Romans 8:1 “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
I have just completed preaching through the book of Genesis and immediately I’m turning to Romans chapter 8. I must be vain or mad or both. I was cheered in reading some words of the Puritan preacher Thomas Jacomb who found himself in the same plight as myself, completing preaching one book in the Bible and then constrained to begin another. He said to his congregation that he felt like a sailor who had no sooner arrived on shore than he was press-ganged and sent to sea again on a voyage even more tedious and dangerous than the former journey. This is my case; when I have just set my foot on land, and got away from one service which was challenging and troublesome enough, then – by the over-ruling providence of God – I’ve been commanded to go to sea again on a more difficult journey. The book of Genesis is the best book in the Bible for the preacher, full of beautiful pictures, solemn warnings, great explanations and glorious promises. It is also full of real people seeking to follow the Lord through many battles. Romans, on the other hand, is the purest theology and the grandest ethic. This long chapter that is at its heart is laid out without a reference to the conduct of a single believer. Not one man is named in Romans 8. Yet what 39 verses lie before us.
A Word of Admiration. This chapter is justly praised. It is described by Sinclair Ferguson as the greatest chapter of all the chapters of the Bible, “profound in theology, soaring in eloquence and thrilling in impact.” Derek Thomas has preached a series of sermons on what he calls, “the best chapter in the Bible.” In fact he has joined Octavius Winslow and Marcus Loane in writing a book on the chapter. John Stott says, “Romans 8 is without doubt one of the best-known, best-loved chapters of the Bible.” But let us go again to Thomas Jacomb who was ejected from the Church of England with thousands of other evangelical ministers 350 years ago this year. He continued to speak in the home of the Countess of Exeter for the next 25 years, and there he preached a series on Romans 8. He asks, “Who wouldn’t be willing to take pains in a mine that has such treasures hidden in it? Search all the Scriptures, (I will except none) turn over the whole word of God, from the beginning of Genesis to the end of the Revelation, you won’t find any one chapter into which more excellent, sublime, evangelical truths are crowded, than this which I am entering upon. The Holy Bible is the book of books; in some respects this chapter may be styled the chapter of chapters. From first to last it is high gospel, it is all gospel, its matter being entirely evangelical. It is indeed the epitome, abridgment, storehouse of all the saints’ privileges and duties: you have in this chapter the love of God and of Christ displayed to the utmost, shining forth in its greatest splendour. Paul in it speaks much of the blessed Spirit, and surely he was more than ordinarily full of this Spirit in the penning of it. Blessed be God for every part and parcel of holy writ; and, in special, blessed be God for this eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans. Oh it is pity that it is not better understood through the dimness of our light, nor better improved through the weakness of our faith.” So the chapter is highly praised
A Word About its Emphasis. It focuses on the work of the Holy Spirit. John Stott says, “If in Romans 7 Paul has been preoccupied with the place of the law, in Romans 8 his preoccupation is with the work of the Spirit. In chapter 7 the law and its synonyms were mentioned some thirty-one times, but the Holy Spirit only once (v.6), whereas in the first twenty-seven verses of chapter 8 the Spirit of God is referred to nineteen times by name. The essential contrast which Paul paints is between the weakness of the law and the power of the Spirit” (John Stott, The Message of Romans, IVP, p.216). Counting all the places where the Holy Spirit is mentioned in this chapter we meet him on twenty-one occasions. This, by far, is the chapter in the Bible where the Holy Spirit is most frequently mentioned, not Acts chapter 2, and not any chapter in the letter to the Corinthians, but in Romans 8 are the most references to the Holy Spirit in one chapter.
A Word About its Theme. Paul has been writing of the struggles which the Christian experiences, and the failures he knows through remaining sin and now he comes to the great consolation, the absolute security of the children of God. He affirms that every single Christian is safe. Romans 8 is saying this, and the whole chapter is a series of arguments, beautifully arranged, supporting this one point. Paul does so by showing us what God has done in Christ to deliver us from the power of sin. So the chapter is most helpful in understanding our sanctification.
A Word about the Outline. The chapter naturally divides into three sections: it seems to me that the N.I.V. has got this absolutely right with its paragraphs and headings.
i] There is the varied ministry of the Holy Spirit described in verses 1 through 17, liberating, indwelling, sanctifying, leading, witnessing to and finally resurrecting the children of God.
ii] There is in verses 18 through 27 a description of the future glory of God’s children, a glory which all of creation will share.
iii] Finally the steadfast love of God is magnified in verses 28 through 39 as the apostle shows that God works all things together for good to them that love God, and that nothing will ever be allowed to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. It has often been pointed out that this chapter begins with no condemnation and it ends with no separation.
A Word About our Response to such Words. The preacher Thomas Jacomb gulped as he saw what lay before him preaching through such a chapter. He said, “It is a very great undertaking, and I am very sensible how much it is above me; I have only this encouragement, I serve a good Master, one who both can, and I trust will help me in it, and carry me through it, for he normally gives strength when he calls someone to do a work. And it is no matter what the instrument is, if he will be pleased to use it, the mighty God by weak means can effect great things.”
Four of us in the congregation have been individually reading Iain Murray’s excellent life of Archibald G. Brown and talking about it to one another. I wish I could truly speak from my heart those same words with which that noble preacher addressed his congregation; “Oh brethren and sisters, I would to God I co
uld speak to you this evening as I would. I only wish I could make this text blaze away before your eyes as it has my own. I would that its tremendous force might be realized by you, as it has been felt in my own heart before coming here. Oh how it would shake some of you out of your selfishness, out of your worldliness, out of your pandering to the maxims of this world” (Iain H. Muray, Archibald G. Brown: Spurgeon’s Successor, Banner of Truth, 2011, p.361). Every day this week I have read this chapter through once or twice praying that it might blaze in my eyes so that then it might blaze in yours too.
This opening verse is a manifesto, Paul’s uncompromising declaration of the utter absence of condemnation for the Christian. It is so jaggedly forceful that there is no verb present in the Greek. For smoothness the English translation has included the verb ‘is.’ It has also put the word ‘therefore’ as the opening word though in the Greek it begins with the word ‘No’. As we say, when you see this word ‘therefore’ in the Bible you have to ask what is it there for. And the answer is that Paul is saying something like this, “the conclusion of the matter is this . . .” or “In view of the facts we’ve been considering over the last seven chapters we may safely come to this conclusion . . .” The ‘therefore’ is pointing back to our deliverance from our guilt and from the dominion of sin over us through the person and work of Jesus Christ and that is the theme of this chapter.
- NO CONDEMNATION – WHAT IT DOES NOT MEAN.
“Therefore, there is now no condemnation . . .” Let’s approach it like this, by asking, what this blessed statement that “there is now no condemnation” does not mean? Let’s clear the rubble away from it.
i] Paul is not saying, “Christians are never to mention the word ‘condemnation’ at all. God is love and so everyone is going to heaven, so brush out of your mind completely the thought that Christianity teaches that anyone is going to be condemned.” Not at all. The whole tenor of Scripture denies that. You cannot take an evangelical verse like this and say that this proves all men are bound for glory. You think of those words of the Lord Jesus at the close of John chapter three: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life but God’s wrath remains on him” (Jn. 3:35). That is the condemnation referred to here, that the wrath of God remains on the unbeliever for ever and ever in hell. He will enter that place that the Lord Jesus spoke of often. That is the logic of defying God through one’s lifetime, and living for oneself. God condemns such lives. So Paul is not saying that there’s no condemnation for anyone. There will not be eternal anarchy. There will be eternal justice.
ii] Paul isn’t saying that for the Christian there’ll be no thorn in the flesh. Every Christian knows there is. In order to save us from being puffed up with pride and becoming more useful in his hands God will sweetly humble each one of us with some kind of distress or other; a sickness, a heartache, some prolonged delay in answer to prayer, an awareness of failure to conquer the sin that besets us, and the grief that follows from that. God is weaning us from our self-sufficiency. He is creating a sense of dependence on him – “I can only get by through his grace.” The reason that the Christian experiences such thorns in the flesh is in order to deliver him from future uselessness and give him increased usefulness.
The Christian also suffers chastening for present sins, for whom the Lord loves he chastens. “As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.” If we’re not chastened then we’re not God’s children. It would be a fearful thing if Paul said to us, “There is therefore now no chastening and no thorns in the flesh for you,” because then he would be addressing the damned. Now we know that God is so gracious that he will not condemn his own, but he is so holy and wise and good that he will act as a Father acts and he will chasten us. This is so especially for those who are the nearest to Christ and the dearest to God. So ‘no condemnation’ does not mean no chastening and no thorns in the flesh.
iii] Paul doesn’t say that your sinning will never be condemned by God. How the Pharisees lived was condemned by the Incarnate God Jesus of Nazareth. The activities of false prophets were condemned by him, and when Peter sought to deflect Jesus away from the path of the cross Jesus condemned him, “Get thee behind me Satan!” The heretics in Galatia were condemned by Christ’s apostle Paul. The falls of Abraham, and Noah, and Lot, and David, and Peter were all condemned by God: “That is wrong; that is unacceptable conduct for a Christian,” God declared. He did not shrug and mutter, ‘No comment.’ The lie that Ananias and Sapphira told was condemned by God. The vile behaviour of some of the professing Christians in the congregation in Corinth was condemned by God, and they were afflicted. There is not one of us, and not a man on earth, who is not liable to have God saying to him on some occasion in his life, “That’s bad.” James tells us, “In many things we offend all” (James 3:2). Sin is sin in the children of God, and it merits condemnation in them just as in others.
iv] Sometimes men, conscience and Satan will all take it in turns to condemn us. One seems to beckon to the other to come and accuse us. When one has grown weary of condemning us it is relieved and the other takes up the task, or I could say that one passes the baton of condemnation on to the other. One man after another will condemn us, and sometimes justly. Rich unscrupulous landowners have driven Christian tenant farmers out of their farms into poverty and homelessness and immigration, and leaders of gospel churches have been silent at the injustice. The world rightly condemns such mealy-mouthed ministers for being bought by rich men’s influence. Again, sometimes our own conscience will condemn us, and that can be very painful too, like your own inner personal hell. I will acknowledge that there’s a condemning conscience for the Christian, but there’s never a condemning God. Again, there are times when Satan will condemn us. He is a proud rogue, and he loves to sit on the bench and pass sentence on the followers of Christ. There is not a single upright, holy Christian in all the world, nor ever has been, who has not at times been condemned by the devil. He is a condemned creature himself and he will condemn others, especially convicted sinners who are hoping for the mercy of God. “No hope for you,” he tells them, “You have behaved so badly God can never forgive you. You are pre
tending to be serious about knowing God. You are acting as if you were a Christian. You are a hypocrite, a castaway.” The devil is a tireless accuser. He accused Job to God. His title is “The accuser of the brethren.” Where God condemns least there Satan condemns the most. But all his wild words are mere blustering falsehood if God is not condemning us.
So these great opening words of Romans chapter 8 are not saying that there will be no divine condemnation for anyone, or that Christians will have no faults, and no failures, and no infirmities, and no giving way in times of pressure, and no fleshly corruptions. He is not saying that a Christian never condemns himself for falling into the same sin again and again. It says none of those things. Then what does it say?
- NO CONDEMNATION – WHAT IT DOES MEAN.
I’ve told you that the first word in the sentence in the original Greek is the word ‘no.’ In fact it is a strong form of the negative, almost startling, exploding off the page, ‘NO condemnation whatsoever!’ That is its force: not a whit of it, not a hint of condemnation, not a suggestion, not an odour of condemnation. Nothing of God’s condemnation hangs over the head of a single Christian. This word ‘condemnation’ is seized from the law court. It is found only twice in the New Testament. It means to pass the sentence of death, but the actual sentencing by the judge as he puts on his black cap and condemns the man to be hung by the neck until he is dead – that is not the focus of Paul’s words. He is speaking of the sentence itself, of the dungeon, and the gallows and the block. In other words, there will be no exposure to such condemnation. They are now beyond the reach of suffering condemnation in hell by a sin-hating God. Such a future did not and could not await the church members in the Roman congregation to whom Paul is writing this letter. This letter was not addressed to Nero in his palace, or to the Roman senate, or to the gladiators, or the Roman army, or the businessmen, or the priests in the many temples in Rome. It was not addressed, “To the whole population of Rome.” These words had a limited focus. They address the people saved by God and living in Christ, and here these disciples of Jesus Christ are being assured that God’s wrath will not be eternally revealed against their ungodliness and unrighteousness. “NO condemnation, whatsoever!” We may all see much in our lives that discourages us, in our souls and in our families, our follies in relationships and in business transactions. There is much that wounds and grieves us, but we are free from the sentence of divine condemnation. What if you have little money – you are not condemned! What if you are ill – you are not condemned! What if you are tempted – you are not condemned! What if you are bullied by other children, misused by men and women above you in work, persecuted by the powers that be? You are not condemned by God. There is therefore now no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus,
But now we must return to the amazing comfort of our text. It is declaring that for many favoured guilty men and women no such condemnation awaits them whatsoever. God will never, never condemn them, not at all. The unreformed Romish church teaches that after death every Christian is condemned to purgatory for hundreds or thousands of years where their remaining sin will be somehow (in ways they find it hard to explain) purged out of their system until finally – through the repeated prayers and masses of churches and priests – they will be released into heaven. We are all condemned to that future, says Rome. In the opinion of Rome that is what lies before me and you; we are all condemned to purgatory! But Paul says, “No condemnation for our sins whatsoever.”
4. NO CONDEMNATION TO THOSE WHO ARE IN CHRIST JESUS.
Who are these people delivered from condemnation? We need not make guesses. We are told who they are in our text. They are described to us as “those who are in Christ Jesus.” They are not described as perfect people, and sinless people. They are not those who’ve escaped the wrath of God because they’ve lived blameless lives. No. They were sinners, just like the rest. We here today are no different from the people who also at this moment are in hell. I think that I’ve lived a worse life than millions now in the place of woe. What has happened to us? How is it that we have escaped so great a condemnation? Here is the answer! It is not an enigma! I will tell you what Paul says. We’ve became united to Christ Jesus. We were joined to him, married to him. He became our husband and we were his bride. He has taken all our liabilities, and discharged all our debts. We have been plugged into him. We are the branch that has been grafted into out glorious vine and his life flows in us and his fruit grows in us. Henceforth we live our lives in solidarity with him. He became our federal head and we became his body. We became one with him, inseparably, for ever and ever. Where he is there we are and ever will be. Where he is not we also cannot be. He is not suffering condemnation in hell, and never will, and so neither can we! He is seated at the right hand of God and that is where we are too. It would be just as impossible for God to condemn Christ as for him to condemn a person who is in Christ.
These people who have been delivered from the condemnation of hell – do you see that they’ve all got connected to the Lord Jesus Christ. Every single one of them. This is the exclusive way of deliverance. You and Jesus Christ have to get together. If you go on living your life apart from Christ then only one thing will happen to you, and that is that you will be condemned. You cannot avoid that. Millions of better men and women than you and me have tried, and they have all failed. They are all in hell today, but all who will be in the presence of God in a new heavens and earth will be there because of Jesus Christ.
I am talking to you of the eternal Son of God who was in the beginning with God the Father and God the Spirit, the one true and living God. From the first tick of the cosmic clock God has been guiding every event of the cosmos from the micro to the macro, toward its determined goal, and when history had been shepherded to just the right moment then God sent his Son to the earth to deliver us from condemnation. He came willingly, in a mission of love for his Father and in love for us. The world with all its horrors was not a lost cause. God had not given up on it. The last Adam came an achieved his goal – where the first Adam had failed. Jesus lived a blameless beautiful life. He attained the holiness we lack and so desperately need. He became the spotless Lamb of God. His meat and drink was to do the will of the One who had sent him. He said, “I always do the things that are pleasing to him” (Jn.8:20). In other words utter, comprehensive, all consuming love for God flowed from his heart.
Let me put it like this; imagine a test meter with a gauge, and this meter measures the holiness that God requires for mankind. The moment Adam defi
ed God and sinned then the needle plunged to the bottom and never budged. “Never?” you ask. No never. Remember that God’s requirement for men and angels is not that they give it their best shot. He doesn’t say, “Have a go!” He says that all who live happily in his presence must be as holy as God is. That requires absolute righteousness as the standard, womb to tomb, 24/7/365 and 366 this leap year. One speck short is like a fail. Then comes the last Adam, Jesus. In his case, the moment of his conception, the needle shot to the top and it never wavered. “Never?” you ask. Never. Not when he had gone without food for forty days, not when he was weary serving others, when he was surrounded by human jackals provoking him to say something out of turn, still he kept his cool and kept loving God. He was always pleasing to God in what he did. Here is the righteousness of a man, under provocation and pressure, but it is also the righteousness of the incarnate God and so it is also infinite and unchangeable.
However, Christ Jesus did more than live a glorious God-pleasing life. “I will take their judgment.” He said that because he could love nobodies and weaklings like ourselves. “I will bear the condemnation that they deserve by standing in their place. I will plead ‘Guilty’ not for anything I have done but for all that they’ve done. Father, I will take their place, and you must judge me as you would have judged them.” That is what Christ Jesus has done in his unique atoning death. He paid the unpayable debt. He removed the indelible stain of guilt. He extracted the guilty from the fires of hell. He bore the immeasurable burden of our condemnation, as in our place condemned he stood. He appeased the infinite just anger of God towards our wretched sins. He put his perfectly righteous life on the line between us and God and then satisfied God’s justice in his condemnation of all our tawdry, dirty, ugly sins. We know that divine justice was satisfied because on the third day God raised him from the dead. He was always God’s beloved Son in whom God was well pleased, but never so greatly loved as when he hung on Calvary in the anathema of God.
So you see why it is important for you to get right into Christ Jesus, to be joined to him for ever in the totality of his being, to be hidden in his wounded side, to have your names written on his heart to have him as your husband, to be married to him. How do you do that? By believing into him, entrusting all you are and have to him in everything he is. Believe into the Lord Jesus Christ, so that he becomes your complete plea – why God should pardon you and accept you into heaven, why there should be no condemnation. You will say, “Because I am in him.”
Then it is as impossible for God to smite his beloved Son as it would be for him to smite you who are in Christ. Here are these people whom God knew before the foundation of the world, whom he gave to his Son to save, whom his Son took as his treasured and beloved possessions. We were in the mind of God before the foundation of the world, chosen by him and given to Christ. Then we were in Christ when he was born under the law, in him day by day in his life of righteousness, in him in his death on Golgotha when in my place condemned he stood, in his resurrection and in his ascension. We are now seated in Christ in heaven where he makes intercession for us. We will be in him when he returns again and raises us from the dust and he joins together glorified body and soul. We shall be with him for ever in heaven. Will we be safe then, in glory, when we are with him? “Yes,” you agree, “when we will be with him in heaven we will be secure.” Then you are that secure now, in this dark and groaning world. Not as happy, but as secure now as when you will be with him in glory because he will never allow anyone to pluck you out of his hand, nor undo the union that’s been forged in the heat of the cross that has welded you to him for ever. Put the cold steel of your heart into the heat of the loving heart of Christ and you will glow too. You must be joined to Jesus.
Think of the condemnation that came on the world at the time of the great flood, but there were eight men and women who were utterly delivered from that judgment because they were in the ark. They were safe and secure inside the boat. All around them there were torrents of rain falling. Beneath them the fountains of the deep had opened up and were swallowing everything, but they were all as safe as God himself in the ark. Or again, think of the cities of refuge in the Old Testament, if the man-slayer who had accidentally killed another could flee and get through the gates of the city and inside it than he was safe from condemnation – in an instant once he was inside! So it is with a condemned and guilty sinner. Let him flee to Christ for refuge. Let him be in Christ as his ark, in Christ as his city of refuge, and then he is free from condemnation.
5. IT IS NOW THAT THERE IS NO CONDEMNATION.
So you see the significance of the little word ‘now’ in our text? There is therefore now no condemnation to those that are in Christ Jesus. It is not now that you are following Christ, now that you have been converted, not that at all. It is now that you are in Christ. Now that you two are one new person, you and Christ united eternally, you living in him and he living in you, now you are eternally free from condemnation. God can find no flaw in you at all now, not when you stand before him at the Day of Judgment, not in heaven but now! From the moment you are put into him he, of God, is made unto you wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption. That is true of the very worst sinner who has turned and entrusted himself to Jesus Christ, from that moment on if he, or any man, is in Christ Jesus, he is a new creature. Old things, old guilt, old condemnation, old expectations of going to hell, are passed away. All things have become new, a new hope, a new destination, and a new expectation that when you die and see Jesus you will be like him. You will see him as he is smiling and welcoming you. Not in purgatory. No place at all called ‘purgatory.’ The only place where our blame and shame is purged away is the cross where our Lord by himself purged our sins. Make sure today that you are in Christ Jesus, that you have entrusted yourself right into him. This movement of joining him is one that takes place in your inner life, your heart and soul, as the Holy Spirit tells you that this is true and you respond to the truth by coming to Christ, just as you are, and take him as your Lord and Saviour. Then you too will know the power of this declaration of God by his Spirit through the apostle Paul, that was written to ordinary Christians in Rome when Paul assured them, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
5th February 2012 GEOFF THOMAS