Tag Archives: no condemnation

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Here’s why ‘no condemnation’ matters to me.

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A Righteousness by Faith #34: Here’s why ‘no condemnation’ matters to me.

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

If you have put your faith in Jesus, God has set you free from the power of sin and death. We would all agree that this is good news. I heard this truth over and over again as I grew up in church, went off to Bible college and studied theology in seminary. But though I came to faith as a young child, I had a very vague understanding of what Paul meant when he talks about this in Romans 8:1-2.

And that is what makes faith journeys so difficult. Many of us were taught Paul meant by “according to the flesh” and “according to the Spirit” that there were two kinds of Christians—one spiritual, the other ‘carnal.’ ‘Carnal’ was the Christianese word for ‘flesh’ and was aimed at believers who still had not gotten their act together. Romans 8 was to be understood as Paul is speaking of these two kinds of Christian—those who lived in the Spirit and those who lived in the flesh.

The people who taught me this believed what Paul meant was that spiritual people get ‘no condemnation,’ but believers who live carnal lives—in the flesh—are still under God’s condemnation. I have actually had people in my training events interrupt me to affirm that this is the true meaning of the passage

Except that it isn’t. Paul is contrasting the way of the two covenants. Those in the flesh are of the old covenant. Those in the spirit belong to the new. His argument here is that God made Jesus the bridge between the covenants—a sin offering so that all of the righteous requirements of the law may be completely fulfilled in each believer. Not just the requirements to get us into His family, but also the ones that carry us through to the end of our salvation process (Romans 8:30). In verse 9 he makes it clear that those who do not walk in the Spirit but in the flesh aren’t even believers.

Here’s why this matters to me. I did not enter into a deliberate transformational journey with God until I was thirty. I had been trying to be good for God, but failing—and I was miserable. I expected condemnation. And I wasn’t waiting for God to supply it. I was pretty good at beating myself up, calling myself names and groveling before God as the worm I felt I was. Then one day I asked God to take charge of my life and let me experience Jesus’ life being lived through me.

That day, my world changed, although I had no idea what was going to happen to me. I had read some excellent books on the subject of transformation, but my practical knowledge was nil.

I began to experience changes God was bringing into my life. Addictive sins lost their grip on me. I felt free and easier in my relationship with the Father. I stopped beating myself up. Joy began to seep into my everyday walk with God.

However, I had no idea how damaged I was. I was blind to numerous symptoms of inner distress, of the presence of obvious brokenness and huge areas where I was not submissive to the Father. God saw them all, but I conveniently blipped over them, satisfied that I was making plenty of progress. This attitude allowed me to say ‘No’ to things the Spirit revealed I needed to surrender.

It was ten years into this journey that God zeroed in on the fact that I was a lifelong angry man. It would be another six years before God confronted me with my frantic workaholic lifestyle, in which I depended on Steve’s ability more than the Spirit. Nine years later I was confronted with my controlling tendencies. Somehow I had resisted listening when He had brought these up multiple times before! Did you notice that I was content to live with the deadly sins of anger, appetite, and pride many years after I entered into this transformational journey with God?

If there is condemnation for being in the flesh, I certainly should have gotten it. I look back in thankfulness that God made the commitment to me and all who believe that through Jesus, the righteous requirements of the law are fully completed for us by the Spirit.

No matter how long I live, I know that God will continue to show me more to surrender to Him. But I fear no condemnation because He gave me the Spirit to do in me what I cannot do for myself!

-Steve Smith


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The reason is ‘Because’!

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A Righteousness by Faith #33: The reason is ‘Because’!

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

I looked back to the first blog of this series and I find we are back to where we started. It was about the picture of the t-shirt which declares: “I am righteous! Even if I . . .” 1) habitually lie; 2) get drunk regularly; 3) cuss like a sailor; 4) sleep around with any willing partner—you get the drift.

Does God’s ‘no condemnation’ mean it doesn’t matter how we live? Is this a get-out-of-jail-free card? A free pass to engage in whatever behavior we-know-we-shouldn’t-but-do-anyway without any consequences?

This very belief was verbalized by a woman who came to me to explain why she was abandoning her marriage. She had found someone who she felt cared more deeply about her and her emotional needs. As I pointed to the damage her decision would bring to her personally and to her relationship with God, she admitted that I was right. But, she added, though they were doing wrong, they would get married after her divorce was final and then come back to church, because God was supposed to forgive them.

What she so boldly expressed is the false belief in the passivity of God. That He spends His days waiting around to forgive us again with a kind of a sorrowful expression on his face, wishing that we would take righteousness seriously. And because God is trapped by His promise to forgive us—it’s in the contract!—we can count on this ongoing ‘no condemnation’ clause to allow us freedom to live any way we want, as long as we tack on an “I’m sorry,” when we are done sinning.

‘No condemnation’ goes much deeper than that. And it is wrapped up in the “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”

If you have been fuzzy in your thinking about ‘no condemnation’, here are three realities you need:

  1. God is active. He is not waiting for us to repent, to see the error of our ways, all the while wringing His hands. He has made a new covenant with us, writing His law on our hearts and minds. Not stopping there, He gave us His Spirit to set us free.

Know this. At any moment, God is either orchestrating your transformation through His Spirit or actively pushing you towards the pit so you will look up and acknowledge His right to reign over you. He is never a passive bystander in your life. You are going to be transformed because. You can go willingly or kicking and screaming, but you will go—because you belong to Him.

  1. No one is righteous. Everyone has to be rescued from the law of sin and death. No one is capable of becoming righteous in their own strength. Our flesh wants us to give in and wallow all over again in stuff that messes up our lives. So finger pointing and a judgmental attitude is not just a waste of time, it is counterproductive. As people bitten by the same bug, we should restore others with the compassion born of, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

In Romans 7, Paul shows us that even the props we use to stave off sin reveal us as frauds. The Jewish members of the Roman church thought they were making a stand for righteousness by expecting everyone to keep the Law. What Paul exposed through his own miserable run at this was that the law they were really living out was the law of sin and death. To become the righteous people they wanted to be would be by the same ‘because’ as their Gentile co-believers.

  1. God is taking the long view of our transformation by giving us the Spirit. Not one of us has surrendered everything in a day, a week or even in a year. Righteousness by faith is a life-long journey, during which we are led by the Spirit to uncover the hidden secrets of our souls and to find how hard it is to give them up to God, even though He already knew about them all along.

But here is the good news. The ‘no condemnation’ of the ‘because’ actually means we will never be lost again. God placed us in Christ Jesus, making covenant with us all the while knowing that we will regularly fail to surrender; will turn to sin for comfort; will wander. Giving us the Spirit means that God committed Himself to make us righteous because of our inability to be righteous no matter how hard we try. And when He is done with us, we will find ourselves conformed to the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29).

-Steve Smith


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Expecting condemnation?

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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


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Learning Through Experience

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Restoration in a Transformational Community 13: Learning through Personal Experience

How does one unlearn deeply ingrained beliefs that hamper the work of restoring someone caught up in sin? One answer is not what I would wish for anyone, but I know that the day that I crashed and burned—when my sin was publicly outed by God—was the day I finally unlearned the beliefs I had so painstakingly held on to as foundational up till then. I found out that I stopped looking at the failures in those I pastored with ever so much more judgment than compassion. The truth is that it is hard to unlearn faulty beliefs until you jump into the pit personally and have to be rescued.

Think about Peter and his denial of Jesus just hours after declaring that he would never leave Jesus’ side even if it meant death. His willingness to pull out a sword and fight the platoon who had come to arrest Jesus in the garden tells us the depth of his mistaken theology. Fight! Fight for Jesus. Kill those who oppose him. Bring them to their knees. Except… Jesus stopped him and repaired the damage he had done. His kingdom was not of this world—didn’t Peter get that?

No.

In fact, not until his denial and his restoration by Jesus did he get it. Jesus’ kingdom was much bigger and more powerfully able to change people’s lives than any puny revolution he and his ragged band of brothers could pull off. Peter’s personal ability to live the life would never be the same after that.

What Peter—and all the other disciples–learned about restoration between the cross and Jesus’ ascension changed the world. It changed how they would do Jesus’ ministry in the world. Jesus taught Peter through his failure more than Peter had understood up to that moment.

I am afraid that is usually true for all of us. We are so often tempted to stand apart from and slightly above those in the clutch of sin. They are a mess. They may never be useful to Jesus’ kingdom again. I used to think this way—until it was my mess. Until Jesus restored me. Until my eyes were opened and I understood how the good news of Jesus was so different from religious morality and judgmentalism. He did not offer a way back through the valley of humiliation so I could be on probation. His gospel is about full restoration and usefulness. It’s about a no condemnation way to wholeness. It’s about discovering that I still belonged.

The moment you see your own addictions and failure in this light, your compassion as a believer caught in sin will change. And your passion for restoring that person will also change. It is your brokenness and gratefulness to Jesus for holding on to you that will make you into someone who is a dedicated restorer.

Steve Smith


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