St Paul’s letters are hard to understand.
It’s important to read scripture and understand what it meant to the person that wrote it, and the persons for whom it was written. In the case of St. Paul, both the writer and the audience were first-century Jewish persons.
When we don’t make the effort to read Romans from the perspective of first-century Jewish persons, we will inevitably read our own preconceived notions into it.
We attended N.T. Wright’s four-day seminar on chapter 8 of the Book of Romans. Four days about one chapter. Paul writes densely and fills his writings with references to the Old Testament as well as providing insights about the Messiah, God, and the Holy Spirit.
Karen and I came back with a few insights that inspired us and filled us with hope. Karen says that hope should be our mascot virtue.
Therefore there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus.Romans 8:1
Romans 8:1 – No Condemnation
Chapter eight of Romans starts with this: Therefore there is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus.
Let’s all make that a verse we remember, just like we remember John 3:16. Because having “no condemnation” is a big deal, right?
It’s natural for us to be concerned about our personal salvation. God created a desire for happiness in our hearts; a desire that is inseparable from us. So of course we want to be with God in eternity. We want to be happy. Desiring the good is where it all starts.
Paul’s letter to the Romans provides the Roman Christians with a lot of assurances.
They were already being vilified by the government there. Persecutions, if they were not already happening, were soon to follow.
One of Paul’s assurances to them is that, since they are “in” the Messiah, there is no condemnation for them.
Spend a few moments with that.
It’s so easy for us to skip over it. To start thinking about all the reasons why we should, could, or might be condemned by God for acts or omissions. There’s a big negativity bias in human nature.
There is also a big negativity bias in some streams of Catholic practice. Streams of thought that focus on warning the sinners that they have heavy obligations to God and need to live up to His standards. That we should always aim for perfection because we otherwise might slack off. That we are so subject to pride that we need to keep focusing on pushing ourselves to do as much as possible. To work without ceasing.
Spending your life focusing on the negative stuff is a terrible strategy. Making yourself miserable is a poor way to motivate yourself.
Let’s let Paul reassure us: There is no condemnation for those in the Messiah, Jesus.
Certainly, we need to make strong efforts to “walk the talk.” The book of Romans has themes that recall the Exodus story. We don’t want to fall back into the spirit of slavery (like Israel in Egypt & the complainers that wanted to go back to it).
Paul, apparently, has scandalized others with this kind of talk “no condemnation”.
Imagine the outrage: “Paul, you can’t say wild things like that! People will go do whatever they want if there’s ‘no condemnation. You are so irresponsible. A closet libertine, I am sure.” LOL.
Paul apparently drew that kind of response because he has addressed this objection, earlier, in Chapter 5, where he says, in verse 15: “What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! “
We can’t let the world, our fear, our limitations, the devil, the whatever, rob us of the peace that we have in Christ Jesus.
I love what Fr. Jacques Phillipe says: “The reasons that we lose our peace are always bad reasons” (Searching for and Maintaining Peace).
“Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies,” says Paul in Romans 8:33.
We are doing the best we can in our Christian journey. We fall short. Regardless, there is no condemnation.
Hang onto your peace because there is no condemnation. Peace will make you more powerful, effective, sane, and healthy.
Adopted as sons and daughters
Jews and Romans in the first century were very familiar with the idea of being adopted and then inheriting a kingdom.
Roman emperors did it “all the time.” They would have a designated heir who would step into the kingdom. Julius adopted Augustus. Emperor Augustus adopted Tiberius. Emperor Claudius had adopted Nero.
The empire would declare the adoptions, mint the coins, spread the word… it was a “thing.”
Paul adopts the adoption language! And he puts a big TWIST in it. Check this out:
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs: heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if we in fact suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.Romans 8:15-17
Did you catch the “if we in fact suffer with him.”
We are inheriting the suffering along with the kingdom (and the power and the glory).
Suffering is part of life. We will not let that steal our peace. Or rob us of our happiness. “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us,” says Paul in verse 18.
We are God’s heirs now. Looking around, it’s pretty easy to see that we are not fully His heirs. To say the least, right?
That’s where hope has to live. In the tension between NOW wherein we are not yet fully come into our inheritance and the FUTURE when we will be fully vested in our inheritance.
Hope lives in the tension between “now but not yet fulfilled” and “future and fulfilled.”
There is no way to avoid this tension. Trying to avoid it is a reason for many spiritual and psychological distortions (more on this is some other episode).
Paul encourages us by saying “if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” see verse 25.
Wait patiently? WHAT? That’s not so encouraging.
Paul knows how difficult this is. So does God. Paul refers to his suffering, God’s suffering, and ours when he writes, in the next verse: “the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”
All of creation is sighing, waiting, as we hope for our renewal. It’s the tension of hope. We are not alone. God is with us. In Christ Messiah, there is no condemnation, there is an inheritance, and there is a sharing of suffering that will all be resolved in the age to come. Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
We draw on the insights of N.T. Wright when discussing the perspectives of first-century Jewish people and how they would understand the book of Romans as written by Paul. N. T. Wright is a scholar of the New Testament and world views of the first-century Jewish people. When we want to better understand the New Testament, we need to be able to read it from the perspective of the people for whom it was written. Modern people are not steeped in the symbols, history, and understandings that the first-century Jewish people took for granted.