By David Kowalski
When I was first saved, it did not take me long to pick up my idea of what Paul meant when he said, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 NASB). I thought Paul meant something like “Christians never feel guilty when sinning.” I “knew” it meant that because that is the way I had heard others use the verse.
In time, though, I came to understand the verse differently. The “no guilt feelings” interpretation fails three important tests: the meaning of the Greek word, the immediate context, and the larger context of all Scripture. The word translated into English as “condemnation” is the Greek word katakrima. Following the authoritative Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich lexicon, F. F. Bruce (himself an authority on the Greek language) says katakrima means in this context, “the punishment following sentence…penal servitude.”
It does not, then, speak of the declaration of our guilt but the bondage to sin that follows guilt. This meaning is confirmed by the immediate context found in the next verse, as Paul says, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.” We have no more katakrima (or bondage to sin) because (or as Paul says, for) Christ has set us free from this through the Spirit. We are no longer condemned to a life of servitude to sin. If the verse had, in fact, meant that Christians are strangers to all guilt feelings it would have contradicted many clear passages in Scripture, including the two below:
For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. (2 Corinthians 7:8-9 NASB)
Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you. (James 4:9-10 NASB)
A healthy spirit is sensitive to sin. Only a seared conscience does not feel bad when one does bad things. A sensitive conscience works much the same way our nervous system does for our body. Pain tells us when we are doing something (such as sticking a hand in fire) that will damage the tissues. We learn not to repeat the conduct that makes us hurt. I once knew a young man who had lost sensitivity in one of his legs due to an auto accident. On one occasion he propped up his leg on a heater as he dozed off to sleep. He awoke to the smell of his burning flesh. Had he been able to feel, he would have moved his leg before such damage was inflicted.
Feeling bad when we have done bad things is good for us. It does not follow that we should sink into unrelenting depression or that we should ever give up. Nor is it fair to load the notion of a healthy conscience with these two, separate issues. In rejecting these two destructive acts we should not reject the idea of a godly conscience.
The key to understanding Romans 8:1 is understanding what Paul meant, not what our friends mean. Paul did not mean Christians never feel bad for having sinned, he meant that Christians are set free and need not sin.
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