Oliver James wrote in The Times, about Big Brother.... What is the most common reason given by intelligent adults for watching Big Brother or its Celebrity sibling? The self-deceiving spiel is prefaced with “I know its is rubbish, but . . .” Having made this caveat, the speaker feels licensed to spout any old nonsense. Then comes “there’s just something fascinating about it”: the person simply does not know why he/she does it...
The article was followed by a debate asking "Does watching Big Brother make you feel guilty?" - Would you use the preface: "I know its rubbish, but...." An honest reader replies - "Yes, watching Big Brother makes me feel enormously guilty, a complete waste of my time."
Some mundane, trivial or absurd things make us feel guilty... some things more meaningful.... we might feel guilty for past mistakes... failure to meet our standards or other people's expectations on us.
And what about Christians. I wonder what response we might get if we asked around campus - "Do Christians make you feel guilty?" - In my first year at Uni I was sat in the kitchen. One of my housemates came in, swore and then noticed I was there... and so he felt he should apologise... Having a Christian in the room made him feel guilty.
At that point, very early in my Christian life I can't say that my language was much different to his... Others would certainly say that the church makes them feel guilty. Scared of being exposed or judged. Church and the like are avoided so that feelings of condemnation can be avoided.
It bemuses me when those who aren't Christians dress up to come to church meetings – to impress us? Or God?
And if we look at the media the stereotype Christian is miserable and self-righteous... and the stronger their convictions the worse it gets... All of which is rather strange when we open the Bible and see the words: "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".
Christian life as told in the Bible is free from condemnation!!! Not because we're good enough for God, quite the opposite in fact... Christians - according to Romans 8v1 can consider themselves not condemned by God... why then do so many Christians feel condemned? And why do not Christians not feel condemned.
Ours is an age, just like every other, where everyone presumes that good people go to heaven... and everyone thinks that they are good... both of which are so tragically wrong.
Before we look to Romans 8v1-17 we must look back and feel the huge weight backed up behind this great promise in 8v1. We must ask "what is the therefore there for".... why are Christians “not condemned”.
It's the second huge Therefore, after 5v1, with another to come in 12v1. Pausing to take in the great vistas of what God has done, and drawing out the implications.
We begin with God's revelation in Jesus. Wrath-revealed, Yes, Jesus “meek and mild” is the revelation of God's wrath and righteousness.
Contrary to popular opinion whilst Jesus speaks much of love and forgiveness, he also speaks more about hell and judgement than anyone else. As judgement is revealed all humanity is left without excuse for sin. No room for excuses... no room for protests of innocence... no room for boasts... no more feeble excuses. The good news of Jesus says: let every mouth be silenced.
Everyone stands condemned not just for the sin we've done, but also utterly infected and corrupted by sin by being part of Adam's race. But, in chapter 3, we see that God put forward Jesus to bear that wrath in our place... and so, 5v1, we are justified by faith, gaining peace with God... So after seven chapters of glorious doctrine comes a majesterial statement of life, 8v1: Christians are free from condemnation. What lavish grace! So let us turn to 8v1-17... seeing what God has done in Jesus... and how we are now to live.
What God has done in Jesus (2-8)
God sent Jesus to condemn sin
By sending his son in the likeness of sinful flesh he condemned sin in the flesh. What does that mean? It doesn't mean that Jesus came and said: sin is wrong. Though Jesus would affirm that. No, it means that God sent Jesus so that sin could be condemned. So that sin could be punished. How? Sin must be punished by God. Yet we presume we'd be spared – aren't we good enough?
But Paul says in v3, God has done what the law couldn't do. We have a sinful nature and so we can't be good. As hard as we might have tried to be self-righteous our feeble efforts were futile. And most of us never tried all that hard in the first place.... We could not and would not clear ourselves of condemnation.
So as things stood we were on death row for our sin – standing condemned for what we'd done. But then God sent Jesus to be condemned in our place. He didn't deserve to be condemned. And so he took our place on death row under God's judgement.
Therefore, sin could be condemned – without us being condemned. And so we are called to stand in Jesus without condemnation. Because the punishment for our crime has been paid – God has no charges against us any more. Free from condemnation!
But God did what we could not do. God sent Jesus so sin could be condemned – not in us, but in him.
Our sin can be condemned in us, in which case we are condemned. Or our sin can be condemned in Jesus Christ, in which case we are free from condemnation! As the great hymn, Rock of Ages says:Not the labour of my handsCan fulfil your law’s demands;Could my zeal no respite know,Could my tears forever flow,All for sin could not atone;You must save, and You alone.
Romans 8v1 declares that anyone who is a Christian is free from condemnation. God has no charge against a Christian because of what Jesus has done. An objective concrete event in history. Done.
It's like American Samoa, or perhaps Wales being told before qualifying begins that they've won the world cup... they couldn't win it ever, and they don't need to try. Similarly, Adrian Warnock says: If you were in court and the judge declared you not guilty, you'd not stand there protesting your guilt... you'd go andtell everyone that you'd been acquitted.
Yet we struggle to believe it? God has done what we could never do: Rock of Ages, again.. Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to the cross I cling; Naked, come to You for dress; Helpless look to You for grace; Foul, I to the fountain fly; Wash me, Saviour, or I die.
What we do in Jesus (9-17)
How then do we live? Christians still sin? But we're free from condemnation... what are we to do?
v9-11 Spirit-filled life
Firstly: All Christians have the Holy Spirit, they're Spirit-filled.
v9. Paul says the Romans are not in the flesh – our sinful nature is not our life.
Rather we have the Holy Spirit. And even more boldly, he says that if someone does not have the Holy Spirit they're not a Christian. The Not Condemned have God living in them by the Holy Spirit. Christians are Spirit-filled people.
v12-14 Spirit-led life
Secondly: Christians owe sin nothing, they're Spirit-led. v12. Christians are not in debt to sin. Rather – he says implicitly in v12, we're obligated to the Holy Spirit. So there is no excuse for a Christian to sin. No compulsion to sin. The door bell rings, and sin is at the door. We don't have to open it.
And if we do we can't blame someone else, or our circumstances... it was simply our sinful decision – and we should repent. But we're not condemned for our sin. Instead, v13, by the Spirit we are to kill sin... v14, as sons of God. And it should be like Father, like Son. God always goes for God's glory, so should we. Why choose junk when you're offered jewels?
Look at v14, This image of being led by the Spirit is about being led to war. v13, led to kill sin. The “not condemned” live in a state of war. Sin is an ever present enemy to be killed. Sin doesn't condemn us anymore – Christ is our righteousness: Hallelujah! But sin is out of place in our lives – it doesn't belong and must be killed. But how?
We don't kill sin with law. Law keeping is a dead end. Law was a dead end to escape condemnation... because the sinful nature keeps us from keeping the law. Law is also a dead end to kill sin. Many fall into the trap of thinking that we're saved by grace, and then we should live by law.
American Samoa, World Cup Winners find themselves in the Finals... but even then they've won - they don't need to now start trying to deserve the cup... its theirs already
That produces miserable Christians. People whose lives are not marked by the victory of “no condemnation” but rather by joyless failure and endless comparison games. It might look holy to be a rule keeper but in reality it is sin – trusting in our own efforts instead of God's grace.
But, if not law, then how? Notice: there are no imperatives here. But there is the truth about God. There are God's gospel promises! Promises such as 8v1. Promises about the freedom we now have.
John Bunyan said of the Bible - “This book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book” Not because it is a book of rules. No – because its a book of God's promises. Promises centred on the Cross of Christ. And as John Stott has said: “The cross is the blazing fire at which the flame of our love is kindled, but we have to get near enough to it for its sparks to fall on us”
When Em talks about our the flowers in our garden she talks about how she has killed them. But she hasn't really – she's ignored them and they've shriveled up and died. Sin is like weeds in a garden. Weeds don't just die. They have to be aggressively attacked. And the best way to do that is to fill the garden with flowers so there is no room for weeds. As John Owen said “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you”.
Our lives must be intoxicated with the grace of God. Led to war by the Holy Spirit by obsession with the promises of God. Hear these words from John Piper: “Jesus is glorified when we kill sin by the Spirit, that is, by hearing and believing the promises that he brought and secured by his own blood”. And so Christ receives “double glory” - being our righteousness & working it in us.
Saved by grace... live by grace... the free don't give their body to sin anymore... they give it to enjoying God. Yes I said enjoying God. Christian life is supposed to be free with fullness of joy in God. Do you know that life?
v15-17 Spirit-crying life
Lest you think this is all easy... look at v15-17.We are also those who cry by the Spirit: “Abba, Father”. Abba, the Hebrew for Father... Not the sentimental cry of a child, but the Christian echoing the desperate cry of Jesus on the cross - “Father!”, “Father!” - the desperate cry that knows the terrible offense of sin...
Not the cry of the embarrassed Christian who made a fool of themselves by sinning – that is pride. Rather, the cry of the one who knows the sewer of their own sin... and the glory of the God they have defamed.
As children of God we're to live like Jesus – in every way. Every way but one: Jesus never sinned, so he never repented. But we sin, and so we must continually be repentant... turning again from sin to enjoy God.
Killing sin with the Holy Spirit isn't easy – we will often cry desperately:“Father”. Hear the words of Jerry Bridges: “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God's grace, and your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God's grace”
There is now no condemnation! Whatever you do. No condemnation! We can't be too bad – we were never good. Our freedom from condemnation has nothing to do with how good we are: its based on Jesus being condemned in our place for our sin.
God did what we could never do. And Jesus faced the ultimate suffering on a Roman cross to achieve that. In v17 we're told that Christian life is conditioned on suffering, provided we suffer... everything patterned on him.
Our suffering is unlike his though. He suffered so we would not be condemned. Our suffer is not to escape condemnation, but because we have. Pursuing joy in God never means a comfy life. Instead it means abandoning my preferences to pursue God's in whatever situation I am in. In lectures and exams... with friends and family... on holiday or in work.
Christian life is for those who know they would be condemned; but for Jesus. Christians are not the nice and decent. Christians confess “Jesus Christ is Lord”... they say openly “I am a wretched sinner” but “I am not condemned!” we say “I am free” we say “I now reign in life by grace”
So, how will we live together as a mission team on campus in the light of this?
Firstly – let freedom be our message! Not joyless and condemned... but let our message be of freedom in Jesus! Secondly – let us not tolerate sin. We wont fight sin by law but lets fight it by the Holy Spirit. Let's not tolerate gossip and self-righteousness, nor lust or selfish-ambition. Let's not tolerate it in ourselves, nor lead one another into sin. Our relationship are battlefield for sin, but they can also be an arena where God's grace can shine.
As the free let us urge one another on with God's promises. Let's keep one another close to the cross... saved by grace, to live by grace... reveling in God's promises.. believing God's great gospel promises: Chief among them this: Romans 8v1, “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”
See also Adrian Warnock, on this passage