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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