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By Ray B. May IV
There is a lot that can be said on the subject of condemnation. My point is this: If you are a Christian then you are not under condemnation and should therefore not condemn others, but relate to others in the same way God chooses to relate to us: with grace and love. There are many points of view that differ from mine but I will hope to give you a concise understanding of my point. If you disagree with me, that does not bother me and it will not change my belief. I hope that you, as I will, will be able to prove from scripture that your belief is correct. For the purpose of this paper “Christian” is defined as one who believes in Christ as their savior, regardless of denomination, orthodoxy or other differences in belief; “Condemnation” as judgment passed on a person(s) and legalistic “rules to salvation” ideas/methodologies; “Grace” as the free gift God gives us that we may have a relationship with Him. In this paper you may have arguments with my definitions, but, again, this is a paper of my point of view.
What is condemnation? This is a question we need to ask ourselves. The answer hits closer to your heart than you think. Condemnation is judgment and judgment comes from the idea that we can find justice. Justice is something that we only want for others, because we want others to live up to the rules when we know we can’t. As Christians we are called to “forgive those who trespass against us,” not to judge (and therefore condemn). Jesus even says “Do not judge.” Point blank are His words and there are no other qualifications for His next words go on to say that “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged.” This is the way Jesus speaks of condemnation and judgment. Sadly His followers – Christians or the Followers of the Christ – do not say the same thing about condemnation and judgment.
One of the next questions we must answer is, sadly, a hard question for us (believers) to even hear. This question is: “Who do Christians condemn?” The answer – and it hurts my heart to write it – is everyone. Every person on the face of this planet is in some way condemned by the current church. We, Christians (and yes, I am including myself here), even condemn and judge each other. I have noted through conversations with others that we evangelize to non-Christians, but judge and condemn other Christians. A close friend summed up the idea: “We bring people to Christ so we can judge and condemn them.” Is this not backwards? We do not condemn non-Christians very strongly because they do not have the knowledge of our beliefs. But when it comes to Christians, they know and therefore they need to be judged. Does that make sense? Not only did Jesus tell us not to judge, but He told us what His mission on Earth was. In John 3:17 Jesus says that He did not come into the world to condemn it but to save it. Let us think about this verse logically. First let us look at “the world might be saved.” What did He have to save us from? The verse tells us: “to condemn,” this is condemnation. So what did He come to save us from? Condemnation, so then why do we condemn each other? or anyone else?
In the next verse (3:18) Jesus says “Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” (John 3:18 ESV). This simple phrase should stop condemnation in its tracks. For those who believe in Him (Christians) there is no condemnation. Paul agrees and told us in Romans – specifically Romans 8:1 – that there is no condemnation for those in Christ. The full verse reads: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). So if there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ” then what reason do we have to condemn? I cannot speak to an exact reason for it is different for each person and each denomination. For the most part it comes from a legalistic idea from which we approach all things. Paul speaks over and over of the gospel (good news) of grace. A gospel that defeats the idea that there can be a legalistic point of view applied to the teachings of Jesus. Think of the thief hanging on a cross next to Jesus’ own. “Remember me,” was all he said. Jesus responded with: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus did not apply legalistic rules but in fact rebuked the Pharisees and broke down their legalistic ideas.
So if we are not to apply a form of legalism to ourselves or others, how are we supposed to relate with one another and the world around us? The answer is the same way God relates with us: grace. Grace is how we are supposed to relate to everyone. If this is how we are supposed to relate to one another than what is grace? Paul in his letter to the Romans explains grace very thoroughly. If legalism is a set of rules that we must follow then grace is the exact opposite. Grace takes those rules and breaks them all up and throws them away. There is a glorious metaphor way back in Exodus chapter thirty-two when Moses has just received the Ten Commandments for the first time. Moses has just come down from the mountain and has the two tablets. He sees what the Israelites are doing and throws the tablets at the ground destroying them. This metaphor can be seen in the cross. Christ on the cross, body broken and utterly destroyed freed us from the condemnation of a legalistic system. That is grace. Grace is the free gift God gives us that we may have a relationship with Him.
Our definition may make a few more questions arise. One major question is: Where does this grace come from? The answer usually leaves people unsure of God, Himself. This is because the answer is grace completely and totally comes from God. Then what about the Ten Commandments? That is a picture. It is a picture of God’s character. The Law (the first five books of the Bible) is a statement of what holiness is. It gives us a very clear definition of holiness and it points out that we (human beings) do not measure up. If no one measures up to this definition of holiness except God then the cross was the only answer. In the blood sacrifice on the cross a Holy God is able to forgive his wretchedly sinful creation. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians points out that grace comes from God alone: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV.
This answers another question often asked as well. Why Grace? The answer to this takes us back through the information we have already trodden. We look at the Law and the fact that no one can measure up to the Law. Even Paul, himself, who was able to count himself blameless before the Law could not measure up. Paul said to the Philippians: “though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ,” Philippians 3:4-7 ESV. Paul couldn’t even measure up. That is the “why” God sent His Son and gave us grace.
So if we have grace then do we not also have freedom? Paul seems to think so. He tells the Galatian churches of this freedom. “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” Galatians 5:1 ESV. Christ has set us free! But the question is: Free from what? The answer is we are set free from the legalistic system of condemnation and judgment. This takes us back to the point made in John 3:17. As I have stated before, Christ’s mission on Earth was to save us from condemnation. Salvation is freedom; freedom from an otherwise endless cycle of condemnation and judgment. The Law did not breed freedom and love in the hearts of mankind, but condemnation, judgment and fear. This is not freedom, but slavery and Paul tells to not submit to a yoke of slavery.
Those who argue against me will no doubt say: What about Sin? If a person is completely free in Christ what is to stop them from sinning? The answer is harder to swallow than anything else I have yet stated: Love. Paul says that the entire Law is fulfilled in the phrase “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” If you truly love someone (be it God or man) would you do those things against them? The answer is no, of course not! Would you cheat on your spouse? For couples who love one another the answer always is no. In the same vein what is the most common reason people give for adultery? “There wasn’t any love in our relationship anymore.” It is hard to truly love others.
“Love is so messy and rules are just easier.” My opponents say. Do we have to love? Yes we do! We are brothers and sisters in Christ, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ; any way it is stated it all comes back to love. Love frees us from condemnation because love does not use condemnation. God – who is the perfect embodiment of love because He is love (1 John 4:8) – sent His Son to Earth, suffered through human life and gave His life completely and totally on the cross. Why? So we could be saved and live eternally with Him. Love does not condemn. What does love do then? It convicts our conscience so that we do not want to sin. If someone loved me that much (as much as God) my life goal would be to make them happy in every way possible. Conviction reminds us of God’s love. Conviction does not make us feel guilty but reminds us of the calling on our lives. Conviction is bred out of love. Conviction makes us want to change our lives for the better, where as condemnation just makes us feel guilty. Conviction comes from love, where as condemnation comes from judgment. This is why we must love. (That is apart from Jesus’ words in John 13:34.)
In conclusion every Christian will tell you condemnation is wrong and we are not to do it to others. At the same time they tell you it is wrong, though, they will be doing it to the other people around them. Some Christians do not even realize that they are condemning others, or passing judgment on those they love. If we are to pass upon ourselves a list of rules – even ones that are not necessarily found in the Law – then all we do is put ourselves under the Law and condemnation, yet again. If we are going to judge others then we will be judged in that way. God tells us that we are to forgive others. Finally it is very important for us to remember that condemnation only brings us pain and fear. Is that what our relationship with God is supposed to be? Is that the way that the God, who is love, wants us to relate to Him? No He wants us to love Him, others and ourselves. The entire Bible is laced with the idea, especially, though, the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus. Look up Matthew 22:36-40, Galatians 5:14, John 13:34 and 1 John 4:7-8 to get a small taste. Read though the Word and look for God’s love. You will see it on every page. That is His purpose for us: Love!