Psalm 119:105-112 • Genesis 25:19-34 • Romans 8:1-11 • Matthew 13:1-9. 18-23
This week we talk about God the unrelenting storyteller—he makes his promises and keeps them. First, Genesis 25–the story of Jacob and Esau. Jacob the heel-grabber hustler who God still makes the father of Israel and ancestor of Jesus. Psalm 119 is a hymn to the Law—the keeper of Israel that prepared them for the Messiah. Matthew 13 talks about the dissemination of the gospel message—it won’t always be easy, but it will take root! Romans 8, on which the sermon is based, tells about the un-condemnation of all of us in Christ and the promise that even our imperfect bodies will be resurrected on a day like Christ himself.
“We, the Uncondemned”
Romans 8:1-11 (ESV)
Read or have someone read the text prior to the sermon.
Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without. This statement apparently originated with Calvin Coolidge, telling people how to conserve resources for the war effort in World War I. It became a motto through the Depression, encouraging people to darn socks and patch jeans to keep going. Don’t toss it away—keep it and make it work.
Sometimes I can’t help but think God has a similar motto for humanity. Of course, his motivation is not to help us survive a calamity, but to continually remind us he will finish the work he has begun.
Let’s give some background theology before we get into Romans.
After the flood, God made a promise that remains true today.
I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I ever again strike down every living creature as I have done. While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease. (Genesis 8:21-22 ESV)
God promised that humanity would keep going, that he would sustain us—no matter what. He made a covenant with humanity that he would make it do.
Post-flood humanity got back into their old habits rather quickly, and what followed was a long dysfunctional line of humanness—self-centered, beautiful, broken, greedy, wild and all the rest. But God would “make it do,” he would see this Adam and Eve story all the way to its end—there was no “throwing out” this creation.
Fast forward through the centuries. God chooses one man and promises him he will be the “father of many nations.” Through that man, Abraham, he brings the legacy of Israel—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph and his 11 brothers—which became the 12 tribes of Israel. He brings Israel through slavery, through the desert and into the Promised Land. Hit fast forward again—through kings and prophets and wars and good and evil—and we get to a teenage girl who’s given birth to a baby boy in a stable.
We have to remember that it’s all the same story—his story, which we call history. This was God’s intention from before Eve reached for the fruit in the Garden of Eden. He knew what was going to happen, and he knew the story would be long and winding and confusing, but that it would finally lead to victory.
Too often in our tradition, we have made a patchwork of the history of redemption and come up with a false narrative. Something like:
- People sinned
- God gave them the Law
- They couldn’t pull it off
- He had to send Jesus as a plan B to finally get it right.
This is a fair summary of the story that many of us grew up with: the Law was like humanity’s “college try” and God had to fix the mess we made. It’s as if God’s original story doesn’t hang together, as if God doesn’t keep his promises to see a story all the way through. He tried something, it didn’t work, so he changed his mind. This story was passed on from generation to generation until the apostle Paul, never one for polished ceremony, crashes into the middle of the story with his letter to the Romans. Just as Karl Barth’s book on Romans was described as a “bomb dropped in a playground,” Paul’s letter to the Romans can be described in a similar manner.
Paul is steeped in OT history, and connects the story of Israel with the story of Christ with complex elegance all through his letters, but especially Romans. In this passage, and through the whole book, we see that Jesus wasn’t plan B of the Israel story—he was the crescendo of it; he was the satisfying ending—the resounding affirmative that the story had been kept and with his sacrifice, “It is finished.”
Paul gives this to us in a tightly-woven story here in chapter 8—each layer reveals another layer. The infection of sin began with Adam. The Law located and diagnosed that sin problem—suddenly these horrible things (lying, murder, adultery) all had names. As the keepers of the Law, the Jews represented God’s connection to humanity—the temple was called the “navel of the world.”
The Law highlighted sin in their community—now they knew what it was and what caused the corruption and death in the world. But the disease was just named—it wasn’t cured. The divine blood transfusion came in Jesus. All of the world’s sin that had been brought up in Israel by the Law was then placed on him—the Messiah King, and therefore the representative of Israel. But even the worst of sin—all the disease that had been concentrated—wasn’t enough to keep him dead.
Okay…deep breath. The theology did get a little thick there.
I share all that to show what Paul was showing here: the gospel isn’t God’s “second try” on humanity—it is the natural culmination of the saga of redemption. Jesus did what the Law couldn’t do—was never meant to do. He was the cure who was always on his way.
Think of it this way. Your knee gets crushed in an accident. You try to walk on it, but the pain is vicious. You go to a physical therapist who helps you do stretches and exercises to lessen the pain, even tries to figure out what’s really wrong. You get some movement back, even have some muscle healing, but the real need the whole time is a knee replacement. You need something new in there to start the whole process over. The problem with going back to the Law, as Paul is constantly warning against in his ministry, is that you can’t fix a demolished knee with physical therapy.
Paul starts this section so strongly:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1 ESV)
This where it starts: basement floor, ground zero, in the business world you might call it “table stakes,” the minimum needed to get started. The fact of “no condemnation” is the foundation that all the rest of this builds on.
You could never be any more or less loved and accepted than you are by God right now. His signet ring is on your finger; his seal is on your heart.
That is a vitally important message for us today.
We live in a world where almost every meal, interaction and event has to be photographed and broadcast. A third of the richest young billionaires on earth run social media companies! Have we ever needed validation so badly?
We live in a world where there’s a hotel in Japan where you can stay for a dollar a night. The catch: you have to livestream your whole stay—not private stuff, but just regular life. People will tune in on YouTube to watch you put on your socks and floss. Have we ever been so lonely and connection-starved?
Fashion trends change by the minute. The celebrities at breakfast are old news by lunch. One comedian described it well a few years ago: “Everything is perfect, and no one’s happy.”
It is in this world that we need to know we are “not condemned”! If we don’t keep up on the fashion trends, if we take a non-filtered Instagram photo, if we fail completely—we are not condemned—the unconditional love is where it starts.
The reason we feel like royalty, why we have these colossal, insatiable egos, is because we are royalty! We are the sons and daughters, the sacred bloodline of God. By transplanting himself into us, he makes us who we truly are. Without that connection, we are lost kings and queens who set up our miserable little warring kingdoms all over the place.
Jesus has become like we are so that we can become like him. Paul says he came in the “likeness of sinful flesh” (v. 3). He became like us so that he could draw the infection of sin to himself and let it take out all its fury on him—so much so that he died. But sin’s great mission failed. Sin’s masterwork of destruction—to uncreate the Creator himself—was a complete failure.
By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh. (Romans 8:3 ESV)
That’s where the condemnation went! “And death shalt be no more; death, thou shalt die,” said the poet John Donne. Death imploded on itself trying to defeat Jesus.
Back to verse 2:
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2 ESV)
Here is the transplant—God’s Spirit in us. He ushers us into the family of God. This is the beginning of God’s re-creating purpose in the world, and it starts with us, the uncondemned.
Paul echoes Deuteronomy in the next verses, drawing on an intensive Old Testament background. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses reminds the people of the Law and lays it in front of them with the memorable verse:
I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live. (Deuteronomy 30:19 ESV)
He lays out the moral and ritual law in front of them, essentially telling them that this is what it looks like to be the people of God. This is the law that describes life.
Paul echoes this here in Romans 8:
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:5-11)
Life and death. Flesh and Spirit. Peace and disharmony. He lays out the this-and-that like Moses did centuries before.
The underlying fact here is important. When Moses lays out the way of life and death in front of them, there is no question that they are God’s people. There is no discussion of them earning or losing their status as the people of Israel. They are just invited into deeper life with God by following his ways.
The same is true in Romans 8. Paul lays out the way to fully live and live best, and that is the life of depending on God’s Spirit. But it starts with the declaration of “no condemnation.” it’s the declaration that we in Christ are part of God’s family, just as Israel was. We are the continuation of that one, long story of redemption. There is no earning that status and no changing it; there’s only the invitation to go deeper into the life, joy and freedom.
A few points to leave with you today:
- The status of God’s children doesn’t change. There’s not some sin you can pull or mistake you can make that he doesn’t already know about and that wasn’t already demolished on that cross.
- God loves your story. He brought Israel through the millennia-long epic of redemption. He even used all the ugly parts and the less-than-great people along the way. He’ll do the same with you—there’s no part of your life that he can’t use to redeem you. He doesn’t want you to be someone else, but you—fully and completely and authentically as he made you.
- Jesus is the way to life. Just as Moses laid out the way of life, so did Paul—the life of dependence on God’s Spirit, not our own strength. God didn’t put morals, ethics and standards in place so we could “earn” his love. He also didn’t put those standards there to kill your joy, but to call you into it; the joy of loyalty instead of rivalry and back-biting; the joy of sharing and harmony rather than brutal competition and one-upmanship; the joy of purity and commitment rather than promiscuity.
In Christ, you are a new creation. He cleared your connections to God. Let his Spirit flow through you today to heal the world and bring you home to who you really are.
Small Group Discussion Questions
Questions for Speaking of Life “Come Drink”
Watch video to start
- Have you ever been to the desert? Have you spent time in a place (ocean, desert, mountain peaks) that doesn’t naturally sustain human life? What’s the experience like?
- We talked about the “thorns and thistles within” that we experience sometimes in the present day. Our external needs are met, but internally we are dying of thirst. Do you agree? How do we counteract this?
Question for sermon “We, the Uncondemned”
Begin by reading Romans 8:1-11
- This passage begins with the promise: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v. 1, ESV). That is the foundation of the Christian life—that we can’t be loved any more or any less than we are right now. Does this change or enhance your perspective on what it means to be a Christian?
- We talked about how the morals and ethics that God lays down for us have nothing to do with whether we are loved and accepted by him. They are the path to living the best life and being the best human beings. Do we think of God’s laws in this way? The gospel says to know Christ is to know life (John 10:10 and elsewhere), not just to “go to heaven” or to “be good.” Does that change our perspective?
- Christ was not God’s plan B, but was the completion and crescendo of the story. How does that theological fact help us to further understand the Gospels and the character of God?
- Do you believe God can redeem your story? Have you seen this happen
Quote to Ponder:
“If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and wrote you and me, specifically, into the story, and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.” ~~Don Miller