No Condemnation

Sermon 1796 Romans 8.1-10 March 27, 2022

“Read a book!” my children told me. “I do read,” I said in defense of myself. Then I ran off a list of the recent books (past two years) I have read. All non-fiction. All pretty grim. Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit was one of them. It was a dense biography of Theodore Roosevelt and Howard Taft. Yeah, Taft was as interesting as punctuation. They groaned. “Something fun! A novel!” So I picked up Harlem Shuffle. The writing wasn’t that sharp and the plot was sort of predictable. Without peeking I know how it is all going to end. A black furniture owner gets sucked into organized crime and loses everything. At every step of the story he does something he feels guilty for and expects the hammer to fall. He is condemned to live the life of petty crime his father forged for him, only on a grander scale because he has more ambition. And this is a “fun read?” After I finally finish this novel, I’m thinking of The Gates of Europe, a short, 448 page romp through Ukrainian history.

But Harlem Shuffle. I have a hard time getting into the story. It’s not that I’ve never been in trouble. None of us were angels when we were little. No, this novel would be easy for us all to put down because, thanks to our faith, we live a life of

No Condemnation

1. Jesus took the rap (1-4).

2. The Spirit set a different course (5-10).

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit (1-4).”

There is a lot to unpack here. We have to talk about condemning Jesus as sinful man and this “law of the Spirit of life.”

We all agree that crime must be punished. The law knows no forgiveness. If a guy plows over five bicycle riders on the highway, we expect that guy to serve heavy jail time. It’s only right. That’s the law. The driver cannot go scot free.

But stop and think what the function of the law is. Why are there speed limits? Why are there age requirements for, say, drinking and gambling? Why are certain behaviors illegal? The law, at its core, sets a standard that people should live by. Law-abiding is one of the best adjectives you can use for a fellow American. That’s why when nobody obeys the law, they change the law. They repealed Prohibition so having a beer or a whiskey was no longer illegal. The same for marijuana. The law exists to set a standard for acceptable behavior. When those standards of acceptable behavior are broken, punishment is due. My hammering out the garage windows of our rented house was beyond the beyond. I did hard time after getting my backside tanned.

But what if the law, which is perfectly reasonable and good, is not obeyed at all? What if you have such a group of criminals that they are incapable of keeping the law? That’s the situation God found himself in. He wasn’t the cause. He created Adam and Eve holy and sinless. But when Adam and Eve sinned, they brought sin upon the whole human race. Every one of their offspring was incapable of keeping God’s law. It wasn’t a design flaw on God’s part. It was sabotage on our part. Topple the cows! Curdle the milk! Let the air out of the milk truck’s tires!

That’s where we were by nature. Hateful and hating. As Paul will say later in our text, our sinful human nature “does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”

If I were God I would have walked away or cancelled the whole project. It would have made sense. It would have been reasonable. But our God is so beyond our understanding, he did something amazing, something only he could. We have no condemnation because Jesus took the rap.

God sent, “his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us (3-4).”

We don’t think of Jesus this way. He is sinless, holy, perfect! “Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?” he challenged his enemies. They kept their mouths shut. They had never seen Jesus do anything wrong. Going through Jesus’ suffering and death during our Wednesday Lenten services, we repeatedly see Jesus was innocent. They killed him for saying he was the Son of God—which he was!

But when Jesus hung on the cross, that’s when God the Father treated Jesus as sinful man. That’s what a sin sacrifice is, a substitute. In the Old Testament, when you sinned big time you brought a sin sacrifice. You deserved to die for what you did, but because God is merciful and gracious, he demanded this animal die in your place. So the lamb, ram, ox, cow, dove bit the dust. The sinner could sleep in his own bed that night. This might seem strange to us, but we had something like that in our own history. If you had the money, you did not have to fight in the Civil War. If you were drafted, you could hire someone for $500 (a bit of money back then) to be your replacement. The Union didn’t care—they got their soldier. This is one reason young John D. Rockefeller and Grover Cleveland survived the Civil War—they hired replacements! Your replacement satisfied the requirements of the law.

Jesus, our replacement, satisfied the requirements of God’s law. Sin was punished. God withdrew his blessed presence from Jesus when Jesus hung on the cross. I know this because Jesus cries out in surprise, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” For God to forsake you—that’s hell!

Sinful man was sent to hell. Sin was punished. Jesus took the rap for us, so we are free. There is no condemnation for us.

Now, I promised I would get to that “law of the Spirit of life” phrase and it won’t take nearly as long. We have a phrase, “My word is law!” Whatever Dad or Mom, the warden, whoever, says, goes. God’s word is law. What God says goes. But there are two words of God, two “laws,” if you will. One of them is what we usually think of when we think of law—the Ten Commandments. Paul refers to it when he mentions a “law of sin and death.” The Ten Commandments can only lead to inciting sinful man to sin further, because we are so enraged that God demands so much of us, and the Ten Commandments also lead to death, because that is the punishment for sin. The other “law” of God is what we refer to as Gospel. This word of God leads to the Spirit, for the Holy Spirit works in our hearts through the Gospel and produces life, spiritual life with God here in time and eternal life with God in heaven. Thanks to the Gospel message of Jesus’ sacrificial death for us, there is no condemnation for us.

There is no condemnation. The Spirit has set a different course.

I suppose one of the problems I am having with Harlem Shuffle is the guy can opt out of the system. He is not that deep in it. A confession here, a wiretap there, one or two years in prison and he will be done with it once and for all. But he keeps going with the flow, digging his grave deeper and deeper.

We could face the same thing. Lots of people have wasted the “breaks” life gave them. We could waste the sacrifice Jesus made for us. We do have that terrible power. Why don’t our lives become just another dull crime story?

The Spirit has set a different course.

Paul minces no words. If we revert to our old course of life, “living according to the sinful nature,” we will die. We will be enemies of God, always waging war against him, accepting no cease fire, trusting no peace talks. Absolutely nothing we could do would nudge God towards the negotiating table. War today, war tomorrow, war forever, that is, until we are no more. That’s the grim reality for those who are controlled by the sinful nature.

“You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ in in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness (9-10).”

The Spirit has set us on a different course. Paul earlier said we have our “minds set on what the Spirit desires.” We rejoice with the truth. We want to carry out God’s will. We wake up every morning knowing that the Lord has a blessing in it for us. Every prayer we pray will receive a good answer, either exactly what we prayed for or something even better. We have peace and life. I can go to sleep at night knowing if this was my last day on earth, I will wake up in heaven (without the aches and pains). Even when obstacles pop up in my life, I can keep my head and look for the way forward without starting a blame war. I can enjoy the life God has given me, no matter how complicated it is or no matter how simple and frugal it may be.

I am also describing your life, even if I don’t know you all that well, because I know the Spirit lives in you. Ever since you were baptized the Holy Spirit made his home in our hearts. Forget short-term rentals. The Holy Spirit signed a lifetime lease—and more! To eternity and beyond! He is never going to leave us. Together with the Holy Spirit comes Jesus Christ, the one the Holy Spirit is so busy revealing to us. Jesus lives in us, guiding us by his example, his once for all death on the cross assuring us every day our sins are forgiven. Because of this, our body (and here Paul is talking about the sinful human nature who so often shows itself in terrible sins committed by the body) is dead. It no longer controls our lives. It cannot add anything constructive to our lives. But that body of sin is no longer us. The real us, the spiritual us, the Christian us, our spirit is alive to God and will live forevermore.

Is this true? Is this real? Or is this just another unpublished Harlem Shuffle I concoct for you every week? Life under the gun, life controlled by the sinful human nature leads to divisions, hatred, envy, jealousy. Everybody is always trying to pull everyone else down. Nobody can agree with anybody. They’ve stopped trying. Nothing is sure, nothing is lasting, nothing is true. Grab it while you can because it isn’t going to be there tomorrow. That’s life without Jesus. I think I can remember times when I lived perilously close to that attitude. I am not proud of those times.

Life under the Spirit, life with Jesus in your heart, that unites us. It makes us care for each other. Instead of jealousy, we build each other up. We are there for each other even when it is inconvenient. We go out of our way to show kindness. We make the sacrifices necessary instead of demanding others make the sacrifices. There is a spring in our step, a smile on our face, a joy in our heart. It’s living.

No Condemnation

1. Jesus took the rap (1-4).

2. The Spirit set a different course (5-10).

Surprised there were no “religious” books on my reading list? Don’t condemn me! I learned long ago that most of those “religious” books, especially the ones that the Christian bookstores put in the front of the store as best-sellers were more of the law of the flesh. Principles and rules, guidelines and new commandments to follow. Do this and you can have a purpose driven life, do that and you can find contentment, eat this biblical diet and lead a healthy, godly life. Do, do, do to get, get, get. That’s law. I’d rather read books that don’t pretend to be religious. Except one. My kids know I will always be reading the Bible, the only Good Book.

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