Gospel = No Condemnation! Really??

Does your God, boss, or pastor look like this judge? This past Mon, Dec 12, I appeared in traffic court for 2 offenses: a moving violation and no insurance papers. My insurance ticket was dismissed when I showed it in court. Then the judge asked me about making an illegal turn, “How do you plead: Guilty or Not guilty?” Since I have already waited for 2 hours, I pled, “Guilty,” knowing that it  will take several more hours to wait for a trial after recess. (Also, I was guilty!) I was fined $25 plus $165 “court fees” (that took 1 min before the judge) for a total of $190 paid to the Circuit Court. This made me to think of the day I will stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) and before the Judge of all the earth (Gen 18:25). How would I plead on that day? “Guilty or not guilty?” (Incidentally, the week before on Dec 7, Rod Blogojevich, the former impeached governor of Illinois, who pleaded “Not guilty” was found “Guilty” and sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption.)

I am reading How the Gospel Brings us All the Way Home by Derek Thomas. It is a commentary on Romans 8, which has been called the best chapter and the greatest chapter in the Bible. Just as Blagojevich and I are both guilty before a human court, all mankind is guilty in God’s sight, for “there is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom 3:10, 23). Every inclination, imagination and intention of our inner thoughts are evil all the time (Gen 6:5). Our heart is incurably deceitful (Jer 17:9). Even our very best righteous acts are like filthy rags–like a soiled menstrual cloth (Isa 64:6). Because of our sin we are all deserving of condemnation. However, Rom 8:1 amazingly declares the best news imaginable, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” This verse always reminds me of my friend Jim Rabchuk, for he has shared often that this is his conversion verse.

Just how radical is this good news of no condemnation? Our past and present sins may still guilt us into feeling condemned. How could I still lust like that? Lie like that? It is because of our performance mentality that is all too common. We feel good or bad depending on whether we do spiritual things or give in to sin. But Paul says that our state of “no condemnation” is not based on or dependent on our performance, but on being “in Christ.” Paul could have said it in the positive, “In Christ, there is justification,” which is God declaring righteous those who are in Christ (2 Cor 5:21). But he said, “In Christ, there is no condemnation.” This is the gospel of good news. This is the grace of God that we Christians have not merited or earned, nor can we ever merit or earn it.

Are there objections to this gospel of grace (Acts 20:24)? Yes. They have come from Christians. It goes something like this: “If you only teach grace, you will produce nominal uncommitted disobedient Christians who will sin as they please. So you need to balance grace with the law.”

Is it true that teaching grace (without adding law or performance) produces lawless Christians or antinomianism, which means anti-law, disregarding God’s law, or a license to sin? Paul anticipated this charge and asked, “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Rom 6:1) In fact, Paul’s response in Romans goes like this: “If we are not tempted to think that we can sin freely and still be Christians, we have not understood the gospel.” To Paul, grace MUST raise the temptation to think that we can sin as we please; if it does not, we have not understood the depth and true extent of grace. Yet, at no time can we yield to the temptation to think this way. Paul answers his own question in Rom 6:1: ”By no means!” (Rom 6:2)

How then should we respond to the gospel that gives freedom from condemnation? Grateful law-keeping is the saved sinner’s response to grace. When we add law to grace, a result is legalistic Christians. When we proclaim Paul’s gospel of radical free grace, the result is a life of holy obedient gratitude and thanksgiving for a very costly priceless grace.

Do you feel good or guilty based on your performance in keeping the law? Or do you live a life of “no condemnation in Christ” whereby you love and delight to keep the law of God?


  1. David Bychkov

    Thanks for sharing, dr. Ben!
    The justification by grace alone through faith alone and in Christ alone is the really blow and crash of human pride. I am to come to God just by grace as a sinner every day. And there is no other way for me to come to God. But if there is no grace alone and something I need to do or something I need to be to come to God, I will never get enough assurence that God will accept me. So it is really really importent to know this and to come to God just through Christ every day, even from very sinful statement.
    However we can come to God and get this justification and to be sure and calm in it just by faith. So our faith should be strong and living. And here I see the great meaning of works. If my faith is not live and strong enough for doing Christian works, how it can be strong for bringing me to God and giving me strong assurence in God’s justification and love? And more practical my Christian life is in terms of works, more live and bold is my assurence in God’s love and justification (James 2:24, 2Pet 1:10)
    The last thing I want to mention that Christian attitude to the God’s law is changed in the way, that we don’t use it for justification before God. But we love it. We delight in it like David did (Psalm 1). We love to serve God. We love to immitate Jesus and to do what is right, because we are God’s children. And the Holy Spirit which dwells in us, sure loves the law of God.

  2. Ben,

    I too had to go to traffic court once. It did also remind me of standing before God’s judgment seat. I also pleaded guilty because I was guilty. I saw one man become angry at the judge and flipped him off as he left the courtroom. The judge called him back in and gave him 30 more days in jail.

    Sorry for digressing… you asked: “Do you feel good or guilty based on your performance in keeping the law? Or do you live a life of “no condemnation in Christ” whereby you love and delight to keep the law of God?”

    I’m starting to not like these “either/or” type questions… but I can see your point, and it is valid: am I living as if Romans 8:1,2 are true? 

    Romans 8:1-2  “1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

    This verse never really inspired me, so no, I have not lived as if there really is no condemnation. I meekly tried to uphold this and muster as much joy as I could under the heavy yoke of my performance-based theology (I didn’t call it theology, but that is indeed what it was.).  

    Romans 8 was also always a “heavy” passage for me. I didn’t understand it. I was glad that we didn’t study it much. But now that I read Romans again (in preparation for my new blogging project), the pages literally burst off my computer screen with joy!  I am simply astounded by how much Romans speaks of grace. I used to think it was a book about the law.


  3.  ”Do you feel good or guilty based on your performance in keeping the law? Or do you live a life of “no condemnation in Christ” 

    I have to admit, I definitely feel  guilt over many of my past deeds. Though I believe Jesus has forgiven me for these sins, that doesnt change the fact that I am remorseful for having committed them against my God.  I guess some would say that I should replace those thoughts of guilt with gratitude for the great mercy of Christ. I do try this but I also don’t want to forget my past misgivings because I am still alive and I still have the capacity to sin. And I still have the capacity to remove myself from Christ if I choose to. God removes my sin but not my inclination to sin. So I secretly hold on to the guilt because it reminds me of the wrong path from which Christ saved me. When I am in heaven, I imagine I will look back at my past life and sigh. But a second later look at the glorious life that Christ has earned for me and never look back again. 


  4. Where are you guys finding these hilarious pictures for the articles?

  5. Tim McEathron

    I began to really think about this issue as well, as we recently studied Galatians (which I thought was ground-breaking and very refreshing). Galatians seems to be a predecessor to Romans and has a lot of the same themes and verses. However, I have a hard time trying to reconcile Rom 8:1 with other passages. For example Jesus taught that finding the way was a small gate and narrow (restrictive) way. Mt 7:14 He described being Christian as a cross we take up daily, which requires a lot of self-denial. Lk 8:34, Mt 9:23 He didn’t speak of Christian life in comfy, happy words. He even described learning from him as putting on a yoke (albeit a light yoke which gives incomparable rest and peace but a yoke none the less) which meant restriction and hard work. Mt 11:29-30 James said that the one who hears the word and doesn’t do it, deceives himself. Ja 1:22 I couldn’t even begin to quote all the verses in 1 Jn lets just say 1 Jn 1:1-5:21 has some very strong words about how the one who is in Christ will not continue to sin and that one who does crucifies Christ all over again. What’s more Rom 2:7 says, “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.” This as I’ve understood means that a single confession of Christ is not really proof of faith or of salvation. Rather, Christianity is a lifestyle, where Christ is integrated into every aspect of our life and we are in Him in all that we do, and it is this lifestyle that is the proof that we are Christians and thereby that we are saved. Hence, I wonder what is meant by “…those who are in Christ”? Rom 8:1b I’ve begun reading a number of books mostly about children’s ministry but generally about Christian parenting, presenting the gospel to children etc. and have also been hearing a lot of talks at children’s ministry conferences from various Christian leaders/pastors. The overwhelming message I get from them is Jesus is love, only love, nothing but love. Therefore, only practice grace, only preach grace, only show grace. Well Jn 1:14 says, “…full of grace and truth.” What struck me about these only grace messages, is that it doesn’t really challenge the lifestyle we lead or leads to things like the prosperity gospel (Joel Osteen). While Rom 8:1 seems to throw the doors wide open, I wonder if the words “…those who are in Christ” don’t possibly make us pause and ask if the life we are leading is “in Christ” and if then we are free from condemnation? (This is the question I keep finding myself pondering one way and the other).

    Well all that said, I often find myself exhausted with performance based faith. However, I found myself transformed ever since I really accepted Mt 25:21 to heart (thanks Christy and Dr Ben) and found it defined my Christian life. I thank God that in Children’s ministry I can do many things that no one ever sees. It gives me a special delight to know that my Father is pleased and would have it no other way. My hope is to be a good servant, which means working for Him and his purpose. I’m not really sure if I could claim his pleasure just for making an empty confession, with no supporting evidence. Though I do find myself sometimes intrigued by the story of Charles Wesley’s (second?) conversion upon witnessing the joy of the Moravians that he found so convicting and which ultimately transformed his faith to a true salvation, and wondering if there is a greater joy and salvation which I have yet to experience? 

  6. Just reading through some of our older articles. I really wish we could discuss these kinds of articles more, articles that deal with the gospel.

    One key point made here is this:

    “It is because of our performance mentality that is all too common. We feel good or bad depending on whether we do spiritual things or give in to sin. But Paul says that our state of “no condemnation” is not based on or dependent on our performance, but on being “in Christ.”

    We can see this gospel of performance in a recent ubf report, filled with performance-based struggles:

    “Despite the recession, God allowed my business to grow by 30%. God sent Dr. John Jun with CME (Continuing Missionary Education) and gave me vision and faith for my business.”

    Well guess what, my business grew by 400% last year. And without even a single prayer or CME session, and while I was an ex-ubf member.

    The fact is we succeed and fail in this world according to a number of factors, not according to how obedient we are to ubf mission.

  7. Thanks, Brian, for flagging this. For whatever reason, it is one of my favorite postings. But perhaps such “theological posts” do not receive much traction or comments, which might be understandable.

    PTL that your business grew by 400%. I am truly happy and excited to hear this! If you are here in Chicago, I would pat you on the back so hard, and give you a big proud hug!

    • Well, it is nice to have much more time for such things as doing my job, loving my wife, playing with my kids… you know, all that evil human stuff that prevents me from serving God… :/

      Plus, added bonus, there is no human director messing up my plans and heaping layers of guilt on me. I have no problem making money, because a business without money is like a church without the gospel. Money does not control me; I control money.

      I don’t think it is wise to draw too many conclusions… but I will anyway…

      While in ubf I was so over-concerned with my performance that I paralyzed myself. I was only able to write 2 pages of bible reflection each week, talk to 1 person about the gospel and rarely discussed anything of significance with my wife, and all this was done with a mostly begrudging, han-like desperation and fear of messing up.

      After leaving ubf, I now write about 10 pages of reflection each week, talk to dozens of people each week and spend hours talking with my wife each week.

      The bottom line is: good or bad performance isn’t the gospel.

  8. The gospel is all God and His grace, even toward the vilest of sinners, and even to the “laziest of UBF Christians.”

    UBF’s inclination toward work/performance/behavior righteousness has blurred/obscured the gospel. It produces an undertow of legalism, guilt, formalism, traditionalism, and older brother self-rigteousness that do reveal the beauty and majesty of Christ to out-siders. It also makes insiders tired and burdened to carry a heavy yoke that Jesus already carried to Golgotha.

    • Hereticman says that even ex-ubf members can believe the gospel.

      Yoke. That is a word that helped spark a revolutionary transformation and Spirit-indwelling in hereticman. Someone (probably Piper or Keller) mentioned that Jesus’ yoke is grace: it is easy and light because God carried the burden. Our role as Christ-follower is not to re-carry the burden of the cross, but to be ambassadors of Christ demonstrating love, unity and living hope to humanity as citizens in God’s kingdom.

      Participating in the suffering of Christ then, has amazing meaning. But it does not mean we go around carrying buckets of guilt, sad faces and fearful trepidation.

      I used to be SO fearful of every little decision. Now I am so overjoyed to endure some mild suffering these past two years. Passages like 1 Peter 4:13 make so much more sense now.