What does it mean that there is no condemnation in Christ (Romans 8:1)?
"No condemnation" can be defined in courtroom language. To have "no condemnation" declared means to be found innocent of the accusation, to have no sentence inflicted and no guilty verdict found. By the grace of God, believers in Jesus Christ will not face the condemnation of God. "We have passed out of death into life" (1 John 3:14).
The Bible teaches that every human being will be brought before the judgment throne of God for an ultimate and decisive judgment (2 Corinthians 5:10), and Christ Himself will be the judge (John 5:27). We are all naturally under the condemnation of God: "whoever does not believe is condemned already" (John 3:18b). But Christians will not be found guilty on judgment day (John 3:18a; Matthew 25:33–34).
However, the "no condemnation" involves more than acquittal on judgment day. In Romans 8:1 the apostle Paul speaks in the present tense, as evidenced by the word now. Also, notice the word therefore, which points the reader to the previous passage of Romans 7:21–25. In Romans 7 Paul describes his struggle against the sinful nature—a struggle that every believer experiences. Paul writes, "So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand" (Romans 7:21) and, "Wretched man that I am!" (Romans 7:24). Paul is expressing his hatred for the sinful nature which continues to war against his new nature in Christ—Paul hates the sin he commits, but he is also thankful because he has been set free from slavery to sin. He now has the ability to do what is good because Christ has delivered him (Romans 7:25).
Paul takes this a step further in Romans 8 when he teaches believers are not only free from bondage to sin, they are free from the inner emotions and thoughts that tend to bring feelings of condemnation to the Christian when he does commit sin (Romans 8:2). Christians are free from the "law of sin and death," which means, although they will commit sin, the Law no longer has the power to condemn them. We are not under the Law's condemnation because Jesus fulfilled ("filled-up, completed") the expectations of the Law perfectly, and believers are "in Christ" (Romans 8:3–4). Because believers are in Christ, they have the joy of being counted as righteous, simply because Christ is righteous (Philippians 3:9; 2 Corinthians 5:17–21). Paul also points out that genuine Christians, although they struggle, will not live "according to the flesh;" that is, they will not persist in a constant state of sinful living (Romans 8:5).
Paul encourages us that we need not fear condemnation because we can come to God as our loving, forgiving Father (Romans 8:15–16). Christians who live in shame and guilt over past failures are needlessly condemning themselves when they ought to be "forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13). Fear can be paralyzing, "but perfect love casts out fear" (1 John 4:18). As Christians, we must understand that our justification is found in Christ alone—in His finished work on the cross—not in what we do or don't do (Romans 3:28). Believers can find solace in the assurance that we have been adopted into God's own family and have been made heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). Nothing can separate us "from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39).
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