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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