No Condemnation

Romans 8 begins with the incredible statement “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” These are some of the most liberating words found in the entire Bible. But they can only be fully appreciated by those who have come to realize they deserved a death sentence. To this point in Romans, Paul has made it clear that Jew and Gentile alike, deserve that eternal condemnation:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…For the wages of sin is death… (Romans  3:23, 6:23a, NIV)

Imagine you are awaiting the execution of the death sentence. Barabbas was one such man; a convicted insurrectionist, who was condemned to die on a Roman cross in Jerusalem. His execution was deserved according to the Roman law for he had incited rebellion against Roman rule.[1]  Barabbas, as a Zealot, was a religious man in a sect of Judaism that held a high view of the Law and nationalism – so high, in fact, that they sought to rid their land of the pagan Romans by force.  Viewed through our modern lens, we could equate Barabbas with today’s religious terrorists. He, like they, believed the cause to be righteous. Nevertheless, civil law had been violated and Barabbas was condemned.

However, when Jesus was brought before Pilate, the Roman governor had a dilemma: either sentence an innocent man and appease the Jews, or release Jesus and incite the crowd. He chose a method that let him off the hook by invoking a custom of releasing a criminal of the Jews’ pleasing. The crowd chose Barabbas! We are not told of Barabbas’ reaction to the crowds’ choice of Jesus Christ for crucifixion instead of him. Certainly, it was one of great relief as he was the first to realize those words, “no condemnation,” in association to Jesus Christ. We can only hope that Barabbas embraced the true sense of the meaning by coming into relationship with Jesus Christ. However, if he did not – if he continued to pursue his own path of righteousness – he only experienced a reprieve.

Do we really appreciate those words, “no condemnation”? Even after having received the gift of salvation, I need to remind myself of the abject depravity from which I was saved. Thus, Paul’s lament, ” What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, NIV), garners a greater appreciation towards God when we realize:

1  Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.                                                                                                        (Romans 8:1-2, NIV)

Not only do these words bring relief, but they bring security. While life in the Spirit is a theme of this chapter, the security of the believer is a predominant theme, too. We have the assurance of not being put in “double jeopardy” because Christ has once and for all paid the penalty for our sins, bringing “no condemnation” and nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:39, NIV). HALLELUJAH!

Your Response:  If you have made a spiritual inventory (as suggested last week), be sure to take time to dwell on the fact that Christ no longer holds you guilty for your sins as you have trusted in Him!

  • Have you failed in a marriage?…He does not condemn you!
  • Are you struggling to overcome some hang up?…He does not condemn you!
  • Have you made wrong choices in the past?…He does not condemn you!
  • Do you have a criminal record (as Barabbas)?…He does not condemn you!
Take some time to read and reread Chapter 8, highlighting the repeated words: Spirit, sin(ful), life, death. Write out the contrasts that you see.
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1  The word used to describe Barabbas as “robber” in John 18:40 is the same word the Jewish historian, Josephus, used to describe the Zealots.

Gotta Serve Somebody

Bob Dylan got it right in more ways than one when he sang “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Professionally, it garnered him the Best Rock Vocal Performance (Male) in 1980, the second of 11 career Grammy awards. But more importantly this song, on his first album (Slow Train Coming) after his conversion to Christianity, confronted the reality that everyone serves one of two masters:  Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord; But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.

While the song reached the 24th spot in Billboard’s Top 40, not all appreciated Dylan’s new found faith. Because of his refusal to sing his old, secular songs in concert, he was heckled by disappointed fans.  John Lennon, who had recanted his own conversion experience, responded to “Gotta Serve Somebody” with a profane song, “Serve Yourself,” arguing against the claims of salvation through Christ alone. “He was kind of upset [about Dylan’s song] and it was a dialogue,” said Yoko in 1998. “He showed his anger but also … his sense of humour [sic].” [1]  Ironically, it was one of the last four demos he recorded at his home on November 14, before Lennon was shot to death outside that apartment on December 8, 1980.

Last Sunday, we saw in Romans 6:14-18 that the Apostle Paul (like Dylan) puts every man in one of two camps: we are either slaves to sin or slaves to obedience that leads to righteousness. Likewise, Jesus spoke of this kind of bondage. While the religious leaders of Jesus’ day touted their own righteousness, Jesus regularly pointed out their hypocrisy. The religious leaders challenged him one day when he implied that they were enslaved to sin. Believing they were free because of their physical heritage, Jesus made it clear that they were instead “slaves to sin” and that their father was the devil (John 8:31-47)

Obedience is the hallmark of slavery. So, slavery to sin means that there is an ever increasing obedience to it. C.S. Lewis well captures the progressive nature of sin in The Screwtape Letters, in which he depicts a senior demon offering this advice to his nephew: “An ever increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.” [2] The next high is never like the first and yet there is a craving to experience it again. There is truth to the oft repeated quote by an anonymous source:

“Sin will take you further than you ever intended to stray.

Sin will keep you longer than you ever intended to stay.

Sin will cost you more than you ever intended to pay.”

Just as the combative Jews in John 8 claimed their freedom, the most enslaved argue that they are the most free. John Calvin said, “The greater the mass of vices anyone is buried under, the more fiercely and bombastically does he extol his free will.” [3]  This has been exemplified in the “free love” movement of the 60’s that rejected traditional marriage, citing it as a form of social bondage. Where has that “freedom” taken us?  Abortion on demand, legalized same-sex marriage, and AIDS to mention just a few. And, yet, we see those, who advocate for these positions and causes, fighting vehemently even though these causes promote a sin that leads to death.

Conversely, Paul said that there is another slavery of obedience that leads to righteousness. This is slavery to Christ. This transference of ownership results in a freedom from sin and its tyrannical and devastating reign. And while we are yet slaves, this slavery to Christ brings eternal life and freedom to live in the righteous way to which God intended.

35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (John 8:35-36, NIV).

So, you “gotta serve somebody!” There is no middle ground. Who will it be… sin, leading to death… or obedience to Christ, leading to eternal righteousness?

Your Response:

  • Just as religious leaders were deceived by slavery to sin…how has the Church of this generation been molded by the world/culture around it?
  • Closer to home, in what areas of your life are there evidences of slavery to sin? In what areas of your life is culture pressing you into its mold (entertainment, recreation, fashion, sports, speech, lusts [not just sexual], etc)?
  • What are you doing daily to ensure obedience to Christ? The Psalmist said “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you (Psalm 119:11, NIV). John Bunyan, author of the classic Pilgrim’s Progress, wrote in the cover of his Bible, “Either this book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this book.” In the battle against sin, the Word of God is the weapon you simply cannot neglect.

For Fun:

  • John Piper wrote some updated lyrics to the tune of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” [4]

[1] This article, John Lennon’s Born-Again Phase, from Christianity Today is an excerpt from The Gospel According to the Beatles by Steve Turner: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/article_print.html?id=39891

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics, 2002, Harper Collins, New York, NY., 210.

[3] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, The New International Commentary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995), 406.

[4] http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/what-bob-dylan-got-right