A Righteousness by Faith #32: Expecting condemnation?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus . . . Romans 8:1

No other verse of Scripture, apart from John 3:16, has changed my life as much as this one. I was still in the early days of my transformational journey with God when Romans 8 began to become meaningful to me. Already in ministry for two years, I had been on a rollercoaster ride of trying hard to be good for God and sliding back down into the pit of despair as I failed again. I knew little to nothing about the empowering work of the Spirit. And even had I known it, I was unsure about God. Still expectant of His righteous judgment, knowing that I deserved it. Afraid that I would be publicly exposed as the failure I was.

All the false things I thought about God not only influenced how I pastored people, they kept me from becoming free. Those thoughts were like virtual reality glasses, making me think that life defined by the enemy was real.

Then one day I realized that I could not go on living a double life ‘spiritual’ on the outside and dark on the inside. In my first moment of honest humility, I prayed, “Lord, unless you take charge of my life, nothing eternal is going to come out of it.” Although I did not know where that prayer would lead me, God understood its meaning better than I. I have been on that journey now for 33 years, some of which has been very painful as God stripped away and pruned stuff out of my life that I was content to live with. At all times, God has guided me with His infinite kindness.

I found as I started on this journey I had a lot to learn about how much I needed the Spirit to empower my obedience. I was like the parachutist who kept insisting he could jump out at 3000 feet without a chute and land safely. I would jump out to do something for God or resist sin or grapple in spiritual warfare, only to crash and burn over and over again. And then I would be embarrassed.

This brings me to Romans 8:1. I would say to God, “I’m sorry. I failed again to be good for you.” And the Father would reply, “I knew you’d never succeed without my power. You’re forgiven. Go forward by trusting the Spirit.” And it was through this all too frequent conversation with God that I began to learn what Paul meant in saying that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. You see, I was raised in the church and had seen plenty of condemnation. Shame and guilt were the tools used for keeping believers on the straight and narrow. Only they didn’t work.

Study Jesus’ life. You’ll see him actively forgiving and restoring people. “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more,” to the woman caught in adultery. “Peter, do you love me more than these. Feed my sheep,” to an insider who had denied him at a crucial moment. “Father forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing,” about those nailing him to the cross.

‘No condemnation’ is about forgiveness. About how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’s love for me. About how forgiving is the Father towards me and those who belong to Him. Consider Jesus’ exchange with Peter in Matthew 18. “How many times should I forgive someone? A (generous) seven times?” to which Jesus countered, “Not seven but seventy times seven times!” meaning every time someone asked for forgiveness, give it. Now where did Jesus come up with such a standard? —From his Father. Jesus could not have upped the ante so high if God did not practice it Himself.

We know God does practice this because we see it in Jesus while he lived as God among us. Since Jesus told us that when we see him, we see the Father, I began to get an inkling of how deep this God’s ‘no condemnation’ ran.

And it ran deeper than I thought.

More to come…

-Steve Smith