24 May 2009

Present Acquittal

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life will set you free . . .

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free . . .

The first sentence is how we functionally live the gospel. The second is what Paul actually said.

In listening to my dad's sermon on this text from a few weeks ago I began to see the important connection between the first two verses of Rom 8. Taken by itself, v. 1, despite the 'now,' might be seen as referring to what will really only be true on the last day (It is now decided that you will, at the end, be acquitted). But verse two confirms that the 'now' means exactly what it sounds like it means, because v. 2 says we have been set free, not that we will be set free.

I conclude: the reality as well as the feelings of condemnation that assault us every day, sometimes out of the blue and sometimes resulting from quite concrete sin, have no part in the life of the Christian. But that isn't how we live. We intuitively live as if we've been set free from ultimate condemnation on the last day, but in the meantime a bit of healthy somberness and wincing over our moral failings is in order. 'Thanks, Lord, for freeing us from final condemnation--what wonderful mercy--now let me get back to the little acts of self-indictment that underscore how little I deserve that mercy.'

According to Rom 8:1-2, that is not helping the gospel but denying it. There is no condemnation now because we have been set free. If that's true, then we're not only freed from having our sins articulated against us then, but also now. Sometimes it's others who articulate our sins against us; usually it's our own conscience. But conscience-condemnation is still condemnation, and all condemnation has been eliminated.

In light of the gospel--'Christ died for our sins'--sin is not the biggest problem in our life. There's an answer for sin shockingly readily available: Christ, atonement. Our fierce resistance to embrace the sheer freeness of that atonement is the biggest problem. That embrace is what the New Testament calls 'faith.' And it results in no condemnation--not only then, but also now. Not only doctrinally, but also emotionally.

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