In his essay “There is No Condemnation”, Chuck Lowe answers his thesis “Why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ?” Before he presents his answer, he speculates on the precepts of the instant answer from the evangelicals– the substituionary atonement of Christ justifies us from our sins – to new believers . In this regard of explaining the meaning of “no condemnation”, the commentators also have considered trouble in explaining the meaning of the text. The main theme of the essay of Lowe is that people cannot escape from the condemnation through the atonement of Christ alone, but they should be transformed by the Spirit which is the sanctification from the law of sin and death.
Regarding the plain truth of the text ‘no condemnation’, it preserves the forensic impression of spirit-led Christian life that is transformed to righteousness of Christ. Thus, the fruit bearing life of the spirit invalidates condemnation which demands death. Further, Lowe writes that enslavement to sin leads to death. No one is excused for sinning. God does not show favoritism. The law of sin and death applies to Christian and non-Christian equally. Nevertheless, the condemnation requires eschatological judgment of our sin from God; the judgment can be avoided through the redemptive and propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Lowe states that, “condemnation and death are dethroned by justification and life through Jesus Christ” (234). Therefore, the author highlights the prominent themes of justification through the alien righteousness of Christ from the Romans first five chapters.
In order to be vindicated from sin, Lowe further clarifies that the union with Christ in his death and resurrection ensures the eternity of a believer. The substitutionary atonement of Christ on behalf of sinners and his righteousness bypass the condemnation and break the power of sin. Then, he is no longer subjected to sin. On the other hand, Romans 1:18-32 and 5:12-21 reveal the iniquity of humanity that provokes the wrath of God, and 6:15-23 demonstrate the sin of professing Christians. Yet, the penalty of sin is death in both observations.
Meanwhile, Lowe states that the relevant phrases and concepts in the Romans 8:1-2 sheds lights on condemnation. He further explains the term (1). In Christ (2) The Spirit of life (3) Set free from the law of sin and death. Each of these terms “clearly connects freedom from condemnation not with forensic justification but with sanctification” (238). People those are united with and in Christ have liberation from condemnation. Secondly, the Spirit transforms life for God and prepares for eternity. Lowe adds that, “The spirit builds on the work of Christ in justification and complements his role in sanctification” (241). The Spirit gives new life, power to the dead sinner and delivers him from the power of death to resurrection with Christ. Then, there is no condemnation. Again, Lowe presents as an evidence of why there is no condemnation who are in Christ, stating “not because of his death as their substitute, but because he gives the Spirit of life to transform them” (242). Thirdly, the author gives clear answer of ‘no condemnation’ from Romans 8:2 that the Spirit of life gives us freedom from the law of sin and death. Therefore, Lowe concludes that deliverance from condemnations comes through our death in Christ and regeneration of our Spirit.
Moreover, the two combine clauses in Roman 8:1-2 hint that sanctification delivers us from condemnation. He defends the misinterpretations of the text exegetically so that Paul’s view on the scripture will not be obscured. Through his analytical comments on W. Hendricksen and Calvin, Lowe offers the possible solution to interpretation of rational relationship between justification and sanctification. He writes that sanctification is the fruit and evidence of justification which avoid condemnation.
Similarly, Lowe affirms the textual function and theological understanding of justification and transformational righteousness. The distinction between work and grace is found highly overstated by populist evangelicalism. But, the significance of sanctification for deliverance from condemnation is ignored. Evidently, the author confirms the message of justification by faith to avert condemnation through sanctification on the basis of Pauline teaching. For this reason, Lowe acknowledges the need of justification to escape from divine judgment as well as moral sanctification for eschatological salvation.
Another widely misinterpreted text from 6:23 is resolved in the essay. The author emphasizes the necessity of righteousness than meritorious work in 8:1-11. The entire verses express the readers about the justification of our sin, liberation from the Spirit, and condemnation of our sins instead of condemning us by sending Christ Jesus as a substitutionary atonement. Consequently, we – now justified and sanctified from condemnation – have received the Spirit of sonship to live in the holiness of God and fulfilled the righteous requirement of the law. According to Pauline teaching, the main point in 8:1 of “no condemnation” is grounded “in three acts of God: substitutionary atonement in Christ (3:21-26), personal transformation by the Spirit (8:1-4) and the ongoing intercession of Christ (8:34)” (249). But the contemporary evangelicalism has undervalued the need of sanctification. Unfortunately, they prioritize only the substitutionary atonement of Christ to support the interpretation of the text in 8:1 but disregard other two acts that complement the previous one.
Without any doubt, I believe and support the main point and the conclusion made by Lowe in his article. He has tried to answer the question why there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus with his analytical studies. This is one of the tough questions that missionaries, pastors, and evangelists have to answer in their ministry. And it is not easy to explain. Commentators have said that it is just as complicated as explaining the trinity of God.
The ‘no condemnation’ phrase is more lucrative to new believers. Evangelicals also use the Romans 8:1-2 as the reference to ground their conviction. But it is never sought to go in depth to know and explain about the privilege of being not condemned textually and theologically in eastern Christianity. So, the possible reason of ones doubt of justification by faith, even after redemptive work of God in his life but still holds reservation, is the failure of accurate interpretation of the text.
Most people picket when we tell them that there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. The polytheistic syncretism has many alternatives to avert condemnation. So, the main reason of rejecting the monotheistic way for salvation is various distinctive salvation stories they have in their own context. Even in Christian arena, many people have hard time to put this phrase in plain words why he or she is not condemned. In these contexts, the apparent answer from evangelicals is: Jesus died for us. But the crux of the issue is – how crucifixion of Jesus can blot out our sin and ensure us the eschatological salvation? Does justification by faith alone suffice to defend us from eschatological judgment of our sin? Or do we have to be consecrated by the Spirit of God and demonstrate the outer evident of justification to not be condemned?
The author has covered these questions with his analytical studies in this essay. Jesus Christ came into the world to be a substitutionary atonement to pay ransom of our sins. Indeed, the crucifixion of Jesus has carried our sins and diverted the wrath of God from us. And the law of sin and death is turned to the law of the Spirit of life. To counterbalance the death and resurrection of Christ, it matters if we have died to sin and have become alive in Jesus or not.
Another addressed issue is whether we have union with Christ or not after our conversion. Our personal righteousness has nothing to do with divine judgment from God. And the author has repeatedly stated that we should be transformed in the Spirit, else we would be enslaved to sin persistently and ensue to eternal death (236). On the basis of this statement, our general conversion to Christianity does not guarantee our salvation unless we are transformed into new being. Jesus also says that unless we are born again in the Spirit, we cannot see the Kingdom of God. So, transforming righteousness or sanctification from God sets us free from sin. The author’s systematic and meticulous explanation of “sanctification as the means to avert condemnation” also gives insight of how we are delivered from condemnation. Again, remaining in Christ means to live a life as Christ lived which was in the fullest for God which releases us from the bondage of sin. Then, there will be no more application of the law of sin and death in our life.
Reading this essay, I feel that this resource can be used in church, youth meetings, pastors and mission conferences. The author has stressed the need of coherent study, proper interpretation, and application of the scripture. We should have a round-table discussion on this specific topic ‘no condemnation’ so that we may understand how deeply it is correlated with justification and sanctification. It will help us to unveil the truth that becoming Christian, attending church meetings, involving in ministries, helping needy and poor people simply cannot be an instrument to avoid condemnation. Instead, ‘no condemnation’ is a part of our every day life that reminds us of God’s grace. In fact, the misinterpretation of the text also triggers ‘spiritual blindness’ in people and affects the entire mission.
I hope this article provides us broader sense of urgency to abide in Jesus Christ, abide by the law of the Spirit of life, and reflect the transforming righteousness lifestyle to escape from eschatological judgment. From my own personal experiences of evangelism in the various parts of Nepal in the past years, I have found that most of the churches and emerging church leaders have misinterpreted the scripture and applied in their own context. They are simply avoiding the basic (at least) three acts of God – substitutionary atonement of Christ Jesus, personal transformation by the Spirit, and the ongoing intercession of Christ – in which the final judgment is grounded. The latter two demands spiritual sacrifice and genuine commitment, so they are highly neglected. Contrary, the first one is easier which demands of our confession through general profession of our faith. Thus, people choose the easiest one – mere confession and profession.