Why We Are Free

a study in Romans 8:1     “Religion is what caused September 11!” The angry voice on the radio continued to decry religious belief as the reason behind terrorism, persecution and just about every evil in the world.  I felt defensive at first.  I’m a pastor.  Some might say I’m in the “business” of religion.  But as I listened to the reports from all over the world, to the many hurt and frightened people who vented their anger and pain after that horrific day, I realized that “religion” is far from a positive concept to many.  And I think I know why.

Individuals come into our church every week weary of the world, weary of their personal lives and sometimes, honestly, tired of trying so hard to be a good person or a faithful Christian.  I see it in their faces and sense that in their hearts they are discouraged and wondering where all the joy is.  Jesus said the truth shall set you free. But people are far from free.   They feel weighed down by the cares of the world and then to make their load even more top heavy, they’re saddled with a lot of religious duties that they struggle to keep up and sometimes just plain resent.  How many committee meetings can you attend?  How long can you go without breaking a commandment or at least thinking about it?  Did you do your devotions today?  Did you tithe this month?  Oops, forgot to pray?

This is what religion can do to us, with three fairly predictable results:  we either need to fanatically follow a tyrannical regime, which in its most extreme leads to terrorism and suicide bombers.  Or, we can go through the motions of going to church, or the temple or a mosque and try to live the life because it’s the right thing do—but we know in our hearts that there is no real joy or passion or love.  Or, we can just run away from anything to do with God because it’s all too much.

But there is a better alternative.  There is true freedom. There is joy, love and a passion for God that is healthy, vital, real and life changing—and all this is found in what is probably my favorite chapter of the whole Bible, Romans 8.  This is the spiritual Mt. Everest, the height and the best of the love of God!

No Condemnation! Romans 8:1 makes one of the boldest, most freeing and revolutionary statements found in any sacred writing:  “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ.” Do you know what it means to live with “no condemnation?”  Or to be “in Christ?”   If you’re not really sure, then please read on, because these two concepts work together to in a powerful way. Condemnation is a curse.  It is a poison on the planet that leads to despair, and discouragement and yes, religious fanaticism of the kind that leads to terrorism.  Condemnation is the sad result of a spiritual life gone wrong and can be summed up in two words:  punishment and doom.

To be free from punishment is like being granted immunity from the penalty for sin, divine displeasure or judicial anger.  All present or future punishment and fear of punishment are eternally removed for those who are “in Christ.”   There is no punishment, because Jesus took it all upon Himself.  Therefore, there is no reason to live under DOOM.

We are not doomed.  When we were in our sins we were doomed because we were going to have to find a way to pay for our sins.  But, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes would not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16).  We will not perish.  We are set free, forgiven forever.  We do not need to walk under cloud of doom.

But so many Christians do!   How do you know if you are living under condemnation?  Pay attention to how you talk about your feelings.  Condemnation is easy to recognize because: • You feel guilty all the time, like you’re just not quite good enough. •  You’re fearful, sensing that somehow things are not quite right between you and God and you’re afraid that someday, somewhere, He’s going to get you. •  You live with a profound sense of rejection.  You might know in your mind, intellectually, that God has accepted you and forgiven you, but in your heart you always feel not quite loved or accepted.  This translates into how you view and interact with other people as well.

But the truth—what the Bible says—is that God doesn’t want us to live with those kinds of feelings.  God desires for us to be free of guilt, fear, self-condemnation and rejection.  The apostle John addressed this very issue when he wrote:  “And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him.  For if our hearts condemn us, God is greater that our heart, and knows all things”  (John 3:19-20).

Do you realize how important that statement is? When our own hearts condemn us, and we feel guilt, fear, hopelessness, the Bible promises us that God is greater than our hearts!  Even when we know we are saved, because we live in a fallen world, and make mistakes and yes, struggle with sin, it’s easy to begin to feel condemned.

That’s why it is so important for you to know the Word of God.  You cannot always trust your feelings, but you can trust God’s Word because it is the Truth!  That’s why Jesus said, “And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free”  (John 8:32).  If the Word—the truth—says, ”There is therefore now no condemnation…” then— there is NO CONDEMNATION!  You need to allow God’s Word to be so ingrained in your heart and soul that when you are assaulted by lies, you can hold onto reality.

What would prevent you from doing that?  First, looking at yourself and your own feelings rather than keeping your eyes and heart set upon the Lord and trusting in His Word.  Your feelings cannot altar God’s truth.  You might look at yourself and your weaknesses and failures and feel doomed, but is God looking at you that way?  Is He mad at you?  Is He dwelling on your failures?  No!

Why?  Because all of God’s wrath and anger at the sin that destroys His children’s lives were taken out on the cross over 2000 years ago.  Jesus took that wrath.  He took the punishment. He took all the doom and gloom of sin upon Himself, then He cried, “IT IS FINISHED.”

He never said it was half way done and that we are expected to do the rest.  No, He did it all.  So remember, whenever we feel condemned, God’s Word overrides our feelings and sets us free.

What About Conviction? But what about conviction?  Every child of God should experience conviction.  Jesus even said that that is one of the reasons the Holy Spirit was sent:  “And when He [the Holy Spirit] has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness and of judgment” (John 16:8).    After all, what loving parent doesn’t correct and instruct his children?  Conviction is the correction of a loving heavenly Father to a son or daughter.

You know what it’s like when kids get to an age when they want to do things that are dangerous.  It starts with electrical outlets or fireplaces or stairs and escalates from there to trees, scooters, busy streets, cars and other activities that can be perfectly fun and exciting, with just a few guidelines.  When your child chooses to run into a busy street or speed down a busy highway, you step in and “convict” him, right?  You remind him that you are intervening because you love him and want to keep him from harm.  Later, as adults, we enter into another maze of potential wrong turns and high risk behavior.  Life is full of dangerous temptations.  Just as we long for our children to experience the fullness of life yet remain safe and healthy, so our Heavenly Father longs for us to live life with all its adventure, joy and exuberance—but He gives us boundaries to protect us spiritually, emotionally and even physically.  Conviction is what taps us on the shoulder and reminds us, “You’re out of bounds.

You’re in the danger zone.  Keep your eyes on Me, follow Me.” Conviction means, “to bring to light or expose.”  Sometimes we don’t even know our own motives, and our own potential for destruction.  Conviction exposes what Satan would prefer to hide.  Conviction brings into the light those things which are unhealthy, dangerous and in direct disobedience to our Father.

There is a huge difference between conviction and condemnation.  While conviction brings us into light, condemnation engulfs us in darkness.  Condemnation leads to guilt and pushes us to be more “religious” but not more spiritual.  Let me say, that you will never be the man or woman God wants you to be, you will never experience the fullness and power of the Holy Spirit in you life if your Christian walk is motivated by guilt.

Where do guilt and condemnation come from?  Who is the author of all this doom and gloom?  Revelation 12: 9-10 tells us very plainly:  “…that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth…the accuser of our brethren, who accused them before our God day and night, has been cast down.”

Satan is the one who puts us under condemnation.  Jesus is the One who sets us free.  How can we tell to whom who are we listening?

Condemnation makes us want to run away from God in fear, feeling unworthy, unloved and doomed.

Conviction may break our hearts, but it also makes us want to run to God.  We are compelled to throw ourselves upon His mercy, to receive His love and to thank-Him for correcting us, protecting us and most of all, loving us.

In Christ “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ…” “In Christ” is the qualifying phrase here.  It’s the most common phrase used by the apostle Paul to describe being a Christian, and is used over 90 times in the NIV Bible. To be a Christian means to be in Christ and for Christ to be in you. We are “in!”  In the Body of believers, in the fellowship of the saints, found in Him, standing in Him, walking in Him, and after this life, we will sleep with Him and rise with Him!

And once we are in, God longs for us to “abide” in Him.  It is more than a position.  It is also a mindset, and a state of the heart.  “Apart from Me you can do nothing,” He says.  He wants us to lean on Jesus as our safety in dangerous times, the cleft in the Rock who provides shelter from the storms and the judgments that batter us from the outside.  Being “in Christ” is to live in the light, free from the guilt and anxiety condemnation puts upon us.  “In Christ” is true freedom.

How Do I Live It? Living free of condemnation and in Christ sounds good—but what does it really mean?  How do these things affect our lives and change us?  I’d like to leave you with four points that I believe can change your whole outlook on life if you take them into your heart and mind: 1).  God doesn’t reject me when I sin. In John 6:37 Jesus said, “…the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”  Once you’ve given your life to Christ, God is never going to reject you!  He will never kick you out of the family of God—even when you sin. If you are a Christian battling sin, then you are normal.  That’s why Romans 8 follows Romans 7, the chapter where Paul pours out his frustration and grief over sin.  “O wretched man that I am!”  he cried.  “Who will deliver me from this body of death!”   Then, he follows his lament with those wonderful words, “There is therefore now no condemnation…” Once you are genuinely born again, and belong to God’s family, He accepts you, forever, with all your human failings and weaknesses.  Why? 2).  Because God’s love is not based on our performance, but our position “in Christ.” Most of us wrestle with the idea that we feel close to God when we’re doing good, and far away when we’re blowing it.  But those are feelings, and feelings are not an accurate picture of who we are or what we are.  We have a defined relationship and position as far as God is concerned.  We are “in Christ.”  Our feelings may make us think otherwise, but the Bible says the “just shall by faith”—not feelings.  You need to realize that what you feel on a given day doesn’t change the fact of who you are. Feelings follow faith.  When we place our faith in what is true, God’s Word, then we can begin to experience feelings that are true.  Regardless of how you feel, the truth is, “There is therefore no condemnation….” And, regardless of how hard you work, or how often you fail, it is ultimately God’s love and His love only that will save us from ourselves!  “It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy” (Romans 9:16, NIV). 3)    God isn’t angry with me when I’m inconsistent. I get pretty fed up with myself at times.  Like the apostle Paul when he cried, “O wretched man that I am!”  I can’t believe what I am capable of!  The thoughts I wrestle with!  The temptations I fight!  You’d think I would have it together better by now, and I’m frustrated that I don’t.

If you ever feel that way, don’t make the mistake of thinking that God does too.  God is angry at sin—angry at what it will do to us.  But we can’t project our feelings on God and assume He’s mad at us just because we’re mad at ourselves.  God is not like us.  He is longsuffering beyond our imaginations.  Patient beyond what we can understand.  And, He knows us.

He knows what we are made of—the same basic elements as dust!  We’re just a bunch of dirt clods walking around.  Psalm 103:13 reassures us, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.”  God doesn’t look down every day and get shocked or surprised by what we do. No, rather, the Bible tells us, He finds ways everyday to forgive us:  “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail.  They are new every morning…” (Lamentations3: 22).

I watch my little grandson, Noah, and how excited his parents are, watching him learn to walk.  When little Noah stumbles, they don’t grab him and scold him for falling.  No, they pick him up, hug him, comfort his hurts, then encourage him to try again, cheering him on with every step.  That’s how God is with us!

Good-bye to Fear The Christian life is an exchange.  We exchange an old life for a new one.  We replace bad habits with new ones.  We exchange a sentence of death for the gift of eternal life.  We replace fear with freedom.

Fear is one of the last great strongholds in many of our lives.  We can know we are saved, relish a new life in Christ, rejoice over newfound joy, peace and love—and yet we can still be haunted and nagged by the shadow that follows us, threatening to ruin everything.

Do you know what the answer is to fear?  Romans 8:1!  “There is no condemnation…” There is no doom, no gloom, no reason to be afraid.  When you are “in Christ,” He is also “in you,’ the hope of glory, filling you with His Spirit, driving fear away.

You can’t be free and be controlled by fear.  Fear is the worst kind of tyranny and oppression.  It hinders life and paralyzes its victims.  Fear quenches the Spirit, and deceives us into forgetting that we have a Heavenly Father, who promises, “For I know the thoughts I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11).

Romans 8:1 is one of the most liberating statements to ring through eternity.  And, for those who have given their lives to Jesus, it is the truth—the truth that will set us free.

When I contemplate the meaning of this powerful Scripture, I want to echo the words of the preacher who stood before a great congregation and cried with joy,  “Free at last, thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

1. Martin Luther King, “I Have A Dream Address,” August, 1963.