The Lord's Day Morning
June 7, 2009
“The Best Chapter in the Bible (1): “No Condemnation”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me in your Bibles to the eighth chapter of Romans, and let me explain a little of the unusual circumstances that we have this morning.
Now when Ligon asked me to preach a series of sermons, twelve weeks or so over these summer months, my heart and soul immediately turned to the eighth chapter of Romans. And as I was thinking about it, unbeknown to me that this title had in fact been used elsewhere (which I discovered later), but I'm calling this series “The Best Chapter in the Bible.” Now that might raise a few hackles among some of you. I'm not at all suggesting that some parts of Scripture are more inspired than others; I simply want to acknowledge what I would call “the ten minutes before death strategy.” If you were ten minutes away from dying and you were going to ask someone to read the Scriptures to you, I wonder if you would ask them to read the first eight chapters of I Chronicles. [Laughter.] Now if you haven't been to the first eight chapters of
I Chronicles in the last few weeks or months, let me tell you that it contains probably around a thousand [I haven't done the math, but I think it's about a thousand] names. It's eight chapters of genealogy. And I rather think that many of you will agree with me that the eighth chapter of Romans, in a way that the rest of Scripture does not, speaks immediately to those truths that we regard as the most glorious and the most personal. Romans 8 is in fact a road trip, which seems appropriate for a summer series, don't you think? You’ll see in the reading this morning, in verse 4, it makes use of a very Paul-like word: “Who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” It begins with no condemnation in verse 1, and it ends in the final verse (verse 39) with no separation. No condemnation; no separation. Which one of us has not from time to time in moments of stress and difficulty and doubt and trouble turned to those closing words — the climax — of the eighth chapter of Romans:
“Who shall separate me from the love of God which is in Jesus Christ our Lord? Not life, nor death, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all of creation…nothing can separate me from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So next week Ligon will preach the second in this series, but the rest of them I will do. And I trust that this series, this summer road trip through Romans 8 all the way to glory, if you like, will prove to be a help and a balm to all of our souls.
Now before we read the first four verses of Romans 8, let's look to God in prayer.
Our Father in heaven, this is the word of God: the living and abiding word inspired, breathed out by You, able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Now this morning we pray especially for the help and the illumination of the Holy Spirit, and we pray to the end that Christ our magnificent Savior might be exalted. Help us to understand that which we read this morning, but more than that, help us to be doers of Your word. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
This is God's holy, inerrant word:
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
Amen. May the Lord add His blessing to that reading of His holy and inerrant word.
Now we will on another occasion outline our way through Romans 8, but this morning I want us to dive straight into what is one of the most glorious and magnificent texts in all of Scripture. I have to confess I'm a little daunted by it, it is so big, it is so great, it is so magnificent. In many ways it encapsulates the entirety of the gospel and what it has to say about the Christian life. You could summarize Christianity and what it means to be a Christian, what are the implications of being found in Jesus Christ this morning, simply by reading Romans 8:1-4. If there was such a thing as “The Christian Life for Dummies” — you know that series of books — well, if there was such a thing as “The Christian Life for Dummies,” it could do no better than simply recite for us these opening four verses of Romans 8.
In the course of these verses Paul asserts three things about every believer. About every man and woman and boy and girl who is found in Jesus Christ, three things are true. In Christ there is no condemnation, that's the first thing. In Christ, we have been set free, we have been liberated. That's the second thing. And, in Christ we walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. That's the third thing. And I want us to think along those three lines of thought as we expound together these opening four verses of Romans 8.
I. Christians are no longer under condemnation.
Now you’ll notice that it begins with the word therefore, and as you all know by now, the question you ask when you see that word therefore is “What is the therefore there for? Why is it there?” Now Paul is drawing a conclusion. He's drawing a conclusion in the particular context. He's drawing a conclusion from something that he has said in this epistle. If you turn back with me to chapter 5 and verse 16, there seems to be a link between what he's saying now in Romans 8:1 and what he's been saying in 5:16. He says in 5:16, “The free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin…” [that one man's sin of course being Adam] “…for the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justifica-tion.” There is condemnation; there is justification. And then if you drop down to verse 18, you’ll see Paul repeating it again: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.”
Now Paul seems to be reflecting on that in the first verse of Romans 8: ‘In Christ there is no condemnation. This is what I've been saying. This is what I've been telling you. This is what I've been writing about. In Jesus Christ, therefore, on the basis of all that I've said, there is no condemnation.’ Now it's important for us to see that Paul means this in relationship to Jesus Christ. We will see it repeated again in verse 2, but “there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are Christ Jesus.” I'm reminded of something John Calvin writes in The Institutes of the Christian Religion: that so long as Christ remains outside of us, all that He has accomplished for us remains useless and of no value to us. That which Christ has accomplished for us on the cross needs to be internalized. It needs to be actualized. We need to be brought into a relationship with Jesus Christ. So Paul is thinking here of justification.
You remember how in the opening chapters of Romans that has been his theme. He begins the Epistle to the Romans by expounding the doctrine of sin: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one…for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.’ Paul surveys the entirety of humanity, Jews as well as Gentiles, those who are in possession of the covenant of God and those who are not; those who are beneficiaries of all of the privileges and status that belong to the people of God of the Old Testament and those who are not; Jews and Gentiles, those who have the Scriptures and those who do not. And he concludes, you remember, “There is none righteous, but all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” And the great question arises that's the greatest question that we can ever ask given the fact that there is none righteous, given the fact that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God: How can a sinner be found in a right relationship with God? Not just God, but a holy God, a righteous God? That's the greatest question that we can ask. How is it possible for a sinner to be made right with God? How is it possible for God, who is just, to justify the sinner? How can He be just and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus? Paul is reflecting on the gospel itself: that God has found a way to be true to himself, to be true to His righteousness, to be true to His nature, to be true to the integrity of His being and justify sinners at the same time.
So this morning here in this sanctuary it is possible that sinners like you and me can be in a right standing and a right relationship with God; so that we can say there is no condemnation, that once we were condemned; once we were under the curse of the broken law; once we were sinners facing the condemnation of God, but no more. This morning we stand in a relationship in which our sins are forgiven, our sins are blotted out, they are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. They are buried in the sea of God's forgetfulness. There is no condemnation.
I think of Wesley's great hymn, And Can It Be?
“And can it be that I should gain
an interest in the Savior's blood?
… No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus and all in Him is mine.
Alive in Him, my living Head,
I'm clothed in righteousness divine.
Bold, I approach the eternal throne,
and claim the crown, through Christ, my own.”
That's our song this morning. That's our status this morning. That's our privilege this morning. If we are in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation. All of our sins — the darkest, blackest sins — are covered and you and I are in this glorious condition, in this glorious state that we can say this morning, “There is no condemnation.”
I think Paul isn't just thinking about justification. He's not just thinking about what he had been writing about in chapters 2 and 3 and 4 and 5. I think this therefore is probably also saying something about what he's just been writing about in chapter 7. You remember what Paul has been saying in chapter 7 — the struggle that Christians have with ongoing sin: “The good that I would, I do not; the evil that I would not, that I find that I do.” That's your experience this morning, isn't it? You've come to church this Sunday morning and you are very conscious, some of you, that you’re not what you want to be, that you have sinned even as a believer. Even as somebody in union with Jesus Christ, you have fallen short of the glory of God. You struggle, and there are ups and there are downs, and you can relate to what Paul is saying in the closing section of Romans 7, that the good that you would do, you do not; and the evil that you would not, that you find that you do. And you perhaps say with the Apostle Paul this morning, “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
And, you see, I think we fall into a grave error just at this point. We are Christians; we believe in Jesus Christ, and there's no condemnation. But then we sin, and we revert to a state of condemnation again, so we try to do a little better. We come to church, we read our Bibles, we sing more lustily one of the hymns. We have nice thoughts about Jesus. And then we slip back into a state of no condemnation again. But then tomorrow we sin again, and we slip back into a state of condemnation, and we try to do some more good things and try to love Jesus more, and read perhaps an extra chapter of the Bible. And then we slip back into a state of no condemnation again. That's performance mentality. It dogs us, doesn't it? It hounds us all the time. We can hardly believe our eyes; we can hardly believe our ears when we read here in Romans 8 not just about the state of justification, but about the state of sanctification, about the reality of our condition now as ongoing sinners: there is no condemnation. If you are in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation. Yes, I have sinned. Yes, I have fallen short of God's glory. Yes, I have come to Jesus Christ. I have put my faith and trust in Him, and I continue to sin. I fall short this morning, even now. Even at this very minute I fall short of the glory of God. But I am in Jesus Christ, I am resting in Him, I am trusting in Him, and there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
My dear friends, that's the gospel. That's the beauty of it. That's the extraordinary nature of the gospel. You can hardly believe it! You’re saying to yourselves, ‘Isn't that a license to sin, then? That if I can sin and still be in a state of no condemnation, isn't that license to sin?’ You know, if you’re not tempted to think like that you haven't understood the gospel. The gospel brings us right to the very edge, and Paul is making one of the most glorious statements imaginable. Tell me a better statement! Tell me a more glorious statement this morning than this one, that for the man or woman who is in Jesus Christ there is no condemnation! The verdict of the Last Day before the grand assize of God has been brought forth into the now, so that what is true of me now will be true of me then: that on that Day of Judgment, to the man or woman in Jesus Christ there is no condemnation. There is no condemnation.
There can only be one application, and that is just overwhelming thanksgiving and overwhelming gratitude, and overwhelming worship and love towards God that He has found a way to justify sinners like us. My dear friends, are you exulting in the gospel this morning? Do you love it more than anything else in all the world? Is it your constant thought and meditation? “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear…” and that name is sweet because it's full of gospel, because it meets us where we are as sinners, as transgressors of God's law.
That's the first thing: there is no condemnation. What a beautiful statement that is. Go home… [not yet!]…but go home this afternoon and repeat that to yourself. Tell yourself, “I'm in Jesus Christ, and there is no condemnation.” What a balm that is! What a beautiful thing that is! What a sweet thing that is, what a glorious thing! You can hardly believe it. A million questions arise in your mind as to how that can possibly be, but it's true, I tell you. It is truer than anything else that I can say this morning, that in Jesus Christ there is no condemnation. Not just about past sins, but present sins and future sins. Whatever sin you may commit tomorrow, there is no condemnation if you’re in Jesus Christ. They’re blotted out. What a glorious statement…what an astonishing statement. It takes your breath away.
II. Christians are free from the law of sin and death.
But there's a second thing that Paul asserts here, and that is in verse 2: that we are free. We have been set free. There is a condition of emancipation: “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” You've been set free — free from what? Free from the law of sin and death.
I rather think that Paul is thinking of law there in terms of the Ten Commandments. And it's a difficult thing, because if you turn back to chapter 7 and verse 7, he says, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!” Turn to verse 16: “If I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good.” The law is good. He says in verse 22, “I delight in the law of God.” There is a sense that the Ten Commandments are good, and Paul delights in it. It is a frame of reference by which he lives his life. That's not his concern here, in Romans 8:2. There's as aspect of the law that is good. There's an aspect of the law that is right. There's an aspect of the law that conforms our lives to the pattern of behavior that God wants us to live by, but that's not his concern here. He's thinking of another aspect of the law…the law of sin and death.
I think of Jerome, the great translator of the Bible into Latin, the Vulgate…Jerome in Antioch, who for a brief season in his life decided that he would become a hermit, an ascetic…went out into the desert, lived among wild animals and scorpions. He was just a shadow of his former self because of his extreme methods of fasting and so on, trying to live by the standards of God's holy law as he understood it. He tells us in a shocking narrative, biographical narrative of that experience, even as he was trying to conform himself as he understood it to the standards of God's law, he found that his mind — even in the midst of a desert, his body wasting away — his mind was filled with the thought that he was in Rome and surrounded by young girls. It's shocking. The law couldn't help him. It was a law of sin and death. In fact, all that the law did was to exacerbate and exaggerate his native sinful condition, because that's all the law does. The law condemns. The law condemns! It is the gospel that brings life, and that's why Paul says the law of the Spirit of life has set you free. The force of the Holy Spirit has set you free, and that's a kind of euphemism, if you like, for the gospel. The gospel has set you free, but the law condemns.
I was reading on the way back from a recent visit this week to my grandchildren in Scotland. I was reading the autobiography of Nelson Mandela. Twenty-seven years he spent in prison, incarcerated. I was reading the overwhelmingly moving description of the day that he was released from prison…that he walks from his prison cell to the gate and to freedom. Ten thousand days he had spent in prison. He says, “As I finally walked through those gates, I felt, even at the age of 71, that my life was beginning anew.” Well, that's what Paul is saying. If you’re in Jesus Christ, your life has begun anew. The law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.
And that's a thing about every Christian.We walk through those gates of a prison house.The prison house in this caseis the law.A law that cannot justify.A law that cannot make usright with god.A law that cannot help us conform ourselves to the pattern and standard of god's holiness.A law that only condemns.A law that is relentless,a law that is unforgiving.A law that doesn't give usa regard.A law that says, “do this and live.”
You see, there are only two ways of salvation.It's either by the law,or it's by grace.And if by law,the law says do this and live.And if you do this,you must do it perfectly.You do it without any blemish,without any spot,without any wrinkle,without any defect,without any shortcoming.You think you’re in control.
In 2003, some of you will remember it,in Las Vegas.There was a story,you remember,of a man who had performing tigers.Remember the story?And he told this tiger to do something,and the tiger refused to do it,so he tapped him on the nose.And that was it.And within a second he found himself being carried around the ring by this tiger.He spent several days hovering between life and death.He thought he was in control,but he wasn't.It's like our relationshipto the law.You think you’re in control,but you’re not.You’re a slave.You’re a captiveto your own sinful heart.It's like being caught.
Have you ever found yourselfin the position —turn on the ignition switchof your car,and nothing happens.What do you do when you turn that switch and nothing happens?Well, you try anything else,don't you?You try and turn the lights on.Nothing happens.You try using them all,nothing happens.You try putting the radio on,nothing happens.What you need is a new battery.Paul is saying here,that's what happens to usin Jesus Christ in union with Christ,in fellowship with Christ,by faith in Jesus Christ.We’re in a state of no condemnation because we've nowbeen brought into a new realm.We've been set free from the law of sin and death.And we are alive.My dear friends,let's look and behave this morning as though we are alive through Jesus Christ.Alive to God.Alive to Christ.Alive to the Holy Spirit.Alive to His word.Alive to the things that matter.
My dear friends, there are only two ways of salvation: by the law, or by grace. The law says to you Do this and live. That's all it says…Do this and live. Perform this and live. But I want to tell you this morning that the law knows nothing of mercy. The law knows nothing of grace. The law knows nothing of forgiveness. The law is relentless. The law demands absolute obedience …absolute obedience. It demands perfection, because whosoever transgresses in one tiny detail transgresses the whole of God's law. It's perfection or nothing. You want to try and earn your way into the kingdom of heaven? Then you must be perfect. You must be absolutely perfect, because doing my best will not work. The law doesn't understand I'm doing my best! The law doesn't understand I'm trying!
Have you come to realize that, my friends? Have you come to appreciate that by the works of the law no man, no woman can be saved? Have you come to appreciate this morning what Paul is saying here, that it's either by law or it's by grace? And Paul is saying that the law of the Spirit of life in Jesus Christ has set me free. It's set me free from that treadmill of works righteousness, of performance mentality of ‘Let's try and do one more good deed in order that God may look down upon me and smile upon me.’ And, my dear friends, if that's the way you’re going, it's the way of condemnation. It's a way of hopelessness. It's a way of despair. And Paul is saying, ‘Here's the gospel. Here's the gospel…it's the law of the Spirit of life that has set me free. It has set me free.’ As Mandela says, “Even at the age of 71, I thought my life was beginning anew.” I'm a new man, a new woman, in Jesus Christ.
Well, that's the second thing he says. The first thing he says is that there is no condemnation. The second thing that he says is that we've been set free…set free from that performance mentality, set free from trying to enter the kingdom by the deeds and works of the law.
III. Christians walk according to the Spirit.
And there's a third thing that he says: that in Jesus Christ we walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
Now here's the great question: How is this possible? How is it possible for us to find ourselves this morning in a state of no condemnation? How is that possible? How is it possible for us to be emancipated, to be set free, to be liberated from bondage to sin? And the answer is given to us in what must be one of the most glorious verses in the Scriptures, in verse 3:
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemning sin in the flesh….”
Now gird up the loins of your mind, as Paul would say. You want to understand here…you want to understand what it is that Paul is saying here. He's using some odd expressions, some unique expressions: “The law is weak…the law is a law of sin and death…the law provokes sin and brings death.” And why is that law so weak? Because of the flesh. Because of our natural propensity to do that which God has not sanctioned, that there is a principle within us to deviate, to miss the mark.
Now notice five things that Paul says here. God sent His Son. How is this possible? Not by anything from within ourselves. Not from any human initiative. This is a divine initiative. God sent His Son. He sent Him into this world; in the fullness of time He was born.
Notice secondly, “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” What an expression that is! Not in the likeness of flesh: that would imply that He wasn't really flesh and blood, that He wasn't really human; that He was some kind of apparition perhaps, or some kind of ghostly figure. So Paul doesn't say in the likeness of flesh, nor does he say God sent His Son in sinful flesh. He couldn't possibly say that. That would imply that Jesus was sinful, and He is the holy, spotless, harmless, undefiled one. No, Paul is anxious to say that Jesus came as close as it's possible to be to where you and I are and yet He was without sin. He came as the perfect one, truly flesh and blood, so that we can say of Him this morning that no temptation that you and I experience is unknown to Him. “He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin.” God sent His Son, He sent Him in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin…for sin.
You know that's the great question that we have to ask: Why did Jesus have to come? And the answer is for sin. That He would become a sin offering. He came because we are sinners. He came to redeem us from our sin. He came to become our substitute. He came in order to be the one upon whom condemnation would be pronounced. He came as the Lamb of God to be sacrificed on the cross of Calvary for sin. Look into your pockets, my friends. Put your hand in your pocket, and what do you find? Reach down into your pocket, and what do you find? You find the nails that were driven into the feet and hands of our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He came for sin. He came to be the perfect Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, to condemn sin in the flesh not in some abstract way, not because God would wave a magic wand and say ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ but through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross, in order that the just requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us. And that's possible to be interpreted in one of two ways, but I rather think that here it is a reference to the fact that the just requirements of the law are that sin needs to be condemned. And they were condemned not in us, but they were condemned in Jesus Christ. What a gospel this is!
My dear friend, this morning I want to ask you, are you trying to earn your way into the kingdom of heaven by means of your own observance of the law? Then, my friend, you need to understand that it is a law of sin and death, that by obedience to the law all that can possibly await us is sin and death and judgment and condemnation. It won't take good intentions. It won't take into account my best efforts. It won't give you a sabbatical. It won't offer you assistance. It won't provide forgiveness. If you’re saying this morning, ‘I’ll do my best,’ it will say back to you, ‘Your best is not good enough.’
Anselm of Canterbury wrote a very famous book called Why Did God Become Man? in which there was a character called Bozo. He was a little dim. Six great words emerge in answer to the question Why did God have to become man, and Bozo couldn't understand it. Why the extravagance? Why did God have to send His Son? Why did He have to send His Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin? Why did He have to die on the cross? “You have not yet considered the gravity of your sin.” That was the answer. It's when you appreciate the gravity of your condition that you understand the immensity of God's provision, that it would take the eternal Son of God to come on our behalf as our substitute and to die that accursed death of the cross in order to ransom us and redeem us, and liberate us and set us free so that a banner can fly over our heads as we find ourselves by the power of the Holy Spirit in union and communion with Christ — a banner which says “No Condemnation…No Condemnation.” It says to you and me this morning,
“Cast your deadly doing down…down at Jesus’ feet;
And stand in Him, in Him alone, gloriously complete.”
May that be true of every single one of us this morning. And may we rejoice and find the power and energy that comes from knowing that in Jesus Christ, by faith in Him alone, there is no condemnation. What a gospel that is!
Let's pray together.
Father, we thank You for Your word. We have barely scratched the surface of it. We find its immensities. We want to exult this morning in the glory and beauty and greatness of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the provision that You have made for us. Lord, may each one of us here today be able to say with assurance, “There is no condemnation for me, because I am in Jesus Christ.”
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