Continued from Boasting in the cross (1).
‘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).
This tendency in human nature is a major obstacle to someone believing the gospel. The word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’, and the Christian gospel is the good news of what Christ has done for his people. But it will only be good news to those who take seriously the reality of their sin and the reality of God’s holiness and judgement upon that sin.
Reason for humility
If you read in the morning newspaper that a cure had been discovered for some fatal disease devastating society, that would be good news. But unless you or a loved one suffered from that particular disease, you would probably soon forget all about it because it doesn’t really affect your life.
So it is with the gospel. No condemnation is only good news if we realise we are condemned. Therefore, the first work of the Holy Spirit in sinners is to convict them of their sin and guilt, and the condemnation of God upon sin. This is why the Bible speaks so much about human sin and spells out God’s condemnation of sin consistently and clearly.
The real Christian no longer defends his or her sin. Rather, Christians thank God that all sin is pardonable, while they know no sin is excusable. There’s no excuse for pride, envy, jealousy, gossip, thieving or adultery. There’s no excuse for unbelief (Romans 1:20).
The sinner is guilty and therefore condemned, but Jesus came to take the guilt of sinners and substitute justification for condemnation. Therefore, for the Christian, the gospel is the greatest news it’s possible to hear. The consequences of being saved are staggering: acceptance with God; no condemnation now or ever; and a guaranteed place in heaven.
Believers often tend to minimise in their thinking the effects of salvation. That’s why they get depressed and lose their joy and assurance. It’s when we keep our eye on the cross and learn to rejoice in what God has done for us, that our Christian life remains fresh and vibrant.
In Romans 8 Paul, having made the bold declaration ‘There’s now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’, goes on to give the reason for it. It is ‘because, through Christ Jesus, the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8:2).
Ground of assurance
No condemnation is not because we have changed our lifestyle and no longer sin so much. It’s not because we are now better, more religious people. In fact, it’s not because of anything at all we’ve done. It’s because of what Christ has done in freeing us from the condemning power of God’s holy moral law.
Before we were saved we were under ‘the law of sin and death’. ‘Law’ in this verse (Romans 8:2) means a regulating power or authority that governs our standing before the holy God.
‘The law of sin and death’ quite rightly condemns us and renders us unacceptable to God. The only remedy for this is ‘the law of the Spirit of life’, that is, the action or working of the Holy Spirit within us to bring us new spiritual life.
The gospel takes us out of Adam and puts us in Christ. It’s when we are in Christ that there’s no condemnation. It’s not our actions, but our standing before God, that removes the condemnation. We are no longer condemned because we’ve been justified.
Justification is a sovereign work of God through Jesus Christ’s life, death and resurrection, and, because of this, it’s a perfect and finished work. Because it’s all of God, there are no degrees to it. You are as justified the moment you are saved as you are ever going to be. This means that a Christian can be confident that nothing can condemn and rob him or her of salvation.
Christian assurance doesn’t depend upon sanctification or our being holy, but upon justification. Justification is the ground of assurance. If it all depended on how spiritual or prayerful or obedient we are, our assurance would be ever fluctuating, as unstable as we are. Because it depends upon what God has done for us in Christ, it can remain as solid as a rock.
Later on, in Romans 8:34, Paul answers his own rhetorical question, ‘Who is he who condemns?’, by pointing us, not to anything we have achieved, but to the atoning death, resurrection and intercession of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Motive for holiness
Of course, no condemnation does not mean that it is acceptable for a Christian to carry on sinning as before. Christians can never be eternally condemned because Christ has paid the debt owing to the broken law of God, but we are still answerable to God for our actions and behaviour.
Eternal judgement will never be ours, but sin can rob us of much present joy of the Lord. Our sin can grieve and quench the Spirit and bring dishonour upon the name of our God. We are not to ‘live according to the sinful nature, but according to the Spirit’ (Romans 8:4).
The grace of God that brought salvation to us ‘teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age’ (Titus 2:11-12). ‘No condemnation’ is not an excuse to sin, but a reason to live for the glory of God; to please the one who loved us and gave himself for us.
This is both a staggering and humbling truth that ought to strip us of worldliness and plant in every believer’s heart a determination to live a holy and godly life. In the light of all this, no wonder Paul had no sympathy with those who said the message of the cross was not enough to save sinners. No wonder Paul boasted and gloried in the cross. Do you?
Peter Jeffery is a retired pastor, who has ministered in Cwmbran, Rugby and Port Talbot