So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.
- this is one of the most hopeful and joyful statements in the entire bible. It is possibly one of the most misunderstood. I now see this as closely related to the story of Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery. (John...something). The "righteous ones" want her stoned to death, but Jesus instead shows them their own condition (similar to hers, all sinners) then says to her: "neither do I condemn you. Go, and leave your life of sin."
In Jesus Christ we see the God of undeserved grace, who above all else loves us unconditionally. And when we stumble and fall like little children, he picks us up, brushes the dirt off, mends our skinned knees, comforts us, and then sends us out again with a word of encouragement. Keep trying, keep growing. See what you will become in me.
Gone is any need for penitence. No horse-hair shirts. No beating ourselves up. No need to go up the long marble steps of St. Joseph's Oratory* on our knees striving to earn forgiveness.
We are forgiven. Have been forgiven - before our sin was even conceived of (somewhere we are told that Jesus' sacrifice occurred before the founding of the world). So we are not to waste a moment of time worrying about whether or not God can ever forgive us. He has.Our mistakes are no longer "fatal," but just steps towards our ultimate fulfillment.
Instead, we can immediately get on with repentance apart from penitence. We can make amends and seek reconciliation with any people we have wronged, offering apology where required. We may even make amends and pay the consequences of our mistakes. But this is done in true humility, as an act of gratitude to God who has already forgiven us and made amends spiritually through his own generosity and compassion.
And so we are free to set out again with a clear conscience, hoping to not stumble and fall over the same mistake, but moving forward and onward. All while knowing we are always and forever forgiven.
Earlier Paul dealt with some objections some people were raising against his explanation of God's salvation by grace. Throughout his writings we see him dealing with this fear that people would take advantage of God's grace and use it as an excuse to go on sinning, "that grace may abound."
I guess the best summation I've seen of these arguments is that if anyone takes God's graciousness for granted and uses it as an excuse to sin, then they never "got it" in the first place. They are still "dead in their sins," because they have not truly accepted the Gift.
*St. Josephs Oratory is a shrine in Montreal where people can often be seen doing penitence by climbing the long marble steps on their knees, praying for forgiveness. Apparently if your sin is really bad, you do this with a small bag of hard, uncooked peas under each knee. Ouch!
This attempt to pay off our debts before God by punishing ourselves contains the hidden message that somehow Christ's sacrifice was not enough. That somehow, apart from Christ's sacrifice we can or must save ourselves. This attitude is Christless religion at work.
It's the very thing from which Jesus sets us free, as Paul continues to explain in this chapter and all of Romans.
Romans 8:4 (NLT)
He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.
Romans 8:16 (NLT)
For his Spirit joins with our spirit to affirm that we are God's children.