There is a law of sin and death at work in me, and in you. Think about that. It’s not merely that I sometimes do bad things. It’s that evil is a law — a rule — at work within me. I am occupied. As John Donne puts it, in his love poem to God: “I, like a usurped town, to another due, / Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end / Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend, / But is captive, and proves weak or untrue.”
My crimes, my sins, these both are and are not my own. They are the work of that law that makes me “do what I hate” (Rom. 7:15). And yet, they are my responsibility — for, in God’s economy, it is only by taking responsibility for my crimes that I can be freed from them. I let the dragon in the door, and thereby made myself accountable for the havoc it has wreaked upon my life. It is my dragon. But it is not my dragon to coddle or to forgive or to be kind to. It is my dragon to destroy.
My friend Josh and I have been having some discussions lately about sin, condemnation, and redemption. (Josh blogs here). We decided to do a series together on Romans 8, a chapter that — I think — should become a central rallying point for anyone who attempts to wage a battle against sin. This is my first entry in that series. I’ll just be looking at the first few verses of Romans 8.
In the sections leading into chapter 8, Paul describes the Old Testament law, a law which both (a) created the possibility of sin, and (b) created the possibility of redemption. I will call this the “Law”, with a capital L. Then, in Romans 7, Paul introduces another law: we might call this the “law of concupiscence”. The Law is spiritual; Paul is not spiritual. The law of concupiscence is — unlike the Law and unlike Paul — carnal. The human person is neither spiritual nor carnal, but rather subject to both spirit and flesh. He is divided between “ton eso anthropon” (the inward man, Rom. 7:22) and “ton exo anthropon” (the outward man). In other words, he is a battleground.
The power of a law — any law — is its power to condemn. The law of concupiscence drives on almost infallibly toward the violation of the Law of God. By following one law, we are condemned by another. This is the experience I’ve had with pornography addiction: when I follow the law at work in my members (the “addiction”), I am condemned, and condemned, and condemned. If Romans 8 did not exist, I might assume — logically enough — that this condemnation came from God.
But Paul says quite clearly it is not from God. There is NO condemnation if I am IN Christ Jesus. Why not? Because He has taken it upon Himself. “He who knows no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5). Whenever the devil tells me I am unrighteous in myself, the proper response is to say that I am righteous in Jesus. Blessed be God for that wonderful truth!
The only person who is not worthy of condemnation is an innocent man. The only innocent man is Jesus Christ.
But this is the reality of the crucifixion: that now, when God the Father looks at me to assess my guilt, He sees Jesus Christ His precious Son. It is unthinkable to condemn me, so long as I am in Him — so long as I am in the vine. Romans 8:1 is the central rallying cry of everyone who longs for innocence. It is here, forever, when I offer myself up to the Father in pure and eternal gift.
To quote Jars of Clay, “He has washed us in His blood. He presents our souls to God.” Innocence at last!