No Condemnation

I woke up on the floor, dazed and confused. The birds chirping outside sounded like jackhammers in my head. The afternoon sun blinded my crusty eyes and my stomach was churning bile like butter. As I peeled myself off the dusty carpet of a foreign hotel room, shame settled in like a thick storm cloud. I slowly made my way to the sink. When my eyes lifted to catch my reflection, I was appalled at what I saw. The person in the mirror terrified me. “How did I let this happen again?” “Why can’t I stop?” The splash of water on my face was mildly invigorating and gave me the jolt I needed to pray. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I could not stop. I had lost control years before. It was a distant, faint memory that no matter how hard I tried always eluded me. “Today will be different” I tell myself… “never again” I say. I’m done!

As I’m gathering my backpack of things in the hotel room, my cell phone makes a familiar noise. I walk over to inspect the text and find a friendly message from a toxic acquaintance. I ignore the text and after checking out I try and keep myself busy. For a couple hours I succeed, running errands and pretending to be a good father. By supper time, the singing of sirens started calling to me. Though their song had shipwrecked me time and time again, tonight would be different. Tonight I was strong. Tonight I could have just a little… well, you know how the story plays out from here. Over and over again I fought my flesh and failed. We see a similar portrait of powerlessness coming at the tail end of Chapter 7. Paul is at war within himself and no matter how hard he tries, he ends up in the same spot over and over and over and over. There seems to be no hope for Paul, as there seemed to be no hope for me. My world was black with occasional glimmers of gray.

The tonal transition from Romans 7 to Romans 8 is remarkable. The effect is that of illuminating sunlight flooding a pitch black room when the blinds of a hotel room are thrust open. Paul has spent a substantial portion of Romans talking about the problem, now he shifts gears and presents the solution. The first seventeen verses of Romans 8 feature seventeen references to the pneuma (spirit). Saturated with spirit speech, Paul casts a vision of hope for the hopeless. Life through the Spirit is the solution prescribed for the powerless.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life has set me free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2).

I can still remember the exhilaration I felt on my first airplane flight. Looking at the plane through the terminal windows, it seemed implausible that such a monstrosity could ever make it off the ground. There was a law at work, gravity, which did not appear to allow the plane to fly. The plane’s natural state is resting heavily on the runway. As the plane kept moving forward and picked up speed, something changed. Faster and faster, air swept over the wing creating lift. Downward airflow on the backside of the wing generates a lift that makes the plane feel weightless as it lifts of the ground. The force of lift overcomes the force of gravity. There are two laws at work, but one is simply stronger.

Paul highlights two laws at work in this passage as well. The law of sin and death seeks to keep us grounded in bondage to self, while the law of the spirit of life seeks to help us lift off and fly free. As long as our minds and lives are led by the flesh, the ultimate sentence is death. When we can successfully embrace a life led by the Spirit we can soar to heights we never thought possible. We find life and peace. Unlike an engine running on self-will, an empowered life through the Spirit will never run out of fuel. We may hit pockets of turbulence, we might even crash land, but we live by faith that if we can just keep pushing forward we will find the lift we so desperately desire.

The law of sin and death is here to stay just as gravity is not going anywhere. We are powerless to change these realities, but what we can change is our reaction to them. Paul calls us to a healthy awareness of just how powerless we are apart from the Spirit. This sense of powerlessness is fundamental for a fruitful life of faith, as it is for those in recovery. The concept is so important that the twelve steps of recovery place the principle first: “we admitted we were powerless over our addiction, that our lives had become unmanageable…” We are utterly powerless over our flesh, but we are not without hope as long as the Spirit of God is at work within us. And that is a choice entirely up to us. Our hope lies in the one who will eagerly do for us what we could never do on our own. “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.”

Maybe you are in a season of life where you feel grounded on the runway. Perhaps you are stuck in rut and you can’t seem to escape the same cycle of sinful behavior. Don’t give up. Keep putting one foot in front of the other, moving forward and trusting that by the power of the Holy Spirit you will find the lift you so desperately desire. Never forget the truth of these words from Isaiah: “Those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall soar on wings of eagles, they shall walk and not grow weary, they shall run and not be faint.”

Reflect

  • Is there an area of your life that you need freedom from?
  • Who in your life needs to hear a word of hope and victory today?

Pray

Heavenly Father, I am broken and powerless without you. Please fill my heart with your Holy Spirit and empower me to rise above my flesh to find freedom with you. Amen.  
Zac Holt, November 9, 2020
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