There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Jonathan Franzen is an award winning novelist and essayist; his novels The Corrections and Freedom have drawn widespread critical acclaim. In a book review of his 2015 novel Purity reviewer Emily Keeler wrote, “Decades ago Franzen asked his readers “does the distress I feel derive from some internal sickness of the soul, or is it imposed on me by the sickness of society?” Now, in (one of the characters is this novel named) Andreas, Franzen finally answers himself with yes, and yes.’
I was struck by Franzen’s frankness about the inner “distress” he feels and his insightful wondering if this distress derives from “some internal sickness of the soul.” Last August the news story broke about former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle pleading guilty to child porn charges. One news report said that it was our deification of those who lose weight that helped to deflect attention from Fogle’s dark side. As believers in the gospel we are not surprised when such things come to light. The gospel’s disclosure of the corruption of the human heart teaches us otherwise. Further, as we walk in company with Jesus we become increasingly aware of the depravity of our own hearts. As our Lord does that work of cleansing in our hearts we discover that the flaws aren’t merely simple surface issues.
The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans (Romans 7:14-25) describes an inner conflict with which he wrestles. “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind.” I would not speak for you but can tell you this; I would not want every thought that I entertain in my mind to be immediately posted on a social media account for all to read. Would you? It is a good thing that there are filters between thought and action.
In speaking about remedy for this “sickness of the soul” the Apostle Paul finds no human cure: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” But at the moment of knowing he has exhausted all other attempts comes the answer of a cure—“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-25) In the next part of his letter Paul proceeds to talk about his experience of the Lord’s rescue—his opening sentence on this topic is thus, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
1. Jesus said “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. … So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31-32, 36) The Apostle Paul’s declaration that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” is true freedom’s manifesto. The declaration of the believer’s freedom to live life because in Christ no condemnation is possible is a stunning truth. You are free to live! Free from the law or principle (or system) of sin and death for the law or principle of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. Notice that sin and death go together as does Spirit (capital S) and life. More on this in another part of this sermon. For the moment let this truth percolate in your heart—the connection of no condemnation and being set free to live by the Son.
To say that there is no condemnation for those in Christ is not the same thing as saying that everyone is beautiful their own way. Paul does not mean to say that if you just look long enough you can always find some good in everyone. The Apostle John, in his gospel immediately following that great summary that “God so loved the world he gave his only Son” writes this: “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The gospel is clear that the human situation before God is bleak. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way,” declares the prophet Isaiah. (Isaiah 53:6) “They have all fallen away, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one,” asserts the Psalmist. (Psalm 53:3; 14:3) “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” writes the Apostle Paul. (Romans 3:23) When the Apostle John describes the human situation as “condemned already” he too adds his voice that humanity has turned away from God and stands condemned because of it. To use a farming euphemism that horse is already out of the barn; the horse of human innocence galloped away a long time ago.
The glorious announcement of the gospel is that when God draws near to us; coming among us in the Son he does not come to condemn but to give life. “Where are your accusers? Has no one condemned you?” Jesus asked the woman caught in adultery. She said, “No one, sir” And Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” In fact Jesus comes among us absorbing our condemnation in himself that he might free us to live; free us to know real life and that life eternally. When Paul speaks of our standing in Christ as that of “no condemnation” he is describing the outcome of what he means by justification. Our Lord’s gift of being set right with God. Through faith Jesus Christ exchanges all that is his for all that is mine. This opens the door to release from anxiety and freedom to venture.
So live! I realize that fear that is in many of our hearts; a fear that I know very well; the fear that if you really knew me would you still want to be my friend. It surfaces in many ways. If you really knew me would you still want me to be your pastor? If you really knew how little I know would you still want to hire me? If you really knew what is in my heart would you still love me? God knows us so very thoroughly, knows many things about us that we do not know about ourselves, and he still wants us. We know this because on the cross he pours himself out without remainder for our sake’s. His purpose to be for us is so that we will live! To give us life. So venture life.
“No condemnation.” Friends, this is never to say that anything goes. It isn’t to say that sin is no big deal or that it can be excused. (Sinners can never be excused only forgiven.) There are any number of warnings in the gospel that we are not to presume upon God’s forgiveness. The believer in faith clings to the Son with whom the Father is pleased. At the same time there is always more mercy with God than sin is us.
There is also a tendency for many who follow Christ to self-condemnation. Friends, if our Lord does not condemn us then it points us in the direction of leaving behind self-condemnation. Our Saviour’s acceptance of us is not a function of how sorry we feel about things we have done or things we have left undone. Self-condemnation can be like a prison house where we are held captive by thoughts of “not good enough.” Over all those things write this text of scripture, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Perhaps in your family too there are some strained relationships. One family member now refuses to come to your home over some hurt real or imagined. Invitations that you freely sent for family gathering are now judiciously sent. Refused invitations discourage to the point where no invitation is now offered, not because you wouldn’t offer it but because the difficulty you perceive in doing so. In our hearts we know that things ought to be different; family is important for life. Friends, live in the freedom of no condemnation in Christ and venture the invitation anyway. Leave the results with our Lord.
Think for a moment of God’s love for us—he came not to condemn but to give life—and how many times we may have refused his invitation to say yes to trusting our life to him. Yet our Lord relentlessly pursued us ever offering his love and welcome home.
I read the story recently of a dating website and of one of the questions on its survey to measure partner compatibility. The question is this: “Are you a genius?’ Apparently nearly half of all the men answering this survey answered “yes” to this question. Is anyone here surprised by this revelation? (What I am wonderings is why the other half of the men did not answer “yes.”)
One of ways we humans deal with this inner sense that all in not well is to mask over it with what we believe to be positive self-assertion. Human do not want to perceive their situation before God as one of “condemned already”. It seems to me that this novelist Franzen who wondered about a sickness in his soul is an instance of a not-so-common willingness to note that something is terribly amiss within us. The response of many to the gospel message is that no cure is needed; any guilt you feel is simply others forcing their views on you so the resolution is to find your own way—a sort of “don’t bug me and I won’t bug you” approach. But is true freedom the throwing off of all views but your own; is “finding your own way” freedom or is it the pathway of bondage to self?
Generally speaking if we had a disease we would want to know as soon as possible and would thank the physician who made the correct diagnosis. However, sometimes we do not want to hear the diagnosis and in the shock take out frustration on the doctor. As I think of announcing the gospel in our culture; proclaiming the news of the disease and cure I am aware that it does not immediately resonate particularly among young people. How young people experience that disquiet within; that unsettledness that keeps many of them moving from one thing to the next so as not to think about things too long, the news of “no condemnation” needs time to percolate; time to be considered. Thus the church must ever remain faithful in this announcement.
2. As Paul now probes the implication of “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” he talks about the fact that this is something God does because we cannot. This is no proclamation of a spiritual superiority for those in Christ Jesus as if there were some goodness in us. This is all grounded “in Jesus Christ.” No condemnation is his doing. “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh.” (Romans 8:2-3)
I invite you to take note of the connection Paul makes juxtaposing Spirit and life with sin and death. Everywhere in scripture God is revealed to be a life giver. Turning away from God is to turn away from the source of life hence sin and death. Do we Christians believe that to follow Jesus is to follow in the path of life—real life? Jesus said, I am the resurrection and the life.
Consider the wonderful declaration of Psalm 16 (Psalm 16:11) “You (God) show me the path of life. In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.” Do we trust that this is so with God? Our world bombards us with a very different message; the fullness of joy is found in the acquisition of things.
In turning away from God humanity has tried to substitute the penultimate for the ultimate; to make the important the essential and have therefore been gravely disappointed. The gospel says that we were made for relationship with God. This is the primary relationship for knowing real life. In turning away from this relationship—the ultimate or essential—we substitute other relationships as if they were ultimate and could deliver only what the ultimate can. I think of the pressure couples put on their marriage partner to be everything for them. Marriage is an important (penultimate) relationship but it is not ultimate. And then we find ourselves disappointed because all these good things we pursue hoping to satisfy don’t.
This is an instance of sin and death because in that disappointment many give up and think the yearning of our heart for something to satisfy to be only an illusion. A cruel joke. As Richard Dawkins concludes: “Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”
I think about how much I enjoy our times of worship here at Central. (Not just because I get to preach.) There is something here that is not found in other gatherings. I have this profound experience that our engagement here is with the One who is ultimate. It helps me navigate all the ups and downs of life because of the assurance that God is at work weaving his purposes for our lives.
I think often about the exit of young people from our main line churches. I wonder what angle of vision on the gospel might resonate in their hearts and minds. Those who study societal trends describe the attitude of those known as millennials (born after 1980) as being opposed to externally imposed rules of any kind—a belief that people do better on their own when free to create “voluntary societies,” without coercion. At the core is an adoration of self; individual self-expression is important that goes hand in hand with mistrust of any outside authority.
The gospel declares that real life is found in personal relationship with God. As is the case in person to person relationships only the two people in relationship can have their relationship. Each friendship you have is unique because of the uniqueness the two people bring to the relationship. This to say only you and God can have the relationship you and God can have; and the world needs you to enter this relationship. It is the relationship of Spirit and life. It isn’t a coerced relationship; God gives himself freely to free you for this relationship.
Here is the gospel’s freedom manifesto: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.