Therefore there is now no condemnation [no guilty verdict, no punishment] for those who are in Christ Jesus [who believe in Him as personal Lord and Savior].
We tend to make one of two mistakes as we think about our sins. We are either too sensitive to them or not sensitive enough. For some reason, some of us aren’t grieved when our selfishness hurts others and pushes gods away. We need the Holy Spirit’s light to shine on the damage our sins cause so that we become more sensitive to them.
In this verse, however, Paul is addressing the opposite problem: people who feel oppressive guilt and shame because of their sins. Real guilt focuses on specific sins. God uses real guilt to remind us that we’re forgiven. False guilt, though, consumes our minds and hearts with a generalized, foreboding self-condemnation: I’m a terrible person, and I’ll never be any better.
In one of the most glowing statements of fact in the Bible, Paul tell us that believers never have to fear God’s condemnation again. It’s over. Done. Gone. Now, God’s arms are open wide, and He pours out His love for His children- even those who are reluctant to believe He loves them. Real guilt is completely forgiven, and false guilt is washed away by the marvelous truth of God’s unconditional acceptance.
If you struggle with false guilt- the nagging, oppressive sense of shame that you’re too bad for God to love you- this is great news! Let the power and beauty of God’s forgiveness sink deep into your heart. It may take a while for the truth to completely uproot all the doubts and shame,but it’ll happen. Count on it.
I know His promises are true, that He has given me eternal life, and I will spend eternity with Him, it’s comforting beyond belief to know that you never have to put a question mark after anything to which God has put a period.
I have never found any way to undo what Christ has done.
The most difficult person to forgive is ourselves and that makes it hard to believe and accept that God has forgiven us. We feel as though somehow we need to pay for our sins in some way. Surely God expects some kind of a sacrifice or some good deed to offset our sins. We all are familiar with the “three strike system” from baseball to the criminal system and we reason that that’s fair. Everyone can make a mistake but if it isn’t corrected by the third try then we’re just out of the game and we might as well give up any hope of becoming a better person.
The destructive cycle of the devil is deception, enticement, failure, and guilt. We find this pattern taking place in the Garden and nothing has changed since. All of us at some point and to some degree have been deceived by the devil. Oh, he may not have been obvious. Perhaps it was a friend or acquaintance that persuaded us to engage in some sin. It didn’t appear that bad, at least initially. We rationalized it by concluding that it was normal otherwise so many others wouldn’t be participating in it. In the beginning it was fun. Can you imagine the initial feeling Eve and Adam experienced when their knowledge increased? From convincing us that a certain thing really isn’t as bad or as wrong as it may seem, the devil wraps it in a pretty package and like cheese in a trap, lures us in. Sin is attractive, enticing and fun. Most of us only intend to nibble at it, to taste the “wild side,” to indulge in sin momentarily. Few ever intend to be trapped and held hostage by sin against their will but sometimes after the exhilarating jump over the cliff, we hit the ground hard. No longer experiencing the thrill of flying, we now experience the horror of failure. Usually at this point, the devil shows the ugly side. In the story of the prodigal, we see this pattern. Leaving home with a rebellious, “I’m doing it my way,” the son was deceived into believing that he was wise and that he truly had great friends. That lasted for a season until those so-called friends discovered that he could no longer provide the parties. That’s how the devil operates. He uses us up and when we have nothing left, he abandons us to our guilt, shame, and failure. The world has no time or place for failures so they are discarded along the way. Coming to the end of Himself, the son decides to go back home with a hope the father will hire him as a servant. He has long given up on the idea that he could ever be a son again for his guilt and shame tell him that the best he’ll ever be is a hired servant. What a deception! Like us, this boy has no clue about the power of the Father’s love. I think when Jesus was telling the story, He was talking to those who had failed at being perfect and who were trying in some way to earn at least the status of a servant. If you notice how Jesus told the story you discover that the Father had no words of condemnation for the son. Oh, to be sure, the elder brother did, but not the Father. We may speak condemnation over ourselves or others may speak such things, but the son or daughter who comes home to the Father will only hear love, forgiveness, and acceptance.
Paul, who wrote todays text, knew something of the battle with condemnation. He hadn’t started his journey well. When we first meet him, he’s holding the cloaks of those who are stoning Stephen. We meet him again heading to Damascus with orders to round up, punish and jail Christians. As he meets Jesus on the road, he hears these words, “Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” I wonder how many times the devil and other people brought up Paul’s past? I wonder how often he remembered those he had been instrumental in their beatings or punishment. But somehow he got ahold of the incredible revelation that once we come to Christ and receive His pardon, we are no longer condemned, shamed, or guilty of our past. We have been truly made to be “new creatures in Christ Jesus.”
Paul asks a question that would be beneficial for each of us to answer:
Who will bring any charge against God’s elect (His chosen ones)? It is God who justifies us [declaring us blameless and putting us in a right relationship with Himself]. Who is the one who condemns us? Christ Jesus is the One who died [to pay our penalty], and more than that, who was raised [from the dead], and who is at the right hand of God interceding [with the Father] for us. Who shall ever separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
If it is God who justifies us, then who has the audacity to question our justification. If Christ paid the penalty for our sins, who can charge us for them again? Sometimes we have to yield to the decrees of God and accept them as the truth rather than listening to the deceptions of the devil and even our own hearts. I’m not suggesting that accepting the fact of forgiveness and mercy is something that can be taken lightly. Nor am I suggesting that we become insensitive to the ugliness of sin. Further, I am not suggesting that we should not feel overwhelmingly grateful for the grace of God. I admit that accepting His grace and mercy and walking in forgiveness is beyond my comprehension that such is possible. I wonder if the prodigal son woke up every day amazed to find himself home, not as a servant but as a son. I wonder if he sat at the table in wonder as he gazed on the father. I wonder if there were times when he approached the father to ask how he might pay in some way for his wrong. I wonder how often the father had to reassure him of forgiveness and acceptance. I know for me that’s quite often.
What I do know is this: Condemnation will push us toward even more destructive living. Guilt and shame will bring self-loathing that will cause us to feel that since we’re a failure anyway, why not just make things worse. Remember what Jesus said:
“The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows].”
Wherever you are, even if it’s at the bottom of the pit of failure, there is hope and help. The One who loves you, died for you, took your punishment upon Himself and offers you pardon. Pardon recognizes the guilt of the action but removes the penalty. Pardon isn’t earned or most of the time deserved. It is granted by the One who has the authority to do so and once granted the convicted can never be tried again. If you have sinned and are ready to admit that sin, come home to the Father. He’s been waiting for you. You won’t find punishment nor condemnation. Instead you’ll find grace and mercy. Rather than accusation you’ll receive acceptance. You won’t be put on a work program to pay for your sins. Instead you will be washed, given new garments, and the Father will throw a party in honor of His wayward child who has come home. Bring it all to Jesus. There’s no sin He won’t forgive as long as there is no sin we won’t confess. You really can be free from the shame and guilt of your past!
Dr. John Thompson