No Condemnation

His name was Hiroo Onoda. In 1944, at the age of 23, this young Japanese soldier began one of the strangest odysseys in all of history. For twenty-nine years he lived, dreamed, planned, and struggled under the illusion that he was at war – a war that had long ago ended. Living deep in the recesses of the jungle, bound by a pact of faithfulness to a dead cause, Hiroo lived a life of mental bondage to an erroneous belief. The liberty that was his for the immediate taking remained a distant goal.

A woman in praise with her chains broken.

Image © Kevin Carden from GoodSalt.com

As heartbreaking is the story of Hiroo Onoda, it is even more tragic to be spiritually bound to works and traditions that lead to emptiness, while not realizing the freedom in Christ that gives liberty. Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, is continuing his efforts to warn the church of the delusions of legalism that would only lead to an unnecessary slavery. He wants them to take advantage of the freedom that is theirs.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:1

Freedom, the common cry and desire that runs through all of humanity, is essential to who we are. With freedom, one has the ability to reach for the dream ahead with an expectation of achievement. With freedom one can live and love without the chains of hurt, pain, and bitterness. With freedom, one can become someone that could never be imagined while under slavery. Christ says “if ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  John 8:31-32

Paul, who learned of freedom in Christ after his Damascus road experience, cannot bear to see the church diverted into the destructive path of earning salvation by their works. Paul had been there and done that, “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.” Philippians 3:5-6. He knew firsthand that there was something better.

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:2-4

But just what is this freedom that Christ offers? Books have been and will continue to be written trying to put into words the greatest gift given to humanity. For sinners, wearied through vain efforts to please God and quiet a nagging conscience, they find in Christ the freedom to rely on someone bigger than themselves. The yoke of bondage which drains joy and happiness from the daily existence is replaced with a trusting peace that keeps the soul in the midst of all storms.

This freedom allows the soul to reach forward with the hand of faith and take the hand of God.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Romans 8:5-6

What would you and I attempt in life if we actually believed and accepted the freedom in Christ that is ours? Would we dare to be mighty men and women of God free from the chains of our past and no longer held captive by the sins that now keep us bound? Jesus points the way, “If the Son therefore shall make you free ye shall be free indeed.” John 8:36

“The only condition upon which the freedom of man is possible is that of becoming one with Christ. “The truth shall make you free;” and Christ is the truth. Sin can triumph only by enfeebling the mind, and destroying the liberty of the soul. Subjection to God is restoration to one’s self,—to the true glory and dignity of man.” Ellen White, Desire of Ages 466

Here are a few Hit the Mark questions for this week’s lesson discussion:

  • What does “freedom in Christ” mean to you?
  • How does being free in Christ enable a person to be free from the bondage of sin?
  • What does “no condemnation” mean to you?
  • What does it mean to walk according to the spirit?
  • Does freedom in Christ mean that you are no longer bound by rules and laws? Explain your answer.
  • What role, if any, does the organized church play in enabling members to be free in Christ?
  • Is the following statement True, Mostly True, Somewhat True or Not True: The more religious a person becomes, the more they are walking according to the spirt. Explain your answer.

We close this week’s lesson on No Condemnation, with a powerful set of promises about God’s commitment to us.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Romans 8:31-34

Who Is the Man of Romans 7?

Escorted to the scene of his worldly demise, the prisoner’s approach is announced with the dreadful term of “Dead Man Walking!” The freedom that was once his, has been replaced with the ultimate physical bondage. Sentenced to death for the crimes of his past, the prisoner is incapable of changing his plight. His power over himself and his earthly destiny have long ago been taken from him. He is a prisoner with no way out. He is a dead man walking.

Hands clasped in prayer extend from prison bars.

Image © Steve Creitz from GoodSalt.com

This week in our study Romans 7, we will be brought face to face with the spiritual equivalent of a dead man walking. The similarities between the two are worth noting.

The man condemned to death for his past crimes has within himself no power to change his outcome. So too, the man held in the bondage of sin and legalism has no power of his own to deliver his soul. He cries out in his anguish, “O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” Romans 7:24. The hope for both lies solely in the hands of someone of higher authority.

Paul, in describing his anguish before his Damascus Road encounter (yes, I know this is contrary to the popular belief), echoes the sentiments of many today. Continue reading

Overcoming Sin

What a timely lesson this week. Each day the headlines report the despicable news of another person of influence or power indulging in deviant behavior. We read stories of men who risk everything to satisfy their lusts and passions. We wonder how such things can be. The answer is really quite simple – they are under the dominion of sin.

This week as we examine Romans 6, we read Paul’s words of certainty that “Sin shall not have dominion over you.” In general, it’s too bad we really don’t believe this (you may be an exception). While we are rightfully shocked at the terrible abuses reported, if we’re honest with ourselves, we often have sinful practices that still bear sway over us, even though we’ve been Christians for years. To excuse our behavior we quote this familiar text discussed in next week’s lesson:

For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Romans 7:19 (Next week we will discuss this in more detail)

We don’t believe we can stop sinning. Perfection in Christ frightens us. We have only to look at our track record of broken promises made to ourselves and we shrink from even believing that we can overcome our sins. But is God limited in His power to save that He cannot deliver us from any and all besetting sins?

Perhaps our issue is that our vision of who God is and what He provides for us is too limited. We can learn a lesson from Elisha as recorded in Second Kings 6. Continue reading

Justification by Faith

WHERE’S THE BEEF?!  I remember the popular fast food restaurant commercial where three senior ladies were staring at a less-than-adequate hamburger. As one lady peered at the sandwich she asked: “Where’s the beef?” Her question was a statement that, regardless of all of the trappings and accompaniments, the bottom line was that a hamburger should have some meat to it.

I know you must be wondering what this has to do with this week’s Sabbath school topic on Justification by Faith. It would seem more logical to talk about the powerful truth that a man, lost in sin and destined for eternal destruction, can have his past blotted away by the simple act of faith in Jesus. Continue reading

The Human Condition

This was false advertisement. They were presenting a lie that had to be exposed for the good of the church. The lie? That as circumcised and keepers of the ceremonial laws, they were righteous. Their point? In order to be righteous like them, they, the Gentile converts, must be circumcised and keep the laws of Moses.

That lie – salvation by works – had the potential to neutralize the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. For if a man could attain righteousness by the things he observed, why then would he need faith in a Savior?

For us who look back on this time, we must remember how different things were for the new converts to the church. The doctrinal resources that are at our fingertips did not exist for them. Books about righteousness by faith, sermons, and seminars on faith in Christ, lesson study guides to break down each aspect of growing in grace were unheard of then. And these aggressive men of the circumcision were a force to be reckoned with. Continue reading

The Controversy

Who controls the church? That is a question that is as relevant today as it was during the time of the early church. This week as we discuss The Controversy, in addition to examining what, we will also look at why. Why was there a controversy that was threatening to split the early church?

In Acts 15 we get a clear picture of what the controversy was.

“And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, and said, Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1

The argument being proposed was not based out of a scriptural dispute, but rather out of a narrow-mindedness that was seeking for control and influence over the church. Continue reading

The Gospel and the Church

I’m writing this week’s post from Rome, the ancient city whose past intersects with the life of Paul. It was from Rome that Paul penned the letter to the church in Galatia. Unlike myself and my wife, Paul was not in Rome by his own choice. His presence there was due to the conflicts he endured as a faithful follower and promoter of Jesus Christ.

Yet, even in the midst of his own life-threatening predicament, Paul’s concern was for the members of the churches scattered about. This week’s lesson, The Gospel and the Church, focuses on Paul’s words of wisdom on how to deal with fellow members who have succumbed to sin.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1

Rather than isolating Paul’s instructions as a go-to guide for church conduct, I find it more helpful to understand the bigger picture. Paul was writing to a church in crisis. The dissension caused by those of the circumcision was leading to a loss of compassion and love. This had to be addressed. Continue reading