“There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, those not walking according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit”. (Romans 8:1).
This scripture is frequently taken to mean that Christians, as believers, are safe from condemnation and that their salvation is therefore secure. Comforting as such an interpretation might be, it is not true. So what, REALLY, is this scripture saying?
Firstly, it is not saying that there are no rules; that because we are Christians we can do what we like without any impact on our eternal destination. What it is saying is that there definitely is condemnation for those who walk in the flesh, and not in the Spirit, whether they are Christians or not. As Charles Finney wrote;
“There is no condemnation to those whose faith secures in them an actual conformity of heart to the divine will. To all others, there is condemnation.”
The only way that a person can be free from condemnation is when he is conscious of being in the will of God and sincerely intending, willing and choosing to act according to that will. Thus, unfaithful Christians face condemnation.
To be “IN CHRIST” means nothing less than to have a personal, living trust in Him; to hear His voice and to manifest His character. To abide in Christ means to be so under His influence and direction that it is not possible to follow the flesh, but to be ever hearkening to His voice; that is, to be receiving constant divine influence from the Holy Spirit in the same way that the branches receive their life source from the vine. That was the analogy that Jesus used in John 15. It is an ongoing, continual, life-giving experience for the disciple and follower of Christ, in exactly the same way as it is for the branches of the vine.
A significant feature of the New Covenant is that, while the baptism of the Spirit that is available to followers of Jesus Christ doesn’t make future sin impossible, it does make unceasing obedience possible. If we allow Him, Christ, through the Holy Spirit, will conceive and nourish a state of mind in which we voluntarily commit our whole being to God. In that way, and only in that way, may we become Christlike, a condition that Paul described to the Galatians as one in which Christ Himself is formed in you. His Spirit, His nature, His character and His temperament is able to reign in our hearts to such an extent that it seems as if Christ Himself has taken up residence there. And He has! That’s what being IN CHRIST means.
Sin is a state of mind that is contrary to the heart, the character and the mind of God. We tolerate it at great risk; to nourish it and take pleasure in it is to embrace eternal damnation. How is it possible, for example, to be free from condemnation while having a heart and spirit that will not yield utterly to the rule of Christ in every particular of life? It is saying, in effect, “I will not have this man to rule over me (Luke 19:14).
Contrariwise, when the heart of man is surrendered absolutely to the will of God, there occurs a vast increase in divine illumination and revelation. The willing placing of the free will, given by God to man, back into the hands of the Almighty, is the key to opening the door to the Holy Spirit and abiding in Christ.
That was the experience of the disciples who did as they were instructed by Jesus before His ascension – to wait in Jerusalem for the promised Holy Spirit, whereupon “the Holy Spirit coming upon you, you will receive power, and you will be witnesses of Me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and until the last of the earth (literally – or ‘the ends of the earth’)” (Acts 1:8).
What then, was this “power” that the disciples received?
Firstly, I think, it was the power of the Spirit to open their minds so as to understand the scriptures. Despite spending three years in the company of Jesus, the disciples were relatively ignorant as to the whole purposes of God as revealed in His word. For example, after Jesus’s resurrection, they thought that He was then going to restore the kingdom of Israel (Acts 1:6).
But after the power of the Spirit had fallen upon them, their minds were miraculously opened, enabling Peter to preach such a powerful message that it “pierced the hearts” of his listeners. So Peter received not just spiritual insight into the scriptures, but also the power to articulate his message with such eloquence and conviction.
Bear in mind that the disciples had not, after the death of Jesus, exhibited any particular power other than this miraculous ability to convey their message in the diverse languages of the crowds that were assembled. They performed no miracles at the time, and their gift of tongues was simply a means of making themselves understood.
But apart from the immediate gifts of understanding, speech and tongues that were received on that day, the scriptures reveal much more of the power with which the Holy Spirit equipped the disciples during the years that followed.
Notable, I think, was the power to live a holy life, and that is the fundamental and foundational power that the Spirit seeks to supply to all of those who are called by His name and who call themselves “Christians”. This power to live a holy life was what was missing under the Law.
Without such power, of course, His people could not be true witnesses of Christ, because being a witness means more than talking; it means being an imitation of the Holy One Himself. Indeed, the Lord Jesus conveyed this understanding directly when, replying to Philip’s request to “show us the Father”, He said; “The one seeing Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). This is true witness.
Unfortunately, Christianity has embraced a different interpretation of what it means to be a “witness” and has adopted the Old Covenant religious approach of apologetics, persuasion and argument as the essential tools of witnessing, in lieu of reflecting the example of Christ’s life in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is exactly contrary to Paul’s approach to the Corinthian church.
“And coming to you, brothers, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom proclaiming to you the mystery of God (1 Corinthians 2:1) “and my speech and my preaching was not in persuasive words of the wisdom of men, but in evidence of the Spirit and of power” (1 Corinthians 2:4).
Here is “power” once more, and the source of this power is the Holy Spirit. It needs to be said that if we seek the power for the power’s sake, as many do, we will not find it; in fact, the surest way to not receive the power is to seek the power for itself. The power belongs to the Holy Spirit and He does not give it away to anyone. It is His to use as He wishes. But as we walk “according to the Spirit”, the Spirit will release His divine power to do, through us, whatever it is that He wants to do. Not what we want, mind you, but what He wants. The power is not given to us, because man cannot be trusted with such power; but the Holy Spirit within us uses it, to the extent that we are doing His will.
The sad truth is that today’s Church has disdained the power of God and runs on its own power. That is why it is powerless, meaningless and apostate. Until the people who are truly called by His name come out of the religious strongholds of apostasy, where the Word of God is made to comply with the world of sin, instead of vice versa, there can be no reversal of the inevitable overthrow of the church and the country.
The gifts of God are only the tools made available to us, and they can never achieve the end for which they are given unless they are vitalised and made effectual by the power of God; and that will only happen where absolute, unconditional surrender to the Lordship of Christ in every particular, exists in the hearts, minds and souls of God’s people.