Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
"And Can It Be?" by Charles Wesley (last stanza)
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Basic Christianity in a Nutshell
Look with me at the words we just sang - the last verse of "And Can it Be?". This is a one-verse short course in basic Christianity. Every line in this verse is a profound truth taken from the Bible about what it means to be a Christian.
No condemnation now I dread
Romans 8:1 - "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." The sweetest of all words to a guilty sinner like me! No condemnation in Christ!
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Romans 8:32 - "He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?" Not every convenience or every comfort in this life, but everything that is good for us, as we trust him, and in the end, eternal life, every blessing possible, and ever-increasing joy with God.
Alive in Him [Christ] my living Head
Colossians 3:3-4 - "Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory." If you trust Christ, he becomes your life, and your life becomes as indestructible and eternal as his. No matter what befalls you here.
And clothed in righteousness divine
2 Corinthians 5:21 - "[God] made [Christ] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." The foundation of our acceptance with God is not our righteousness, but God's righteousness reckoned to us for Christ's sake, because he died for us. This is our hope and security. Therefore . . .
Bold, I approach the eternal throne
Hebrews 4:16 - "Let us draw near with boldness to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." What sinners can be bold with God? Only those who are clothed in righteousness divine. And that comes by faith in Christ, not by our imperfect striving.
And claim the crown, through Christ my own
2 Timothy 4:8 - "There is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing." A crown? Why a crown? Aren't crowns for kings? Yes, and for king's children - eventually. After a life of faith and servanthood and love - perhaps in Moralica, Honduras, or Tirana, Albania, or Tecate, California, or in your next-door neighbor's garage or hospital room - after a life of faith in Christ and love for people, then the crown.
Just Judge + Guilty Sinner = No Condemnation.
All this - all this hope ("Jesus, and all in him, is mine") -is based on the great declaration, "There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1). This is the very essence of Christianity: God is an unwaveringly just and holy Judge. Nobody gets by with anything in his courtroom. But we are all sinners and all guilty before him (Romans 3:23). Nevertheless, no charge can be made to stick against us. What? No one can condemn us? Every true Christian sings with joy, "No condemnation now I dread!"? How can this be? Just Judge + Guilty Sinner = No Condemnation. How does such an equation work? That is what Christianity is meant to answer.
In Romans 8:33-34 Paul raises this question, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" And then, he doesn't answer, "Well, my enemies might, or my wife might, or my conscience might, or worst of all, God might. After all I am a sinner." Instead, he answers, "God is the one who justifies." In other words, others might bring charges, but the Supreme Court of the universe, namely, God, has already "justified." That is, he has acquitted and reckoned us righteous. "Clothed in righteousness divine." So nobody can make a charge stick. It doesn't matter who indicts us or what their case is, if God has justified us, "there is now no condemnation." That's verse 33.
Just Judge + Guilty Sinner + Death of Christ = No Condemnation.
But how can this be? How does "Just judge + guilty sinner = no condemnation"? A judge can't simply let criminals go free and still honor the law and protect society. So the next verse asks the same question again, but this time answers it with a more foundational answer. Romans 8:34, "Who is the one who condemns?" This is the same as asking, "Who will bring a charge against God's elect?" (verse 33). There the answer was: It doesn't matter who brings charges against you if God is for you and has declared you righteous. "It is God who justifies." Here the answer is: It doesn't matter who condemns you, because "Christ Jesus is He who died."
There's the missing component in the equation, and the great center of Christianity, the death of Christ in the place of sinners. So now the equation goes like this: Just Judge + Guilty Sinner + Death of Christ = No Condemnation. The condemnation that belonged to us because of our sin was put on Jesus, and the righteousness that belonged to Jesus because of his perfect obedience was put on us.
Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned he stood, Sealed my pardon with his blood: Hallelujah! What a Savior! ("Hallelujah! What a Savior," by Philip P. Bliss)
Therefore: "There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus" (Romans 8:1).
What About the Resurrection and Christ's Interceding for Us?
But what about the rest of verse 34? Do we need to add it to the equation? "Christ Jesus is He who died; yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us." What about the resurrection of Jesus and the reign of Jesus today at God's right hand where he intercedes for us?
Well, yes these are essential. Without them there would be condemnation to all of us guilty sinners. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins."
But the resurrection of Jesus and the intercession of Jesus for us in heaven are essential for this reason: they prove the validity and the eternity of the condemnation-removing effect of the death of Jesus. The resurrection doesn't add anything to the condemnation-absorbing effect of Jesus' death. And the intercession of Jesus for us in heaven doesn't add anything to the condemnation-absorbing effect of Jesus' death.
Instead, the resurrection of Jesus proves that God is satisfied with the death of Jesus as removal of all our guilt and condemnation. Jesus did not have to stay dead to keep paying for our sin. His suffering and death were sufficient. The resurrection is God's great declaration: It really is finished. The debt has been paid. Justice has been done. Guilt is removed. Condemnation of sin has been executed.
And when Paul says in verse 34 that Christ is at the right hand of God interceding for us, the point is not that anything is being added to the sufficiency of the death of Christ, but that this death has eternal effectiveness. What is the plea that our interceding advocate makes with God? His plea is his own blood, his own death. He has no other case to make for us but his own death. That is the meaning of his daily intercession. The death of Christ is as valid and as eternal as the life of the risen, interceding Christ. That's the point.
So I think we can keep our equation simple: Just Judge + Guilty Sinner + Death of Christ = No Condemnation. But we need to keep in mind: because Christ rose from the dead, we know that his death was utterly sufficient and needs no repetition or addition to remove all our condemnation. And because Christ intercedes for us, we know that his death will go on having its saving effect as long as there is Christ - who can never die!
"Just Judge + Guilty Sinner + Death of Christ = No Condemnation."
Underlined with the resurrection of Christ, and underlined with the intercession of Christ at God's right hand.
This is the heart and essence of Christianity.
No condemnation now I dread, Jesus, and all in him, is mine.
When condemnation is removed, what you have in its place is all that God is for you in Jesus. "Jesus, and all in him, is mine" - all that God is and all that God promises - are yours when you are in him.
How Does God's Work Become Mine Personally?
Which raises the question now of how this work of God to remove condemnation becomes ours personally. The Biblical answer is that we are justified by faith: Romans 5:1, "Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." So we might say, add our faith into the equation: "Just Judge + guilty sinner + death of Christ + my faith = no condemnation." And I suppose that would be a perfectly legitimate way to say it.
But I wonder if it might not be even better to say: leave the equation as it is - expressing all that God is doing in the face of sin to remove condemnation. And then to ask, Do we love this great work of God? Do we cherish this work and this God who works like this for us? Do we trust this God and this great work? Do we receive all that God is for us in Jesus when he takes away our condemnation?
Maybe the way to draw this is to put a big heart around the equation. Not just that we get into it, but that it gets into us. We take it in. We live on it. We love it. God does the work and we believe in the work and stand on the work. And receive all that God is for us in the work.
Possessing All that God Is for You in Jesus Christ
When I was pondering how to bring this home to you yesterday, I read a letter that was written to me dated March 24, 1999 from a pastor in California whom I do not know. I think this brings the matter home to a fitting conclusion:
Just a word of thanksgiving to God. . . . I serve a wonderful congregation in a small town in central California. . . . On February 14th of this year, Tony, a young man of 27 years who had been visiting us, took his own life. He left behind a family that loved him, which included 4 beautiful children, and one resounding question. Why?
As I watched the medical examiners pull his stiffened body out of a van, a sense of dread overcame me. I asked myself, "What could have possessed him to do such a thing?" This question haunted my heart and mind throughout the following weeks. It was like a cold draft that invaded the warmth of my family and ministry. It ultimately caused me to take a leave of absence from our church to search for answers.
It was during this time that I was led quite providentially [to the truth of living by faith in future grace, and] . . . God's grace and the power of His Spirit . . . [opened] a door in my heart through which I could behold the wondrous beauty of God in Christ Jesus. This beauty has helped me better apprehend the purpose for which I was created: To glorify God and enjoy Him forever!
In the end I learned that it wasn't what possessed Tony that compelled him to take his life, but rather what he didn't possess (apprehend): all that God is for us in Jesus Christ. I have left all other questions, concerning this matter, along with Tony's life, in God's sovereign Hand.
Through it all, God's grace has sustained me; and even more, has strengthened me that I might joyfully "lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me." This joy has permeated my heart and mind and has overflowed onto my wife, daughter, church and community.
This is what I pray for you all this morning. That you will "possess all that God is for you in Jesus Christ." That you will "lay hold on what Christ has done to lay hold on you." And that you will overflow with joy in knowing that there is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, but rather, that Jesus and all in him is yours.