Romans 8:1–4 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
What if the high school valedictorian and the National Merit Scholar gets a B+ in her first college class? What then? What if the super mom who wore headphones around her pregnant belly that played Mozart; who intuitively knew when to change a wet diaper before her infant would even cry; who potty trained that same child in a day – what if she had just one hair brained moment when she wasn’t paying attention? What then? What if that savvy businessman who spent his entire life building his empire through blood, sweat and tears had it all taken away because of one nasty lawsuit? What then? What if that kid who spent his entire childhood chipping onto greens and honing his swing at the driving range made the tour only to get into a car accident and lose an arm? What then? What if that woman who spent her life trying to make people happy – she just wanted people to like her! – got stuck in an office that had more sharks than a reef in the Bermuda Triangle? What then? What if the pastor who worked his tail off – he just wanted to grow his church! – had people criticize his sermons? What then? What if the things you built your life on were suddenly all taken away?
I have a sense that you know we already know. We’ve known for a long time now. Probably one of the most public ways we’ve found out recently is through a woman named Rhonda Rousey. She might be one of the most recognizable female athletes in the world right now. Incredible MMA fighter. Undefeated. Unbeatable. That whole deal. I even remember reading articles saying that she might be the most talented athlete of our generation. She spent all day every day trying to win at MMA and she did. Until she didn’t anymore. I still remember what happened in the Twitterverse after the Holly Holm loss. The whole world reacted with what I can only describe as unbelief that Rhonda Rousey had actually been defeated. That’s how the world reacted, but it’s not how Rhonda reacted. Something far, far worse happened. In an interview on the Ellen DeGeneres Show she broke down describing what happened to her after the loss. I transcribed editing it only enough to make it appropriate for this audience. “I was like. I was like I was down in the corner and I was like. I was sitting in the corner and thinking about dealing with myself: ‘What am I anymore?’ I was thinking, ‘What do I do anymore? Nobody cares about me anymore.’ I looked up at my man. Travis was standing there. I looked up at him and I was just like, ‘I need to have his babies. I need to stay alive.’”
You know what we call that? We call that justification. She wanted justification for living. No, she needed justification for living. And when MMA was taken from her, she had to jump to a new justification and that’s just what she did. That’s why she said, “I need to have his babies.” Please understand I’m not picking on her. Not for a second. She’s just like us. We all need justification. It’s the most fundamental need our soul has. It’s what defines human spiritual existence. It’s what we’re all pursuing all the time. But then again, don’t take my word for it. Take Paul’s. That’s exactly what he said. He said that everybody wants to justify themselves. He even went so far as to call it a, “law,” (v. 2) or principle in our lives, which he says leads to, “sin and death.” (v. 2) Pretty direct, right? In this case, it’s not quite the spoonful of sugar that makes the medicine go down. Paul wants clarity. That’s the only way to deal properly with the addiction of self-justification. You have to out it. It was just a week ago when I saw how powerful this was already in my three-year-old. She did her cute new shoulder raise and announced, “Daddy, I’m not cute.” My wife, Melanie, and I both heard it and froze. We knew what she wanted. Elliana desperately wanted me to tell her she was cute. To correct her. To tell her she mattered and that she was justified because she was cute. And I couldn’t do it. I knew it would only lead her to spiritual death.
You want to know why? It’s sin. It keeps her thinking that she’s what matters. Not God. And that never ends well for us. Never. It wouldn’t for her either. It’d send her off to school completely vulnerable to the comments an 8th grade girl might whisper about her behind her back or lead her to invest too heavily in what some future guy might think of her. And worse yet, it’d keep her chasing self-justification. It’d keep her chasing her looks or her personality or her success or her smarts for her value. And they all – they all – lead to death. Someone will think she’s not pretty enough. Someone will tell her she’s not smart enough. Someone will remind her she’s not fun enough. And more catastrophic than that, it’d ruin her to God. It would suggest to her that she can meet God’s lawful standards of beauty and smarts and personality, which she can’t. Finally, all self-justification attempts are futile because we can’t meet God’s standards. That’s what Paul meant when he says, “The law was powerless… because it was weakened by the flesh.” (v. 3) Standards can’t help us be beautiful to God when our sin is always tilting us toward the ugly. God’s law can’t help us be pure when our flesh is always pulling away us away from it. Our flesh, the sin in us, is why we’ll never be enough. Not for people and not for God.
Now I understand you may not buy that just yet, but I should tell you your body does. At least, mine does. The new wrinkles, the changing hairline. The heart valve that’s probably narrowing, the barnyard dance with chemo that’s probably coming. It’s preaching to me with great, great clarity, “You don’t deserve the air you breath. You don’t merit the space you take up on this planet. You shouldn’t stick around.” Do you see that? The truth is that justification and death are intimately linked. If my existence is justified, God will have me stick around. Because I deserve the breathes I take. Because I merit the space I’m in. If I’m justified and, therefore, it’s right for God to keep me around, then rest assured he’ll keep me around. But if it isn’t and I’m not justified, then God will allow death to do its work in my body. So while our souls don’t always see it, our bodies always do. And that’s the point of death and decay here. They always preach. Every trip to the ER is another opportunity for death to say, “End whatever self-justification journey you’re on. It’s not working.” And every trip to the doctor is another chance to understand, “I don’t measure up.”
And as strange as it sounds that’s a grace. That’s a grace. Think of it as God’s intervention into our lives to get us to quit the addiction of self-justification cold turkey and get on board with God’s justification of us, which justification he also proved in a body. “He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in our case.” (v. 3–4) That’s what God did in the flesh of his Son. Our missing spiritual beauty and our existing spiritual ugly, our failed self-justification attempts, our too small smarts, our wrong-headed pride in our parenting, he condemned it in the flesh of Jesus. That’s what happened on the cross. God condemned our self-justification projects in Jesus’ body. That’s why Jesus died. It’s like I said justification and death are linked. Jesus didn’t deserve the space he was taking up here anymore. Not with our sinful baggage on him. Jesus didn’t merit the breathes he was taking. Not when he was carrying our self-justification attempts. God condemned them in Jesus’ flesh. And since Jesus carried it all, we now fully measure up. We meet every righteous requirement of the law. We’re beautiful enough. We’re pure enough. We’re holy enough. We’re justified in Christ Jesus.
And you may be surprised to find out that the Spirit’s whole job is to push that more deeply into us. “Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free.” (v. 2) It’s, in fact, so the Spirit’s job to inform you of Christ’s justification of you that Paul calls it a law or a principle. In other words, it’s a principle of the Spirit that he’s a justification pusher for justification junkies. Think of it this way: the Spirit’s our new dealer and Jesus’ justification is our new drug. Something has to justify us. And when it can’t be MMA because it leads to death. And when it can’t be having somebody’s babies because it leads to death. And when it can’t be being cute enough because it leads to death. And when it can’t be something – anything – related to ourselves because we’re all already failed justification projects, then it has to come from the outside in. And it has to come from a spirit other than our own. And so it does. On both counts. The Spirit makes it his entire business to push Christ’s justification into us. That’s the Spirit’s entire work. To push Christ into your heart.
And for people who have that Paul says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (v. 1) None. God can’t condemn you for sin in your life because it already condemned Jesus. And nobody can condemn you for a lack of spiritual beauty because our every spiritual ugly already disfigured Christ’s body. And it just expands from there. It’s not just eternal condemnation that can’t hound you anymore. The Spirit’s letting you know that in Christ Jesus there’s no condemnation period. Nobody can condemn you for your smarts (or the lack thereof), your not-so-great career, your personality quirks, or your failed marriage. Nobody. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Because our justification does not rest on anything in us or about us. It rests on Christ – on his blood, on his body, and on what he did for us. Do you see what that means? When someone suggests your work performance makes you worthless, they lie. You’re worth the blood of God. When someone texts around pictures trying to make you feel lower than low they couldn’t be more false, Christ makes you more valued than all the gold on earth. And nobody can ever take that from you.
Ever. Do you realize that’s why this Scripture comes up right around Easter? Jesus’ justification is so big that it makes you worth hanging out with forever and ever and ever. Think about that. Jesus’ justification makes you so good that it makes you deserve breathes in the pure air of God’s presence and earns you a room in God’s heavenly mansion. Our spirits know that now. And your body will soon. God will erase the wrinkles and give you a new hairline (if you need one). God will give you a heartbeat that won’t ever quit and eradicate the need for chemo. Because your existence is completely and eternally justified both the breathes you breathe and the space you take. Let me say it another way. God already began his resurrection work in you when he raised up your spirit with Jesus’ justification of you. He’s not going to quit half done. He’ll raise your body too. He’ll have to. Jesus’ justification makes you look far too good to God. You know why we know that for sure? God was so excited about Jesus’ justification of you that he gave it the ultimate stamp of approval. He raised Jesus from the dead.
My wife, Melanie, and I want that for our daughter. That’s why when my daughter said, “Daddy, I’m not cute.” We both immediately reacted. I suppose there were a lot of ways we could’ve handled it. I could’ve reassured her and said, “No, honey you really are. Daddy thinks you’re the cutest girl in the world.” Then poked her and followed up, “Cuter than the Easter bunny.” And Melanie could’ve said, “Elliana, we love you so much. You’re a beautiful girl.” And I suppose that maybe that would’ve made her smile for a moment. Neither of us did though. It was quite the moment actually. We both wanted to handle it so quickly we ended up talking over each other for a second. I said, “Honey, that doesn’t matter me or God. God loves you and Jesus died for you.” And Melanie said, “Elliana, Jesus will always love you no matter what.” We both did the exact same thing. You know why I think we both did that? It’s not because we’re great parents. Finally, it’s because we’ve both tasted the death our various self-justification projects have brought us. We’ve tried them. Sometimes we still do and they always leave us worse off than before. Our every wrinkle. Our every grey hair proves it. Only one justification doesn’t lead to death: Jesus.
So what if the star student and the National Merit Scholar gets a B+? So what? He still has an A+ in Christ Jesus. So what if the super mom messed up on that one occasion? So what? She’s still washed in the blood of the Lamb. So what if the savvy businessman gets his business empire wiped out? He still has the riches of eternity with the Lord. So what if the PGA golfer loses his ability to play on the tour? So what? He still is one of God’s own. So what if the people in your office don’t really like you? God likes you. So what if people don’t think your sermons are all that great? God thinks you’re so thought provoking he’s going to make you his conversation partner for the next million or so years. So what if something in this life is taken from you? Jesus will never be taken from you. Do you see it? What if we all built our life on that? What if everybody in here thought that that’s what made us special? What if we all became Spirit-led justification junkies who were constantly taking their hits off a justification that big, that lasting, that perfect, and that divine.
I want the people in this church to trust that justification. I want you to believe you matter because God’s Son died for you. I want you to believe you’re holy because Jesus carried your sin in his body. I want you to believe you get to draw breaths forever because God wants you around in eternity. I want you to believe you will take up space in heaven because God can’t stand to miss out on your goodness. I want you to believe you have all that from Jesus. Because then the law won’t condemn you. It can’t. It already condemned Jesus. And nothing else ever will either. Not the lady who gives you a nasty look. Not the B+ in that literature class. Not the parenting you’re finding out isn’t that great. Not the life you wished you had done so differently. Not the tax man. Not that abortion you had earlier in life. Not that marriage that you wish you had made last. Not your conscience. Not sin. Not death itself. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There’s only life. Because Christ Jesus gave you his life. That’s why you matter. That’s why you’re valued. That’s why you’re great. And that’s why his justification will finally set you free. The Spirit promises. Amen.