Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…
(Romans 8:1, NIV)
Most Christan adults have read or heard this verse, written by Paul to the church in Rome. It is a verse that is quickly set to memory, and so finds itself quoted often.
I think, though, that this statement is often misused. Is it true? Indeed…and its truth is powerful and essential to our lives. The trouble comes when we misunderstand what is said, resulting in terrible misapplication.
Romans 8:1 is the follow up, the hope presented by Paul, in light of what we have as Chapter 7 of Romans. In that portion of Scripture, Paul explained to these Gentile believers that there was a war inside of him.
He explained how our lives begin, bound to the law of sin. We were without Christ, so the only covenant by which we might know God was one that exposed us as sinful. And so “the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (7:10, NIV). This was not the fault of the Law, for it is spiritual and comes from God. We are the source of the problem, for we are not spiritual but carnal, flesh, earthly.
To prove his point, Paul told the Romans how he wanted to do good, but could not do it. And there was evil that he wished to avoid, to keep from doing, but he did it anyway. “I have the mind but not the power to do what is right” (7:18b, BBE).
It is from this vantage point that Paul gave us the life-changing truth of 8:1. He was bound to the law of sin and death, but now lived by the law of the Spirit. In a definitive, purposeful moment, Paul’s life was changed. Still, sin lived on and warred within him.
Did you notice how Paul viewed the sinful nature that he continued to struggle with in his life? His wrestling to be from it shows that he understood it to be wrong, to be opposed and contrary to the life the Spirit within him urged him to live. It was obvious to Paul when he sinned; he saw it and declared it as it was.
In those moments when you desperately wish to obey God, to live in the power of Christ, yet for some reason you give in to your nature and your sin, what is response?
When we honestly desire to please God but end up sinning against Him, our next step is usually to ask Him to forgive that sin. We don’t approach grace cheaply, as if it were some heavenly ATM, withdrawing against God’s grace to take advantage of His free gift. We understand the price of our sin. That is why we try so hard to avoid it in the first place. Because of our love for God and sincere sorrow when we do sin, we cry out for the blood of Jesus to cleanse the record and restore our relationship with God.
We get a glimpse into Paul’s heart, making the same act of contrition as he related his personal struggle with sin and its nature within him:
What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!
After falling into the trap of sin, and before his declaration of freedom from condemnation, Paul’s heart moves through confession and rededication. I wonder if he fell to his knees as he dictated this letter, tears of thankfulness and joy streaming down his face. He had just openly confessed that even Paul, looked upon so highly then by the ancient and today by the modern church, yet still susceptible to temptation and the pull of sin within him. But Jesus Christ reached down upon his repentant heart and saved and forgave him.
The promise of our freedom from condemnation is for this heart that has repented and been made clean. When the enemy dredges up the memory or the pain of of sin that is forgiven, blotted out by the blood of Jesus, we can be confident that God has forgiven us and sees as clean and not stained. He has forgiven us. It is as if ht never happened, so far as the heart and mind of God are concerned.
* * *
But this is not the only application being made of this verse in Christianity today. We have it memorized and quote it so quickly because for us it serves another purpose. It is this danger that I want to spend some time addressing. Look for part two to follow.