Sermon for 07-31-11: “Roman Road, Part 8: No Condemnation”

August 2, 2011

Our sermon series, “Roman Road,” continues with Part 8, Romans 8:1-11. If there is now “no condemnation” for those of us who in Christ, this means, among other things, that we don’t get to condemn ourselves, either.

Even as we try to love God and neighbor, are there ways in which we fail to love ourselves? This sermon explores this question and more.

Sermon Text: Romans 8:1-11

The following is my original manuscript.

Did you know that it’s possible to be in four of the 50 states in our union at one time? A couple of years ago on a youth mission trip we went to a place on the Navajo reservation called Four Corners. There’s a monument there with a small bronze disk indicating the exact point at which the corners of four states meet—the only place in the country where this occurs. These four states are Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. It’s a common sight for people to have photos made straddling the four states on all fours—like a game of Twister.

At the Four Corners monument during a youth mission trip

It sounds cool, but it isn’t quite as cool as it sounds. Contemporary surveyors today agree that the surveyors of the 19th century who first marked the location were off just a little… The exact spot where the four corners of the states meet should have been placed about 2.5 miles away. Well, I’m sure it was a good try.

If you could mark a spot at the theological center of Paul’s letter to the Romans, where each of the corners of Paul’s most important themes come together, it might very well be today’s scripture. In this short passage alone, Paul emphasizes the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; what God accomplished through Jesus on the cross; the surprising way in which God’s Law, the Torah, is fulfilled in Jesus; the assurance that there is “no condemnation” for those who are in Christ; the life that the Spirit gives us right now; and, finally, our future resurrection hope.

If it’s not exactly the center point, it’s not off by much.

In verse 1, Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you read what Paul has just got through saying at the end of chapter 7, Paul’s use of “therefore” is surprising, maybe even confusing. Keep in mind that Paul didn’t put chapter markers and verse markers in his original letter; those were added later. The sentence just before today’s scripture is: “[W]ith my flesh I am a slave to the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation”…? Huh?As one New Testament scholar said, “Where [Paul] left the argument at the end of chapter 7 hardly encourages such a shout of triumph. One might have expected him to say, ‘There is therefore a lot of gloom and doom to be faced.’”1

How does it fit together?

We have to pay attention to this little Greek word called gar at the beginning of verses 2 and 3. It’s a connecting word that means “because” or “for.” There is no condemnation because of what Paul says in verse 2; and verse 2 is true because of what Paul says in verses 3 and 4. Paul’s logic is like a Russian nesting doll! You have open each verse up and unpack it in order to find its center. If I could attempt a paraphrase of these verses, drawing in what Paul has just said in Chapter 7, I would say something like this: “It’s true that left to our own devices, despite our best intentions to do the right thing and obey God, we are slaves to the law of sin. When we try to obey God’s good law, it only accuses us, reminding us of just how sinful we are. In other words, God’s law, which was intended to give us life, instead points its finger at us and says, “You’re guilty. You’re condemned.”

“In spite of this terrible truth, there is now no condemnation for us Christians. Why? Because God the Holy Spirit has set us free from this law that only condemns and brings death. In doing so, the Spirit has enabled God’s law to do what it always promised to do but couldn’t—not because the law itself was the problem, but because human sin got in the way. In fact, this was God’s unexpected plan all along: to use the law to highlight the problem of sin, to make the problem clear and bright and visible for everyone to see. God then solved the problem of sin by coming to us directly, as a flesh-and-blood human being, just like all of us. He needed to do this so that he could be the representative for all of us sinful human beings who stood condemned before God’s law. He was our stand-in.

“And here’s how he defeated sin: he gathered up all of our sin in one place—on the cross—and dealt a mortal blow to it. For Jews who were under God’s law, it was as if God gave himself up as a sin offering once and for all. And by doing all these things for us, the law no longer condemn us; it acquits us. The just verdict it announces for us is ‘not guilty.’ In other words, there is now no condemnation because of all these good things that God did for us out of love.” Whew!

No condemnation. These are, I think, the most important words spoken by Paul so far in his letter. This is what he’s been driving at the whole time. But getting there is a long story, and telling that story means practically summarizing the Old Testament, going back to the beginning—to Adam and the first sin, and then moving forward to God’s covenant with Abraham and the people of Israel, their delivery from slavery in Egypt, to Mt. Sinai and Israel’s life under the law. We Christians are now part of this story, except we get to look back on most of it in hindsight and see the happy ending to which the story was headed all along: And what it all means for us, Paul says, is no condemnation.

My earliest memory, I think—I was no older than three—was playing on the swing set in my backyard after church, singing a song that I think we had probably just learned: “Jesus loved the little children/ All the children of the world/ Red and yellow, black and white/ They are precious in his sight/ Jesus loves the little children of the world.” I loved that song, and I totally got the message that Jesus loved me even at this very young age. Of course, I still had a lot to learn about what this love meant, what it looked like. When the 14 year old version of myself went on a youth group retreat, and I decided to become a Christian for myself and made a profession of faith, I understood that Christ’s love also meant forgiveness of sin and eternal life—that, indeed, my new life in Christ meant “no condemnation.”

I’ve known this truth for so long… The good news can become old news. “Yeah, yeah, I know. God loves me and forgives me and there’s no condemnation.” But I wonder how well we really know it. Sure, in our heads we know that there’s no condemnation, but I wonder how well this message has gotten through to our hearts? I wonder how deeply it’s sunk in and changed our life?

Years ago, I worked for a large corporation as a salesperson. I really hated the job. The truth is I don’t like people very much, and in sales you have to deal with people all the time! And they’re always complaining, and they always want something from you for free, and… Who needs that? I hated the job, but it was a great “school of hard knocks” for me. It was difficult, but I learned a lot of important life lessons—the most important of which was that I really should not be in sales. Most of our salary was from commission. One year, my boss’s boss posted each salesperson’s sales results for the year on a chart in the hallway of the office. As my friend said, “They may as well post your W-2, because anyone can look at that and figure out about how much money you’re making!”

It just so happens that for a number of perfectly understandable reasons that were completely beyond my control, I was not doing very well that year. So my name was near the bottom of the chart for the entire year. And I would walk by this chart, and I would feel greatly embarrassed. This was my “hall of shame.” I would see how I stacked up in comparison to these other people, and a I did not measure up. I did not feel good about myself. I felt condemnation. It’s as if I heard a voice telling me, “You’re no good, Brent. You’re a loser. These other people are so much better than you.” I found myself hating myself—and resenting other people.

I hope you can see that you don’t simply have to be in sales to have this problem. Right?

Toward the end of his best-selling memoir Blue Like Jazz, author Donald Miller describes the difficulty he was having in dating. He had a way of sabotaging relationships he was in because of his self-doubt. If the girl he was dating didn’t immediately fall deeply in love and want to marry him within a week of meeting him, he would worry obsessively that something was wrong with him. He talked about it with a Christian counselor who finally told him, “‘God loves you, Don.’… ‘Yeah, I know,’ I told her. ‘I know God loves me.’ And I did know, I just didn’t believe.” He knew it up here—he was, by this point, an established Christian author. [point to head] But he didn’t know it in here. [point to heart]

Then he had a realization one day as he was scrubbing the toilet, of all things. He had his own voices that were telling him what a loser he was, how he was as disgusting as the bathroom he was cleaning. And a Bible verse came to him. It was a powerful sensation: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” He didn’t know what it meant at first. Then he realized it was God telling him that he would never talk to his neighbor the way he talked to himself—because the way he talked to himself wasn’t loving. “[S]omehow I had come to believe it was wrong to kick other people around but it was okay to do it to myself.” So Donald Miller repented of this sin. He stopped hating himself.2

If there really is “no condemnation,” that means we don’t get to condemn ourselves, either. God doesn’t merely tolerate us because now he has to! “Well, I wanted to send you to hell, but now, because of your faith in my Son, I guess I’ll reluctantly forgive you, accept you, and love you.” No! We belong to God now. We’re with Jesus. We’re a part of him now. Parents, how do you feel about your own children? That’s a little bit like how God feels about us!

At the root of the word “condemnation” is a Greek word that shows up in the gospels in John chapter 8, in the story of the woman caught in adultery. Remember these religious scholars and pharisees were ready to stone this woman who committed adultery. The law of Moses says that adulterers should be stoned, and they caught her in the act. Of course, they were supposed to also execute the man, too, but he apparently got off the hook. “Teacher, according to the law of Moses, we’re supposed to stone this woman. What do you think?” They were trying to trap him—to get him to say something against the law. Jesus said, “O.K. Fine. But let the person who is sinless throw the first stone.” And before long, these religious scholars left the scene. Jesus said to the woman, “Where did everyone go? Does no one condemn you?” And she said, “No one, sir.” “Neither do I,” Jesus said. “Go, and from now on, stop sinning.”

What stones of condemnation are aimed at you? Maybe you’re the one holding the stones? If so, it’s time to disarm yourself. Lay down your arms. Hear the good news. There is no condemnation! And if you’re failing to love yourself, that’s also a sin of which you need to repent.


1. Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone: Romans: Part One (Louisville: WJK, 2004), 136.

2. Donald Miller, Blue Like Jazz (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 229-231.

8 Responses to “Sermon for 07-31-11: “Roman Road, Part 8: No Condemnation””

  1. Tom Harkins Says:

    Good sermon, Brent. Pretty easy to beat up on yourself, and I’m pretty good at it. I guess I do have a little problem with TOTALLY being “off the hook” in light of James’ “weep and mourn” instruction, but, at the END of the day (even if not at every moment during it), we should love ourselves, if we have truly become God’s children through Christ, because God then loves us.

    One question. You mention the original sin of Adam. As you may know from Paul Wallace’s recent post on his blog and the Christianity Today article he references, there is some substantial dispute about whether there actually was a “real Adam” to commit that first sin. Can I take it from your reference to Adam’s sin here that you agree with me that Adam “literally was”?

    • brentwhite Says:

      Thanks for the kind words, Tom. As for being “totally off the hook,” I’ve already spoken in the sermon series about the need for continual repentance and have suggested that that process can be difficult and painful. I try to resist the temptation to say EVERYTHING on a particular subject in one sermon.

      As for the other point, no… I personally interpret Adam figuratively. I don’t agree with Christianity Today that there’s much at stake in the question. I could be wrong on both counts, of course. I’m not dogmatic about it.

      I believe there is a Fall, that humanity turns against the Creator, and the consequences are devastating. That is far more important to me than the literal-ness of an historical Adam.

  2. Tom Harkins Says:

    Thanks, Brent. I don’t want to beat a dead horse and feel no need to respond, but what about the biblical geneologies? From Adam down, including Noah, not only in the Old Testament, but also by Luke in Jesus’ own geneology? Also, Paul does seem to focus on the “First Adam” versus the “Second Adam,” and Jesus even said, “Have you not heard, that when he created them, he created them male and female?” I do think there is something significant at stake in booting a literal Adam.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    Thanks, Brent. I looked at the post you linked and virtually all the comments! (Taking too much time.) While I am not totally averse to the idea that biblical writers could have used myths to make points if that is what they wanted to do, I wonder why they gave such substantial “historical details” in their writings. Place, time, who begat whom, how many years transpired, tracing the begats down from Adam to Abraham to David to Jesus, etc. The Hebrew scriptures often get so specific as to give the day of the month, time of the day, part of the city, etc. In other words, really the only reason not to take them “literally” (which is not necessarily to mean “infallible” in the sense of never getting a detail wrong here or there–like modern journalists) is to avoid the consequences of doing so; i.e., primarily, (a) a belief in miracles, (b) not offending present day scientists, and (c) for some, but certainly not all, the moral and spiritual demands that those same authors espouse. So, since Jesus and Paul recounted those accounts without betraying the slightest inkling that they were not historical (“as it was in the days of Noah,” etc.), and because on their face they “read” as historical, and because I have no trouble with either miracles or offending scientists, I take them all as true. Especially when Paul gives spiritual significance to Adam and Eve (see even “troublesome” passages like 1 Corinthians 11:8-9).

    • brentwhite Says:

      I hear you, Tom. But when I read Genesis 1-3 (among other passages), I don’t say to myself, “Well, this didn’t happen like that!” These stories seem deeply true to me, regardless of their historicity. In fact, when you think about it, poetry is about the most effective way of communicating truth—and poetry isn’t literal. Poetry communicates truth better than “Eyewitness News” or a newspaper.

      Like you said, it’s beating a dead horse to continue this thread. But look at it this way: If Genesis 1-3 is historically true, my belief isn’t required to make it so. 😉 We’ll sort it all out on the other side of resurrection.

  4. Tom Harkins Says:

    Looking forward to “the other side of resurrection”!

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