For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.Rom. 7:22-25, 8:1-4
I frequently make reference to the profound verses that Paul penned, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…” Rom. 8:1 I have to assume I’ll continue being bewildered, confused and persistently intrigued by these strange words as long as I live in this natural body. While street preachers and beach evangelists can reduce these words to simply offering an escape from hell, they declare a truth unfathomably better, and one I don’t grapple with enough nor live by most of the time.
“Now” means now, when I just forgot to call that friend back as I promised and then “now” when I am screaming at my children and also “now” when I am gossiping about the marital situation of my neighbor and “now” when I said it all wrong and also “now” when I realize the damage I caused that is so deep and complicated I may never be able to make it right and now…”Now” is present tense, in the this very moment, at this very time, here…now. I have an easier time with it meaning, “here at the conclusion of the story”, with all the regrettable moments in the past and only a memory. If my condemnable acts and attitudes can be neatly placed in the past tense, that is an easier way for me to grasp no longer being condemned. “See then I just stumbled but now I’ve got it together thanks to my relationship with Jesus.” But that is not at all what is being said. My relationship with Jesus is that He has it all together and based on His togetherness, I am no longer condemned…mine would otherwise still condemn me even now.
And here is the next bit of mind boggling theological beef jerky (I don’t know why that image, just go with it): HE makes me righteous and I can do nothing about it. That pushes against the deepest resistance to grace which courses through my blood no matter what I claim to believe. I grew up knowing that “to whom much is given, much is expected” and that “you reap what you sow” and “but James says that if we don’t act on our faith our faith is dead” and that “he who is faithful with little will be given much” and so on. The truest assumption in my inner being is that God has given me all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle to put together to create the image of Jesus in me, but I am responsible for putting them together. So I read and I study and dig, I ferret out my sin and search my heart to see what messes need to be cleaned, I feel artificially satisfied with my progress in some moments and yet constantly condemned as the unfinished puzzle stares at me from the table (or the mirror) or the blank/disappointed/unimpressed eyes of others. Into this grace whispers “now no condemnation“.
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Col. 1:27
My hope is that it is Christ in me working out the completion of the jigsaw puzzle, not cheering me on with bated breath from somewhere else in the room. He promised to complete the good work that HE began and nowhere said His people were to finish what He merely initiated. To whom much is given much CAN be expected because it is the person and work of Jesus who has been given and it is the person and work of Jesus from whom I can expect much, much and so much more. He sows His life in me and He will reap the righteousness that He is sowing just as He reaped the violations of His holiness and authority which I sow, even now. He is the author and perfecter of my faith and His life in me cannot be kept in the tomb, so James has not given me a prescription to follow but a description to look for His activity in me. He is faithful and He will do it.
So what, then, is the point in asking Him to search my heart and show me my sin and condemnable ways if they are covered and I can’t do anything about them anyway? For one, it is because as the old hymn states, my heart is prone to wander and prone to leave the God I love. I quickly forget my need of redemption and help and power outside of myself and assume a self-reliance and ability that the Bible does not accord to me. And for another, until I see how great is my need, I cannot see as clearly how great is the One who meets my need.
For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 1 Cor. 13:12