Last week, I mentioned the title of this series is changing. The previous series title was “And Justice for All” which was borrowed from the pledge of allegiance to the American flag and our republic. The theme for the rest of Romans will center on living our lives in, and with, the Holy Spirit, so the new title is “Life in the Spirit.”
But to borrow another American phrase from the end of our national anthem, we often hear the fact that we are the “land of the free, and the home of the brave.” But what is freedom?
Well, freedom has always been elusive; it is also a moving target. But understood properly, freedom is not about what others impose, it is about an attitude of living. Granted, people may take the idea of “liberty” of “personal freedom” too far (to the detriment of the many), but freedom is a word, and it must mean something.
In Romans 1-7, Paul has shown that the Law is important, but it binds us. Sin and death have usurped God’s intent for the Law and turned the Law into an oppressive concept that no one can keep. In Romans 8, Paul revealed an alternative to living under that oppression, and that alternative is to be freedom.
But freedom from what? The Law? Sin? Death? Well, the answer to all three of those options must be no – at least in the sense that it is still wrong to murder and still right not to have other gods…and we still sin even if we are followers of Christ, and we still die.
But in another sense, we are free from each of those items. Jesus kept the Law perfectly. Jesus did not sin. Jesus overcame death. And through Jesus we can too.
And that is where Romans 8 begins. Here is that great transition verse known as Romans 8.1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
The key is being in Christ Jesus. But the result is that for those who are in Christ Jesus, no condemnation exists. None. Nada. Nothing.
We may think we understand this, but let’s make sure and be clear. How much condemnation is there? None. Does any condemnation remain? No. There is nothing held back…no little scraps of it that can be used against us later. It is gone. All of it.
But when does this happen? NOW. It is not some future idea. There is therefore NOW – as in the moment you are in Christ Jesus. You don’t have to wait. You don’t have to get better. You don’t have to be better. It happens in an instant. And here is the best part…when I mentioned NOW two lines above, that was NOW at that time. But now that is then. And now is now. And now is another new now.
Let me state this another way. Romans 8 mentions the Holy Spirit approximately 20 times (which is more than the rest of Romans combined). But the Holy Spirit is not the key thought of Romans 8. The key is assurance.
See, for those who are in Christ Jesus, condemnation is gone. Now. And Now. And Now again. It is still gone. It will be gone tomorrow. It will be gone next month and next year. Related to the biggest issue in our world today, condemnation is gone whether you get COVID, or you get a vaccination. It will be gone whether you wear a mask or not. Condemnation is gone – completely and permanently – for those who are in Christ Jesus.
And that means freedom. Now, before I talk more about freedom, let me talk a little more about the idea of not being condemned.
God Cannot Condemn You
Again, the key to this statement is that you are in Christ Jesus. If you are not, then you are condemned already (John 3.18). Jesus’ death took the condemnation of all people, but His sacrifice only affects those who believe. Romans 8.3 says that God sent His Son in the flesh to die for us, condemning the flesh. It is the flesh that must be condemned. We saw this a few weeks ago in Romans 7.13-25. Paul says it is his flesh that leads him astray. The same is true for us. But Jesus overcame the weakness of flesh towards temptation, and thus, He was able to pay the penalty to remove any condemnation that the flesh deserves. But, again, that payment only applies to those who believe.
So, once you have made the decision to follow Jesus…once you have put your faith in Him…once you have become a child of God, the condemnation is over. Immediately. And permanently. Because NOW is never not in the present. So, there is therefore NOW no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because He has already taken the condemnation upon Himself.
Others Cannot Condemn You
Now, let’s be clear, the text does not say this as explicitly as the previous point. Romans 8.3 makes it plain that God condemned sin, but He will no longer condemn anyone in Jesus. However, others will attempt to do so. Please understand that when we sin (even and especially as Christians), we need to be corrected. (I encourage you to watch the Redeem the Time video on our church’s YouTube page from 2/10 and the one coming up this week (2/17 for more about this. I am also posting these thoughts on my personal blog at fotonni.com). But other people cannot truly condemn us. Why can I say that?
Because there is therefore now NO condemnation. No means none. Not from God, not from others. They may yell at you. They may even use phrases that are condemning in nature, but the Bible does not give them the right. And, of course, the Bible does not give anyone the right (including followers of Jesus, such as James and John in Luke 9.54, and us on many days!). So, others may intend to condemn you, but if you are in Christ Jesus, they cannot. And the reality is that their condemnation is not really what matters anyway. Matthew 10.28 says that people may be able to physically harm us, but our true fear should be toward the one who can destroy the soul and the body in hell. But again, if we are in Christ Jesus, then God will not condemn us, and thus, our reason to fear is gone.
But having talked about the fact that those who are in Christ Jesus cannot be condemned by God or by others, now we come to the fun one.
First, let me make sure you are tracking with me. How much condemnation exists for those who are in Christ Jesus? None, right? When? Now, right? Ok, so if you are in Christ Jesus, then God cannot condemn you. Others cannot condemn you. And you cannot condemn you.
You Cannot Condemn You
However, I bet you try to do that often. Now, I am not talking about feeling guilty about doing something wrong or not doing something right. And I am not talking about being convicted by the Holy Spirit. I am talking about condemnation. Telling yourself you are worthless because of something in your life. Feeling shame for something in your life. I know what shame means, but I wanted to look at some of the synonyms for that word. Some synonyms were words like guilt, irritation, and remorse. Those words are ok, but some of the other words such as contempt and humiliation are condemning words. Of course, we should feel guilty, and even convicted, when we sin, but shame is of the devil. God is a God of grace. Certainly, God may humble you, but I do not see God in the business of humiliation for those who love Him (and really for anyone, humiliation simply comes naturally over time for some people). So, one of the keys in this passage is to learn to forgive ourselves.
Again, the whole premise of everything I have said about condemnation rests on the fact that we are in Christ Jesus. Without that truth, then Romans 8 does not make sense, and that includes verse 1. But for those in Christ Jesus, there is therefore now NO condemnation that can stick. That is, no one – not God, not others, and not even yourself can truly condemn you. And that should allow you to feel free because you are free.
And that brings us back to freedom.
Now, if we cannot be condemned, then are we free to do what we want? No. Why not? Because we are in Christ Jesus. We have already died to ourselves. We cannot do what we want when we are dead, and Paul has already clearly stated in Romans 6.3-11 that if we have been baptized into Jesus (that is we are in Christ, and He is in us), then we are dead to ourselves and alive in Christ. Furthermore, Romans 8.4 says that we are to walk in the Spirit (a topic we will dive deeper into next week).
The first four verses set up a strong dichotomy – we are either in Christ or we are not. We either walk according to the Spirit or according to the flesh. If we are in the flesh, then we are not in Christ. If we are not in Christ, then we are not in the Spirit. If we are not in the Spirit, then we stand condemned because we cannot keep the Law.
However, if we are in Christ, then we will walk according to the Spirit. If we walk according to the Spirit, then we cannot be condemned, because we do not have to keep the Law, the keeping of the Law has been fulfilled in us because it was fulfilled by Jesus (John 19.30, “It is finished.”). Again, this is all predicated on whether or not you are in Christ.
So, freedom is not a freedom to do what we want; rather, it is a freedom to be able to do what God wants. This freedom identified in the first verses of Romans 8 is the antithesis of the struggle Paul mentioned at the end of Romans 7.
When we understand freedom in that way, our situation does not matter. Our freedom is not found in circumstances, it is found in something, or Someone, beyond us. One of the greatest depictions of this idea comes from the movie Braveheart. Mel Gibson plays William Wallace who leads Scotland to rebel against England. At the end of the movie, Wallace has been captured, is being tortured, and is about to die. He is offered the opportunity to plea for mercy to end it quickly. The clip is a couple of minutes long and nothing gory is seen in this video clip.
Gibson is strung out. He is oppressed. His people have been oppressed. He is dying. And the people cry out for him, but Wallace wants something that is beyond what they recognized. He doesn’t want mercy, He wants Scotland to be free. And so he spends his final word shouting, “Freedom!” to remind them, to encourage them, to challenge them to be free.
Likewise, Jesus was bound. He was tortured. He was about to die. The religious leaders chastised Him to free Himself. But Jesus wanted us to be free. And so He paid the price for our freedom to remind us, to encourage us, to challenge us to be free. He gave everything that we might be free. And Jesus asks us to give of ourselves to claim that freedom we can only find in Him. The freedom He offers is not a freedom not to sin, but to be forgiven for it. It Is not a freedom to avoid pain or physical death, but to overcome it. It is not a freedom to do what we want, but to live according to how He wants us to live. And the moment we truly receive that gift, we will never face true condemnation again.
And that, my friends, is true freedom.
This week, I encourage you to read Galatians 5. As we work our way through Romans 8, we will see how the Spirit helps us and guides us. Galatians 5 talks about being free and not binding ourselves to customs and laws, vv. 1-15), what it means to walk in the Spirit vs walking in the flesh (vv. 16-21), and the fruit we will have in our lives from walking with the Spirit (vv. 22-26).