No Condemnation

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

(Romans 8:1, KJV)

This is good news!

But it’s good news that runs much more than skin-deep.

Some read “no condemnation” as “you can’t tell me I’m doing anything wrong!” In fact, that’s really hands-down the most common application I see and hear for this scripture. Following as a close second is the reminder not to tell others that they’re doing anything wrong, because there is no condemnation in Christ. But there is a depth of riches in this truth that extends far, far beyond this scratch of the surface of this verse!

For example, I once listened to someone explain, “I don’t like that whole sinner-saved-by-grace thing. I’d rather remember that I’m a new creation in Christ.” She was certain that she was growing in power and strength in her faith by putting away any thoughts of her sinfulness and maximizing thoughts of her righteousness in Christ. And some variation on this theory is active in a wide variety of Christian thinking and teaching and advice. Don’t accept words that make you feel condemnation. Only accept words that remind you that you are loved, valued, worthy, new creations, more than conquerors.

But it’s a flawed foundation. Because the truth is that we can never properly maximize all these glorious thoughts of our righteousness in Christ if we insist on minimizing thoughts of our sinfulness in the flesh!

“…For I will forgive their iniquities and will remember their sins no more.”

(Hebrews 8:12, BSB)

Many people will suggest that we should tackle memories of our past sins by trying to forget them. As many times as our sins come to mind, we should cling to the truth that God forgets our sins, and then we should try to do the same thing for ourselves.

And come to think of it, this is exactly what the world already teaches us, apart from Christ. Even before I was saved, if I had done something I was ashamed of, I would try not to think of it. Because that’s what everyone says you should do. Don’t dwell on the past – you can’t change it. Don’t beat yourself up over it – we all make mistakes. Don’t look back – keep moving forward. And I’d try to think of something else, try not to dwell on past failures, try to do better next time, just like everyone I had ever known always said I should. But even though everyone seemed to agree that was the right thing to do, it never set me free. 

And this really seems inadequate in the glorious perfection of God’s ways. Because we all know the truth. Try as we might, we may force thoughts of our sins to the background, but we can’t erase them from memory. And if the best that the world has to offer is just to try not to think about them, that can’t be the same answer that our Father in heaven has for us.

So there must be a deeper and richer and more beautiful truth to what it means to walk in a life that is free from condemnation in Christ.

counterintuitive

Interesting how God’s way of setting us free is often directly contrary to what we expect.

Interesting how God’s way of setting us free from our past sins is not to remove them from our memory.

He could, of course. Our sins are removed from His memory in eternity, but they are not removed from our memory in this life.

And I learned, over time, that there is a very specifically-beautiful biblical reason for this.

“…Therefore I tell you, because her many sins have been forgiven, she has loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

(Luke 7:47, BSB)

The woman who was forgiven much loved much. Her many sins were fresh before her eyes, her grief over them was great, and she loved her Savior much.

And so I have come to realize on a very personal level, from her example, that the way to walk free from condemnation is not to forget our past sins, after all.

When I came to Christ, I was flooded with the gratitude that Jesus Christ would forgive me and save me even with all of my sins. Like the woman who washed His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, I had so, so very much to forgive, and I was so, so very grateful.

But God did not remove the memory of those past sins from me. I didn’t forget about them. At first, I thought the devil was reminding me of those past sins. I knew that he was my great accuser, and I countered any thoughts of my past sins with reminders to myself that the enemy condemned me, but in Christ there was no condemnation.

Still, why did those memories remain? I knew that God erased my sins entirely, and they would not even exist when I stood before Him, as He specifically chose to forget them. But in life, I still remembered them…

Over time, I became comfortable with the memories of my past sins. I became comfortable because I began to respond to them in a certain way, which just seemed natural at the time. I didn’t actually realize what a great gift of the Lord this was until I looked back on it in the light of some future interactions that revealed the truth.

At first, I was desperately sad about all the wrong that I had done. I squirmed under the ugliness of my life before Christ, and it was so uncomfortable. In response, I would apologize to the Lord, again and again, and thank Him for His mercy. And soon I began to realize that every time I thought of an old sin, I was energized in worshipping the Lord my God and I was renewed with love and wonder over His grace and mercy.

I found myself reflecting on those old sins and praying over them, collectively or individually, “Lord, I am so sorry. What great sin and destruction I worked in this world. I am so sorry for all those I hurt, for all my part in destruction, and I ask for Your help for those that I have harmed. I am so grateful You would rescue me from the bondage that I lived in to sin. Who am I, that You would choose to give me grace and let me see the truth? Thank You for this second chance. Thank You for Your abundant mercy when I in no way deserved it. Help me to serve You faithfully in all ways. Help me to see any sin and change it. Help me to keep Your ways carefully. Thank You for Your great, great love.”

My multitude of old sins did not continue to bring shame or despair or hopelessness. Rather, they brought an upwelling of gratitude and love for my Father and the Savior of my soul.

And I realized that as the enemy accused me, and I accepted all his accusations as true along with so much more, and turned in repentance and gratitude to the Savior who redeemed me when I so clearly didn’t deserve it, then the weight of those accusations simply evaporated. There was no condemnation.

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

(Romans 8:1, KJV)

There was plenty of memory of sin. But it was all worked to the good, glorifying God as evidence of His exceedingly great grace and mercy in my life.

The way to walk free from condemnation, it turned out, was actually to remember.

a hard saying

For some reason, some of the teachings that hold the most freedom can sometimes be the most difficult to accept. As beautiful as this gift of God is, there are still many I encounter who don’t want to be reminded of past sin.

As I was discussing repentance with a friend, she said, “I don’t want my nose rubbed in old sin.” And I was surprised. Why not?

Sin is not old or new. It’s repentant or unrepentant. If you are repentant about your sin, I thought, why would you feel like your nose was rubbed in it? Wouldn’t you just be bringing it before the throne of mercy again, in gratitude for all that glorious forgiveness?

But if you are unrepentant in sin…Shuddering, I realized that if you are unrepentant in sin, you would live in a constant state of condemnation. You would see it everywhere and you would feel it all the time.

For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation…

(Hebrews 10:26-27, KJV)

You would hate it and wish others would stop it, all the time dragging it about with you wherever you went. There is no condemnation in Christ; there is nothing but condemnation apart from Christ.

“Have you repented?” I asked. “Yes,” she answered. “Your actions don’t seem consistent with repentance. Are you sure?” I asked. “I can’t show you a receipt for my repentance,” she said. “And if you cared about me, you wouldn’t keep judging me.” But if you were truly repentant, I later wrote, then anytime you thought about this thing again, you would not feel condemned. You would feel repentant and grateful for mercy and forgiveness.

There is no condemnation in Christ. That doesn’t mean that if you are in Christ no one will ever condemn you. People and the enemy may still condemn you all the time. It means that if you are in Christ, you will no longer feel condemnation no matter who condemns you. You will feel repentance and forgiveness, instead. It means that if you feel condemnation, you are not abiding in Christ.

The thing is, people act as though the opposite of condemnation is acceptance. Don’t condemn me, accept me. Don’t condemn others, accept them. But the opposite of condemnation is not acceptance. The opposite of condemnation is repentance. We are set free to see and repent of our sin ~ and it is that repentance that allows us to dwell in the acceptance that Jesus Christ offers to all those who repent and draw near, calling upon His name!

self-searching

People don’t want to be condemned. The promise of no condemnation, from a worldly standpoint, is a license to tell any-and-everyone that they can’t judge or condemn you in any way, and boy does that sound good to the flesh! Then, if you feel condemned, it’s the other person’s problem, and you can tell them where to take it.

But instead what I had realized was that if I felt condemnation, that was a me-problem, not a them-problem. If I felt condemnation, it was because I was not repentant. It was a sign that I needed to return to the Lord immediately to confess, “Lord, I am so much worse than anything they could ever even accuse me of. I am so sorry for the sinfulness and deceitfulness that dwells in my very flesh. Without You, I am doomed to be the most evil and destructive of all creatures. Thank You for rescuing me; thank You for keeping me; let me live in Your ways and obey Your commands.”

Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

(Job 42:6, KJV)

And what could be bad about this? To tell you the truth, I would rather remember my sins all day long, a thousand times a day, and bask in the wonderful truth of God’s boundless grace and mercy and love for me, a wretched sinner, rescued and redeemed from the grasp of the enemy, than for one moment forget my sins and think I had become strong. 

As I thought about the woman who was forgiven much and loved much, I realized that by reviewing all that forgiveness, I was walking in forgiveness, and walking in the love of the Lord who had forgiven me. On the other hand, if I set about rejecting all those memories of sin, I would only become a person who was forgiven little in my own mind…A person who might, then, love little.

“…But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

(Luke 7:47, BSB)

In one of those moments where something clicks and become clear, I realized that we have all been forgiven very, very much. It is only in our own minds that we might convince ourselves, as this Pharisee did, that we have been forgiven little, much to our own destruction.

freedom

The truth about freedom from condemnation is not that it is found in forgetting about our sins. It is found, rather, in remembering all of our sins while worshipping God for His grace and mercy and love in the face of our sins. Where sin abounds, grace does much more abound.

…But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound…

(Romans 5:20, KJV)

The truth is, to walk free from condemnation is not to forget our past sins, but to remember them. To remember, often, the greatness of our sins; so that we may remember, often, the greatness of God’s forgiveness; so that we may stir up, often, the greatness of our love for the One who loved us enough to save us!

And if we will consider our sins as a practice of more-thoroughly-realizing God’s grace, we will worship Him more and more rightly, and find freedom indeed! We will know the truth, and the truth will set us free!

by Sydney Michalski

backstory

Sadly, I have learned a lot about what false teaching and false Christianity look like from this one particular past-friend of mine. For years and years, whenever I caught up with her, she would share what she was learning in the Lord, and often share a biblical truth that was just right for something I was going through at the time. And as I would pray and study God’s word and discuss with my husband, we really did learn a lot! But then a day came when my friend was faced with a hard choice. Her marriage was falling apart. She said that her husband had turned away from the Lord, and that he was being very controlling and manipulative and verbally cruel. She said that she knew, and she had told her husband, that God abhorred divorce, and as far as it depended upon her, she would never divorce her husband because she was determined to obey God’s command. She said if her husband wanted to leave her, she would of course respect his decision, but she would not disobey God herself. But a day came when she said something different. She said, “God told me I would die and my children would be destroyed unless I got a divorce. So I forced my husband into giving me a divorce. But it’s okay, because God told me to do it.” And then, I got this really unusual front-row seat to seeing how it’s possible to twist the word of God in all kinds of ways to accommodate what you want to believe. You see, it’s not the divorce, itself, that was the problem…It was the deliberate decision to do something that she had expressly acknowledged that God didn’t want her to do, and then the decision to absolutely justify it and even to insist that God told her to do it. That kind of willful disobedience and refusal to repent is a hard case, and sadly instructive of many ungodly words and behaviors that masquerade as Christianity. I hope you will all join me in praying for her to one day repent and be restored ~ with man it is impossible, but thankfully, with God all things are possible.

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