No Condemnation

Reportedly Hugo Chavez's last words were: "Please, don't let me die!"

Poignant and chilling.

Yesterday our sermon was on that pinnacle text, what I believe is the single greatest chapter of the entire Bible: Romans Chapter 8. The first four verses read:

Οὐδὲν ἄρα νῦν κατάκριμα τοῖς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ὁ γὰρ νόμος τοῦ πνεύματος τῆς ζωῆς ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ ἠλευθέρωσέν σε ἀπὸ τοῦ νόμου τῆς ἁμαρτίας καὶ τοῦ θανάτου. τὸ γὰρ ἀδύνατον τοῦ νόμου, ἐν ᾧ ἠσθένει διὰ τῆς σαρκός, ὁ θεὸς τὸν ἑαυτοῦ υἱὸν πέμψας ἐν ὁμοιώματι σαρκὸς ἁμαρτίας καὶ περὶ ἁμαρτίας κατέκρινε τὴν ἁμαρτίαν ἐν τῇ σαρκί, ἵνα τὸ δικαίωμα τοῦ νόμου πληρωθῇ ἐν ἡμῖν τοῖς μὴ κατὰ σάρκα περιπατοῦσιν ἀλλὰ κατὰ πνεῦμα

You probably can't read that, but I think it looks so beautiful as Paul wrote it that I thought I'd share it anyway. That, and I wanted to see if the Greek text would paste into my blog post. (I'm delighted that it did!)

Here's an English version:

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do, in that it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. He condemned sin in the flesh in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

There is so much there. Plenty of nuances and difficult translation decisions (is it "sin offering"? Yes, almost certainly, but ambiguous to our ears the way Paul actually wrote it), even a significant textual variant ("set you free" or "set me free"?). But even with all those difficulties, this is not actually a difficult text at all.

Those who are "in Christ," united to him, belong to him, follow him, trust in him, believe in him, rest in him, have absolutely no fear of death whatsoever. For there is now no condemnation awaiting them. Jesus took on the "likeness of sinful flesh" to be a substitute. At the cross, God's condemnation, his righteous wrath, was satisfied. As a great song puts it: "For God the just is satisfied / to look on him and pardon me!"

No better summary of the Christian gospel can be found. Paul will continue to unpack this great truth in this chapter culminating with his astounding rhetorical question: "If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Hugo Chavez had no such consolations, and the imminence of death often brings out what is residing deeply within the human soul. What came out at the end was fear.

And he was right to fear. Because the world and cosmos is simply not what the experts are constantly telling us it is: a random, purposeless, and meaningless series of events. If that were the case, what it means is that Hugo Chavez just got away with everything he ever did. Just as Joseph Stalin and a hundred other tyrants before him got away with everything they ever did. If that were the case, there is ultimately no more significance to their actions than Mother Theresa's actions. They all got the exact same result, only the tyrants got while the gettin' was good. She foolishly sacrificed her life and time for the sake of others when she should have looked out for Number One. Like, say, Hugo Chavez. That great Marxist champion of the poor and downtrodden personally amassed a fortune of $2 Billion. What a humanitarian!

He fooled himself almost to the very end, thinking that such hypocrisy would never come to light, that he would take it to a meaningless grave. Faced with the gaping maw of death, he seemed to realize better. "Please, don't let me die!"

Contrast, if you will, the final words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, himself a heroic opponent of a destructive tyrant, Adolf Hitler. About to be hanged by Nazi goons, Dietrich said: "This is the end. For me, the beginning of life."

Dietrich knew the exquisite truth of Romans 8. He knew there was no condemnation awaiting him, only acquittal. Not death, but eternal life. Not wrath, but blessedness. Not hell, but heaven.

You can search the world's religious literature from top to bottom. Read the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, ancient Gnostic gospels, whatever you like. You will read nothing that even comes close to comparing with Romans Chapter 8. Not. Even. Close.

Make sure you're included in that "those who are in Christ Jesus." It is your paramount obligation, the most pressing need, literally the number one thing in your bucket list of things to do today. Don't delay.

Brian Mattson