Not Guilty! Back to all sermons
Date: January 27, 2012
Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen
Scripture: Romans 8:1–8:1
My message today is based on a single verse of Scripture. It is one of the most amazing, remarkable and liberating statements in the entire Bible. The makers of movies and television shows have always shown a great fascination for courtroom dramas. In those dramas, the whole structure of the story line and the building of drama and suspense throughout the show often comes to its peak when the jury returns from their deliberations. All the arguments are complete; all the evidence presented; all of it weighed and evaluated. Now the judge asks, “Has the jury reached a verdict?” The foreman responds: “Yes we have, your honor.” “What say you?” says the judge. The foreman then says: “We the jury find the defendant…”
As the verdict is read, the camera frequently focuses on the face of the defendant. That is where the drama of the verdict will be played out. Will there be there horror, anguish, tears? Or relief, joy, celebration? It all hinges on the words that come out of the foreman’s mouth.
The court of heaven has been in operation. Actions and motions have been made. Evidence has been presented. The jury has been returned to the courtroom. The judge asks: “Have you reached a verdict?” “We the jury find the defendant…NOT GUILTY!”
This is the verdict which Paul announces in the opening verse of Romans 8: Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Not guilty! There is no condemnation. None! Imagine the camera on the face of the defendant when that verdict is read. Now imagine that it is your face. You are the defendant. And this is the verdict of the high court of heaven. Not guilty! No condemnation. Let the prisoner go free.
Let us unpack this glorious statement a little more fully in its context. To gather that context, we will need to go back into the reasoning of the second half of Romans 5. We have been on a rather lengthy detour in Romans 6 and 7 as Paul dealt with questions and objections to what he said in the first 5 chapters of the letter. But now he is returning to his main line of thought. You may remember that in the message on Romans 5:12-21, I raised the question: What’s gone wrong with the human race? How did we get into the mess we’re in? In that chapter, Paul took us all the way back to the first man, Adam; the father of the human race. He told us that because Adam was our head, we were all in some sense “in Adam”. We talked in that message about family inheritance and about family traits. So what exactly did we inherit from Adam?
This is how Paul described it in Romans 5:12: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men. Sin entered and death followed. Not only that but listen to verse 16: the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation… And then to verse 18: Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men…
Do you get the picture? This is what we inherited from Adam. Sin, death and condemnation. Quite a family inheritance, isn’t it? We are all sinners. We all die. And we are all condemned. Condemnation is the opposite of justification. Guilty; the opposite of “Not guilty”. This is the verdict we deserve as we stand before God’s court.
And yet, here are these wonderful words; words of grace; words of forgiveness. Therefore, there is now no condemnation. Remember, this is not a feeling. This is a judicial verdict; a declaration of the court; a statement by the judge of all the earth. No condemnation! Not guilty! And lest you fear that this might be appealed and challenged in another court, a higher court, look at Paul’s words in Romans 8:33-34: Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? There is no higher court in all the universe. If God says not guilty, his verdict stands. If God says no condemnation, then there is no condemnation.
But we are not quite finished with the verse. Of whom is this wonderful declaration made? Who are these people who have been declared “not guilty” before God’s court? And are you one of them? The rest of the verse identifies them: those who are in Christ Jesus.
What does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus” and how do we get there? That is the critical question. Let us first allow Paul’s own logic to lead us. There is a contrast here between being “in Christ Jesus” and being “in Adam.” We were all born “in Adam” by virtue of being descendants of Adam. This was our “birthright” by our natural physical birth. We’ve just looked at the family inheritance and family character traits of this family. So who are these who are “in Christ Jesus” and how did they get there?
Let me phrase the question a different way by contrasting two prepositions in the Greek language. They are “en” and “eis”. They correspond very closely to the English prepositions “in” and “into”. How are they different from each other? The word “en” or “in” describes a position or place of being. I am “in” the house. I am “in” the car. I am “in” Abu Dhabi. The preposition “eis” or “into” describes the motion of moving from outside to inside. In Romans 8:1, Paul uses “en” or “in”. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. But what about the “eis”? What about the entrance? How did these eternally blessed people move from outside to inside?
Let’s take a look at Paul’s words in Romans 6:3. There in the middle of that verse we read these words: all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus. Do you see the phrase “into Christ Jesus” there? That’s “eis”. Entrance into, from outside to inside. Now, instead of transliterating the Greek word “baptizo” as our English versions do, let’s translate it as “immersed” or “placed into”. Let us separate this in our thinking temporarily from the ritual of water baptism and think of it as a spiritual reality. All of us who were immersed or placed into Christ Jesus. We were outside and then we were placed or immersed “into Christ Jesus.”
In Romans 6:5 Paul goes on to describe the implications of this entrance or immersion into Christ in these words: If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.
Did you see that? We can, and I think should translate that “Since we have been united with him…” The doctrine of our union with Christ is one of the most powerful truths in the New Testament. What is true of Christ is now true of us. When were we united with him? When we were baptized or immersed or placed into Christ Jesus. Before we can be “in Christ Jesus” we must be “immersed or placed into him.” There is a point and place of entrance into Christ. We are all born physically “in Adam” but no one is “in Christ” by virtue of physical birth alone. Another step is required.
What is it? There is a wonderful exchange in John chapter 3 between Jesus and a man named Nicodemus. He was one of the religious Jews we’ve been talking about in Romans 7. Here is what Jesus said to him: “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again. ”
Jesus went on to elaborate:
6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
By physical birth we are “in Adam” but it is only by spiritual birth that we can be “baptized into Christ Jesus” and be “in Christ Jesus.” But again we ask, “How does it happen?” How can I be born again?
I could go back into Paul’s earlier words in Romans, but for a fresh look and fresh language, let’s look at another one of Paul’s letters; this one found in Ephesians chapter 2. Let’s start reading in verse 1:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 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. 3 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.
That is a pretty good description of our nature and our family inheritance “in Adam” by virtue of our physical birth. Especially that summary in the final line: we were by nature objects of wrath.
But let’s keep reading:
4 But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, 5 made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. 6 And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
We can see that Paul is again using the language of our union with Christ. God “raised us up with Christ” and “seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus. By how did we get there? How do we get in? By grace you have been saved through faith.
There they are. The operative words that identify the point of entrance “into Christ Jesus.” By grace through faith. Or, we might say, “By grace through belief.” Grace is God’s work, providing the entrance point. Faith is our response in walking through the door; accepting the free gift of God’s grace.
I am reminded of the words of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16:30-31: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved. Now we are back to Paul’s words in Romans 3:21-24:
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
When we believe, we are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. We are saved. We are baptized or immersed into Christ Jesus. And there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
So, back to my question. Are you one of “those who are in Christ Jesus”? Have you been baptized into Christ Jesus? Have you entered in by faith in Jesus Christ and his atoning sacrifice on the cross? If not, what is holding you back?
Now I have another question. How does all of this relate to the act of water baptism? It is quite simple, really. Baptism is a symbolic act; a kind of drama. It is a way of taking spiritual realities which are invisible, and making them visible. One of the powerful spiritual realities that baptism makes visible is the reality of the believer’s union with Christ. In a few minutes time, those being baptized will be plunged or immersed into the water. It is a picture of their having been baptized or immersed into Christ. Please note. It is a symbol. The symbol is not the reality. Baptism never saved anyone. We are saved by faith. But it is a powerful symbol of that reality. It is a way of saying, “Look what happened to me. I have been placed into Christ. I am therefore now, in Christ.” It is a way of bearing testimony and saying, “I am now in Christ. And there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
Are you in Christ? Have you entered into him by faith? If not, why not? If you have entered into him by faith, have you given testimony to that spiritual reality by being baptized? And once again I ask: “If not, why not?”
QUESTIONS FOR THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION
- What is your emotional reaction when you read Romans 8:1?
- In the sermon, Pastor Cam said about this verse: “This is not a feeling. It is a judicial verdict.” Why is that an important distinction to make?
- According to your understanding, what does it mean to be “in Christ Jesus”?
- Have you been “baptized into Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:3)? If so, how and when did it happen? (Note: this question is about the spiritual reality, not the symbolic act).