Recently I preached on the west coast of Scotland from Romans 8 1-4. I focused on how freedom from condemnation brings freedom to change. I have preached a few times now on the fact that for the believing Christian condemnation does not exist and while I am sure there are a multiplicity of different reactions to this good news, I have found through conversation that people in Scottish church culture usually accept and reject the idea of freedom from condemnation in accordance with their understanding of their relationship to the OT law.
1) Acceptance – worship and adoration
Those who have felt the weight of their sin and know something of the Holiness of God receive this statement by Paul as the very best of news! The knowledge that Christ has died for their sins once and for all and that there is no penalty left to pay for sin fills their heart with great Joy, thankfulness, reverence and awe. It creates a renewed desire to trust in none but Christ alone for salvation and to live by the law of the Spirit of life who has set them free from the law of sin and death. (Rom 8:2) They are overwhelmed by God’s grace.
“God’s love is an exercise of his goodness toward sinners. As such, it has the nature of grace and mercy. It is an outgoing of God in kindness which not merely is undeserved, but is actually contrary to desert; for the objects of God’s love are rational creatures who have broken God’s law, whose nature is corrupt in God’s sight, and who merit only condemnation and final banishment from his presence.” (J.I.Packer)
2) Acceptance – liberation from legalism
It seems that there are still many in our churches in Scotland who are in chains to legalism. It is very hard for them to accept that if they are in Christ they have died to the OT law because it was drummed into them growing up that their standing with God was based on adherence to the OT law, particularly the observing of the Sabbath. Make no mistake, these are folks who believe Jesus is the Son of God and died for their sin but it seems they failed to grasp the eternal significance of Christs atoning death on their behalf and how it affects their standing with God and their relationship to the OT law. Many believe that Christians who confess sin and then live a good life are forgiven and are, at that moment, not condemned. But they believe that, should they sin, they are back under condemnation until they confess and repent again. In other words, if a Christian were to sin, they would again come under condemnation and could be lost if they died in that state. If this were true, then Christians would be people who are always moving back and forth, in and out of condemnation. But this view doesn’t square at all with the comprehensiveness and intensity of Paul’s statement. Paul says quite literally that condemnation itself no longer exists for us—“There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1) It is gone forever. It’s why Paul can so confidently say to the Colossians:
Now it is debated whether the Sabbaths in question included the regular seventh-day rest of the fourth commandment, or were only the special Sabbaths of the Jewish festival calendar. Either way as Christians we ought to take a rest from work on the Sabbath and encourage others to do the same because we follow the law of the Spirit of Life who points us to Jesus and reminds us of Jesus’s teachings. Jesus corrected erroneous legalistic interpretations of the sabbath when he said “The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath (Mark 2:27) Christians then keep the Sabbath not out of “doing” the law but out of devotion to Jesus who fulfilled the law on their behalf and he enables and empowers them to fulfill the law through The spirit of Life given to them. One nice lady put it to me “I was brought up on the law.” “That’s great,” I said “we can learn so much about Jesus from studying the law, but your adherence to the law is not the basis for your right standing with God.” Keeping the OT law no more makes you a child of God than drinking whisky and wearing a kilt makes someone Scottish, nonetheless, we uphold the law through faith in Jesus. As John Stott put it:
We are set free from the law as a way of acceptance, but obliged to keep it as a way of holiness. It is as a ground of justification that the law no longer binds us … But as a standard of conduct the law is still binding, and we seek to fulfill it as we walk according to the Spirit. (Men Made New, pages 82-83)
3) Rejection – because of false humility.
Some are unable to receive the good news of Rom 8:1 and experience its joy because of a false humility. They refuse communion and would rather justify themselves than be justified by God. They refuse to forgive themselves in the hope that they will be forgiven by God. But there are deep problems with this kind of thinking. As Tim Keller says:
“When people say, “I know God forgives me, but I can’t forgive myself,” they mean that they have failed an idol, whose approval is more important than God’s.”
(Timothy J. Keller,
4) Rejection – because on self-righteousness.
For some, the notion of deserved condemnation is for others, you know, those who break the Sabbath. They love the law because they think they’ve kept it, After all the law is good if used lawfully (1Tim 1:8). It appears they have not been awe-struck by God’s purity, his grandeur, and complete otherness. They think they can walk up to this unapproachable Holy God for whom angels who never sinned have to cover their faces! They do not begin to comprehend their sinful plight in the face of his holiness and so the grace and mercy saviour is not so beautiful in their eyes.
The Good news
Only when we see our sin in the face of a Holy God are we able to receive the Good news of Rom 8:1. The Knowledge that we are free from condemnation enables and empowers us to live according to the law of the Spirit of Life. God’s salvation does not come in response to a changed life. A changed life comes in response to the salvation, offered as a free gift. “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Romans 8 Is the Christian’s declaration of freedom.
“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.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.”
(And Can It Be, Charles Wesley)