Monday, September 1, 2008

Why is There No Condemnation?

If you’ve ever read Romans 7, you might come away thinking there’s no end to the insanity – the tireless struggle between the flesh and the spirit never ceases.  It is indeed discouraging, but then so many of us are quick to move on to Romans 8:1 “There is therefore no condemnation..”  I was attracted to this verse recently for other reasons and found myself almost shocked to remember how the verse ends.  What begins so well, has a horrible ending.  “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” NKJV.  The astute Bible student might quickly point out that the last portion of that verse is omitted in some manuscripts, e.g. the NU-text. (NU-Text These variations from the traditional text generally represent the Alexandrian or Egyptian type of text. They are found in the Critical Text published in the twenty-seventh edition of the Nestle-Aland Greek New Testament (N) and in the United Bible Societies’ fourth edition (U), hence the acronym, “NU-Text.”)  Without that omission the verse would lead me to believe that the lack of condemnation is reserved for those who do not walk according to the flesh.  If I were walking according to the flesh, I would still be condemned.  I think it is important to examine whether Paul (by condemnation) means the futility of the endless and tireless struggle between flesh and spirit discussed in Chapter 7, or the judicial condemnation of God for lacking perfect holiness.  But I’ll examine that later.  For even if I might want to omit the second part of Romans 8:1 I run into the exact same problem just a few verses later.  Romans 8:13 brings me right back to that part about living according to the flesh:

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

There is more in this little verse than I can digest in months of study.  John Owen’s great work “Of the Mortification of Sin in the Believer’s Life” deals with this singular text at length.  And as if this weren’t enough to suggest that holy living is not an option, but a requirement for life, Paul writes again in Colossians 3:5

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

The Spirit of God commands me to put certain things to death, namely the deeds of the body, sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness.  I’m quick to admit my struggles with each and every one of these sins.  Not one of them escapes my attention during the course of the average day.  John Owen in the aforementioned work summarizes the Apostle by quipping “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”  Three things immediately seize my conscience.  First, do I really and truly believe this scripture?  Second, if I really and truly do believe this scripture, does it require change in my life?  Thirdly, if I really and truly do believe this scripture and it requires change in my life, what sort of change are we talking about?

As for the first, I do believe it.  The verses have caused me to lose sleep.  Today I weigh more than I have ever weighed in my life.  I’m getting to the point of obesity.  The depression from my divorce combined with the lack of exercise that seems natural in the North (except for riding bikes) and the sedentary nature of my work all combine to put me 20 pounds over weight.  While it may never have been fun to look in the mirror, it is especially offensive these days.  And Scripture is like a mirror (James 1:25).  I look into the Scripture and see myself for who I really am.  And, frankly, I don’t like it one bit.  This Scripture especially gives me pause.

To the second question I conclude that it not only requires change in my life, but change in practically every part.  I cannot think of more than three or four aspects of my life that escape the judgement of Romans 8:13 and Colossians 3:5.  My mind responds to sexual stimuli and my heart is quick to follow it to places I don’t want to go.  As for impurity, (beyond the sensual aspect) there is impurity in my heart in all things.  I mix God’s law with man’s perspective polluting a pure religion with selfish desires and prejudices.  I mix love with jealousy.  I mix sincerity with cynicism and sarcasm.  I mix work with play.  I do not refrain from hearing about bloodshed and seeing evil.  As for passion, I am not without blame there either.  While I am passionate about few things beyond theology and football, the passion I have for those two things can corrupt my ability to serve God and instead turn my attention to meeting my own desires.  As for evil desire, while I pretend to be without blame, I can only imagine what evil desires lurk in my heart awaiting the light of the Holy Spirit to demonstrate to me that my flesh is still corrupt and vile.  Of covetousness, I am as guilty as any of desiring a new car, a bigger house, nicer furniture, a vacation, an easier life-style, a retirement account, financial security (resting my assurance in my ability to provide instead of God’s ability).  In short, to put to death the deeds of the body is to radically change practically every aspect of my life.

To the third question, what sort of change is required I can only guess.  My embarrassment and shame are great here.  Perhaps this is a question better put to my peers, and those friends that love me.  You know who you are.  There are some in my life quick to provide criticism, and I pray that I will hear them, even when it comes from an impure and wicked heart.  (See my post on humility).

So I conclude today that the assurance that condemnation has been removed depends entirely upon faith that produces mortification of the flesh.

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