Tuesday, December 8, 2015

There is No Condemnation

    I still remember it clearly. I was in Italy for the Taekwondo World Championships as a member of the 2015 Team USA. It was my first international tournament, and my first event was individual sparring with Russia, a team with quite the reputation. Our team has had a history of getting thrashed to us by the Russians (I had heard the story before I left of one of the instructors in our area being knocked cold in his first round vs Russia), so there was quite a bit of intimidation there.

    When I finally got to the ring, the pressure of hundreds of people watching was too much. And as I walked out of the ring having just lost the most major fight of my taekwondo "career", I did it, the unthinkable. The perfect homeschooled, Christian teenager cussed as he walked out of the ring.

    As soon as I did it, the guilt was there. So I slipped on my tracksuit and my sunglasses and went outside to cool down and compose myself. And promise myself I would never do such a thing again.

    Take a guess what this perfect homeschooled, Christian teenager did the next morning when he lost patterns competition? Yep, you guessed it. I failed, again. Just 24 hours after I had promised myself that I would never do such a thing again, I fell to the same stupid sin.

    I tell that story, one that I'm very not proud of though no one but my coach knew about it until tonight, to illustrate one very important point, one we've all experienced before but we convince ourselves isn't true this time every time we trip and fail again.

    It's the idea that I can just make myself stop sinning. Maybe if I try hard enough, motivate myself enough, or muster up enough self will, I can convince myself to stop sinning, as if it were a habit rather than an ingrained fabric of our very natures. But no matter how much our previous track record should make us do a double take before we try this strategy again and again, we keep doing it, keep convincing ourselves that the secret to holiness and a sanctified life is more self-will, more effort, more determined behavior patterns.

    But it's a lie that leaves us more and more disillusioned as we slip deeper and deeper into the realization that I do not have the power of my self-will to defeat sin or counter my natural urges. As we try again and again, maybe winning sometimes, but definitely failing others, we gradually lose hope in my ability to resist temptation by pushing myself harder or for higher aspirations of holiness.

    And at some point, you will find yourself along the road of disillusionment saying, "What can I do? What possible other option is there?" And this is the point where so many believers slip, going either 110% toward higher and higher standards of holiness that instead propels them over a cliff into legalism, abandoning any pursuit of holiness and instead living a life of license under the guise of "grace", or leave the faith altogether, purposing that holiness was a bunch of garbage anyway.

    But there's a pivotal piece of Scripture I think we should examine while we're thinking about this idea of temptation. Rom. 7:14-24, "For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. 15 For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. 16 But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. 17 So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. 19 For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. 20 But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.

"21 I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. 22 For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, 23 but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death?"

    In case you haven't put it together yet, that is not the typical confession of a famous missionary to a church that's supporting him. You don't hear messages like this from pastors in the pulpit very often. Come to think of it, rarely will we as believers ever be frank and honest enough to actually say anything approaching a confession of this magnitude. And this is an apostle! This is the greatest missionary who's ever lived!

    I want you to put together what you just read. The man who authored most of the New Testament is confessing that "the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want." When was the last time you heard someone confess something like that to their best friend, much less to a body of believers by letter hundreds of miles away, some of whom Paul had probably never met!

    But astounding or not, Paul paints a fairly bleak picture, does he not? If this were a typical Baptist sermon, this would be the part where the pastor would come into the "application" portion of the sermon about striving for holiness against the flesh, trying harder, working more. But if we read the next couple of verses, that's not at all what Paul's reaction is. In fact, I think if Paul were in many of the congregations I've been in, he would have been accused of abusing grace with his next statements.

    "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin." Hold up, Paul. You close off with a statement that you wish you could do good, your desire is to do good, but that your flesh often wins out, but thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord? For what!?

    "Therefore there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Can you imagine ending a recitation of your sins and failures this way? My flesh is a constant battle. It consistently beats me, enough so that my desires to follow Christ and my desires for instant gratification and pleasure are at constant war. But... there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

    This is the rest for the weary soul burdened down by legalism and Pharisaical Christianity. This is the hope that inspires us to trust in the working of Christ for sanctification rather than my own self will. This is the peace with God promised to His elect, the fruits of His intercession before His Father for each of us. This is what it means to be redeemed.

    There is no condemnation. Despite our sins, despite our struggles with the flesh, despite all of that, there is no condemnation. There is no condemnation!

    The solution to sin in our life is not more self-will; at least, it wasn't Paul's. The solution is greater adoration and focus on Christ. An understanding of who He is and what it means to be His child brings us closer and closer to Him, further and further along our path of sanctification as He shapes and molds us into the person He wants each of us to be. Sanctification is an act of God, a gift of God, in each of our lives, not as the result of our effort and will, but as the result of overflowing grace, constantly making us new before God through Christ!

    There is no condemnation! 

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