Romans 8: No condemnation

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

Few lines of Holy Scripture have been used more by God to encourage assurance and comfort in my own heart. In my own Bible, the page on which Romans 8 appears is a page well worn, smudged from the constant wear of my hands turning to it and my finger running along verse 1 as I have read it over and over and over again. This verse stands out as one of the Apostle Paul’s great indicatives, those statements of fact on which a believer is supposed to rest. It isn’t calling us to do anything, there’s no command to follow, it just is. It’s a declaration of good news given to believers. But what is it saying?

It comes right at the end of Paul’s description, in Romans 7, of what is characteristic of the Christian life, namely, our constant struggle against sin. The Christian believer, born again by God and given a new heart with new desires, now delights in the law of God, even in his inner being, says Paul. And yet Paul can also say, “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” His answer? Jesus Christ! 

And so, he declares with exultant, doxological joy that even though his own thoughts at times condemns him because of the still virulent sin which rages within, he can rest assured, that God does not condemn him. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. As D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones puts it, "a Christian is a person who has been taken entirely outside the realm of any possible or conceivable condemnation. The Christian has finished with the realm of condemnation; he has been taken right out of it; he has nothing more to do with it… Had you realized that?"[1]

The word condemnation is itself a legal term. It’s what a judge declares when the court finds a defendant guilty of some crime. And so, the act of condemning is the final verdict, it is the law’s fiat giving official status to the guilty party: “Condemned!” Any criminal brought before a judge fears this verdict; infinitely so before the Infinite Judge of all creation! As Octavius Winslow writes, “To that court every individual is cited. Before that bar each one must be arraigned. Conceived in sin, and shapen in iniquity (Ps. 51:5 KJV), man enters the world under arrest – an indicted criminal, a rebel manacled, and doomed to die.”[2]

What our world today does not realize, and many in the church have seem to have forgotten, is that all unbelievers right now stand condemned under God’s righteous wrath. Twice in John chapter 3 do we see this stirring truth where John tells us that “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (vs. 18) and “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (vs. 36).

This is, in essence, the bad news Paul unfolds in Romans chapters 1-3, which provides the only proper backdrop to hear the good news of the Gospel explored in chapters 4-11. And here, in Romans 8 verse 1 we hear the melodic line of the Epistle reach a beautiful crescendo, that there is now no condemnation! Whereas all of us came into this world and lived our lives as rebels and enemies of God (Ephesians 2:1-3), now, because of Jesus Christ and our being one with him by faith alone, we are at peace with God!

And again, in the context of what Paul has just enumerated in Romans 7 where he describes the constant threatening’s of the law and the incessant pangs of conscience; or even what he’ll go on to describe in Romans 8:13, that the Christian is a person still at war against his own flesh and the temptations of Satan – even still, when it comes to God, here we see there is no threat, there is no war, and there is no enmity; only peace. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Of course, we cannot fully appreciate the force of this good news without properly understanding what Paul means by the phrase “those who are in Christ Jesus.” It’s clear he’s speaking here about believers who have believed in Jesus and thus, by the Holy Spirit now indwelling them, are found, spiritually speaking, in Christ.  The believer and Christ, much like a husband and wife, are now spiritually one. This is what’s known as the doctrine of our union in Christ, a doctrine which undergirds and ties together all of Paul’s theology. Consider Paul’s stunning words in 1 Corinthians 1:30, that “because of God you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.” 

The Puritan John Owen, meditating on the centrality of a believer’s union, exclaimed that our union with Christ is the “principle and measure of all spiritual enjoyments and expectations.”[3] Likewise, Puritan pastor Thomas Goodwin expressed a similar conviction that “being in Christ, and united to him, is the fundamental constitution of a Christian.”[4] But it was John Calvin who most famously expressed the essential need we all have to be found in Christ when he provocatively asked, “how do we receive those benefits which the Father bestowed on his only-begotten Son?” Calvin answers by saying we must first “understand that as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from him, all that he has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value to us.”[5]

And this is exactly what the Apostle Paul is getting at Romans 8 verse 1. By believing in Jesus and thus being united to Jesus, we can now participate in the righteousness and justification of Jesus!

Do you see? Our peace with God doesn’t come, it can’t come, through anything we do or earn or merit ourselves, but solely and simply by believing in and being united to the Prince of Peace Himself. Our justification – which, legally speaking, is the exact opposite of condemnation – our justification cannot be obtained apart from believing in the risen Savior whose resurrection was a vindication for himself as well as our justification before God (Isaiah 50:1-9; 1 Timothy 3:16)![6] 

Friends, here is the full Gospel given to us in one marvelous verse and it reverberates with the assuring grace of our justification the more we meditate on it. In Christ we will never hear a condemning word come from God our Father, even as we look back and see a week filled with sin. In Christ we have absolute certainty that our salvation is secure, no matter what condemnation thunders forth from God’s law. And as we move verse by verse through this chapter we will climb higher and higher into the heavenly air of our union with Christ, seeing all the ways in which that union will blossom forth in our daily walk here and now. 

Though we find ourselves in very insecure times, the wider society apparently ripping at the seams, nothing is so disorienting and alarming as looking inwardly at our own heart. Again, this is what Paul did in Romans 7, and therein he saw his greatest trouble and burden. Out of all of Paul’s afflictions, and he had many (2 Cor. 11:23-29), nothing made him cry out “O wretched man that I am” like an awareness of his own sin and corruption.[7]  If we’re honest with ourselves, we should see and feel the same. But I also hope you find that same comfort Paul did in Christ, that there is now and forever more the unshakeable truth of God’s unchanging love. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” 

Stephen Unthank (MDiv, Capital Bible Seminary) serves at Greenbelt Baptist Church in Greenbelt, MD, just outside of Washington, DC.  He lives in Maryland with his wife, Maricel and their two children, Ambrose and Lilou.



[1] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans: Exposition of Chapter 7:1-8:4, The Law: Its Function and Limits (The Banner of Truth Trust, 2001), p. 271

[2] Octavius Winslow, No Condemnation In Christ Jesus, (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), p. 3

 

[3] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews in The Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1991), 20:146. I found the quote in Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 483.

[4] Thomas Goodwin, Of Christ the Mediator, in The Works of Thomas Goodwin (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2006) 5:350. Likewise, I found this quote in Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2012), 483.

[5] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. McNeill (Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1960), 3.1.1.

[7] Thomas Jacomb, Sermon on the Eight Chapter of the Epistle To The Romans, Verses 1-4 (The Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), p. 12

 

Stephen Unthank

MORE FROM THE ALLIANCE

On YouTube

The Story of Scripture

Reformed Resources

Christmas Sale through December 1st!

Find Out More

Register for the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology