You recall what is said in the third chapter of John’s gospel, the very chapter which contains that great verse beloved by Christians everywhere, beginning, “For God so loved the world . . .” The chapter talks about the gospel: that God sent Jesus Christ that we might have eternal life. But immediately after that it also talks about condemnation, saying that if we have not believed in Jesus we are condemned already because of our unbelief. In other words, our natural state is not neutral. Our moral condition is not that of a tabula rasa in the sight of God, a blank slate upon which we can write negative or positive thoughts, good or bad ideas, condemnation or no condemnation. We are already under condemnation, because we carry within us a sinful nature and are born under the curse of Adam. When we have the opportunity to express this nature, as we do every day of our lives, we express it inevitably by opposing God and running from him.
All we do is displeasing to God. It is with us as it was with the generation that lived prior to the Flood. When God looked down on that generation he saw that “every inclination of the thoughts of [their hearts] was only evil all the time” (Gen. 6:5). That describes us, apart from the grace of God. So if it is the case, as the text says it is, that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” that is good news.
This is not simply a case of God saying that we stand in a good relationship to Him, or that at one time we did not but he is now simply forgetting about our offenses. God is the judge of the universe, and the judge of the universe must do right. Rightness demands punishment for sin, an outpouring of the wrath of God. After all, this is the way the Book of Romans began. In chapter 1, Paul says, in effect, “My intention is to talk about the gospel, which is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.”
But as soon as he begins to talk about the gospel, he talks about God’s wrath. He says, “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (v. 18). Then he goes on for two and a half chapters to show that this includes everybody. All are condemned. All are under the wrath of God. So, if it is the case, as Paul says in chapter 8, that we are now no longer condemned, it is because of the amazing and effective work of God.
I think of how that woman must have felt who had been brought before Jesus by wicked men in order to trap Him. She had been taken in the very act of adultery, and now she was brought before Jesus to hear what He would say. The text says they thrust her forward. They made her stand in the midst of all the men who were standing around.
Then they said, “Here she is, caught in the very act of adultery. Here are the witnesses. They saw it. They can verify it. Now you know what Moses says. Moses says the punishment for adultery is stoning. She should die. That is what the law of God says. But what do you say? Do you stand by the law of God? Or are you going to turn your back on the law and be a man of mercy? Are you going to say, “Don’t stone the woman?”
That poor, poor woman! I think she expected to be stoned. I think she expected that to be her fate. But then our Lord stooped down and wrote on the ground, and as He wrote, we are told that the accusers began to go away, beginning with the oldest. Finally Jesus looked up and saw nobody but the woman.
“Where are they? Has no one condemned you?” He asked her.
She answered, “No one, sir.”
He said, “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:1-11).
Imagine what joy must have swept over her heart! Imagine standing in a position where you expect to be condemned and then suddenly finding yourself released from condemnation! If you can imagine that, you can understand Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”