Today my time with the Lord has been sweet… and convicting. I started out by reading Romans 7 & 8. In Romans chapter 7, Paul describes the daily battle that happens inside himself, and all of us, between the flesh and the spirit. This is a super famous passage and pretty much everybody that calls themselves a Christian has read it a hundred times and heard it taught on and referred to in multiple Bible studies and sermons. It’s a powerful passage, because we all relate to it so well. Paul clearly states that what he WANTS to do, he ends up not really doing… and conversely, what he doesn’t want to do, he ends up doing. How many times is that the case in our lives, right? “God, I WANT to read my Bible every day” – but in reality, I don’t end up getting around to it. Or… “God, I don’t want to lose my temper any more over stupid things” – but in reality, I just yelled at the guy who cut me off on the freeway.
The struggle is endless, and Paul admits it in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!…”.
Then, in chapter 8, Paul continues his thoughts… “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” We love that verse, right? I memorized it years and years ago. It’s super cool. It has that transitional word, ‘therefore’, in it… which we all know that when we read the word “therefore” we must always find out what it’s ‘there for’. In other words, the stuff that comes after the word ‘therefore’, is only possible because of the stuff that came before the word ‘therefore’. So… there’s no condemnation BECAUSE Jesus has delivered us from this daily struggle between flesh and spirit.
But as I read all this… I have to admit something that makes all the ‘grace’ teaching I’ve ever received rise up within me and scream a bit: The ‘no condemnation’ thing… is CONDITIONAL.
Listen, I know we love to talk about the ‘UNCONDITIONAL LOVE’ of God. But honestly… read this again. There’s a serious condition put on this no condemnation thing. What is it? It’s right there in the verse: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Paul says that the people who are ‘IN CHRIST’ don’t deal with condemnation. Then he radically defines ‘IN CHRIST’ as: ‘those who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit’. Crazy. He spends a bunch of time telling us how hard the fight is to walk in the Spirit and not the flesh… and then he basically says, “It’s hard, but if you win the battle and actually walk in the Spirit… you won’t experience condemnation.” If you skip down to verse 8 of the same chapter, he gets real brutal and says, “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
A friend told me that he recently read in a book something that had really rocked him. The book is about Christians and pornography and in it, the author makes a massively BOLD statement: “You can’t look at porn and be walking with the Lord.” My friend said that he didn’t know if this statement agreed with his theology. I thought: “Does Romans 8:8 agree with your theology?”
Let me give you an example of why I think this (the idea that God places ‘conditions’ on us) rocks people:
The most quoted and memorized Scripture is John 3:16. EVERYONE loves this verse! However, many people don’t know the next verse: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Actually, that verse is pretty awesome too, right? But do you see the ‘conditional statement’ in it? There are two little words that would truly change the whole meaning of this awesome verse… if they were not there. What are they? “THROUGH HIM“.
What does it mean? I think Jesus goes on to describe what He really means… and it sounds a whole lot like He’s putting a ‘condition’ on it. Check it out: John 3:18-19 “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”
Look… I’m not trying to say that God doesn’t love the whole world. He does. He loves it sooooo much He gave His Son for this stinkin’ world! However, even the famous John3:16 comes with a conditional statement: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Apparently, if you don’t ‘believe in Jesus’, you’re condemned. But, so many people “believe in Jesus”. I mean, they believe He lived. They believe He was a great guy. Maybe they even believe He died and rose back to life. But does that mean they’re ‘saved’? Does it mean they are no longer ‘condemned’? I’m not so sure, and here’s why: You can’t just stop at verse 16. You must keep listening to Jesus’ words, as He describes precisely what a person who is ‘condemned’ looks like: “…but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:18b-19). Catch that last part?
Apparently, people who don’t believe love darkness, and that is proven by the stuff they ‘DO‘ (“because their deeds were evil“). Maybe you could say it this way: “They either walk according to the flesh, or according to the Spirit”. I’m finding that God doesn’t care so much about how much I ‘know’… but by how much the stuff I know is put into practice. Maybe you’re thinking; “Yeah, but Michael, we’re saved by grace, not works, so that no man can boast!” (Romans 11). To that, I would say ‘amen!’ God did indeed, graciously, give up His only begotten Son. He made a way for sinful men and women to ‘not perish but have everlasting life’. It was a gift of God to provide His only Son as the sacrificial atonement for my sins. I couldn’t have done enough to pay for the debt I had incurred, due to my many sins. So truly, I have nothing to brag about… It was Jesus Who did all the heavy-lifting. But don’t forget Jesus said, “…that whoever believes in Him” and that is a conditional statement… and He went on to describe “believing” as something that is proven by one’s deeds.
Sometimes we gotta read the fine print. I’m so incredibly thankful for a loving and gracious Father God, Who provided a way for my sins to be washed away so that I can spend eternity with Him. But I am also cognizant of the fact that His Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write Romans 8… that admonishes me to be a man who does not walk (live) according to my flesh (the way that ‘I‘ think is best), but to walk by His Spirit.
May you and I be those who walk according to the Spirit of our God, for truly, as we do, we find there is therefore now no condemnation.