While we have freedom in Christ—and are therefore no longer under condemnation—we often struggle with feelings of defeat, disappointment, and depression. We are forgiven, yet often feel chained. Our freedom in Christ doesn’t remove our struggle to live above sinful practices or our battle to avoid temptation.
Our Position in Christ (vv. 1-4)
Paul makes a bold statement: believers are no longer under condemnation. Imagine you were on death row. Day after day you considered the needle that would soon be inserted in your arm that would cause your heart to stop. Or you imagined how it would feel when the electricity flowed through your body. You were without hope. All your appeals had been exhausted.
Or suppose you were on death row with your sentence under appeal. You were tried again, and this time when the jury read your verdict it was “Not Guilty.” Whereas you were once destined to be put to death, now you are free to leave the bars and resume a normal life. Only the person who has experienced the above can really appreciate and understand the import of this new lease on life God gives believers.
Prior to Christ, we were on death row spiritually. We were in a holding cell waiting for our execution. There were no appeals to make, but suddenly we were set free. After questioning how such a thing could happen, we were told someone else was going to serve our time and take our death sentence. This was beyond our understanding, but we were overwhelmed and overjoyed by our new freedom. Christ has done this for us.
To be free from condemnation means God has declared us not guilty. We have already examined sin and its consequences in great detail. For Paul to declare believers free from condemnation should fill us with praise for what God has done 0n our behalf and motivate us to serve him to the best of our ability. Instead of hell, we get to enjoy heaven. Instead of a miserable life ruled by sin, we can experience abundant living along with God’s power to help us live obediently. Instead of continually missing God’s ideal, we get to experience his plan and purpose for our life.
If this is the position of the believer, why do we periodically experience feelings of condemnation and where do they come from? All of us struggle with these feelings at some point.
Satan is the primary source of messages pertaining to past failures and sins that foster guilt feelings. He brings messages that lead us to question whether or not God has actually forgiven us or whether we are truly a Christian. All messages that do not agree with scripture’s teachings can be attributed to him.
Feelings of condemnation can also be a product of our upbringing and the messages our parents or other significant others gave us in childhood. Messages that informed us we would never amount to anything or that our destiny was dismal.
We may feel guilt over past failures. Perhaps we have experienced bad things in our past and simply cannot believe God can use us under those circumstances. At that point, Satan is working on our consciences, but these messages are not coming from God. We may have unbelieving friends or even spouses who are good at pointing out our inconsistencies. If we have low self-esteem—which can also result from childhood messages—this too can make it easy for us to condemn ourselves. Feelings of condemnation can even result when comparing ourselves with other believers. Perhaps we are not at the point they are, so we condemn ourselves for not doing better.
One unfortunate result of feelings of condemnation is that we learn to enjoy our journey there. No prisoner wants to remain in prison, but at the same time, many learn to find contentment as they become familiar with their surroundings as well as the order or hierarchy accompanying prison life. Leaving this instills fear in them, and many cannot cope with civilian life when released. Therefore, they repeat crimes so they can return to life as they knew it.
Christians can also grow comfortable with feelings of condemnation and in turn, use them as excuses not to step out on faith and believe God can and wants to use them. Additionally, at points along the way, believers have strange yet fleeting desires to return to life as we once knew it. This is part of the daily battle we fight, but we must never return to what Christ has delivered us from.
We have been justified by faith and forgiven by the grace of God, and we will never be what we once were. We can never be under condemnation again. In the original manuscript, there may have been no break between the last verse of chapter seven and the first verse of chapter eight. Paul describes his and our battle with sin, but then says we are not condemned for this battle. Rather, it proves we belong to Christ. We may falter in our faith walk from time to time, but God will remain faithful to his promise of forgiveness (2 Timothy 2:13).
Our power to be free from feelings of condemnation comes through the life-giving Spirit. The Spirit was present at the creation of the world (Genesis 1:2) and is the person involved in the salvation of every person as he convicts and convinces us of sin and our need of repentance. The Spirit is also the person of the Godhead who enables us to live obediently to God. He gives guidance so we can know and follow God’s plan, and he also enables us to follow the example of Christ in our lifestyle. God’s Spirit produces spiritual fruit in us.
Living in freedom, knowing we are not nor ever will be under condemnation again, energizes our Christian walk. We can have a richness and fullness about life that is indescribable. Even when we fail, we know our sins will never separate us from God’s love for they have been forgiven.
Freedom from condemnation has resulted because of Christ, not obedience to the law or anything else we may have accomplished. The law demonstrated God’s standards but gave no power to obey them. The law is good at making us feel guilty for disobedience but has no power to deliver us from guilt feelings. Only Christ completely obeyed the law, and our status is tied up in his through faith. We are obedient because he was.
God’s instructions for sacrifices showed the Israelites the seriousness of sin, but the blood of imperfect sacrifices could not remove their sin (Hebrews 10:4). Even though the animals were free of known blemishes, they were not perfect. Offering them brought a stay of execution but not a pardon. A perfect sacrifice was needed to satisfy God’s demands, and this came in his Son who was sinless and who came for the express purpose of dying for our sins.
We meet the requirements of God’s law by living in the Spirit and letting Christ live through us. God sees Christ’s obedience as our obedience. The power of the Spirit in Christ that enabled his perfect obedience to the Father is available and resides in us. Note the righteousness we have is accomplished for us, but not by us. It is God’s gift to those who repent and believe.
Believers Live Under One of Two Categories (vv. 5-11)
Believers can either walk by the flesh or the Spirit. Paul is referencing two mindsets. Mindset means having our mindset on various things. For the Christian, it can be on sinful patterns or on the Spirit. Our mindset will determine how we act, it will motivate us, it will influence what we choose as our source of authority and knowledge, it will affect our view of circumstances, it will determine our values, and it will dominate our public and private life.
Unbelievers live by the dictates of their sinful nature. This results in a dearth of existence as well as a horrible eternity. Believers can also walk by the flesh, but if we walk by the Spirit we will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh although we will do battle with them. Walking by the flesh for the believer causes us to miss out on the abundant life Jesus said is ours.
When controlled by the Spirit, we think on those things that please God, things that are pure, lovely, true, honorable, right, and of good report (Philippians 4:8). Meditating on these things coupled with letting God’s Spirit control our life results in peace, and this peace is not determined or controlled by circumstances but is placed there by God himself. Living life according to a fleshly manner results in the opposite. There is no peace but only condemnation that we are missing God’s best.
All our choices and moral decisions should result from the direction of God’s Spirit. Paul’s conclusions match that of Christ when he said we could not serve two masters. We must choose (Matthew 6:24). His deduction also matches those of the wise sage who said we are what we (Proverbs 23:7). A mind controlled by God’s Spirit is a mind aware of God’s presence through the Spirit, a mind that wants to please God, a mind that meditates on his Word, a mind sensitive to sin, and a mind that desires to follow his will.
The comparison Paul makes can also be referred to as a carnal versus spiritual mind. Carnal minds are focused on base, immoral, violent material, and physical things. And while the carnal mind can focus on the moral, upright, and cultured things of life, this doesn’t mean God is included as one of them. A carnal mind can even focus on the religious.
Spiritual minds are different. The spiritual mind is centered on carrying out God’s ministry and mission. It recognizes all of the above without Christ is useless. It is concerned with developing spiritual fruit and character. Those with spiritual minds desire a deeper knowledge of Christ and what it means to follow him. They are interested in anything promoting their conformation to the image of Christ. Thoughts that do not promote spiritual growth are taken captive under Christ’s authority.
How wonderful to live with the assurance we are no longer under condemnation when in Christ. As we do, we must feed our spiritual mind so we can live with the mindset of obeying God and living our life abundantly for him.