no verbs. The translators of our English Standard Version have supplied them. It has no verbs in Greek. It reads simply, “Now therefore no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus.” It’s a headline, isn’t it? That’s how it reads. It’s like a front page scoop in a newspaper magazine – “Shock verdict! Judge says:  ‘No condemnation for those in Christ Jesus!’” And so we need to ask ourselves, “What assuaged the judge? What is it that weighed against the overwhelming and demonstrable fact of our guilt before God? What is it that can possibly result in no condemnation? 

No Condemnation is in Christ Jesus

Well that’s the first “C” that I want you to notice in our passage. Look at the text. Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No condemnation is “in Christ.” There is condemnation; there is condemnation for everyone else. But for those who are “in Christ Jesus,” there is no possibility of condemnation. Everyone else is in Adam. You must get into Christ! He is your hiding place and the only refuge. That’s Paul’s point back in Romans chapter 5, which interestingly is linked to this chapter not only by the mention of the Holy Spirit but as the only other place in the New Testament where the word translated here in Romans 8:1 as “condemnation” is used. You find it in Romans 5:16 and you find it again in Romans 5:18. Listen to Romans 5:18 with me. It sort of sums up the argument of Paul in Romans 5. “Therefore, as one trespass” – he means Adam’s first sin – “as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness” – he means the obedient life of Christ climaxing at Calvary – “leads to justification, no condemnation, and life for all.” The point, I think, is actually pretty clear. Do you see the basic binary of Paul’s argument? You’re either in Adam or you’re in Christ. Either Adam’s one trespass leads to condemnation for you or Christ’s obedience leads to justification, no condemnation. We sinned, we sinned in Adam’s sin, but if we can get out of Adam and into Christ, His righteousness is reckoned to our account. 

Romans 5:1 even tells us how we do that – how we get out of Adam and into Christ, how we swap our condemnation for the righteousness of Christ. Listen to what Paul says. “Therefore, since we have been justified” – declared righteous, not condemned – “by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” How do you get out of Adam and into Christ? It’s so simple, isn’t it? You get out of Adam and into Christ by mere faith. By faith alone we have peace with God. By faith alone we are counted righteous in His sight. By faith alone we are not condemned because by faith we are in Christ Jesus. It’s so simple. 

It’s so simple in fact, that I often meet people as a pastor who struggle to believe it could be that straightforward. “Surely there’s some secret to it; some ritual perhaps, some hurdle to jump, so effort to exert in addition to trusting in Jesus. It cannot be that easy, surely!” But it really is that easy, that simple. You get the righteousness of Christ imputed to you, reckoned as if it was your very own. Not by some personal qualification you have met, not by some act of piety or devotion that you have performed. Listen, there is no penance to do. There is no effort at all to exert in order to find peace with God. All you need do is rest yourself on the finished work, the perfect obedience, the righteous obedience and blood, the shed blood of Jesus Christ on your behalf. You don’t need a priest or a minister for this. You can’t buy it with charity, earn it with philanthropy. There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus. Simply, merely by faith alone.

So let me ask you the obvious question. Are you in Christ? On which side of Paul’s binary do you stand today? In Adam, condemned, or in Christ by faith alone, not condemned but righteous in the sight of God, not with your own righteousness but with the righteousness of Jesus Christ counted to you? In the heavenly tribunal, if you get into Christ, God says over you once and for all, “No condemnation. Not condemned!”

No Condemnation is Contemporary

And that brings me to the second “C” I want you to notice in our text. No condemnation is first “in Christ.” Secondly, no condemnation is contemporary. That is to say, no condemnation is right now. It’s right now. Do you see that in Romans 8:1? “There is therefore now no condemnation.” What a difference that little word makes. Now, right now, in this moment as you rest your faith in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation for you. Now I’ve got to tell you, I need this little word “now” so badly sometimes. I sin, I stumble, I fall, and then Satan starts to accuse me. “See what a wretched Christian you are? You’re supposed to be a minister of the Gospel? What a failure! What a hypocrite! What a disappointment to God you must be! How can He stand to look at you?” And then my own conscience joins the chorus? “How is it possible that you’re back here again? Surely you should be so much further along in the Christian life by now! What a pathetic mess you are!” And then comes the really destructive part. If I’m not careful, I begin to confuse the condemning voices with the voice of God and I begin to wonder if in fact that day might not yet come after all when He says to me, “You know Strain, I’ve put up with you long enough. I’ve been patient, but you have let Me down one time too many. We are through! We’re through!” 

Well let me say to you as I say it to my own heart, when we think like that, we’ve missed this little word in the middle of Romans 8:1, “now.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” Right now. Even now that you’ve stumbled. Even now that the dying remnants of your sin have come roaring back into life for a moment and they’ve caused you to fall. Even now that you have failed your God and dishonored your Savior perhaps. Even now! There is no condemnation from Him for you. The accusations of the devil, the rebukes of conscience, the judgment of your peers can’t do it. Not even the holy Law of God Himself that you have broken can do it. Believer in Jesus Christ, now there is nothing that can condemn you in the sight of God. Nothing! 

That’s not to say that your sin is not monstrous and you must repent of it immediately. It’s not to say that God is not grieved, angered by your sin. It’s not even to say that He won’t bring, if need be, providential discipline and correction into your life to help train you to deal with your sin. It is simply to say that right now, the courtroom doors have been forever closed to you. You will never be indicted, never be summoned to appear before God the Judge for sentencing. The question of the sentence has been settled forever at the cross. Jesus was condemned and as you trust Him, you never, never will be! There is no condemnation for you now as you believe in Jesus Christ.

No Condemnation is Consistent with Conflict

The first “C” – no condemnation in Christ. Second, no condemnation because it is contemporary; it is right now. It is permanent and present forever. And along with that, the third “C” – no condemnation is consistent with conflict. Back in chapter 7, Paul describes – to borrow language from the Westminster Confession of Faith – he describes “a continual and irreconcilable war” raging in his heart. Look at the passage beginning in verse 21 of chapter 7. “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” We can relate to this, can’t we? Hasn’t this been your experience as you’ve sought to follow Jesus? No matter your strongest resolution, suddenly, quickly, immediately sin seems to roar to life and competing motivations hold you in bondage to wicked patterns and habits. Paul is describing himself, his own Christian experience. He loves God’s Law. He says he delights in it in his inner being. He wants to do right, yet no sooner has he resolved to serve God than he finds his resolution opposed, undermined, assaulted. The law of sin, the principle of sin working itself out in his own body, roars back into life enslaving him to wickedness instead.

And you can imagine it really grieves Paul’s heart as he rehearses all of that, as he confesses the inner conflict. “O, wretched man that I am!” he says as he denounces himself. And he longs for freedom – “Who can save me from this body of death?” And no sooner do these words escape his lips than he knows there’s only one possible answer, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” He can save Me. That’s where Paul’s confidence rests. That’s where ours must rest also. And yet – and notice this carefully now – for all his trust in Jesus in the first part of verse 25, the fact of the spiritual warfare raging within still remains. So he concludes in the second half of the verse, “So then” – so here’s his summary, his conclusion. Here is the settled state of Paul’s Christian life – “So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.” The inner conflict rages on, you see. 

And then comes Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation.” If you ever needed proof, by the way, that the chapter divisions in our English Bibles are not inspired, this is surely it. It is a most unhelpful chapter division right there. The “therefore” of Romans 8:1 reminds us the “no condemnation” follows the logic of Paul’s argument thus far, really throughout the whole of the book up till the point. In particular, it follows on from, it is consistent with, Romans 8:1 is consistent with Romans 7:25. That may seem self-evident to you, but it has enormous, enormous pastoral implications for us and we often forget it. Paul is reminding us no condemnation is consistent with conflict over sin in the believing heart. “Therefore, in light of the fact that I serve the law of God with my mind but with my flesh I still, frustratingly, heartbreakingly serve the law of sin, therefore, since this continual and irreconcilable war continues to rage within me, therefore, since the principle of remaining sin still manages somehow to make me captive so that I cry even now, O wretched man that I am, therefore, here is the truth I need to cling to. Here is the reality I must never lose sight of – therefore there is now no condemnation.”

I know many Christians who feel the warfare raging hot in their lives and have to confess they’ve often lost skirmishes and pitched battles along the way. The strength of the principle of grace that resists the forces of sin in the heart have seemed to us at times greatly weakened for a season. And we feel like Paul, don’t we? Wretched! And when we feel that way it is not hard for us to forget Romans 8:1 and that it is of a piece with Romans 7:25. This is how we think, “If I was a healthy Christian, I would not struggle so much with sin. If I was a real Christian, surely there would be quiet and peace within! My conscience would not sting. My mind would know no shame. My days would be filled with joy and victory. There’s got to be something wrong with me that I’m struggling so mightily. Surely I’m defective as a Christian, if I’m a Christian at all, that my conscience accuses me so often. I must be failing, missing something, blind to some vital truth if I wrestle as much as I do with my sin!” Maybe you’ve found yourself thinking that way. I certainly have.

And honestly, we’re quite right that we are missing something when we think like this. We are missing this one vital truth. Inner conflict and awakened conscience, sensitivity to the sinfulness of sin, recoiling at our rebellion, grief over battles lost – that’s the normal Christian life and it is consistent with God’s verdict in Christ that you are not condemned. You are not defective. “The desires of the flesh,” Galatians 5:17, “are against the Spirit and the desires of the Spirit against the flesh.” There is a principle of sin that remains within us waging war with the principle of grace until the work of sanctification is complete and we go to be with the Lord. But the fact that there is a war at all – listen! The fact that there is a war is a sign of grace at work within you. My old pastor – I’ve told you this before – my old pastor back in Glasgow used to say, “There’s nay trouble in a graveyard.” There’s no trouble in a graveyard. If you are alive in Christ, if the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells in you, if God has pronounced His verdict over you, “no condemnation,” this is what you will always find – a daily fight to the death with sin in your heart.

Before, before you were a believer, when sin ruled you, you stood condemned under God. There was no real warfare. Certainly there might have been momentary pangs of conscience here or there, but you were always able to quickly silence them and move right along. Sin, you see, had total mastery and there was no conflict. It was the peace of a graveyard. You see, the peace of spiritual death. But now that the Holy Spirit has given you life, now that you are in Christ Jesus, now that God has declared over you that you are forever beyond condemnation, now there is strife. Now there is conflict. Now there is a war. Your living conscience informed by God’s Word and Spirit recoils at sin within you. Now, you find yourself unwilling to let your remaining sin simply have its way without a fight. “There is nay trouble in a graveyard.” Only the spiritually alive fight sin. No condemnation is consistent with conflict. Do you see? Don’t look within, and because you hate so much that you find there that is displeasing to God, conclude that you must still be condemned and lost after all. No, be comforted that there is a war raging in your soul. The forces of God have marched into your life to establish there the kingdom of Jesus Christ. It means that God has counted you His child and pronounced His verdict over you for Jesus’ sake – “No condemnation.” And now, you are legally right with God, He is fighting in you and fighting for you, and has equipped you to fight with Him that you might live right before God. 

So do you see my three “C”s? First, no condemnation is in Christ. Are you in Christ and so right with God? Or in Adam and condemned? You get out of Adam and into Christ simply by faith, by trusting Jesus. Cry to Christ. Ask Him to rescue you. The second “C” – no condemnation is contemporary, right now, today and forever. There is no possibility, there’s nothing, nothing in the moral universe that can bring you into a state of condemnation if you are truly a child of God. And the third “C” – no condemnation is consistent with conflict. Don’t think that because you struggle with sin that you’re not converted. That you struggle with sin is one of the marks of having been converted. God says, “No condemnation” over those who hate sin and fight it and flee it and work to end it in their hearts. So will you stay in the fight in these strange, hard, wearisome days? Don’t let the conflict lead you to doubt what God Himself declares. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s pray together.

O Lord our God, we stand in wonder before the truth of this verse and we pour out our gratitude that You should so love sinners – hateful, wicked, selfish sinners like me, like us – that You should say, because of the work of Your Son on our behalf, we are not condemned as we trust Him. Help us, please, everyone who hears or is watching, help us now, today, to trust Him, to get out of Adam – condemnation – and into Christ – no condemnation. And help us not to grow weary in well doing, not to sign a truce with sin, not to conclude ourselves lost when in fact we’ve been found. But instead, to stay in the fight, because the fight itself speaks to us of the presence of the principle of grace waging war with the principle of sin, and so fight on, for Jesus’ sake we pray, amen.

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