No Condemnation

* This article previously appeared in the Hillsdale Daily News and The Daily Reporter

There is a book in the Bible that has attracted my attention for years: the book of Romans. It’s a book written by the Apostle Paul to the church at Rome, a church he had not yet visited but loved very much. There were many believers there whom he knew well. The book of Romans plays an important part in church history as it was in studying this book that brought Martin Luther to seek to reform the church. This was also the first Biblical commentary that John Calvin wrote.

Luther wrote about Romans, “This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes.” And Calvin would later add, “when any one gains a knowledge of this Epistle, he has an entrance opened to him to all the most hidden treasures of Scripture.”

This week I finish preaching through this wonderful book. It took me around 60 weeks though I didn’t preach straight through. As I preached, though, one chapter in this book caught my attention: Romans 8 is perhaps one of the most significant and beautiful chapters in the whole Bible. It is true, as Paul writes, that all of God’s Word is “breathed out by God” and so important. But Romans 8 caught my attention as a pastor and as a believer. I’d like to spend the next weeks, working through this chapter verse-by-verse. I hope you won’t find it tedious; I hope I can impart through these articles something of my love for this chapter as well as the way it can encourage you in your faith. Let’s dive right in…

Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This first verse comes as a conclusion to all that Paul has been saying through the first seven chapters. He begins by showing how every single person is condemned before God, due to sin. There is no getting around it, Paul says, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” He further goes on to show that the “wages of sin is death.” In chapter seven he even wrestles with the reality that he – as a saint and apostle – still struggles with sin. What is his only hope? Romans 7:24 says, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

Paul doesn’t leave us hanging long for he immediately answers, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” The reason that Paul can turn around and say that there is no condemnation is because Christ saves God’s people from God’s own wrath. Now, if you’ve followed my articles you know exactly how it is that Christ saves us. He saves us by taking that wrath upon himself. In fact, he so completely takes that wrath that it’s used up. There is no more wrath for those who are in Christ.

This is what Paul is saying by way of introduction to this wonderful chapter. For the believer in Christ, there is no condemnation. This is an important reality to understand as a Christian. The whole point of Paul’s argument, begun in chapter 6. In Adam there is death but in Christ there is life. Sin remains within the believer, this side of glory, but the believer is never to think that their sin separates her from Christ.

The point for Paul is so important that he actually begins his sentence with a ‘No!’ In the English translation we get, ‘there is therefore now no’ but the Greek says ‘No, therefore now condemnation.’ It might be confusing to us but Paul had the ability, through the Greek, to change the word order to emphasize or drive home his point.

This truth is of the utmost importance to us and we must understand that it is true now. It’s not something we are waiting for in the future. I think that John Calvin sums it up best, “the trembling consciences of the godly have an invincible fortress, for they know that while they abide in Christ they are beyond every danger of condemnation.”

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HOPC 2015 Graduates

If you’ve been around HOPC for any length of time, you know that we have a lot of college students. That’s an understatement. We have A LOT of college students. The first year there were 25, the second 40, and at this point there are around 100 Hillsdale College students who call HOPC their “home church away from home.” Through the course of the school year, at least 10% of the college’s student body will worship with us.

This is why our focus has always included ministering to these students. Unlike many churches, though, we don’t have fancy programs or contemporary rock bands. A local pastor, after hearing how many students attend, asked me how we had so many. I responded, “I put on a robe and we sing psalms and hymns to piano accompaniment.” This pastor thought I was joking. Surely there had to be more! I’ve heard local pastors talking about putting in a coffee shop or increasing the speed of worship all with an effort to reach the students.

I have an idea: preach the Gospel. Young people are not looking to be entertained. After all, there is plenty of that in their lives already. And, if we’re honest, the church always does a substandard job of entertaining them anyways. What do we have? The truth. How is it conveyed? Through preaching the Word of God. What are we seeking to build? A faithful community of believers who love God and love one another.

Every year we celebrate the students who have sojourned with us. After all, that’s what we all are: pilgrims in this world. Some fellow-travelers walk with us for many years and some for only a few. These students are very important to the life of the church even as the community members are important. As Paul says to the Corinthians, “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:12).

It is my prayer that HOPC continues to reflect this truth, that we are members of one another. I am grateful for their being among us and blessing us with their gifts; we need them and they need us.

I reflect on all of this because this week we had our 7th HOPC Senior Dinner. This is something that we started my first year as pastor. It’s not my show, though, it’s my wife’s. She loves to cook and care for the students and so she prepares them a meal that they won’t soon forget. The decorations have been a more recent touch and are due to John and Lici Davis. Every year we tell the students that this is our chance to rejoice with them and to thank them. This year we had 11 students attend the dinner. Pray that the Lord would bless them as they take finals and prepare for what’s next in their lives. Pray that the Lord would bring them to places where they can unite with faithful churches and continue to be fed week by week. Pray that some of them would find employment locally and be able to continue their sojourning with us just a bit longer.

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