Romans 8. 1-11
The reason for faith isn’t heaven or hell, but love!
Him the Almighty Power
Hurld headlong flaming from th’ Ethereal Skie
With hideous ruine and combustion down
To bottomless perdition, there to dwell
In Adamantine Chains and penal Fire,
Who durst defie th’ Omnipotent to Arms.
Nine times the Space that measures Day and Night
To mortal men, he with his horrid crew
Lay vanquisht, rowling in the fiery Gulfe
Confounded though immortal: But his doom
Reserv’d him to more wrath …
I guess I should apologize for that! But sometimes, But sometimes, the inner English major gets the better of me. No, it’s not King James. Or Shakespeare. It’s from book one of Paradise Lost, by the Puritan, John Milton. It was required reading back in my college days. But it’s from these words – and from words like them – that we learn more about Satan and Hell than anything we could find in scripture. This is where all the gloom, despair, and agony come from. This is Hell … in all its glory. Graphic. Explicit. Lost happiness and lasting pain! Affliction and dismay mixed with pride and hate! One great furnace! Full of fire! Flames with no light! Fiery deluge! Ever burning sulfur!
And for generations, for centuries, this has been the center of faith. We’ve been drawn to it. Obsessed with it. The fire and the brimstone. The damnation and hell. Wrath. Retribution. Without hell, there’s no heaven. Without hell, there’s no reason for Christ. For cross. It’s like the meme says, “If more people feared going to hell …, more people would be coming to Jesus.” And it’s here – in the midst of the smoke and the soot – that the verse appears. Romans. Chapter eight. Verse one. “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
“There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
for the longest time, I was just like everybody else. I’d hear those words and they’d tell me I was saved from it all! From the punishment. From the torment. From the pain. Everlasting. Eternal. Don’t get me wrong. Don’t misunderstand. There was still a hell. At least, according to popular opinion. In popular imagination, it never went away. It was there. On television. In movies. Books. It just wasn’t there, anymore, for us! For us or for people like us! Bible believing. Christ centered. Spirit filled. For us, condemnation is behind us … or should I say, below us.
But, truth is, I can’t help but think there’s more to this verse than that. More to it than an escape from judgment. Separating the chaff from the grain. Separating the goats from the sheep. Separating the evil from the good. But Paul sees faith differently from Matthew. For Paul, there is no outer darkness. There is no gnashing of teeth. No condemnation. No fire. For Paul, people sin. All people. All the time. Doing what they don’t want to do. Not doing what they want. They fall short. They miss the mark. But in the end, they don’t become more fuel for the fire. Instead, they’re loved. Instead, they’re forgiven. Each cell, every star, a treasure! Each atom, every galaxy, of great price! Not buried in the ground beneath our feet. But right there, before our very eyes! There’s nothing magical, nothing mysterious about believing! It’s simple, actually! God loves us! God loves us all! Just as we are! And that loving frees us. It changes us. To love everyone around us! Just as they are! “There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” No condemnation FOR them! And no condemnation FROM them, either!
Hell’s not a quantity. Something we can count or measure or weigh. Something better; something worse. Hell’s a quality. It’s treating people as things … including yourself (Terry Pratchett). It’s the suffering of not being able to love (Dostoyevsky). If that’s hell, then being saved means we treat people as people! Being saved means we love! Love just like Jesus! There is no condemnation! There’s only a cross! Jesus’ cross! The church’s cross! We’re not here to point fingers! We’re not here to raise voices! We’re not here to shake fists! We suffer! Suffer and are crucified! We die and are buried! Descend! Descend and rise! It’s like Dr. King says. Darkness cannot drive out darkness! And hate cannot drive out hate! Only light, only love, can do that! There is no condemnation!
Condemnation can’t change the world! Condemnation doesn’t transform lives! God doesn’t overpower! God doesn’t overwhelm! Instead, god comes in the ways and the wheres that surprise us, that catch us unaware. God comes as a baby, wrapped in rags, lying in a manger. God comes as a man beaten and bloodied, dangling from the arms of a cross. Salvation doesn’t come from the top-down; it rises up from the dust beneath our feet. Lifting up the lowly! Feeding the hungry! And condemnation has nothing to do with it!
Faith is treating creation with dignity and devotion! It’s approaching each other with reverence and respect. Love comes not in shouts but with whispers. Comes not in strength, but with gentleness. Comes not in self-righteousness, but humility. There, just … There, simply, is no condemnation.
We’re not here to scare people. We’re not here to threaten them, to intimidate them. To manipulate or to control. As a people of god, as the church of Christ, we aren’t here to give ‘em hell, any more than we’re here to give ‘em heaven! We’re here to save them! To save them just as god saves us! We’re here to redeem them! To deliver them! To redeem and deliver them, just as we’ve been redeemed and delivered!
My friends, we’re here for one reason – and for one reason alone – to love! Just! Like! Jesus! And in doing that, my friends … in being that … there is no condemnation!