Dying to Live
James C. Denison
When Tony Romo fumbled the snap in the Seattle game last year, one New York City sportswriter suggested the headline, “The fall of the Romo empire.” What a difference a year makes. Last year’s untested first-year starter is now a repeat Pro Bowl quarterback. He set single-season passing records for the Cowboys in leading them to the playoffs and today’s game with the Giants.
But none of this would have been possible without the support of team officials and coaches who refused to condemn or abandon him. And a player who accepted their support and refused to give up on himself.
Where do you need to learn the same lesson in your relationship with God today? What setback has discouraged you? Is there a person you’re ready to give up on? A dream you’re ready to abandon? A battle with temptation you’re ready to concede? A losing struggle with your health or job or finances or marriage or family?
The good news of Romans 8 is that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). Why? Because we are “set free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). With this future: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18).
With this promise: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose” (v. 28).
With this result: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It all starts with this fact: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (vs. 1-2). This announcement literally changed the course of human history. Now the news has come to you, to change the course of yours. Let’s learn why this is the hope and the help your heart needs today.
Living to die
Our text begins: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). A powerful word, “condemnation.” In property, it means the order to demolish a building. In relationships, it means a strong rebuke. In legal terms, it refers to a guilty verdict, especially with regard to capital punishment. The dictionary says that it is the antithesis of salvation.
What kind of “condemnation” does Paul mean? Why does this word and issue matter to us today? Romans makes it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Now “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Apart from Christ, we are condemned by God in every way that the word can be used: We are rebuked, guilty, and soon to be demolished. There is a fence around us; the wrecking crew is on its way; we’re soon to be destroyed.
This problem applies to us all. The Apostle spoke for every member of the human race in one of the most transparent and self-disclosing passages in all God’s word: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:14, 24-25).
Think about the last sin you committed. Why did you do it? What was true for Paul is true for us: We are “in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”
We sin because we are sinners. We sin because we have a sin nature. There are days when we do better than others, times when we refuse to act on our nature, but that nature is still living inside us. And we cannot defeat it, at least not for long.
The present-tense fact of our sin leads to the present-tense fact of our condemnation. We think that we will one day face the judgment and wrath of God if we do not repent and turn to Christ, but that judgment has come already. We have been pronounced condemned already.
Jesus was blunt about this. Speaking of himself, he said to Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).
Colossians 2:13 says that without Christ “you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature.”
Paul told the Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Before Christ we were living to die–all of us.
According to Roman law regarding crucifixion, you were pronounced dead the moment you were nailed to the cross. Your body might writhe in agony for days before expiring, but you were legally dead the moment the nails were driven into your flesh.
You became spiritually dead the moment you broke your relationship with God by sin. It may take you another 20 or 40 years to die physically, but you died spiritually at that moment. God warned Adam and Eve that in the moment they ate the forbidden fruit they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And they did. They died spiritually. Their relationship with God was broken, ended, dead. They were banished from the Garden physically because they had already forsaken the presence of God spiritually.
That’s what happened to you when you sinned against God as well–you were condemned. That’s what happened to every person outside of Christ today. We are all living to die. We are alive physically, but will one day be dead physically. And we are already dead spiritually, condemned and gone.
Dying to live
That’s the bad news. If we don’t understand it, we don’t understand why our text is such good news. Paul ended his confession with the cry, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) sparks one of the most magnificent chapters in all the word of God. Many consider Romans 8 the high point of God’s word. It is my favorite chapter in all the Bible.
Here we find the answer to our problem: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Therefore” connects Paul’s answer to his question: all are lost in sin, but all can be saved in Christ. “There is now,” present tense, for all Christians. “No condemnation”–a blanket statement, regardless of our sins and failures. For whom? “For those who are in Christ Jesus.” This is the only condition–to be in a personal relationship with Christ as your Savior and Lord.
Why? “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). “Through,” as a result of his work and that of no other person. “The law of the Spirit of life”–the experience which the Spirit alone can give us. He alone can convict us of our sin and lead us to salvation in Christ. When you ask Jesus to “come into your heart,” it is actually the Holy Spirit who moves into your life. Your body is his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), and he is your Master. He has “set me free from the law of sin and death”–present tense, here and now.
Only Jesus could do this. He is the one Authority with the power to reverse my condemnation, to reclaim my house and soul, to rebuild my life for his glory and my good. So long as I am trying to save myself from condemnation, he cannot save me. If I am counting on my hard work and religious commitment, I am not counting on him. We cannot both design the same plans or rebuild the same house. Only he could intervene. But I must let him. When I do, I find his strength, help and hope today.
This is the news which changed human history. Every religion known to humanity was and is built on human effort–try harder to do better, to appease the gods, to earn your way into his paradise. Keep the five pillars of Islam; live by the Fourfold Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Paths of Buddhism; obey the Torah of Judaism; practice the ascetic disciplines of Hinduism.
Only Christianity offers grace. Only it declares that you who were condemned can be reclaimed. You can be rebuilt, restored to your original purpose and value and use. The Architect who designed you can redesign you. The Builder who made you can remake you.
But you must let him.
Ask Jesus to forgive your mistakes and failures. Ask him to restore your relationship with your Father. Ask him to pardon your sins, to apply his death for your life, to give you the salvation he died to purchase, and know that he will. Don’t try to justify yourself, to reclaim yourself, for you cannot. Ask him to do it.
And believe that he has forgiven you. Believe that he loves you and likes you and wants a personal relationship with you today. Believe that he can forgive every sin you can commit, that he can cleanse your soul and remake your life. Believe with the prophet that “the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). Know that he’s on your side, that he loves you enough to take you as you are but too much to leave you there.
Now give him whatever pain or discouragement has found your soul. Know that you are not condemned but redeemed, that you are not forsaken but accepted and wanted by God. Know that his grace is greater than all your sin, and that his love can sustain you in the darkest days of your life.
This week, our church family saw that promise proven. As many of you know, Johnny and Heather Fuller lost their eight-month-old daughter Ally this past Monday morning. Johnny is our Associate Minister of Music, and led worship in our Sanctuary just last Sunday. None of us imagined that the next morning his little girl would be gone.
This is as hard as it gets. But God has sustained this precious couple and their family in miraculous ways. Through the horror of that day, and the days which followed. Making the arrangements, conducting the burial and memorial service on Thursday, facing life the days after.
As long as I live, I’ll never forget Johnny and Heather at the viewing on Wednesday night, standing in that funeral home in McKinney, their deceased little girl’s body in an open casket ten feet away, comforting and encouraging everyone who came. They were our strength. Their hope in Jesus has given us all hope. They have proven that in the worst darkness of life there is light and hope in Christ.
What Jesus is doing for them, he can do for you. This is the word of the Lord.