No Condemnation in Christ Jesus! (Exposition of Romans 8:1-4)

The following sermon was preached at Farmdale Baptist Church on Sunday, July 19, 2009.  Audio available here.
It’s not hard to imagine, given what we’ve all seen on the news in recent days, a home that has survived the hurricane and the flood waters and is still standing. But upon examination by an engineer it is found to have structural damage beyond repair. Therefore, this apparently safe home is ruled unsafe and scheduled for demolition. Likewise, we as individual humans have been examined by a holy God and have been found to have structural integrity problems. We are sinners by nature and by choice. Therefore we are scheduled for eternal damnation.

How may we escape the certain judgment that will surely and most deservedly befall us? Romans 8 begins with these great words of comfort: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus”. How is this possible? The apostle Paul describes to us in the first four verses the essence of the objective work of God in Christ and three important results thereof which culminates in the declaration in verse 1 of “no condemnation”!

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. Romans 8:1-4

First, let’s examine the objective work of God in Christ described in verse three. Paul says, “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh.” What could the law not do? It cannot justify (i.e., forgive sin and impute righteousness). As Romans 3:20 states, “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” According to Galatians 3:21, “If there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.” Likewise the author to the Hebrews cofirms that “the law made nothing perfect” (Hebrews 7:19). Yes, the law cannot justify you and it’s your fault! Paul explains the failure of the law as a result of the weakness of the flesh. The problem is not with the character of the law. The problem is that you and I are unable to keep the law.

So, God has done the humanly impossible. How did He do this? By “sending His own Son”! What amazing love of God! John says in 1 John 4:9-10,

In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. (See also John 3:16)

He sent His Son “in the likeness of sinful flesh”. Notice how carefully this is worded. He doesn’t say in the likeness of flesh, which would imply He was not fully human. Nor does he say in sinful flesh, which would imply that He was sinful. But Jesus is described as being sent “in the likeness of sinful flesh.” This means that He was fully human without sin.

He sent His Son “for sin”, i.e. as a sacrifice for sin and by His death “condemned sin in the flesh” of Christ! On the cross God condemned our sin in the flesh of Christ! This is the objective work of God that has been accomplished in Christ on the Cross. It has three important results. These results are found in vv. 4, 2 and 1. We will examine them in this order and conclude with Paul’s famous declaration of “no condemnation.”

I. The Righteous Requirement of the Law Has Been Fulfilled, v. 4.
The first result of the objective work of God in Christ is that the righteous requirement of the law has been fulfilled in us. What does the phrase “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us” mean? There are two popular interpretations. The first is that we receive the righteousness of Christ imputed to us as believers as a result of the obedient life and death of Christ. This is certainly true and taught clearly elsewhere in Scripture (see Romans 5:16-21), but I don’t believe this is what Paul is teaching in this particular verse.

Another view is to see this “righteousness of the law” as the moral actions of believers with a new heart controlled by the Spirit. I believe this is taught elsewhere in Scripture as well (see Hebrews 8:1-13), but again I don’t believe it is being taught in this particular verse.

Instead, I believe “the righteousness of the law” is the righteous penalty which the law requires, namely death. In the death of Christ, the righteous penalty has been paid. Since we as believers are united to Him in His death and resurrection, the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled in us.

In other words, because the law could not justify us, God sent His Son in human flesh, condemned our sin in His flesh, in order to fulfil the righteous penalty which the law requires for us, by His death.

II. We Have Been Set Free From the Law of Sin and Death, v. 2.
The second result of the objective work of God in Christ is that we have been set free from the law of sin and death. In verse two we are told that the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” has set us free from the “law of sin and death.” That sounds good, but what does it mean? What is the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” and what is the “law of sin and death”? I agree with Octavius Winslow who, in his classic work on Romans 8 titled No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, argues that the “law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” is equivalent to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (or New Covenant) and the “law of sin and death” is equivalent to the Mosaic Law (or Old Covenant). Thus, verse two can be reworded to say: The “Gospel of Jesus Christ” has made me free from the “Mosaic law”.

I believe that this verse is a restatement of Paul’s argument in Romans 7:1-6. A woman whose husband dies is free to remarry. We have died with Christ and have been set free from the law. We have been resurrected with Christ in order to be remarried to the resurrected Christ. We are free from the law’s penalty and power.

To summarize Paul’s argument to this point: We’ve been set free from the Mosaic law (v. 2), because the law’s penalty has been paid (v. 4). This happened when God condemned sin in the flesh of Christ(v. 3)!

III. There is Now No Condemnation in Christ Jesus, v. 1.
The end result of the objective work of God for us in Christ is that there is now no condemnation! The word “condemnation” means a judicial pronouncement upon a guilty person. It is a declaration of guilt in a courtroom. This word also contains the idea of punishment. It is the very opposite of justification. If justification means to be declared “not guilty” then condemnation means to be declared “guilty” before the tribunal of God. Back to the analogy of a condemned house, when a house is condemned it is no longer habitable and is scheduled for destruction. Likewise a person condemned before God is already condemned and is destined for hell fire. But the good news for the believer who is in Christ Jesus is “there is now no condemnation!” In Christ we died, in Christ we live, therefore in Christ there is no condemnation!

There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus (v. 1) because we have been set free from the Mosaic Law’s rules and regulations (v. 2), the righteous penalty of the law has been fulfilled in the death of Christ (v. 4) where our sin was already condemned in the flesh of Jesus on the cross (v. 3).

This is why Paul preached to the Antiochenes in Acts 13:38-39,

Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses.

How is this possible? Paul spells it out for us in a crystal clear manner in Galatians 3:13,

Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:

Paul here quotes from Deuteronomy 27:26 “Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” This was revealed by God to Moses thousands of years before the Roman Empire even existed. Who knew (but God) that the Roman’s main method of execution would be by hanging people on trees (crosses)?!? Christ bore our curse so we could escape the curse. God pronounced “condemnation” upon His own Son, so that He might pronounce “no condemnation” upon the believeing sinner. God declared His Son to be “guilty” in order that you and I might be declared “not guilty”! The Son of God was executed that we might have eternal life!

CONCLUSION:
The question is: Are you “in Christ Jesus”? The blessed promise of “no condemnation” is only extended to those who are “in Christ Jesus”. So, are you in Christ Jesus? How do you know? Well, the Bible teaches in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Are you a new creature? Have old things passed away? Have all things become new?

Jesus said in John 3:18,

He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

Paul urges his Corinthian readers in 2 Corinthians 13:5,

Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?

An Arab chief tells a story of a spy who was captured and then sentenced to death by a general in the Persian army. This general had the strange custom of giving condemned criminals a choice between the firing squad and the big, black door. As the moment for execution drew near, the spy was brought to the Persian general, who asked the question, “What will it be: the firing squad or the big, black door?”

The spy hesitated for a long time. It was a difficult decision. He chose the firing squad.

Moments later shots rang out confirming his execution. The general turned to his aide who asked, “What lies beyond the big door?”

“Freedom,” replied the general. “I’ve known only a few brave enough to take it.”
Don McCullough, “Reasons to Fear Easter,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 116.

If you’ve never turned from your sin to trust in Christ, there is a choice before you today. There is before you the firing squad of condemnation or the blood stained cross of the Savior. Which will you choose? Turn to Christ, trust in what God has done for you through Christ that you might be able to sing with us:

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Amazing love, how can it be?
That thou, my God, should’st die for me!

5 comments

  1. Wonderful! This truth alone brings peace to our troubled hearts. The sense of indwelling sin grows more intense as we mature in Christ. The sufficiency of Christ’s blood grows more and more precious to us..

  2. Thank you Steve for yet another reminder of the wonder of the work of the Lord Jesus for me! What a wonder that a hell bound sinner like me can be declared righteous by a holy God because of what my Saviour did. hallelujah. But what also caught my attention was your understanding of verse 4. The ESV puts it like this:4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, Your understanding of this differs from the two major ways people have understood it, and makes clear sense to me. But is there exegetical evidence for that? Alford suggests the word “righteousness” or its derivative is different from the word usually connected with justification. This suggests the sanctification application. Contextually, I cannot accept that view. I have lent to the justification view, as, to me, it is far more in line with the truth of verses 1 and three. Haldane offers a view from the original re the word “ordinance”, but I don’t have it at my finger tips. it could well relate to your view.
    Before reading you, I was tempted to consider it could relate to the jeremiah passage on the new covenant where God promises to write his laws on our hearts. The law then could be seen as fufilled “in us”, like a complete and whole seed that eventually produces practical holiness in our lives. But “righteous requirement” may not be satisfied by this.

    Left to the ESV, your rendering is consistent, as when John the baptist was reluctant to baptise jesus. He replied: I must fulfill all “righteousness”. Be interesting to see if that word is aligned with the word “righteous” here. Alford may help.

    Thank you for any help from anyone out there. in the meantime let’s glory in all Jesus did for us.

    Keith

    1. Brother Keith,

      Thank you for your comment. As I recall preparing this sermon (which was initially a few years ago, and revisited last year), I don’t think I found anyone else taking the interpretation that I took. That is always a concern. I’m convinced that “if it is new, it probably isn’t true” and visa versa. However, I came to my conclusion in the context of preaching through the book of Romans and seeing 8:4 in the context of the book, especially chapters 5-7. It seemed to best make sense in the progression of Paul’s argument.

      I don’t believe the issue can be solved solely exegetically. I think it is an interpretation issue.

      I would appreciate any further interaction (by you or others) to hone my thinking on this.

      Blessings,
      Steve

  3. BEING IN CHRIST, BEING SAVED, IS ONE CONSIDERED EITHER OR AT THE TIME YOU BELIEVE OR THE TIME YOU DROP THE SIN THAT YOU ARE STRUGGLING WITH AND HAVE NOT LET GO? CAN U BE IN CHRIST AND STILL STRUGGLE BACK AND FORTH WITH YOUR SIN?

    1. Yes, you can still be in Christ and continue to struggle with sin. The key word is “struggle.” Genuine believers are doing battle daily with the sins in their life, seeking to put them to death. See Romans 7:7-25 for Paul’s description of his own struggle with sin.

      If you’re holding on to unrepentant sin, however, and refusing to seek God’s help in turning from it, you’re not a Christian. Genuine Christians are not sinless, but are repenters.

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