Free from … ?

Before the holidays I started a discussion on the implications and uses of Romans 8:1. The first post reminded us that there is hope in Christ that when we sin, we are not condemned again and lose our salvation. Rather, having been made new in Christ and striving to live a life of holiness, we can be confident that we are in the hands of God and His grace extends to us when we fail, for we shall certainly do so until the day He returns or we are taken to be with Him.

I am reading my second title of the new year, and it has spurred me on to finish this thought started so long ago. The book is “The Pursuit of Holiness” by Jerry Bridges, and you will see a review of the book here when I finish reading it. For now, though, let us continue our thoughts on Romans 8:1.

Many in Christian circles are quick to bring this verse to their mind or their lips in a different usage. In this case they are in danger of a terrible injustice against God, and betray a damaged heart in the process. They consider themselves free from conviction.

Here we run into a common issue among Christians. Some believe that Paul’s words of struggle are not an actual confession by the Apostle, but a demonstration of what life might be like, perhaps even is when we do not rely on the strength of the Holy Spirit to lead our lives. For them, to be free from condemnation in Christ means that whenever they feel guilty or hard pressed that they can turn from that as condemnation by the voice of Satan. Being dead to sin and alive to God in Christ means they can plug their ears and harden their heart to that feeling, trusting that all is up to God.

Unfortunately, though, we have to come to grips with the fact that while we are freed from sin’s hold in our lives and made a new creation in Christ, we are still flesh and blood walking in a world of sin. We do know what we should do, and yet do not do it. We are aware of what to keep from our lives because it is harmful or it is hateful to God, but we are tempted and do it anyway.

In those cases when we purposely step into sin, it is the work of the Holy Spirit that convicts our hearts. He reminds us of God’s call to be holy as He is holy. He reminds us of when we knelt at the altar and prayed a prayer of confession and repentance, pledging not to sin in that way any longer.

Why does He do this? Is it to create condemnation? Does the Spirit seek to remind us how foolish we are thinking we could be like God when we are only human? Does He seek to break us down so that God may rule supreme as one who is better, more self-controlled, able to withstand what we cannot?

No. The Spirit reminds us that sin is sin so that we can be drawn closer to God. We know that we are flesh, we are fallen, we are sinful, we are lost with Him; that is why we accepted Christ in the first place, knowing the truth about our spiritual situation. But at times we live in denial, thinking we are better or than we are. We can handle what comes to us, and we can do it on our own. Can we really? No; and when we fall into temptation, we know it.

Yet when we choose to consider as condemnation from Satan rather than conviction from God, we begin to build a wall that separates us from Heaven. We build that wall with the bricks of our sins, unconfessed and so unforgiven. It grows, not only higher but deeper as well, with each sin that we leave unattended. Soon we forget there is more to that sentence (partially because it is cut out of some newer translations):

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.
(Romans 8:1, NKJV)

When we turn a deaf ear to the conviction of God’s Holy Spirit, do you think we  walk according to the Spirit? Indeed not. In doing so we reject the walk of the Spirit in favor of the walk of the flesh. Now we find ourselves back in a state of rebellion against God, and will indeed find ourselves in a place of condemnation.

Do not think yourself to good for conviction. When we place ourselves in such high regard that we believe we are free from the attacks of sin on our lives, we set ourselves up for a great fall.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
(1 John 1:8, ESV)

Be open to the leading of God’s Spirit. Test that agony in your heart. Ask a pastor or a mentor their opinion; is it condemnation or conviction? Know that you are not perfect, and that you are not free from stumbling. Better to face the fact now than ignore it and understand the truth too late.