Summary: Paul teaches us how we can be assured of our right standing with God even though we continue to struggle with sin in our lives.
Before we moved to Tampa our family lived in Pennsylvania for 16 years. The first 5 of those years we lived in western Pennsylvania. And then we spent 11 years in central Pennsylvania. We lived in State College, PA, which is the home of Penn State University. State College is located in a county known as Centre County, and if one looks at a map of Pennsylvania, it is easy to see why the county is called “Centre County.” Pennsylvania is roughly rectangular in shape, and Centre County is right in the center of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties.
Over the years that we lived in Centre County people would ask us when we traveled where it was that we lived. Most people had never heard of State College, but to help them get an idea of where it was, I would tell them to point to the very center of Pennsylvania, and they would be pointing to our county and our town.
If I were to ask you to point to a passage in the Apostle Paul’s letters that is at the very center of his thinking, which passage in his 13 letters would you point to? Frankly, that would not be easy to do because of the richness of Paul’s writing. But our passage today has as good a claim as any to represent the very center of the Apostle Paul’s thinking.
In our text for today the Apostle Paul draws a conclusion to all that he has been saying throughout his letter to the Romans. Our text has a big, thoroughly Pauline view of God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and how each Person of the Trinity brings about our salvation. Our text has one of the clearest statements about how God brings us into a right relationship with himself, and then keeps us in a right relationship with himself.
Our text teaches us how there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Let us read Romans 8:1-4:
"1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 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 for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." (Romans 8:1-4)
Let me ask you a question: “How can you be sure that on the day you die and stand before God, you will not be condemned?”
That’s a good question for every person to answer. How can you be sure that on the day you die and stand before God, you will not be condemned?
Paul has been spending much of his time in Romans making sure that we know the right answer to that question. He wants to make sure that our trust is in the right place, that our confidence is not misplaced. And that question continues to be on his mind in Romans 8.
People have given various answers to this question. The Atheist says, “There is no God and so it really doesn’t matter. I don’t think there’s going to be a judgment and, therefore, I’m okay. I don’t need to fear being condemned by God, because the judgment doesn’t exist because God doesn’t exist.” They take comfort in that answer.
Agnostics have pretty much the same answer as the Atheists. They are not sure that God exists. And so they don’t fear God’s judgment because they are not sure that there will be one.
There are others who are Universalists, and they say, “The reason I don’t need to fear being condemned by God is that God is going to bring everybody into his Kingdom.” It may be because God is kind and grandfatherly like a giant Santa Claus in the sky, and he’s just going to bless everybody. Or perhaps God will accept everybody because there is some spark of goodness in everyone.
Others are simply defiant and think they are the Masters of their own destiny. Do you remember Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who was put to death in 2001? His last words were a written statement that included the last few lines of W. E. Henley’s (1849-1903) poem, “Invictus.” Do you remember it? McVeigh wrote, “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.” Such defiance is brash but it surely melted the moment McVeigh stepped into the presence of God.
Paul is not asking us to contemplate what the unbeliever takes comfort in as he stands before God on the day of his death.