Sermon 07-12-2020 – “No Condemnation”

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason, the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” (Romans 8:1–11, NRSV)

Romans 8 is the high point in Paul’s Epistle to Rome. It begins with this remarkable statement, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

These are beautiful words and they provide a good summary for us, on why we find the gospel such good news. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you hear nothing else I say today hear this, because it is good.

But to really get the force of what Paul is saying, we need to read these words as the culmination of everything he has been trying to lay out for us in Romans so far. Here is my quick 50 cent tour of everything that I think Paul has been saying so far in Romans:

            Way back in Romans 1, Paul said:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:16–17, NRSV).

This is Paul’s thesis statement for the whole letter. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, both for Jews and for Gentiles, and the righteous will live by faith. Paul is enamored with the good news of Jesus Christ and he wants the church in Rome to understand how mind-blowing, great, powerful and life giving it is. But before Paul can unfold the wonders of the gospel for the mutual life of both Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, he takes some time describing our universal need for a savior. Starting in Romans 1:18 and on through chapter 3, Paul describes how all of us our guilty of sin—”There is no one who is righteous, not even one;” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And with sin comes judgment, and death. But then there is Jesus, the righteousness of God who provides for us a way to salvation.

In chapter 4, he explores how faith saves us by giving us the example of Abraham who believed God and it was credited to him  as righteousness (Romans 4:3). He talks about how Jesus became the new Adam (Romans 5) who sets us free from the power of sin and death, And how with Christ as the head of the new humanity, we move from the inevitability of sin and judgment to life, grace, justification and salvation.

In Romans 6 and 7 Paul gives us images of the spiritual shift from being dead in our sin, to being alive in Christ. He talks about baptism and our dying and being raised in Christ, of formerly being a slave to sin, but now being set free by grace to serve righteousness, of dying to ourselves and our relationship to the law, and being set free to new life in the Spirit (Romans 7:6).

And then Paul says what we heard from our scripture from last week: “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Romans 7: 19).

And we are back at the opening statement of our passage, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” When Paul says this, he is describing the transformation the gospel of Jesus Christ brings to our soul. We were dead in our trespasses and sins. We were all guilty, no one righteous and the wages of sin is death. But there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And all of us could say along with Paul, “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” We know not just the reality of our guilt but that feeling of shame, where we feel exposed, and vulnerable and like nothing about us measures up. And Paul says to our guilty, shameful selves, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There is no judgment, no death sentence, no reason to fear. This is the good news that Paul has been describing for 7 chapters, the Grace of God has been poured out to us in Jesus and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

For many of us who grew up in the church, and therefore think we already know the contours of the gospel, we sometimes miss the wonder in this. Often when we meet converts to the Christian faith, we get the infectious joy they have, of finally feeling set free from past sins and addictions and finding themselves held in the loving arms of God.

But even those of us who have been raised in the church, can point to moments where the reality of God’s grace poured into our lives, and we felt our hearts strangely warmed. Personally, I can point to moments in my spiritual journey where I have been stunned by the reality that God’s first thought toward me is not judgment. I had read Jesus parables of the Talents, or his strong words for those who would be disciples, or his warning that if you deny me before others, he will deny you, and part of my soul always felt tormented, like maybe I’m not doing enough. And then the reality of God’s Spirit blew afresh in me and I knew: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

“In Christ” is our new reality. The Phrase “in Christ” is important. That little article “in” has several shades of meaning. It can mean us inside Christ, where we find ourselves in mystic union with God. It can mean being with Christ in all our life circumstances. It can mean a new mode of existence through Christ and our shift from judgment and death to the new reality of no condemnation. All of these describe dimensions of what this means. In the remainder of our passage, Paul describes being in Christ as ‘a life lived in the Spirit’ and contrasts it with a ‘life lived according to the flesh.’

Spirit and flesh are words that we sometimes misunderstand. The word for flesh in Greek (sarx) is the word for meat and the physical substance of our bodies. When the author of John says in the prologue to his gospel, “The word became flesh and dwelt among us, this is the word he uses. And spirit (pneuma), our word for wind or breath, can mean the non-physical part of ourselves. There is a whole history in Western thought of us dividing the world between the fleshly physical and the ethereal spiritual.

However, this is not how Paul is using either term here. Living life according to the flesh, in this section talks about life lived selfishly and self-centeredly. It simply means failing to look beyond yourself and your own desire. He has no problem with our physical selves (in fact this section closes with a word about the Spirit bringing life to our mortal bodies). Life according to the Spirit, doesn’t mean non-physical so much as living with the Holy Spirit—the Presence of God in our lives. In Paul’s writings, when he says spiritual or Spirit, he almost always means the Holy Spirit.

Paul is contrasting a life lived only for the flesh—what we want in the here and now—with life in Spirit—attentive to what God is doing in our lives and in our world. The invitation Paul is giving us, is an invitation to move away from our own self-centered existence—our fleshly desires to satisfy our own comfort—toward a cultivated awareness of God’s presence in our lives.  Paul doesn’t want us to just settle back into our old patterns of sin but to actively live mindful of God’s Spirit with us.

This is an appropriate word for us, don’t you think? Since March when a global pandemic descended upon America and we have all felt the anxiety and worry about what was coming and what it means for life as we know it,  we all have been tempted to seek our own comfort. I am currently about five pounds heavier than my pre-Covid quarantine self, as I spent the first few weeks of our stay-at-home order anxiously eating comfort food and junk. In the past couple of weeks as some in our community have balked at needing to wear a mask in stores, we see this same selfish, fleshly desire to do only what is comfortable for us.

Living life according to the Spirit and “setting our mind on the Spirit” is living in way that is not primarily self-referential.  It means attending to God’s Presence and paying attention to where God’s Spirit is blowing. This will lead us to care for the vulnerable—the poor, the widowed, the alien and the orphaned, but it will also lead us toward life and peace and the assurance that there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How do we do this? How do we get beyond ourselves, and our desire for self-comfort? The way to do this is to cultivate the life of prayer. Take a few moments each morning to breathe and pray and remind yourself that God is present with you. As you do this, you will become more aware of God’s presence, throughout your day. One of the benefits of prayer, is it sort of primes your pump to see God. You take a few moments of each day to turn your attention toward God’s Spirit, and then you see where the Spirit of God is blowing in your daily life.

One practice that has helped people cultivate an awareness of the Spirit is the daily Examen. It is an Ignatian practice (The Society of Jesus, a monastic order in the Catholic Church) which invites us to end each day by exploring the moments of our day where we felt God’s presence, and where we didn’t. If we close our day in prayer asking ourselves, “Where did we sense God today?  And where did God seem distant?” it helps us live mindful of God.

When God showed up in Christ, a new way of life and being was possible. We are no longer subjected to sin, death, judgment. We have entered a new phase of life where God’s grace abounds and there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But the truth of this only comes home to roost when we cultivate our awareness of God, and God’s Spirit with us. Let us learn to pay attention. The same Spirit that raised Christ from the dead gives life to us and dwells with us. When we learn to look for God, through prayer, we will see God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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