Rev. Hanko is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
The apostle Paul has shown us earlier in this epistle that since the fall of Adam in Paradise the whole human race is under condemnation.
That is true of those who are not under the gospel preaching. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against the ungodliness and unrighteousness of all who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. For when they know God as He manifests Himself in all the works of His hands, they do not glorify Him as God but turn to vain idols, and God gives them over to their sin until the measure of their iniquity is full.
But that is also true of those who are under the preaching of the gospel, who have received God’s covenant, His law, and His promises. By nature they also are dead in trespasses and sins. For “there is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10-12).
Therefore we also stand condemned before our own consciences. We confess with the apostle: “I delight in the law of God after the inward man: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Rom. 7:22, 23).
We continue to become ever more deeply aware of the fact that “in [us], that is, in [our] flesh, dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). We are guilty of sinning even when we are fully aware that it is wrong. But there are also many character sins, which others plainly see but to which we are blind. Besides all that, there are many secret sins that we commit, which cause us to pray with the psalmist: “Who can understand his errors? cleanse thou me from secret faults” (Ps. 19:12).
All our sins are open and exposed before the eyes of the sovereign Judge who rules over heaven and earth. How offensive our lives must be in the sight of the holy God. Our entire life is written in His book: every desire, every thought, every word, every deed, even in our relationships to one another. Nothing is overlooked, nothing is excluded. There is nothing in our lives that is not tainted with sin, for even our best works are as filthy rags in the sight of the true and living God. He judges us not only in this life, but also in the final judgment. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10).
Each of us may well cry out: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
We hang our heads in shame, condemned by our own consciences. Our whole life, with all our desires, thoughts, words, and deeds, testifies against us. We are worthy only to be cast out in wrath to everlasting condemnation in hell fire.
Yet, amazing as it may seem, even now, as in the great day of judgment, the righteous Judge of heaven and earth writes in bold letters across the pages of the book recording our deeds: No condemnation! Not in any sense of the word. No accusation of anyone or of my own conscience can condemn me. The verdict is: You are not guilty! You are righteous! You are worthy of eternal life with Me in My glory!
How is that possible!?
The answer lies in the “Therefore now!”
The apostle himself had cried out: “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” And he had added: “I thank God through Jesus Christ, our Lord.”
After clearly pointing out our misery, the apostle declares to us that blessed gospel truth: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
In Christ Jesus. That is the heart of the blessed gospel of salvation. Salvation is by grace alone in Christ Jesus.
God has eternally appointed the Son to be the Christ, and as the Christ to be the Head and Mediator of His people. God has given to Christ this people as members of His body, as stones of the temple of which He is the foundation. They are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God in Christ Jesus.” He is the Good Shepherd and they are the sheep of His pasture, His very special, peculiar possession.
Even as we are eternally in Christ, so we were in Him when He took on our nature in the likeness of sinful flesh. We were in Him during all His earthly sojourn and ministry, even until He died.
God laid upon His mighty shoulders the great burden of the guilt of all our sins. Every single sin of all the elect of all ages was laid upon Him. He, the Son of God’s love, closest to the heart of God, took upon Himself that burden of guilt. And He surrendered Himself to God to do the Father’s will as the Redeemer of His people.
No wonder that He is called “the Man of Sorrows” and “the Suffering Servant of Jehovah.” All His life, even from the time of His birth, He bore that burden, which grew heavier every step of the way. The climax came in the garden of Gethsemane, where He experienced a foretaste of the agony that awaited Him and where He surrendered Himself in absolute obedience to the Father. In that self-surrender He was unjustly condemned, mocked, spit upon, and beaten. The whole world joined in rejecting Him as the Christ, the Son of the living God, and thereby casting out God.
But the deepest agony was the total isolation in the utter darkness of hell, when He cried out: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” We now know the answer, for we carry it in our hearts. We were in Christ! One with Him, we were redeemed from the bondage of sin and death and brought into the glorious liberty of the sons of God, worthy of eternal life.
For we were in Christ Jesus when He arose, when He ascended to heaven, and we are now in Him in glory. From heaven He sends us His Spirit to arouse in us a deep awareness of our sin and misery, to create in us true sorrow and repentance. Only in the way of repentance and forsaking our sin can we experience that blessed assurance: Thy sins, though ever so many, are forgiven thee! By grace thou art justified, righteous in Christ Jesus. For God sees no sin in Jacob and no transgression in Israel!
But more. The wonder of grace only increases. As the apostle adds in verse 2: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death.” It is by the Spirit of Christ and through that living bond of faith in my heart that I am made one with Him, a member of His body, a branch in His vine. Through faith I realize the guilt of my sins, for those sins rise up against me condemning me. I experience that I am a slave of sin, in the bondage of my own depravity. It is through that same faith that I receive the assurance that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ. In Him my sins are forgiven, never to be reckoned against me. Not now, not in the day of judgment, not ever! I can confess from the heart: “I am righteous in Christ Jesus now and forever!”
In that great day of days, when the whole world, I included, will stand in judgment, all my life will appear before my consciousness, nothing excluded. I will hang my head in shame, for every moment of my existence will testify against me. But Christ, my Justifier, sits on the judgment seat, and He will declare me righteous in Him!
I will be counted worthy of eternal life only in Christ Jesus!
On the one hand, I say: “O wretched man that I am!” On the other: “No devil, no world, no friend or foe can condemn me! God declares me righteous. I thankGod in Jesus Christ, my Lord!”
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.
The same Spirit who justifies us before our own consciousness is the Spirit who sanctifies us in Christ. God, who has begun a good work in us, will also surely finish it. He preserves us by sanctifying us until we are prepared to enter into His rest.
But that does not mean that this is without a struggle on our part. The old man of sin still wars in our members. We are still prone by nature to hate God and our neighbor. We ourselves, apart from Christ, are incapable of doing any good and are inclined to all evil.
Therefore Satan can and does still attack us, the world can and does tempt and threaten us, our sinful nature is drawn to sin. For example, a drunkard may be delivered from his indulgence, yet all his life he must resist the temptation of falling back into his former sin. We have our character sins, our sinful inclinations against which we must fight as long as we live. Except for the grace of God we not only may but also surely will become ensnared in sin.
When we do sin we lose the assurance of our justification. David cries out in bitter anguish in Psalm 51: “Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation, and uphold me with thy free spirit.”
Yet sin no longer has dominion, grace abounds! We can now walk according to the dictates of the Spirit, who speaks to us through the Word. It is that Word of God, not some internal voice, that guides us as the lamp before our feet and the light upon our pathway.
And we confess with the sweet Singer of old: “By Thy good Spirit led from trouble and distress, my erring feet shall tread the path of uprightness” (Psalter #389).
Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!