NO CONDEMNATION: Easier Said Than Believed (Part 2 of 4)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Easy to Say, Easy to Hear, Not Always Easy to Believe:
One day I was listening to Tullian Tchividjian, the former pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, and I'm not sure if it was a sermon or an interview because it was a while ago, but he was talking about how we need to preach the gospel to ourselves. Not only did he say we should preach it to ourselves, but he said we should preach it to ourselves every day. Don't quote me because I can't remember his exact words, but he said something along the lines of:
“We often make the mistake of thinking that the gospel is simply what we need to believe in order to be saved. We hear it, we believe it, and then we are born again. Although we wouldn’t actually affirm this, we often act like the gospel has no further relevance to us. Too often it is simply viewed as a means to get us ‘in the door,’ so to speak, but we don't incorporate into our daily life.”
I interpreted this to mean that we need to preach the gospel to ourselves every day because we forget it every day. In fact, Tullian referred to a quote from the famed reformer Martin Luther. In Luther's Lectures on Romans, he stated, “To progress is always to begin again.”
Tullian continued, “Real spiritual progress, in other words, requires a daily going backward.”
The words of Romans 8:1 can be easy to say, easy to read or hear, but not always easy to believe. Even though it's right there for us to go back to as many times as needed, we tend to doubt and feel unworthy. In one sense this can be good as it can “keep us on our toes.” In another sense, it can be extremely unhealthy. In my observation, there are far more believers who feel condemned and guilty than there are who recognize the truth that there is “therefore now no condemnation.” More believers seem to feel guilty than free and this shouldn't be the case.
We all go through this, every one of us. In counseling, conversations and disciplining I have often heard the sentiment that one is unable to “feel” there is no condemnation because they are so frequently reminded of how God tests us. And having this “testing” in mind they feel they are constantly failing these tests and therefore are a disappointment to God, or are at the very least repeatedly displeasing Him. Now, these are honest, raw feelings experienced by, I believe, the majority of the Body of Christ. So, how do we respond to this? How do we respond when people feel this way?
Let's just dissect the above paragraph for a moment. First off, there's the mention of God testing us. Is this true? Yes, it is. God does at times test us. So, let's move on. When people are tested they gravitate to the idea that they are continually failing those tests. Is this true? No, it is not. One may feel that way, I'm not discounting their feelings, but the truth of the matter is we are all passing tests every day. In fact, I'm willing to bet people are passing a lot more of God's tests than they think they are. What we tend to do is focus on the negative. Unfortunately, focusing on the negative comes more naturally to us and also makes a greater and longer lasting impression. Let me give just a few examples:
1. If you're a bowler and you get perfect scores in nine of your ten boxes on the scorecard, but only get a nine in one of the squares, which square do you dwell on? You will rack your brain over that one incident you perceive as less than stellar.
2. Golfers. You golfers can go out and play eighteen holes scoring two under par on seventeen holes, but if you score one over par on a single hole what do you do? “If only” takes over. “If only I'd have tapped it a little softer (or harder)...”.
3. Report cards. You can be taking six courses and get an “A” in five of them and a “C” in one and where do you turn your focus? You can't get over that one “C.”
I think you get the point.
Next on our list as we dissect the above paragraph is the sentiment that we are a continual disappointment to God. Is this one true? Again, no, it is not. In fact, it cannot be true if Romans 8:1 is true. They cannot both be true. Believe God's Word, believe His promise, it's much more reliable than your thoughts, feelings, and emotions. I think what is actually going on when they say they feel they are constantly disappointing God is that actually, they aren't living up to some personal standard, usually unrealistic, that they have set for themselves. What's happening is they are disappointed in themselves for life not being what they expected it to be.
Tying It Together:
So, how do we sort of tie all this together up to this point? For starters, we have to accept that what God says about us is true. If God says we are “not condemned,” then we are not condemned. Part of what this means is that nothing, let that sink in for a minute, nothing, can ever separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Paul goes to great lengths to emphasize this point in Romans 8:38-39. Nothing means nothing, not even our own repeated mistakes.
Next, if and when God tests someone the test is not meant to destroy a person. The tests we go through help reveal weaknesses we may have where we need to learn to rely on God more. The tests we go through in life are a means to strengthen our faith, not weaken or destroy it. We are going to fail in life, we are going to fail tests. Life is all about our failures as well as our successes. It's what we do after we fail that determines the actual outcome of a failure.
Another thing to keep in mind, we are not the best judges of where we stand spiritually. You see, we are a little bias when it comes to judging ourselves. On our best days, we are nowhere near as holy as we think we might be. On our worst days, we are nowhere near as dreadful as we think we might be. I think it might be best if we throw out the notion of ranking ourselves on some kind of holiness meter each day and just strive to live in obedience as best we can.
As mentioned above, but worth repeating, life is always going to be a mixture of success and failure. Success comes and it gives us hope; failure comes (usually much more often than success) and it keeps us humble and reliant on God.
Something practical you might want to do is memorize Romans 8:1 and meditate on it daily. Maybe even put up post-it reminders of the verse so you are reminded of it frequently. I know it's much easier to believe about someone else, and since that is true, we needed to be continually reminded of it so we believe it for ourselves as well. In and through Christ we are forever no longer condemned.
With all of this in mind, with this as a backdrop, using what has been shared so far as some background, let's now take a look at what this verse really and completely means in a bit more depth.