Saints, Not Sinners: Part Three
No Condemnation: Romans 8:1
In Romans 8:1 Paul reaches critical mass. This little, innocuous, so well-used term, “no condemnation,” is like the great flash of light that precedes everything else in a nuclear detonation. “No condemnation” is pure light out of heaven, exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think.
Each one of us in some degree knows this condemnation. This is far more than putting ourselves under a guilt trip, or a sort of “Christian” negative self image. This condemnation is from deeper sources than our own psychology or past behaviors. It has nothing to do with anything about ourselves as we might think. It has nothing to do, for instance, with whether we are self-confident or self-doubting. A confident person knows this condemnation as much as a timid person.
We are not more condemned if we have made many more bad choices than others who have not made the same choices. Likewise, if we have made very few so called bad choices, we are not spared any measure of this condemnation. All of us share it in common measure. It is the inheritance we have been born into. “Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation…” Rom 5:18a
The choice in the Garden was not about good and evil, or right and wrong. That is what the whole world lives in, but good and evil was not what the choice was about. It was about life and death. When they took the fruit, which was something to make them “wise as gods,” they chose death (having been warned beforehand), and immediately there appeared on the scene the precursor and continual reminder of death – condemnation, which has hounded all our heels ever since. It is like a sense of impending doom, that I must hide, protect, hunker down, make boundaries, declare territories, to ward off certain death as long as is possible.
Now it is very common in the beginning to get the gospel mixed up with right and wrong actions and thoughts, morals, world viewpoints, etc. We even get it mixed up with our up and down feelings, all of which ultimately become the wrong track. But it’s a wrong track which brings us here to this brink where great light is beginning to flood in as we stand ready to go into God's rest.
Now this condemnation, which means a continual sentence of death hanging over our heads, is the natural outcome of living by the law, of living by “knowing good and evil.” The law as outer precepts is impersonal. It has no mercy or grace.
That is what happened with Adam and Eve. As soon as they partook of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, seeking something they saw outside themselves, which they were tricked into taking into themselves in order to become wise as gods, they instead instantly knew death and fear – condemnation!
But we have been learning that now in the Cross we have been delivered from the law. Romans seven is about finding out that we cannot approach God by that path. The reason we cannot approach God down this road is because the law, though both inwardly and outwardly representative of Him, still is, in a sense, “one step removed” from God. It is not He Himself. The Law expresses the nature of God, yet it is not God. There simply is no set of standards that could be written, much less applied and obeyed, that could possibly equalize the created with the Creator.
Paul said the law, “was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator is not a mediator of one, but God is one.” (Gal 3:19, 20) In other words, the law is separation. Under the law we are one step removed from God and always remain so. The veil that divides us (condemnation – Gen 3:6-10) continually remains. The veil is there because of the law and the flesh which tries to keep the law.
The law presupposes the separate self to obey it. And that self, which in its false separateness can only hear the law as if it is coming from outside itself, is bound to both the demands of the law and to the separateness in which to do them.
The law demands that the person fulfill precepts which are descriptions of God’s own life as He is. In order to do that one would have to either be like God, or else be God. The first, to be “like Him,” is impossible, even if we were to have, as we say, “His help.” One cannot recreate or imitate the Eternal. It’s the most absurd thought that ever came into the temporal universe. We’ve all tried that.
The second, to “Be Him” is likewise impossible, but still the only recourse left after we exhaust the first. Here we find our final answer. We have found to the uttermost we cannot be like Him, and we certainly know we cannot BE Him, but now we see that Christ has come into us to be US! Not to make me be “like” Him, but He has come to live in “me” to be “me,” and in “you” to be “you.” He and I, one person together.
And this is where our NO condemnation takes form in us. We’ve grown up all our lives knowing nothing but this condemnation. If others didn’t put it on us then we put it on ourselves. We know our guilt and we know what we deserve and now this Romans seven has brought it all sharply into focus.
But here we find Paul at the end of Romans seven, finally coming to the resolution of his struggle, like a slow train, steadily getting there. He has now taken us to the final hump, where he sees two operations, one the law of sin and death, or the law of the flesh, and the other the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
This is an important juncture here, and the absolute crux of the matter. On one hand Paul seems to be saying that he is operating both laws simultaneously, walking in his flesh according to the flesh, and at the same time in his spirit walking according to the spirit. This seems a weak solution, since it still leaves him very much a double person all his days. Or on the other hand, Paul seems to be saying that he walks one way one moment – when he minds the flesh he walks according to the flesh – and another way another moment – when he minds the spirit he walks according to the Spirit. But how do we do that? I thought we’d gotten out of that whole “effort” thing.
And we seem to be left there holding just that bag as we close out Romans seven.
The problem seems to be at this point, if we were left just here, is that the solution is a sort of limbo, and the limbo is because we don’t really know which way this is going to go. But this “limbo” is really the final nail in the coffin of this self that thinks it is something in itself and has some capability to now operate the life of the Spirit. Who is sufficient for these things?
The vast majority of the Church of Christ through the centuries has been stuck right here in this limbo. We cannot keep ourselves from sin, and cannot propel ourselves into the fullness of spiritual life. We seem perpetually to be “two,” not just between ourselves and God, but between our “flesh” self and our “spirit” self, or sin nature and righteousness nature, or however anyone describes it.
The limbo is, now that we have realized this world-destroying truth about ourselves, we have not yet come to know fully the One with Whom we have to do, and having not yet come to know Him as He is, we have no framework from which to say or believe that we will ever be anything but this two-sided person. There must be a rescue from outside ourselves to solve this.
It is a scale-dropping revelation to see we are nothing in ourselves, and to see from an observer’s point of view, opening in our consciousness by the Spirit, how with the flesh we walk in the law of sin and death, and with the “mind” we walk according to the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus. O how wonderful! Praise God, that’s how it is, and now we see it.
But wait! What’s next? There must be more to this than knowing that fact, glorious as that is. Unless something further comes, in which this continual inescapable twoness (between God and myself and between myself and myself) is supplanted by a certain wholeness and eternal (continuous) oneness, I’m still stuck, because what I’ve learned through this valley of self-effort the Lord has taken me through, is that I can do nothing of myself. If that is so, then I likewise cannot operate the life of the Spirit, or by anything I know to do or say, keep myself in it. No, not ever!
The conscious life of the Spirit begins when the Spirit opens our consciousness to the fact that it is forever, “Not I, but He,” and, “the Son can do nothing of Himself … the Father that dwells in me, He does the works!”
The life of the Spirit is always operated by the Spirit, so that we are forever in weakness as the lambs of God. And it is only through this final hump here, which on one side perpetually appears as if we are two, sometimes flesh and sometimes spirit, and through this revelation which comes first as this blinding flash of NO CONDEMNATION that blots out everything else, we come through this portal onto the other side, where we know Christ and ourselves joined as one spirit, so that the life we are now living is Christ, and that He has now appeared here in our form to be in us our All, in all.
We have gone finally now from the law, i.e., knowing “about” God, as if God is an object we could study and analyze, but now having gone over this hump, we come into knowing God, not as an “over there” person we can look at and touch, but as being mixed in union and oneness in that union through Jesus, so that inwardly we now know that we living is He living. One person.
All our lives God has spoken to us and in us in various ways, drawing us to Himself in order to reveal the Son in us. Every moment God’s true heart has been saying to us, “You are my beloved son,” even if for years of our lives we could not hear the voice. But all that time He has unfailingly, little by little, in every circumstance and event of our lives, been perfectly drawing us into Himself in order to reveal in us His love.
And now here, as we are coming into this life that is Christ’s LIFE being lived out and expressed in the world through and AS our humanity, the greatest shockwave ever hits our mortality, swallowing it up into life, as we for the first time hear in ourselves, the Word which God has eternally been saying of us, “You are released from death, and have passed forever into my Life. You may rest from your labors in Me, knowing that I will only be in you life everlasting.”
Suddenly everything in the universe turns around and changes. The music changes keys.
You have found favor! There is One Who sees you and delights in you!
How could that be for one such as I? Only God knows, but here you are, now delivered from the law, now delivered from the self-efforts of a falsely independent self and all its tricks and foibles, now delivered by great wonders out of darkness into light, here right now you are, called and chosen of God, to bear His name and light in fear and trembling into the world.
The handwriting of ordinances, which was against us, has been removed, nailed to His cross, and with it the condemnation it brought us all our lives has likewise gone back into the pit from which it came.
And the word of NO condemnation is the portal, the announcement, of that which is to come, because condemnation is that last little bit that has been about “me,” and from now on we move away from “me” in the life of the Spirit. As we become settled in who we are – Christ living as us – we move into an entirely “for others” life, out of the spontaneity of the Spirit who keeps all these things happening. We no longer accept any such thing as "condemnation" because we are He living as us, who is always the "beloved Son," in whom the Father is always pleased.
Next: We try to make it to Romans 8:2 and maybe beyond in our next discussion of “Saints, Not Sinners.”