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Dear Friends in Christ,
The Corona Virus has changed our lives drastically. Schools are closed. Business is disrupted. The stock market is in free-fall. Travel is restricted. People are worried about getting sick, or losing their life savings, or if they have been laid off, even being able to purchase food and pay the rent. But for the majority of people, even if they did get the virus, it would not be a death sentence.
The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is something a whole lot worse than the Corona Virus. It’s something we all have. We were all born with it. It’s the inherited disease of sin. We have a sinful flesh.
In the previous chapter Paul talked about this problem that we all face. No matter how hard we try we can’t keep from sinning. He says, For I do not understand what I am doing, because I do not keep doing what I want. Instead, I do what I hate. Indeed, I know that good does not live in me, that is, in my sinful flesh. The desire to do good is present with me, but I am not able to carry it out. So I fail to do the good I want to do. Instead, the evil I do not want to do, that is what I keep doing.
Now, we tend to like to brush this off by saying things like, “nobody’s perfect so it’s not that big a deal.” Or, “as long as I do more good than bad I should be Okay, right?” But that’s not what Jesus says. He says, be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. And, if you aren’t perfect, Paul says, it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.” Not being perfect is a big deal. It means that we are under a curse, God’s curse. We are condemned.
What is condemnation? What does it mean to be condemned? It’s a courtroom term. When the jury returns from deliberation and their verdict is “guilty on all counts” and “we recommend the sentence of death,” that’s condemnation.
This is the verdict we all have hanging over our heads. We all want to argue, “but Lord, look at all the good things I’ve done.” The Lord responds, “were you perfect? No? Then you are condemned.” “But Lord, there are so many people that have done much worse things than I’ve ever done.” The Lord responds, “were you perfect? No? Then you are condemned.” “But Lord, give me a chance to do better. I’ll try even harder to keep your laws.” The Lord responds, “can you live without ever sinning, not even once? No? Then you are condemned.”
We all need to say with Paul, who will rescue me? I’m doomed to spend all eternity in the fires of Hell where finding hand sanitizer won’t be our problem because there won’t even be a drop of water to cool our tongue. Who will rescue me because I can’t rescue myself?
Paul’s answer? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Try to imagine being on the gallows with the noose around your neck. Or try to imagine being strapped to the gurney in the prison, hooked up to IV’s with the executioner just about to push the button that releases the lethal drugs into your veins. Imagine that, at just the last second word comes from the governor to call off the execution. You have been pardoned. Can you imagine the relief?
That’s what Paul is picturing for us in Romans 8:1. We were condemned, and rightfully so because we didn’t measure up to God’s demand to be perfect. The punishment God’s law demands for all those who have not been perfect is condemnation, spending eternity separated from God and from everything good. But before our sentence could be carried out God stepped in and pardoned us.
Why did he do that? Why did he pardon us if he knew we were guilty and deserved the punishment we were about to receive? Most people would answer “because he loves us.” But that’s not the whole story. You see if someone loves a person who is condemned to death their love alone doesn’t change the verdict. In fact, a governor may despise a person who is about to be executed and still pardon him. It takes more than love. When it comes to God, no matter how much he loves us, and he does love us, he can’t pardon us unless his law’s demand for justice has been satisfied.
Paul says, Indeed, what the law was unable to do, because it was weakened by the flesh, God did, when he sent his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to deal with sin. God condemned sin in his flesh, so that the righteous decree of the law would be fully satisfied in us.
Do you see it? God condemned sin in His, that’s Jesus’, flesh. In this way the righteous decree of the law, the decree that we be condemned, was fully satisfied. As Paul says in another place, God can now be just, and at the same time, the one who justifies, declares us not guilty and free from condemnation.
There’s an interesting connection here with the season of Lent. As Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin they are having trouble finding anything that Jesus has done wrong. Of course, we know that he was perfect and without sin so there was nothing that could be found. So finally, the chief priest puts Jesus under oath and demands that he answer the question, “Are you the Son of God or not?” When Jesus answered that he was and that they would see him coming in the clouds of heaven one day, they condemned him for what they considered the sin of blasphemy, calling himself God. Jesus was condemned, but not just by the Sanhedrin. God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us. God put our sins and the sins of the whole world on Jesus. He gave Jesus the sentence, the condemnation we deserve. So then, there is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. He was condemned in our place. Our sentence is commuted. We are set free.
Think again about that person who was pardoned at the last second as they were face-to-face, moments away from death. Imagine the relief they would feel! Imagine the inexplicable joy! Imagine how thankful they would be toward the one who pardoned them!
God has pardoned you! He has rescued you from the condemnation you deserve. That realization has to fill you with relief, with inexplicable joy and with extreme gratitude. In fact, Paul says, it gives you a new mindset, a new way of looking at things. To be sure, those who are in harmony with the sinful flesh think about things the way the sinful flesh does, and those in harmony with the spirit think about things the way the spirit does.
As we think about the Corona Virus, what is the mindset that is in harmony with the spirit? It’s peace, the kind of peace that nothing and no one in the world can give. It’s the peace that comes from knowing Jesus and trusting his promises.
Watch out for those who try to imply that if you really trust God he won’t let you get sick. Such people are like the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day who kept telling the people that God would never allow Jerusalem or the temple to be destroyed. Don’t put words into God’s mouth that he has not spoken.
Focus on the promises that he has given in his word. He has promised that he is with us in the midst of whatever storm we are facing, just as he was with the disciples when they thought their boat was going to sink.
He has promised that whatever happens in our lives he will make sure it turns out for our good, especially our spiritual and eternal good. There is no better example of this than Joseph who told his brothers who had sold him as a slave, you intended to harm me, but God intended it for good… the saving of many lives, as it turned out, even their lives were saved, and the line of the Savior was preserved.
We can already see some good that has come from this. It has forced people to realize that they are not as in control of things as they would like to think they are. Look at what one little invisible virus can do! Hopefully that makes them think about their need for God.
It has caused many people to have to slow down. It has cut down on the busyness of life and hopefully people are using this as an opportunity to spend more time as families in the word and in prayer.
Hopefully it causes everyone to realize the important truth that we are all mortal. We will all have to appear before God someday. If we try to appear before him on our own merits, we will be condemned. But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Will God keep us from getting this virus? He has not promised that he will. But no matter what, trust that he is at work. Know that the most important thing is that you have eternal life in Jesus.
There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Amen