There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, ESV)
The image above is from a horrific moment in the movie, Schindler’s List. The Nazis are storming down on a group of Jews, and this little boy, in an attempt to hide, has jumped through the hole in a latrine and landed in the liquified feces below. That visual erupted on my mental canvas this past week as I was meditating on the sermon text for Sunday (Luke 23:13-25) and the devastating nature and ramifications of my sins, as seen in the necessity of Jesus and His cross.
Cornelius Plantinga observes,
The Bible presents sin by way of major concepts; principally lawlessness and faithlessness, expressed in an array of images: sin is the missing of a target, a wandering from the path, a straying from the fold. Sin is a hard heart and a stiff neck. Sin is blindness and deafness. It is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it — both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a beast crouching at the door. In sin, people attack or neglect their divine calling.
That kind of broad understanding doesn’t leave you any room or space to wriggle free, or find yourself without error. Sin marks every one of us.
These and other images suggest deviance: even when it is familiar, sin is never normal. Sin is disruption of created harmony and then resistance to divine restoration of that harmony. Above all, sin disrupts and resists the vital human relation to God, and it does all this disrupting and resisting in a number of intertwined ways. Sinful life…is a partly depressing and partly ludicrous caricature of genuine human life. (NOT the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, emphasis and paragraphing mine.)
Transgression and shortcoming. A disruption of and resistance to the vital human relation to God. I have felt this acutely in the last couple of weeks.
This acuteness began initially because of coming into contact with some beloved souls struggling with very difficult, destructive, and sinful behaviors. That lead to a new awareness of so much sin-full activity penetrating every aspect of the culture I am a part of. Which lead finally — all of this I believe as a grace-full work of the Holy Spirit — to an increased sensitivity to the endless list of my own transgressions, committed against a God brilliant in the radiance of his purity and holiness.
It left me feeling up to my neck in defilement and filth; dirty and stained; a stench in the nostrils of a Holy God.
In a word — condemned.
As I’ve grown older as a disciple of Jesus, it seems to me that this life is often defined by tensions; and these convictions and feelings that have been washing over me at the foot of the cross reveal yet another. Namely, I must not treat sin lightly, for it required the cross of Jesus; however, I must not give sin more power than it has, for it was defeated in and paid for by the cross of Jesus.
Dear friend, if you are thoughtful about this, you will find it both a serious and difficult tension, as well as a good and right tension. Paul talks about a similar tension raging within him throughout his life following Jesus:
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin (Romans 7:18–25, NLT).
And this reflection is right before his statement (where we began), in which he proclaims the staggering and scandalous goodness of the Good News like this:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So yes, you sin.
And yes, because of that, you are guilty.
But because of your belief, trust, and hope in King Jesus, because that belief causes you to be found in Him, there is now therefore no condemnation for you! You are washed clean of all your defilement and filth. He lifts you (if you will) from your willful dive into the latrine of sin, and exchanges places with you. He who knew no sin was made to be sin, so that we could — and would! — become the righteousness of God!
My dear reader, it is my deep hope and prayer for you that you will embrace the cleansing and freedom found in the cross-work of Jesus, which is to say, in Jesus Himself.