Chuck Lowe in his article “There is no condemnation” has tried to answer the question he has raised in the beginning of his thesis: Why is there no condemnation for those who are in Christ? He felt a danger in merely drumming to new believers that there is no condemnation because Christ has justified us before God. Whereas commentators have struggled with this answer, Lowe has given his readers a result of his study of the text of Romans and answered clearly why there is no condemnation. The theme of Lowe’s article is that people have not escaped condemnation through Christ’s justification alone but the fruit of the Spirit that leads to righteous living looms larger as well.
Nonetheless, Chuck says that ‘no condemnation’ certainly retains its forensic and eschatological sense. He works his way through the ambiguities of whether ‘condemnation’ refers to the eschatological judgment due to sin or to the enslavement of sin experienced in this age. Further he also clarifies whether ‘condemnation’ is averted by the alien righteousness or by transformational righteousness in union with Christ.
In his summary of Romans 1-5, he concludes that condemnation is “clearly the eschatological judgment of sin, which is escaped only through the alien righteousness of Christ” (233, Lowe). This applies equally to non-Christians and Christians as well. The first five chapters have the same prominent theme of Christ condemning sin and justifying through his alien righteousness. Then he asserts that the recurrence of “condemnation” in Romans 8:1-2 is understood against the backdrop of Romans 5:12-21. However, the concepts of sin, judgment and vindication in 6:1-23 have distinctly different associations.
There begins a shift from non-Christians to Christians such that Christians who are under grace live a righteous life through Christ’s sanctification. Where this transformation has not occurred, “slavery to sin persists and death ensues,” Lowe adds. Thus, condemnation in Romans 1:18-3:20 and 5:12-21 is the sin and corruption of humankind which provokes the wrath of God. But in 6:15-23, it is the sin of professing Christians. In both cases, death is the sentence of disobedience.
Lowe states that the fullest argument of the interpretation of ‘no condemnation’ actually comes about with the relevant phrases and concepts in the entire verses of 8:1-2. The phrases are: 1) In Christ 2) The Spirit of Life 3) Set free from the law of sin and death. Each of these terms, Lowe says , “clearly connects freedom from condemnation not with forensic justification but with sanctification” (238). He goes on to explain each phrase that results in the transformational righteousness of sanctification. Evidently, Lowe concludes the ongoing sanctification through being in Christ and His Spirit that are indicative should not be disquieted but applied as an imperative.
Reading Lowe’s article reminded me of the popular televangelists who had built for themselves mansions and accumulated enormous wealth. Could this have been the result of their presumption that they have escaped from condemnation merely through Jesus’ act of justification, and what they do no more result in condemnation? Could they have ignored to baptize their sinful nature to Christ and live in the sanctifying Spirit of Christ? As Lowe pointed out, this has been a common mistake that populist evangelism have emphasized at the expense of the latter. As the result, they are reaping Christians per say but Christians without character.
The reaction that Lowe has presented affirms textually and theologically. He has not simply bashed populist evangelicalism. Rather, his exegesis and esiegesis of Romans have emphasized the need for proper study and application of Pauline teachings. This reminds us that the Scripture is full of mysteries. Scripture has to be studied coherently. One verse that is applied incorrectly can affect the health of entire ministry. For evangelists, it is very comfortable to share the good news that Jesus’ death has paid the ransom that you owed to God as a sinner. You are freed. But they struggle to say that the consequence is that they have to change their lives around. People who have heard the gospel do not live a reckless life during their time on earth assuming that they have escaped condemnation at the end of their lives. Just as Lowe, in his entire article does not separate forensic reference with the ongoing sanctification at present affirming to Paul’s teaching, a Christian life is an ongoing work of sanctification grounded in substitutionary atonement in Christ.
The fact that my faith is active and that I am in Christ and His indwelling Spirit renews me every day is very valuable to me and my ministry. I agree with Lowe when he says that the final judgment is grounded in (at least) three acts of God: substitutionary atonement in Christ, personal transformation by the Spirit and the ongoing intercession of Christ. These are three grounds that Paul points out in Romans 1-8. Indeed, the latter two have been highly neglected because people have been complacent and comfortable with just the first aspect. The other two require discipleship and prayer.
I am not entirely against short term mission trips. I am sure God could use any thing and who knows one seed sown through those trips could be remarkable for missions of that person’s vicinity. Yet short trip missions are not entirely what Jesus meant in His Great Commission. He did not simply say, “Go and share the justification through faith.” Instead, He said, “Go and make disciples….teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded.” Paul who wrote the book of Romans before the Gospels were written clearly teaches what Jesus had taught. The life of holiness was an imperative for even Jesus and for Paul. This is important to my faith and ministry that I model a life of holiness, which is not possible through a 2 weeks trip at a different culture. Jesus modeled a life of righteousness through living closely with his disciples. What evangelists focus is that the gospel is spread. It is easy said than done. We read about televangelists who apparently were saying but not applying. I wonder how much blessings we have lost for misusing such enormous ministries.
Thus, Lowe’s critique is honorable. His passion to balance salvation and sanctification is evident in his work. His focus and passion is that evangelists and Christians truly understand Pauline teaching that align with Jesus’ teaching.
[In order to read another review and evaluation of the same essay which was published on 2nd March 2010, click here]