NO CONDEMNATION: Two Main Truths (Part 3 of 4)
by Jeff Hagan
(Tacoma, WA, USA)
Two Main Truths:
When we go from the final portion of Romans 7 to the first part of Romans chapter 8 we discover two very relevant truths for the Christian life and experience.
I. We Will Struggle
That first point is, “we will struggle,” pretty much summarizes Romans 7:14-25. Paul says in this section, “In my mind, I want to do what is pleasing to God. But there is something in me that always seems to make me want to do the exact opposite of that too.” Over and over again Paul confesses this struggle, “The things I know I should do, I end up not doing. And the things I know I should not do, the things I even hate, I end up doing.” All of us are able to relate to this. It's such a vicious cycle.
We wake up in the morning with the best of intentions. In fact, we may even pray, “Lord, this is your day and I’m going to be your servant and do your will. Help me live, act, and do things in a way that pleases you.” Then we, consciously or subconsciously, construct some kind of list of things we are going to do that day we know God will be pleased with. But then, we leave the house and the day actually starts. Before we know it, we've already skipped the first thing, we kind of limp our way through the second, we decide to leave out the third, we don't even remember the fourth, we do get the fifth thing right, and then the sixth thing completely slips our mind altogether.
Or, maybe it looks something like this. We pray, “God, I need your help with this, but I promise not to get angry or blow my fuse today.” What happens? We lose our temper in traffic on the way to work. We've blown it before the day even starts. Or maybe your prayer is, “Lord, help me not to be so critical. I don't know why I seem to have such a critical spirit, but today I'm not going to be critical of others.” But again, what usually happens? Before it's even lunch time we are criticizing not only the way our boss wants us to carry out a task, but we are criticizing the boss too. Maybe for you, the prayer is, “Lord, help me to not gossip. Please give me the strength to think and speak only good and uplifting things.” And it happens again, two-thirds of the way through the day there we are, “sharing concerns” about someone that may or may not be true in the guise of “caring.” The exact things we said we were going to do, we don’t do. And the things we said we were not going to do, we end up doing. I know Paul and I aren't the only ones. I know many of you, even most of you, have lived out a similar experience this week. To be honest, not even just this week. We've probably already done something similar today.
With all of that said I want you to keep something in mind: Romans 7 is not the complete story. In fact, I want to point out a couple of things regarding that fact. First, Romans 7 is an autobiographical account of Paul’s experience as a Christian believer. Some look at this portion of Scripture and try to say Paul is describing some sort of “defeated or subnormal” Christian, or even an unbeliever who is just feeling convicted. I don’t agree with that at all. I believe that Romans 7 is just a process, a normal process that all Christians experience. It's just something we naturally go through. The good news though is that Romans 7 is certainly not the full story of the Christian life. But, we can't just throw it out and say it has no bearing on us and our lives today. Let’s just be honest and straight forward. You can be an exemplary Christian leader, just like the Apostle Paul was, and at the same time struggle intensely in your walk with God. Paul is just being brutally honest. He’s saying that even though he was an apostle, he felt an intense struggle between his desire to please God and the “pull of his flesh.”
Next, not only was Romans 7 autobiographical of Paul, it's true of us as well. He's not only talking about himself, he's talking about you and I. The chapter describes a struggle that is part of our walk with God. That's why when Paul cries out in verse 24, “O wretched man that I am,” we can so readily relate to how he's feeling. But again, and praise God, it's not the whole story. It's just part of the story.
We Struggle in a Variety of Ways
We struggle in many different ways. For instance, we struggle between what we know and what we actually do. We also struggle between our better, more righteous desires and our lesser, more fleshly desires. We struggle between what we know God wants us to do and what we ourselves selfishly want to do. That is simply part of existing in a sin-stained world.
Some people don't want to hear this truth. In fact, they'll deny it. Many preachers today won't even preach this truth. They will pamper the itching ears of their listeners with promises of “living their best life now.” They will claim that the only thing that limits God's blessings is a lack of faith. Well, that's a bunch of garbage. Our faith can't hold God back from anything; He does as He wills. God is sovereign and is plenty powerful to do whatever it is He wishes regardless of us
Some people want to hear that struggle should not be a part of the Christian life. That's what they want to hear and it's what they want me to say. But, I can’t do that. It wouldn’t be true not only to what I believe but more importantly it wouldn't be true to Scripture. Anyone who tells you that struggles, suffering, and tribulation do not belong in the life of a Christian is actually painting an unbiblical picture of what it means to live as a follower of Christ. It only makes sense that if Paul struggled, if King David struggled, if Job struggled, we can expect to struggle too. If Paul felt he was being pulled back and forth, we can expect the same thing to happen to us.
I'm not saying that Romans 7 gives us a full explanation of Paul's spiritual life. I've said repeatedly it's not the whole story. In fact, Paul had one of the most dynamic spiritual lives of anyone that has lived. I just want it to be clear that the truth found in Romans 7 is a normal part of what it means to live a life devoted to Jesus Christ. There are times of struggle.
Sometimes people come to Christ and then they get all bent out of shape when things don’t suddenly turn around in their favor. They expect everything to automatically become easy and for their world to be filled with blessings. They get upset because they still have relationship problems, financial problems, personal issues, emotional struggles, marital conflict, and problems in almost every other area of life. They get discouraged and disillusioned, frustrated and frazzled, they get angry with God and wonder what’s wrong with them or what is it they are doing wrong. Most of the time there’s nothing “wrong” with you if you’re going through struggles. Most of the time it’s just a normal byproduct of what it means to live here on earth. So, that’s the first point for us from Romans 7. We will struggle in life.
II. That Struggle is Without Condemnation
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). This verse can be understood as the topic verse for the entire eighth chapter of Romans. Everything that he says in this chapter, all the way through verse 39, is basically a restatement of “no condemnation.” There IS now NO condemnation!
“In the Greek, the first word is not 'therefore.' The first word is not 'there.' The first word is not 'is.' The first word is not 'now.' The first word in this verse in the Greek is the word 'no.' The fifth word in our translation is first in the original because Paul wants to emphasize in the strongest possible way that there is no condemnation. That’s why he took the word 'no' and moved it to the front. There is, therefore, no condemnation. You might translate it this way: 'There is no condemnation—none whatsoever—for the believer in Christ Jesus'” (from “No Condemnation” at Keep Believing Ministries).
Let's take a look at what this does not mean, then we'll go on to look at what I think it does mean. Paul is not saying there is therefore now no cause for condemnation. That wouldn’t be true. All of us fail and all of us fall. All of us stumble. All of us stray from the path at times. In fact, sometimes it seems as if we’re barely making it. Paul is not saying there is no cause for condemnation in us because if God were to look down from heaven and judge us on a moment by moment basis, He would find plenty of cause for condemnation in us. So that’s not what Paul is saying.
Is Paul saying, “There is, therefore now, no failure for those who are in Christ Jesus?” No.
Is he saying, “There is, therefore now, no struggle for those who are in Christ Jesus?” No.
Is he saying, “There is, therefore now, no stumbling for those who are in Christ Jesus?” No.
What he is saying is this, there is therefore now, “no condemnation, no punishment, no coming into judgment for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Are you in Christ Jesus? If you have surrendered to His call then there's no condemnation, accept that truth.
Pound that into your heads. We may stumble and stagger, we may flail and fall, we may toil and trip, we may make mistake after mistake, we may stray from the path, we may have a boat load of problems, but for the one who has put their faith in Jesus Christ, there is no condemnation. There is no condemnation because God says so. You can and will struggle, but you’re not condemned. You can and will fall, but you’re not condemned. You can stray from the path, but you are not condemned because God has said he will not condemn those who are in Christ Jesus.
When Jesus saved us, He never said He would take away all our problems. But, He did say that in our problems, there is no condemnation. In our struggles, there is no condemnation. In our failures, there is no condemnation. In our straying from the path, there is no condemnation.