Summary: Beginning with the bold statement, "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." Paul teaches about how living in Christ changes us, taking away the weakness of the flesh and instead clothing us in the power of Christ-likeness.
We come this morning to the heart of Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. Of all of Paul’s writings, the words of this one chapter are probably the best known. And the opening sentence of hope is almost beyond compare: “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That “in Christ” phrase is the same one we encountered in chapter six, and it continues the general theme that began back in chapter five. Last week, we explored chapter six, and Paul’s words about the profound change that occurs among those who are “in Christ,” as they die to their old selves and are raised to a new life. Where we pick up in chapter eight this morning, Paul begins to gives us some specific characteristics of this changed life, this new life, that is possible through Christ Jesus.
In order to make clear why “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” it is necessary for Paul to contrast life “in the Spirit” with life “in the flesh.” And it is in this contrast that we begin to get a more detailed picture of the changed life of those who live “in Christ.” If we are to understand what Paul is saying here, to be “in Christ” is completely different from not to be “in Christ.” As we talked about last week, this is not just a difference of degree, but an indisputably different kind of life. At its core, to be “in Christ” is to be part of something far larger than ourselves. It is to encounter a power astronomically greater than all our own willpower, physical power, and influence added together. Even with all those together, our power is still infinitesimal compared to the power of God in Christ Jesus. But that is where the limitations of life “in the flesh” become obvious. Our power is so limited by our capacities and our perspectives that there is simply no way life “in the flesh” can even compare to life “in the Spirit.”
I mean, just think about life “in the flesh.” This is a life we are all familiar with in one way or another. And Paul talks about it pretty plainly here. It is a life of selfishness; in particular, a life focused on the self and not on God. Life “in the flesh” is enslaved to sin and to death. In fact, sin is so powerful that it makes it impossible to follow God, and even actively separates us from God. So life “in the flesh” can lead ultimately to rebellion against God, even to the point of worshipping things that are not God. Money, financial security, youth, health, work, good looks, busyness, and technology are just a few of the things we idolize over and above God. Life “in the flesh” weakens us to such a degree that we are not even able to do the right thing.
As I reflect on life “in the flesh,” it occurs to me that it is very daunting, isn’t it? With the power of sin tempting us at every turn, and our own weaknesses pulling us further and further away from God; it kind of makes you wonder of one could possibly overcome such a force as life “in the flesh.” But that’s exactly what Paul is telling us IS possible in this passage from Romans. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Certainly, because we are humans, descendants of Adam, we live with the power of sin; and because of our sin we were condemned. But then, when God’s own Son took the form of sinful flesh and did not succumb to sin, sin itself became condemned. In other words, there is a power greater than sin, the power of God himself, which God unleashed in the world through his very own Son. And sin and has been dealt with once and for all. And that is why Paul is able to say, emphatically, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” In fact, what God has accomplished in Christ is freedom to truly live. Because the Spirit of Christ dwells in us, we have the possibility of life and peace.
Have any of you ever dreamt of being a painter? I don’t mean just having time to create artistic paintings as a hobby. I’m wondering if you have ever imagined being a great, beautiful, masterful painter along the lines of Michelangelo. That would certainly take not only your hobby time, but all of your waking hours. You would have to do like all those art students who spend hours sitting in art museum, sketching replicates of the masters’ greats. You’d probably need to get some art lessons, too, a lot of them actually. Still, no matter how many lessons you take, or how much time you practice, or how hard you try, you simply can’t do it. Even if you are very gifted, you will create only a facsimile of Michelangelo’s great art. The only way to paint like Michelangelo is to BE Michelangelo. And, of course, you can’t be Michelangelo unless the spirit of Michelangelo were alive in you. Then, and only then, could you create such beauty.