A substantial portion of our New Testament was written by the Apostle Paul. Some of his writing is theological, some is pastoral and some is poetic. These letters are not Paul’s philosophy of life. They are his attempts to point us to Jesus, the work God through Christ, and the way we can walk in step with the Spirit. Among his great writings is a chapter that contains some huge, beautiful themes—the eighth chapter of Paul’s letter to the Jesus-followers in Rome. We’re going to spend some days in Romans 8. We won’t go verse-by-verse or line-by-line. Instead, we’ll draw from the large truths—life-changing, world-changing truths—of this passage. We’ll see how other passages of scripture expand on Romans 8 and discover what God has for our individual journeys and our life together.
Monday, January 7
Read: Romans 1:1-7
Consider: When we encounter people in the Bible, we’re tempted to see them as larger than life. We call them “saints,” but we really aren’t using that term in the same manner that that Bible uses it. Saints are not characterized by traits that set them above the rest of humanity. They are normal, ordinary, run-of-the-mill people.
The literal meaning of “saints” (hagíois) is “God’s holy people.” And that is precisely where we get tripped up. We don’t feel like we’re holy. To us “holy people” are pious, spiritual, unflappable. They are people who have accomplished amazing things for God. But that is not how the New Testament describes them.
The first and most basic definition of holiness is to be “set apart” for God’s purposes. That’s why the Temple was called holy. It wasn’t used as a city hall, a library or a meeting place. It was set apart for the worship and glory of God. That’s why we call the Bible holy. It’s not a novel or a science textbook. It has a purpose. And that is why Paul begins his letter by saying that he has been “set apart for the good news” (1:1).
What did that mean for Paul? Paul had a real life. Yes, he was a scholar who had spent his life studying the Hebrew scriptures (our Old Testament), but to put food on the table, he worked as a tentmaker. He probably designed and sewed canopies for outdoor markets. But he knew that whether he was sewing awnings, writing letters to the churches, delivering money to the poor or preaching the gospel, his life was no longer his. He had allowed God to set it apart for God’s purposes.
You and I are set apart. When we accept Christ’s invitation to follow him, we have stated that our lives are lived for his purposes. That purpose takes place in our lives of “tentmaking” and child-raising and bill-paying and problem-solving and rejoicing and mourning and…well, you get the picture. Because of Christ our lives have purpose. Because of Christ all the moments of our lives are holy.
That’s why Paul called the Romans—and you and me—God’s “holy people” (1:7). That is, he called us hagíois—saints.
Pray: “Lord, help me to quit worrying about living a perfect life. I’m constantly defeated when my life is reduced to sin management. Instead, help me to discover what it means to give my life to your purposes. As I learn that all my life is given to me to be given back to you, I see and experience eternal moments—holy moments—in my daily walk with you.”
Tuesday, January 8
Read: 1 Timothy 1:12-17
Consider: Paul boldly stated that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I can never read those words without thinking about Paul’s life before his dramatic encounter with Jesus, before his blinding vision on the Damascus Road (Acts 9).
Paul (then known as Saul) had focused his efforts on destroying this new movement of people who followed the way of Jesus of Nazareth. The zeal for his religious tradition had morphed into anger, contempt and hate. Though they were his Jewish sisters and brothers, Saul terrorized the Jesus followers, imprisoning them, destroying families, promoting persecution and acting as an accomplice to murder (if not an actual murderer!). Of course, it was all legal for this Roman citizen who had gained permission and authority for his deeds from the religious establishment. If we were to encounter Saul today, we would probably see him as one of the worst religious bigots, one of the worst human beings we had ever met.
No wonder that, in retrospect, Paul referred to himself as “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16). The question is, how did this self-described “blasphemer…persecutor …violent man” come to the point in his life that he proclaimed “no condemnation” for himself and for those he sought to destroy?
That’s quite a journey. And even though you and I are not the worst of the worst, it’s a journey we must take. Travelling from self-condemnation to liberation is a process. Even when we trust the forgiveness of Christ, we usually need major paradigm shifts to accept that forgiveness and to forgive ourselves.
Many Christians were raised in a toxic environment when it came to guilt and condemnation. Their religion was fear-based. This is often true for people whether they were raised as Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals or Fundamentalists. Well, no matter how you were raised, I’d bet that Saul’s perverted view of God was worse than yours. And yet, our brother Paul made that journey ahead of us. And in the days ahead, we’ll gain some insight as to how he viewed the journey.
Pray: “Lord, none of us has a perfect picture of our Heavenly Father. Our vision—my vision—has been shaped in some good ways and some ways that defeat me and bring me to self-condemnation. Today I will take an intentional step on my journey by thanking you—throughout the day—that there is no condemnation for me. And it’s not because I’m perfect. It’s because I am in you and you are in me. Thank you, Lord!”
Wednesday, January 9
Read: Romans 7:14-25
Consider: Yesterday we looked at the gargantuan task of forgiving ourselves. When we wrestle with the sins of our past, we always look to Paul’s past life to remind us that if “the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:16) could know forgiveness, we can too. But that’s just part of the problem. What about our present sins?
For many of us who grew up in the church, there was a lot of grace offered for past sins, but not a lot of grace for the sins with which we continue to struggle. We were given the impression that once Christ forgave us, all sin was in the past. This led us to the conclusion that if we sinned in the present, we should be condemned. There was this impression that people like Saint Paul (and all the other “saints”) had a past, but they had learned to live sin-free lives. And, of course, we knew we weren’t in that category. Because of this tragic misunderstanding, many people left the faith because they knew they could never measure up to that image of Christianity. Others did not abandon the faith, but over time they abandoned the joy of the journey. Both are tragedies.
If you think that after he encountered Jesus, Paul had it all figured out, you need to read the verses that immediately precede Paul’s declaration that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). He said…
“For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate, I do…I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.” (7:15, 18-19)
Wow! Paul had a lot of spiritual growing up to do! So do I. So do you. And we can. We can grow in our relationship and intimacy with God. We can discover total abandonment to Christ. We can watch our actions align with our hearts.
The point we must take today is that even though we are in process, even though we still stumble, even though sometimes we make a mess of it, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (8:1). I do not have to live in the clutches of a fear-based religion.
Understanding that I am not condemned does not make me want to disregard the life I’m called to live. It is not, as some people presume, a license to live irresponsible lives that sabotage us and the people around us. On the contrary, understanding that I walk with One who knows me best and does not condemn me, motivates me to walk even closer to him.
Pray: “Lord, in my stumbling and in the results of my ignorance and pride, I pray that I will run to you and not from you. Your love for and acceptance of me are beyond my comprehension, but I choose today to believe and trust in your steadfast love.”
Thursday, January 10
Read: Romans 8:1-4
Consider: Is guilt good or bad? Well, I don’t talk in terms of good guilt and bad guilt. I like to think of it in terms of good guilt and false guilt.
We know that good guilt is a gift to us. It protects us from bad decisions and from repeating terrible mistakes. It shows us the need for repentance—which is a change of mind and of life. False guilt, on the other hand, is amazingly destructive—not just to an individual, but also to those around that individual who are victimized by the harm that is inflicted by one who can never forgive himself or herself. False guilt destroys lives.
But, let’s pause a minute. Guilt is not a thing. What we’re really talking about is our capacity to listen to God. Good guilt is not an entity, it is the voice of the Holy Spirit (what many people call the conscience). When the Holy Spirit tells you that you shouldn’t have spoken to your spouse in that manner, the Spirit is prompting you to apologize, to restore relationship and to change. That’s good!
False guilt arises when we are confused as to the source of the message we’re hearing. Sometimes our minds are filled with destructive messages, like “You’re worthless. You’ll never be good enough. Until you get it right, God is angry with you and is withholding his love.” We’ve all heard those messages. And they are devastating when we believe that God is the source—when we believe that the Spirit of God is condemning us.
And therein lies the difference. God’s Spirit confronts us and leads us but does not condemn us. That was never God’s purpose. Paul wrote that God condemned sin (8:3) but does not condemn us (8:1).
That’s not an abstract concept. That’s not a word game. When Paul spoke of condemnation, he was talking about destruction. God never intended to destroy us, but to destroy sin. My favorite way of saying it is that God did not want to destroy me, but he wanted to destroy that which was destroying me.
Is the voice telling you how awful and despicable you are? Is the voice telling you that you’re worthless? If so, you can be assured that it’s not the voice of God. It may be the voice of your past—authority figures, abusers, your own perfectionism, or other assortments of baggage you have acquired. But it is not the voice of the One who taught us that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world” (John 3:17).
Pray: “Lord, I want to walk close to you so that I recognize your voice. I’m so grateful that even when you confront me and reveal my sin, you do it to take me to a better place, to conform me more to your image. Thank you for your love. Help me today to discern your voice in the midst of the competing noise.”
Friday, January 11
Read: Romans 8:1-4
Consider: This week as we’ve looked at Paul’s amazingly brilliant, beautiful and liberating statement of “no condemnation” (8:1), we’ve also seen references to “the law.”
Paul scandalized his coreligionists by saying that the law was “powerless” (8:3). This is not an isolated statement. It runs throughout Paul’s letters, particularly his Letter to the Galatians. Imagine if you had been raised with Paul (when he was Saul) and, with him, had studied, memorized, honored and revered the law that was given at Sinai. The Exodus and the giving of the law were the center of Saul’s faith. But now, he refers to his old way of thinking as “the law of sin and death” (8:2). You’d either be scratching your head or scratching Paul’s eyes out!
Of course, Paul was not condemning the gift of the law that God gave to Moses. But he was condemning the misunderstanding and perversion of that law. If the law was void of love, it was incomprehensible. In fact, it would have the opposite effect of God’s purpose. Instead of leading us to God it would cause us to make the law into a god—a religion that would save us. And that would allow us, in the name of the law, to condemn others, to put our faith in our own understanding, to become arrogant and legalistic, to hate and even to kill while thinking we are righteous.
But, says Paul, “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do…God did by sending his own Son…” (8:2-3).
What is this “law of the Spirit”? Tomorrow we’ll see that Paul’s assertion of “no condemnation” is not simply a nice add-on to the gospel. It is not merely a good thought to help us be more emotionally healthy. It is the center of everything that Jesus taught us.
Pray: Meditate on the phrase, “the law of the Spirit who gives life” (8:2). If you were to lodge that in your mind and in your heart today, how might that impact your interaction with God and your interactions with those you encounter? Thank God for his Spirit and thank him for life.
Saturday, January 12
Read: Matthew 22:34-40
Consider: This week as we’ve settled into the truth of “no condemnation” (Romans 8:1), Paul has taught us that, rather than condemning or destroying us, God chose to destroy the sin in us (see Thursday’s meditation). And then he told us why. God “condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us…” (8:3-4).
The “righteous requirement of the law” turns our concept of the law upside down.
We have been socialized to see law as something on paper, something that authorities have legislated, and something that will be enforced. And, of course, enforcement is always equated with coercion. So, when religious law is viewed in this manner, it’s no wonder that some of the greatest atrocities in human history have been committed in the name of some religion.
But Jesus corrects all of that. What is the law? What is it that God desires? What is my responsibility to this world? Jesus said that it all “hangs on” one thing (Matthew 22:40). Paul said it is all “summed up” in one thing (Romans 13:9). James called it the “royal law” of a new kingdom—a new way of looking at the world and all that God has created and is creating (James 2:8).
If we don’t understand—in our minds and in our hearts—what the law is, we’ll become agents of everything that Jesus opposed. We’ll become mean-spirited, demanding that people see it our way. We’ll be so busy looking out for our “religious freedoms” that we won’t exercise the freedom from the law that Christ gave us—the freedom to reflect him in everything we do. We’ll demand from a position of power—a position of coercion—rather than living the way of the manger and the cross.
Of course, that one thing is love. Not power. Not force. Not being right. Not appearing to be righteous. Just love. Just lay-down-your-life love.
Pray: “Lord, show me how to live the life of the un-condemned and the un-condemning. Teach me how to be like you.”