The Blessedness of Freedom from Condemnation
Reformed Free Publishing Association
What follows is an extract from chapter 44 of Righteous by Faith Alone: A Devotional Commentary on Romans, by Herman Hoeksema, pages 305-308, published by the RFPA.
Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit”
The apostle does not mean that there used to be condemnation. He does not mean that up to the year AD 33, before Christ died, there was condemnation, but now this condemnation has been removed. No, the word has a logical meaning, and the apostle merely says, “There is no condemnation.” There never was any condemnation. God does not change. It is not so that he first condemned, but now he condemns no more. There is no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus from all eternity.
In the deepest sense of the word, the matter does not stand this way: God for a certain time condemned his people in his counsel and then gave them to Christ in his counsel. No, in God’s counsel Christ is first. God determined to glorify himself. He determined to glorify himself in his Son. He determined to glorify himself in Christ and his church. He determined to glorify himself in the way of sin and grace. God glorifies himself in Christ and his church. There never was any condemnation for them which are in Christ Jesus. It is true that God realizes this no condemnation through the cross. Still, there never was any condemnation.
This is true for them who are in Christ Jesus. To be “in Christ” is a common expression. We usually read over it because we have become so used to it. What does it mean to be in Christ? Christ Jesus is the one who came down from heaven. He is the one who was with us for a short time, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood. He is the one who died for us on the cross. This man is Christ Jesus. Historically, this is Christ Jesus. It is he who was raised, who ascended into heaven, who was exalted to the right hand of God. He is the Son of God, who came down from heaven in our nature and who returned to the Father.
What does it mean to be in him? We can be in a thing in more than one sense. We can be in something in a local sense. For example, we can be in a church building. We cannot be in Christ in this sense. We can be in something in the sense that we are covered by something. For example, we are in an insurance company so that we are covered by its policy and benefits. Or we can be in a corporation and thus be within the scope of the power and benefits of the corporation. There is still another sense in which we can be in something. We can speak of a branch being in the vine. There is a vital connection between the branch and the vine.
To be in Christ has, in the first place, a legal meaning. God has ordained a legal corporation. Of this corporation Christ is the head. The corporation is represented, in all its obligations and benefits, by Christ. All the benefits of the corporation are bestowed by him. To be in Christ is to be a member of this corporation.
In the second place, to be in Christ means that there is a vital relation between us and him, even as the relation between the branch and the vine is a vital relation. There is such a connection between us and Christ that we can live out of him. There is such a connection that we appropriate him, that we draw him into us.
Both of these relationships work through faith. By faith, we are a member of the corporation of which Christ is the head. And as soon as I consciously become a member of this corporation, I discover that I am connected with the sinful human race. By faith I also live out of Christ. Put the living Christian in connection with Christ, and he says, “He is mine.”
The apostle emphasizes the first idea, the legal meaning. He does not emphasize the vital relationship. He does not mean, “I live out of Christ, and therefore there is now no condemnation for me.” Our sanctification can never be the ground of our assurance that there is no condemnation for us. We can never reason like this: I am a Christian; I am in Christ, and therefore there is no condemnation for me. Remember all the sins that testify against you and that still testify against you! That there is no condemnation means that there is no imputation of sin. And that there is no imputation of sin means that there is forgiveness of sins. But there is no good work on the basis of which God can forgive one sin. Therefore, it is not because of that vital relationship to Christ that we say, “There is now no condemnation for me.” Rather, it is because of the legal corporation, the head of which is Christ, who came in our world, flesh of our flesh and blood of our blood; and who died, was raised, ascended into heaven, and was exalted to the right hand of God. They who are in Christ say, “There is no condemnation for me.” No matter what their conscience may say, there is no condemnation for them who are in Christ Jesus.
It is not as if our works have nothing to do with this assurance, for the apostle adds, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” As far as our justification is concerned, these words could be omitted. They are not the ground that there is no condemnation, but they mark those who are in Christ. The flesh refers to our sinful nature. This is not because the substance of our body is the seat of sin. But sin must necessarily reveal itself, become active, and become real in the body. Sin becomes active; it becomes a fleshly matter in my speaking, in my walking, in my actions, and even in my thinking and desiring. This body is not regenerated until the day of the Lord. As Christians we have a regenerated heart, but unregenerated flesh.
By walk after the Spirit the apostle means the new principle of life in conflict with that old sinful nature. Our walk refers to our whole life. If I walk after the flesh, my whole life is inspired to be in harmony with the principle of sin. But if I walk after the Spirit, my whole life, outward and inward, is inspired by the desire and motive to walk after the Spirit of Christ, who works in my spirit.
They who are in Christ are the same as they who walk after the Spirit. They do not walk after sin. This is impossible. The Christian is not a man who is motivated by the desire to live in sin. He has no delight in sin, but in the law of God. Against his own sin he cries out, “O miserable man that I am!”
Walking after the Spirit is the necessary characteristic of them who are in Christ Jesus. Why? Because we cannot be in Christ in the legal sense without being in him in the vital sense. We cannot be justified without being sanctified. Therefore, he who is in Christ also walks after the Spirit. Nor can we have peace and say that we are in Christ unless we walk after the Spirit. The assurance of our being in Christ is in the way of sanctification. The way of our being blessed is that we walk in sanctification. And the fruit of this walk in sanctification is that we say, “There is no condemnation for me.”
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