How to Do What God Wants You to Do
July 15, 2007 | Brian Bill
Three ministers went fishing one day, all friends who pastored different churches in the same town. While they were fishing they began confessing their sins to one another. The first pastor said, “Do you know what my big sin is? It’s drinking. I know it’s wrong, but every Friday night I drive to a city where no one knows me and go to a bar and get drunk.” The second pastor said, “Well fellas, to be honest with you, I’ve got a big sin too…mine is gambling.” Finally it was the third pastor’s turn: “Guys, I probably should have gone first because my big sin is gossip…and I can’t wait to get back to town!”
As we’ve been roaming through the first seven chapters of the Book of Romans, God has used his Word to expose each of us as desperately depraved sinners. At the risk of over-promising and under-delivering, our text today from Romans 8 could be the most life-changing section of Scripture you will ever encounter. I’m going to ask you to lock in like never before, to listen attentively, and to allow God’s Word to go down deep within you because this is truly great news.
Romans 8 is Great!
Many people have said that Romans 8 is their favorite chapter in the Bible. Commentators describe this chapter as the “mountain peak” of Scripture and as a triumphant “hymn of hope.” Douglas Moo refers to it as “The inner sanctuary within the cathedral of Christian faith.” Let me list some reasons why I think so many people have benefited so much from these verses.
1. Assurance is emphasized.
In what has been called “a rhapsody on assurance,” this chapter begins with “Therefore there is now no condemnation…” and ends with “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” It starts with no condemnation and closes with no separation, and in between you find no defeat. The believer’s standing is safe, secure and settled.
2. The Holy Spirit is prominent.
The third member of the Trinity is mentioned no less than 19 times in this chapter, almost once every two verses. Having said that, this chapter is not so much about the Holy Spirit, as it is on what the Spirit does on behalf of the believer. The Holy Spirit is involved in our salvation (8:1-2) and in our sanctification (8:3-4). He gives life and peace, guides us, empowers us, helps us, prays for us and assures us of our adoption into God’s family. It’s interesting to notice that the personal pronoun “I” that is so prominent in chapter 7 largely disappears in Romans 8 because the Holy Spirit becomes the dominant person. He is not a possession to hold on to but a Person to love and obey. As we will learn the coming weeks, God never intended for us to live the Christian life on our own but through the power of the Spirit.
3. This chapter contains the essence of Christianity.
Because of what Christ did on the cross, taking the condemnation that is rightfully ours, those who have put their faith in Him will never be condemned. Jesus completely and permanently paid the debt of sin and the penalty of the law. Look with me at the words of Jesus in John 3:17-18: “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
4. This chapter is astounding and overwhelming.
The truths here are both attractive and yet elusive for many of us. We want this to be true and yet for many of us we don’t really believe it because we know how unworthy we are. Some of you are convinced that God has condemned you and that you are spiritually disqualified because of what you’ve done.
Breaking it Down
I heard this week that some new words have been added to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. One of my favorites is ginormous, which combines the words “gigantic” with “enormous.” Without a doubt, Romans 8:1 is “ginormous.” We’re going to repeat this verse several times this morning so that by the time we’re done, we’ll have it memorized. Some of you have shut down already because you think you have a mental memorization block. You can do it. We must do it because if we can get this verse into our heads, into our hearts and then live it out through our hands, we will never be the same! Once we have it memorized we will be able to draw on it for the rest of our lives.
Let’s say Romans 8:1 together: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Let’s break it down so we can get it down by looking at why, when, what, and who.
Why: “Therefore there is…”
The word “therefore” serves to tie the proceeding seven chapters with chapter 8 by serving as a link to everything that Paul has established. In the original this is very emphatic, indicating that what he is about to say is extremely important. It can be translated this way: “So, then, consequently.” I’ve picked just one verse from each of the first seven chapters to remind us where we’ve been…
Romans 1:18: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”
Romans 2:5: “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”
Romans 3:12: “All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”
Romans 4:13: “It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith.”
Romans 5:18: “Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men.”
Romans 6:11: “In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.”
Romans 7:24: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”
Let’s work on that first phrase together: “Therefore, there is…” Let’s say it again.
For the born-again believer there is assurance that there will be no judgment to come in the future but I want you to notice that we can and should experience this assurance right now in the present. Therefore there is today no condemnation. If you are redeemed then right now, at this very moment you are secure. One pastor put it this way: “No condemnation means there is neither judgment from God on me, nor annoyance with God with respect to me—neither on the last day nor today!”
Now we’ll add just one word to the phrase we’ve already learned: “Therefore, there is now…” Say it with me.
What: “No condemnation…”
Not even one will ever be condemned to hell who is in Christ Jesus
Interestingly, in the original word construction in Greek, the first word is not “therefore” but rather the word “no.” This makes it very strong. In addition, Paul chose a strong negation to make the point that there is absolutely nothing by way of condemnation for the Christian. Here’s a literal translation: “Not even one, therefore now…” We could say it like this: “Not even one will ever be condemned to hell who is in Christ Jesus.” God now commends and doesn’t condemn the Christian – not even one, not even one bit.
The word “condemn” comes from two Greek words; one which means “down” and the other which means “to judge.” Literally it means to “judge down” and was used of the Roman emperor as he sat on a throne when prisoners were brought before him. As he heard their cases he would either “judge down” or “judge up.” I wonder if that’s where we get the “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” expression. Friend, if you have put your faith and trust in Jesus as you sacrificial substitute, the Almighty Judge gives you a “thumbs up.” God won’t “judge down” because He sent Christ to “come down.” The judgment we deserved settled on the Savior and now God’s blessings “rain down” on us. God has a gavel of grace for the believer as He pronounces this verdict: “No condemnation – you are now a saint, not a sinner; you are not unrighteous because I have declared you righteous.”
Paul is really picking up the truth that he stated in Romans 5:1: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Jesus said it this way in John 5:24: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” God’s judgment will not come down now or ever for the believer. Those in Christ will not be condemned because Jesus was condemned in their stead; there is no punishment because Christ bore the punishment.
Here’s an important truth to remember. When God says “no condemnation” it’s not based upon our performance but on our position. God declares it to be so because of the finished work of Christ on our behalf. He doesn’t revoke it when we rebel or suddenly seethe with anger towards us when we sin. We have peace with God and we are not condemned. Think with me about the implications of this statement by Pastor Steve Brown: “How would you behave if you knew that your behavior was not the deciding factor when it comes to God’s acceptance of you?”
Having said that, let’s think about what this doesn’t mean. Paul is not saying that there’s no cause for our condemnation. There are plenty of reasons for us to be condemned. If you’re not convinced, just reread the first seven chapters of Romans. Or just look at the sins you committed this week alone and you know that God has cause to condemn you. He’s also not saying that there’s no failure for the follower of Christ because we all fail. He’s also not saying that saints don’t struggle or stumble, because we do. Ray Pritchard offers this perspective: “When Jesus saved you, he didn’t say he would take away all your problems. No, but he did say this. In your problems, there is no condemnation. In your struggles there is no condemnation. In your going astray there is no condemnation.”
The commentator Matthew Henry adds these golden words: “He does not say, ‘There is no accusation against them,’ for this there is; but the accusation is thrown out, and the indictment quashed. He does not say, ‘There is nothing in them that deserves condemnation,’ for this there is, and they see it, and own it, and mourn over it, and condemn themselves for it; but it shall not be their ruin. He does not say, ‘There is no cross, no affliction to them or no displeasure in the affliction,’ for this there may be; but no condemnation. They may be chastened of the Lord, but not condemned with the world…They are in Christ Jesus, as in their city of refuge, and so are protected from the avenger of blood. He is their Advocate…In Christ God does not only not condemn them, but is well pleased with them.”
One of my favorite hymns is “And Can it be that I Should Gain?” by Charles Wesley. The last verse could have come right from Romans 8…
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.
OK, let’s add the phrase “no condemnation” to the first part of the verse. Ready? Let’s say it together: “Therefore there is now no condemnation…” Let’s say it again.
Who: “For those who are in Christ Jesus.”
This promise of no condemnation is available for all but applied only to those who are in Christ Jesus. It’s not automatic just because you’re an American or just because you go to church or just because you’ve given some money or done some cool things for others. It’s only for those who are “in Christ Jesus.” This is one of Paul’s favorite phrases, using “in Christ” 164 different times. To be a Christian is to be in Christ. Turn over to Romans 16:7: “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”
The only way you can be declared righteous is to be in Christ. The only way to have your sins forgiven is to be in Christ. Listen to Philippians 3:9: “And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ-the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.” Because we are “in Christ,” His righteousness is credited to us. Because Jesus is free from condemnation, so are we because we are in Him. Remember too that there are not different degrees of being in Christ. If you are a born again believer you are no less in Christ than Billy Graham is. It doesn’t matter how mature or immature you are in the faith; whether you are ordinary or ornery, tough or tender. You are either in Christ or you are not according to 1 Corinthians 15:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.”
It’s like Noah and the Ark. When God told Noah to build the ark he told him very clearly that he was going to send judgment on the earth and the only way to escape it was to be in the ark when the floods came. Genesis 7:15-16: “Pairs of all creatures that have the breath of life in them came to Noah and entered the ark…Then the Lord shut him in.” Those in the ark were safe; those who were outside were condemned. And once the door was shut, it guaranteed safety and security for those inside but it was too late for anyone else to enter. Don’t wait any longer!
if you’re in Christ, when God looks at you, He sees Jesus Christ and credits you with all that is said about His Son and you will never be condemned
That means that all of what we’ve been saying so far is applicable only to those who are “in Christ Jesus.” The Bible is very clear. You are either “in Adam” and doomed to condemnation or you are “in Christ” and destined for commendation. You are in the light or in the darkness. You are a child of God or a child of the devil. And if you’re in Christ, when God looks at you, He sees Jesus Christ and credits you with all that is said about His Son and you will never be condemned. If you are in Christ, then what happened to Him happened to you.
The words of John Piper capture this better than I can: “All of God’s condemning wrath and all of his omnipotent opposition to us in our sin has been replaced by almighty mercy and omnipotent assistance. In other words, if you are in Christ Jesus all of God’s action toward you is almighty mercy and omnipotent assistance. It is not mixed. It is not as though some days He is against you with wrath – and those days are bad days – while other days He is for you with love – and those days are good days. That is emphatically not the case and not the way to think about it. It may seem that way. But that is precisely why we need the truth of God’s revelation in His word. Most of the time in this world of pleasure and pain things are not what they seem. To understand what things are really like and what is really happening we need to put on the lens of God’s Word…in Christ Jesus God is always for you. Always! This is where Paul is going in Romans 8. He gets there in verse 31 and says, ‘What shall we say to all these things? If God is for us, who is against us?’”
Personalizing the Promise
Let’s face it. Some of us think this is too good to be true. In a sin-soaked world filled with sickness and disappointment and pain and agony, how can this be possible? In fact, this is so difficult to believe, that some of you have secretly changed this verse to read something like this: “Therefore there is now some or a lot of condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
If you have accepted Christ God is not angry with you, regardless of what you have done. He loves you and cherishes you. He’s giving you a thumbs-up because you matter to Him. While we may celebrate this Scripture and be able to memorize it, I know that many of you struggle to personally put it into practice so let’s get real specific. I’m going to make a statement that will reflect what some people think and I want all of us to respond with the promise of Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If you were raised in a religious environment that has caused you to be filled with guilt and shame even today we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If you’re struggling with sin and your failures cause you to fall short, may I remind you that these words come right after Romans 7:19: “For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing.” Listen to this message from God, fellow sinner: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If your memories of what you did in the past are paralyzing you, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If your memories of what someone else did to you in the past are haunting you and eroding your self-image, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If you’re struggling with sickness and have begun to think that God is somehow paying you back for your sins, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Having said that, 1 Corinthians 11:30 does indicate that some have gotten sick, and some even died, as a result of taking communion in an unworthy manner: “That is why many among you are weak and sick, and a number of you have fallen asleep.”
- If you see your problems as punishment from God, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Note: God does discipline us but it’s because He loves us as we’re reminded in Hebrews 12:7-11. There is no condemnation but there may be some consequences. There is no doom for the believer, but there is often discipline.
- If you find yourself thinking that God is angry with you and out to get you, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If someone around you is condemning you and putting you down and you think you are worthless, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If your relationships always seem to rupture and you feel like no one cares, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If your children are breaking your heart and you feel like it’s all your fault, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If you find yourself falling continuously short when you compare yourself with other Christians, we say to you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
- If Satan is accusing and condemning you as he will because he is the accuser, tell him that he has nothing on you: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
One pastor said this: “No matter how many times you may have failed God, failed yourself and failed your family you are forgiven. No matter how bad you may have failed you can be sure that, if you are trusting in Christ, there is no condemnation for you.”
I love what Charles Spurgeon had to say when preaching on this passage: “Oh, for faith to lay hold on this! Oh, for an overpowering faith that shall get the victory over doubts and fears, and make us enjoy the liberty with which Christ makes men free! You that believe in Christ, go to your beds this night and say, ‘If I die in my bed, I cannot be condemned!’ Should you wake the next morning, go into the world and say, ‘I am not condemned!’ When the devil howls at you, tell him, ‘You may accuse, but I am not condemned!’ And if sometimes your sins rise, say, ‘I know you, but you are all gone forever. I am not condemned!’”
Tony Campolo writes about a friend of his who has an adorable four-year-old daughter who is very bright and talkative. One night there was a violent thunderstorm with lightning that shook the house and caused everyone to tremble. His friend ran up the stairs to his daughter’s room to assure her that everything would be alright. When he opened the door he found his daughter standing on the window sill with her arms and legs spread out on the glass. He shouted to her, “What are you doing?” She turned away from the flashing lightning and happily responded, “I think God is trying to take my picture!”
If you are in Christ revel in the fact that God is crazy about you. If you are outside of Christ you are condemned already and judgment is still in front of you. Come to Him now. Run to Him for safety. Let’s say our verse together one more time: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”