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Big Idea: God offers us freedom from condemnation and a new way to live.


Thomas Johnson knew injustice. He was a slave, and slaves were commodities, publicly sold at auctions, often ripped apart from parents. Thomas had never known his father. He was often mistreated: tied to the whipping post and beaten with a three-pronged whip on his shoulders, lower back, and buttocks. He knew that shame.

He longed for freedom.

He longed for the place where boys could run and roam without fear, without struggle, without whippings. But as he lay within a hardened bed frame in the corner of a clapboard shack on a tobacco plantation in Virginia, he swore Heaven was a place to sing about, but never reach. For Thomas Johnson lived in the real world, one ruled by men like Quentin Ellis, who made sure freedom was enjoyed only by white men. (Steal Away Home)

Thomas was in a desperate situation.

Thomas was a slave. He was in bondage, caged, the property of another man. The master and foreman held absolute power over him. He had no rights, no voice, no recourse, no future. The depth of this reality consumed him, and it was slowly suffocating what little hope he held.

After two decades of this, Thomas hardly felt human anymore. One night he decided, “I’m going to escape.” It was an idea that had consumed his thoughts since childhood. Two things held him back: fear of getting caught, and not knowing what he would do once he was free.

But as he escaped, he came across something he didn’t expect: a group of slaves worshiping Jesus.

He was captivated. Ezekiel, one of the slaves, turned to Thomas and spoke words that completely changed the direction of his life:

Jesus sets slaves like us free. He may not take away the chains from your hands and your feet. He may never let you off this plantation. But, Jesus will do something even better than that. He will take off the chains from your heart.

Jesus sets slaves free. He will take off the chains from your heart.

That’s what we’re going to look at today.

You see, according to the Bible, we’re in slavery — not in the same kind of slavery as Thomas Johnson, but slavery nonetheless.

Jesus said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). Romans 6:20 says that all of us were “slaves to sin.”

When Paul wrote these words to the church in Rome, it’s estimated that one-third of the population were slaves. Many of those who were free had once been slaves.

The thing about being a slave back then is that you wouldn’t have been able to tell who’s a slave and who’s not. And that’s our condition today. The Bible says that the natural condition of every person alive is slavery to sin.

The main idea of being slaves to sin is that sin is our master. We like to think that we’re self-determined, that we have the choice of how to live. The reality, according to God, is the opposite. We lack freedom. But the good news, according to Paul, is that we have been set free from slavery to sin. So, the words that changed Thomas’s life can change yours too:

Jesus sets slaves like us free. He may not take away the chains from your hands and your feet. He may never let you off this plantation. But, Jesus will do something even better than that. He will take off the chains from your heart.

We’re a lot like like Thomas. And for slaves like us, the message of Romans 8 is very good news.

Today I want to answer one simple question: What does God offer us through the good news of what Jesus has done? And the answer comes in two parts. Here’s the first.

First: God offers us freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1-4).

Romans 8:1 may be one of the most important verses in the Bible in what might be the greatest chapter of the Bible. Listen to these words and let them wash over you:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

Let the truth of that verse sink into the depths of your being.

No condemnation! Condemnation is a legal decision of guilt, along with the ensuing punishment attached. I didn’t realize this until this week, but it also carries with it the idea of penal servitude.

One Bible scholar (F.F. Bruce) paraphrased it this way:

There is no reason why those who are in Christ Jesus should go on doing penal servitude as though they had never been pardoned and liberated from the prison house of sin.

According to the Bible, all of us are guilty before God. We have all sinned. We have all violated God’s standards. It doesn’t matter who you are or how good you are. We’ve all been found guilty, and the punishment is death.

The good news, according to this verse? That although we’re guilty, those who trust in Jesus are declared not guilty. They are free from condemnation — from the guilty verdict, from the punishment, and from the servitude that goes with sin. We’re free!

Why are we free? Verses 2 to 4 tell us:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:2-4)

God took the initiative to do what we couldn’t. The law of sin and death is this: that all who sin must die. There was nothing we could do to escape this punishment. We deserved it. But then God found a way to rescue us. He sent his Son Jesus. And Jesus was given over to death as a sacrifice to take care of our sin problem. Because he was condemned in our place, there’s no longer any condemnation for us.

If you’re in Jesus, you’re free. We no longer live under condemnation. Our sins — past, present, and future — have been dealt with by Jesus. We can live the rest of our lives in light of that freedom from condemnation.

So why is it so hard for us to feel like we’re free from condemnation?

The New York Times featured a story about a 51-year-old ex-convict named Robert Salzman. After a horrific childhood, Salzman spent most of his adult life in prison. When he was released from prison in 2001, Salzman found it difficult to enjoy freedom outside prison walls, struggling to pay rent or doing stints in homeless shelters.

Finally, in June of 2010 Salzman had a grace-like experience. While he was riding a New York City subway car, he was “found” by Rashaad Ernesto Green, a writer and director who was searching for someone to play a tough-looking former convict for an upcoming film. After an audition, Green surprised nearly everyone when he gave Salzman a key role for the film.

On one occasion, while filming with Green on location in a Long Island penitentiary, an exhausted Salzman fell asleep on a cot in the prison cell. When he woke up, he became confused and thought he was still a prisoner. Salzman started weeping in despair … until it slowly dawned on him that he was now a free man. Salzman was overwhelmed by the joy of knowing that at any moment he could walk out of that cramped cell and through the prison doors. On the other side of the prison walls he could enjoy his new life of freedom.

As those who trust in Christ, regardless of our past, we can leave our slavery to sin and condemnation as we joyfully step into our freedom in Christ. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

We need to be honest. We don’t always feel free. Honestly, some of us came in this afternoon feeling a weight of condemnation and shame. We feel like we never measure up, like we should be doing more. We feel like God is endlessly disappointed with us.

I want you to hear this: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If you have followed Jesus, this is what is true of you.

If you are a Christian, then let this wash over you! You no longer have to dread any condemnation. You can step outside of the prison walls and enjoy your new life of freedom. No more guilt, no more shame. Jesus sets slaves free. He takes the chains from your heart. We will spend the rest of our lives living into that reality, trying to understand and grasp it. But it’s true, even when we don’t feel like it.

God offers us freedom from condemnation. But that’s not all.

Second: God offers us a new way to live (Romans 8:5-17).

I used to think that Christian life is about verse 1: that we’re no longer under condemnation. I then figured it was up to us to figure out how to not mess it up from there. It’s a little like being released from prison and then being told, “Good luck. I hope you can figure things out from here!”

But that’s not what happens at all. God doesn’t just free us from condemnation. He gives us everything we need to live from that point on.

That’s what verses 5 to 17 are about. Paul says that God has not just changed us from guilty to not guilty, but he’s given us everything we need to grow.

Not only have we been delivered from sin’s penalty, but we’ve also been delivered from sin’s power.

Let’s just look at a few of the things that God gives us after he sets us free.

God gives us a new mindset (Romans 8:5-8).

A lot of people talk about the importance of mindset these days. The right mindset makes all the difference. Paul would agree. The only problem: apart from God, we’re limited to what calls our flesh, our human nature with all of its limitations and sinfulness. But then God comes along and gives us a completely new mindset, the mind of the Holy Spirit.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. (Romans 8:5-6)

When you follow Jesus, he gives you a new mindset. All of a sudden you begin to think differently, and to set your mind on the things that the Holy Spirit cares about. I was just reading a book about someone who committed her life to Christ in the middle of the night, and the very next day she found that the way she handled temptations had completely changed. She still struggled, but her mindset had changed forever.

God gives us a new mindset. As Paul says, this new mindset brings us life and peace.

God gives us assurance of our future (Romans 8:9-11).

I talked to someone this week who was imagining all the worst-case scenarios about the future. I’ve been there. It’s easy to imagine all the things that can go wrong, especially when we feel like the future is in our hands.

But Paul gives us great news in verses 9 to 11. He says that the Spirit now dwells within you. Think about that for a moment. That’s pretty mind blowing. Paul describes the end result in verse 11:

If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (Romans 8:11)

Here’s the truth about you. You will continue to struggle in this life. That’s why it often feels like we’re still under condemnation. And one day you will die. But God promises that even then he won’t be done with you. He will raise your body just as he did Jesus’. And one day you will be fully and finally alive and free. Your future couldn’t be more secure.

But that’s not all.

God has made us his children (8:14-17).

Here’s the great news. We’re now children of God. And as his children, two things are true. First: we have a new relationship with God. Second: we are now heirs.

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

This is one of the greatest truths about the Christian life: God has adopted us. One scholar (F.F. Bruce) writes:

F. F. Bruce says:

The term “adoption” may smack somewhat of artificiality in our ears; but in the first century A.D. an adopted son was a son deliberately chosen by his adoptive father to perpetuate his name and inherit his estate; he was no whit inferior in status to a son born in the ordinary course of nature and might well enjoy the father’s affection more fully and reproduce the father’s character more worthily

If you are a follower of Christ, it’s because God has deliberately chosen you. He has given you his name, and he’s promised that you will inherit his estate. God cares about you so much that he’s brought you into his family.

In other words, God offers us both freedom from condemnation and a new way to live.

In the coming weeks, we’re going to talk about how to grow. But today we have the foundation for growth. Everything we’re going to talk about builds on this.

I began by telling you about Thomas, who heard these words:

Jesus sets slaves like us free. He may not take away the chains from your hands and your feet. He may never let you off this plantation. But, Jesus will do something even better than that. He will take off the chains from your heart.

Thomas heard these words, and something happened.

A flood of relief gently pushed years of anguish and grief from his young heart. His eyes released a flood of joyful tears, as Thomas felt like he was sitting right next to this man—Jesus—the One who could finally set him free from the bondage that held his heart. There in Ezekiel’s shack, in the middle of the darkened slave quarters, surrounded by the gentle whisper-songs, beneath a clouded night sky—Thomas believed.

That’s what happened to Thomas. And everyone who comes to Jesus can experience the same truth. Jesus sets slaves like us free. Jesus will take off the chains from your heart.