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.