This is the second in a 5-part sermon series entitled, “Who I Am In Christ.” Rather than believing the lies often sold to us (‘I am a sinner because I sometimes sin,’ ‘I get my identity from what I have done,’ etc.), this series is intended to help us be very clear about our true identities (‘I am a saint who sometimes sins,’ ‘I get my identity from what God has done for me,’ etc.). Today’s message teaches us that life’s difficulties and hardships are not the punishments from an angry God.
Sermon 1: “I Am God’s Child and Christ’s Friend”
Sermon 3: “I Am a Masterpiece”
Sermon 4: “I Can Do All Things”
Sermon 5: “I Am Complete and Whole”
Scripture: Romans 8:1-14
If, as a child, it’s made very clear to me by my parents that I am not to write on my bedroom wall with a magic marker, but I nevertheless choose to write on my bedroom wall with a magic marker, do you suppose my disobedience will result in my parents being angry with me? And do you suppose there might be some kind of consequence coming my way on account of my disobedience?
We learn at a very early age, don’t’ we, that there’s a direct correlation between our misbehaviors and some kind of negative experience? It doesn’t take us very long in life to realize that when we do something bad, something we’re not supposed to do, something we’re told not to do, there’s usually a consequence that we don’t like. Crime and Punishment – the title of a well-known book by the Russian author, Dostoyevsky. Crime and punishment. The way most of us see it, they go together like meat and potatoes, Raggedy Ann and Andy, bread and butter, peanut butter and jelly, soup and salad. You can’t have one without the other. Crime and punishment. Remember the TV cop, Beretta? Every show he’s say, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime.”
If it’s this way with our human parents, we can only imagine what it what it must be like with God, our Heavenly Father. It doesn’t take a big stretch of the imagination to see how easy it is to conclude that when we break God’s rules, there are going to be consequences. If God says, “thou shalt not,” and we knowingly do it anyway, it only stands to reason that our disobedience will result in punishment. And, of course, the Bible is full of examples where God said, “If you listen to me and obey you’ll be blessed; but if you turn away in disobedience, you’ll be harshly disciplined.” Again, it doesn’t take being a biblical scholar to see the many negative if-then situations we can get ourselves into with God. And knowing how fallible I am as a person, how easy it is to do things that God says I shouldn’t do, then it’s a simple step to conclude that it’s only a matter of time before I get what I deserve. Call it holy crime and punishment.
Here’s the problem: this perspective can lead us into spiritual and emotional captivity if not seen and understood through the lens of truth found in God’s Word. And my whole purpose in preaching this particular series is to help us better understand the truths that lead us out of captivity into freedom.
So, today I’d like to help us better understand the truth that in Christ, we’re no longer under a condemnation which results in punishment born of God’s holy anger. This is significant, and grasping this truth can actually result in tremendous freedom.
Many of us have been brought up to believe that by nature, people are basically good. Ann Frank was quoted to say, “In spite of everything, I still believe that people are basically good at heart.” The thinking goes, while there are always a few bad apples out there, most people are innately good. While this line of thinking doesn’t line up with the biblical witness to human nature, it’s nevertheless a common perspective. But even if you see yourself as basically a good person, you’d only be fooling yourself to say you’ve never done things you wouldn’t want others to know about. My guess is that for every one of us here, there’s things about ourselves that we wouldn’t confess to anyone, not even our best friends. From hidden and internal things like attitudes, beliefs, and desires to actual outward behaviors and actions – things we’ve said, done, and thought, all of which we know are not acceptable in our modern society. We all have skeletons in our closets that we work hard to keep out of view.
And then there are those among us who well aware of our failures, shortcomings, and rebelliousness; who are willing to admit that despite how it looks on the outside, we’re not so innately good.
The fact is, this is the starting place for all of us. Whether we readily admit it or not, we do things we’re ashamed of, things we know are in conflict with our better selves. In the church we call this our human condition. It’s the ‘deck of cards’ we’re all dealt when we come into this world. As we grow up, most of us learn to keep this aspect of our human condition under control. We learn to not lash out at someone when we’re angry, or not take something that doesn’t belong to us, or even offer help to someone in need even if we don’t like them. But doing these things is learned behavior. And because they’re not innate behaviors or thoughts, it’s not unheard of for them to surface every now and then. Sometimes more ‘now,’ and sometimes more ‘then.’ But the fact is, it’s impossible to control our innate self-focused behaviors and thoughts all the time.
In other words, regardless of our best intentions, in our human brokenness we sin. We say and do things we soon regret.
If that’s our starting place, then it could stand to reason that God should always be angry with us, right? Aren’t we always giving God a reason to be angry with us?
That perspective seems logical. And, to a great degree, is actually true. Our disobedience does, in fact, anger God. But it’s important to note that his is what we might call a ‘righteous anger’ which isn’t so much aimed at you and I personally as much as it’s aimed at the sin itself because it keeps us in a place of rebellion, making it more difficult to experience his blessings.
Think of it this way: let’s say you learned the hard way the importance of wearing your seatbelt in the car. And let’s say that every time you get in the car with your son or daughter you have to ask them to buckle-up, and every time they grumble and complain about having to do so. After a while, this kind of interaction will test your patience, and at some point you’re likely to become angry with their belligerence. But what you’re most upset by is the fact that they don’t get it. You know from personal experience what can happen if they don’t wear their seatbelt, and you don’t want to see that happen. And out of your deep love for them, you become angry when they always argue about it.
This illustrates the origin of God’s anger at us when we sin. He knows what sin leads to, and out of his deep, deep love for us, gets angry when we do things that he knows will harm us.
Because we know our sin, and we know God hates sin, the lie which the enemy of our souls whispers into our ears is, “God’s angry at you and he’s going to punish you for the bad things you do.” That’s a lie we too easily believe because it lines up with our everyday experience of life – do something bad or wrong and you’ll get punished.
The spiritual lie is that our sinful actions result in God’s retribution against us. So when something bad happens – someone we know is diagnosed with cancer, or my child gets into a bad car accident, or I lose my job, or thousand other bad things – when they happen, we immediately go to, “I must have done something that God’s punishing me for.” The lie is this: life’s challenges, difficulties, and setbacks are punishments from a vengeful God who is angry with us for something we did wrong. For the person in whom Christ lives, that’s a lie. Don’t believe it. It’s not true.
What is true is this: in Christ Jesus we are no longer under condemnation. Anyone for whom Jesus has died is offered this freedom from God’s righteous condemnation. This freedom is offered to every person born into this world. Where “the rubber hits the road” is in the appropriation of his grace and love as expressed on the cross. Anyone who accepts the atoning work of Christ’s death on the cross has been granted this freedom. It’s offered to all, but ultimately given to those who confess their sinfulness and accept the saving work of Jesus Christ for themselves. Wherever Jesus Christ lives, there is no longer condemnation for sin. Let me say that again because it’s so important to living a life of freedom. Wherever Jesus Christ lives, there is no longer condemnation for sins committed.
In Christ Jesus we are no longer under condemnation.
This is the point Paul is making at the beginning of our reading this morning. Romans 8 begins with this amazing statement: “So now there isn’t any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). Notice how this verse begins: “So now.” Other translations begin, “Therefore…” Something came before this statement. What Paul said about there not being any condemnation is the upshot of a point he was making previously.
What you need to know is that in ch. 7, Paul confesses that more often than not he does the things he knows he shouldn’t, and doesn’t do the things he wants to do. This is the great Apostle Paul, the man through whom God started the Church, a man of immense faith and action and obedience. If it weren’t for him, there would be a church today. But even Paul was aware of his disobedience and rebellion, and knew that if his right standing with God depended upon his innate goodness, he was up a creek without a paddle. But he knew the truth, and begins chapter 8 by proclaiming the truth: in Christ Jesus we are not condemned by God for our sins.
The longstanding Christian belief has been that on account of our sins we deserve God’s condemnation. But that God sent his Son, Jesus, to single handedly bear the guilt of our sin. He did so when he went to the cross. In Bible-speak, he bore our sins upon himself….By his stripes we are healed….He bore our shame. He bore in himself God’s condemnation, taking it to the cross. Why? So that we wouldn’t have to bear it ourselves.
Isaiah 53:6 says it this way: “All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the Lord gave him the punishment we deserved” (Contemporary English Version). We aren’t condemned for our sins because Jesus was!
So, if the truth is that our sins don’t result in God’s condemnation, then what are we to make of all the bad things that happen to us? So, if they’re not God’s punishment for things we’ve done wrong, what are they?
Well, the answer to that question would be another sermon or two. But until then, the brief answer is this: although it’s impossible to know which it is when they happen,
- sometimes they’re orchestrated by God
- sometimes they’re allowed by God (but not arranged)
- sometimes they’re the result of our own behaviors and choices
- sometimes they’re the result of the behaviors and choices of others
- sometimes they’re just random, without cause
What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that if God is in any way behind a challenge or difficulty we’re going through, his purpose is to grow and mature us. It’s the teacher and parents deciding to hold a student back one year when they know it’ll be for their ultimate good. It’s the employer not hiring someone who really wants that job, but whose not suited for it. It’s the Civil War field surgeon removing a gangrenous leg while the soldier is still awake. As Christians, we don’t believe that life is never without consequences for our sins, but we do believe that those consequences are not our Heavenly Father’s way of punishing us. If anything, at times they’re his way of dealing with the sin so that we move in a better direction. I realized that’s an insufficient answer, but I’m hoping it’ll do for the time being.
Here’s how you can respond to today’s message: by consciously reminding yourself of the truth that because Jesus lives in you, whatever difficulties you’re going through are not God’s way of punishing you. If sometimes you ask yourself, “What did I do wrong that God’s punishing me for?” then whenever you start down that path of thinking, stop and turn around; tell yourself, “I am not condemned because Jesus lives in me.” Intentionally keeping this truth ever before you is a great way of staying on the path of spiritual and emotional freedom.