Paul’s statement, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1), is a crescendo he has been building toward from the beginning of his letter (1:16ff). As such, it is embedded with a richness that is easy to overlook.
He’s saying something more than we’ve been forgiven of our sins (and who would wish to minimize that!). He’s also saying we’ve been set free from the legal arrangement that figured into our condemnation in the first place. Under law and on our own (“in the flesh” – v. 8-9), when we sinned it was put down on our account and we were going to have to pay for it sooner or later. Coming to Christ changed all of that. Paul tells us in 6:14 and 7:4ff that we were released from the law. And though we consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God (6:11), we still stumble at times and sin—but it is not put down to our account because Jesus paid for it.
This is the liberating truth touched upon earlier by Paul (4:6-8,15), and again in 5:13 where we’re told that, “sin is not charged against anyone’s account where there is no law.” What does it mean to say that sin isn’t charged to our account? How is it different from having sin charged to your account? While sin obviously continues to exist, it doesn’t exist in the condemning manner that it did under law. It is the difference between the hopeless person of Romans 7:15-24 who is weighed down by consciousness of his sin and condemnation under law and the hope filled person of Romans 8:1ff who has been set free under grace. Guilt may drive us to Christ; but grace keeps us there.
In Christ and under grace, salvation isn’t a revolving door situation where we’re “in” one moment and “out” the next. It’s not the case that every time we stumble and sin we’re unforgiven (and lost), until we confess and ask for forgiveness and then are only “saved” until our next miscue. There’s no good news there! That’s like giving someone oxygen and then standing on the line. There’s something radically wrong when disciples experience constant anxiety, stress, and fear in regard to their relationship with God or having followed Christ all of their life, wonder at the end “if they’ve done enough.” They don’t get that from the Scripture! “No condemnation in Christ,” means just that. We can choose to leave Christ at any time of course, but as long as we are in Him sin is not charged to our account.
Think of the cities of refuge (Numbers 35). A person who had committed manslaughter could flee to one of these cities and his life couldn’t be avenged by a relative of the deceased. However, if he left the city (v. 26-27), his life could be taken. In the city, he had assurance and peace. Outside the city he had none of that—he was on his own. It’s not hard to see that Christ is our refuge to whom we have fled (Hebrews 6:18ff), and that “in Christ” we’re out of sin’s jurisdiction.
And this grace leads to something better. We don’t wait until we’ve sinned to be penitent or confessing—we live in that state because we know we’re sinners rescued by grace. And that’s the point—grace brings about the God honoring behavior that law couldn’t so everything is better.
Do you want to feel guilty about sin that has been dealt with and done away in Christ? Hell welcomes you. Heaven weeps for you. Jesus died to put sin in the grave, why not leave it there? When hell’s collection agency comes calling, just point to the cross and tell them that your payment has been made; full payment, final payment, once-for-all payment. Better yet, why not send them a note? Just before your signature you can write, Sincerely, (but no longer) yours.