Pastor Dennis Smith
What does it mean to be found guilty in a court of law? People often think that being declared guilty means a jury or a judge has determined, based on the evidence presented, that the accused really did commit the offense, that they are not innocent. So, to be convicted of a crime and to be declared guilty can be seen as the same thing. I’m not a lawyer, but on one level, I suppose that the term “guilty” can have that sense, that the accused did actually break the law. However, I think the more technical meaning of a guilty verdict is that it is a decision that the accused is deserving of the penalty or punishment prescribed by the law. I believe there is actually a legal principle wherein a person can be declared not guilty by reason of mental defect. That is, even though they are found to have committed the crime, they are judged as not deserving the punishment because of their mental state or condition. Not guilty means not deserving of punishment.
Now I’d like us to think about what Paul says in Romans 8:1a — “There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” Exactly what does this mean? I don’t think it strains the text too much to understand that Paul means here that those who are saved — those in Christ — receive in God’s sight a judgment of not guilty, that is, not deserving of sin’s punishment. Why do I say that? Well, it appears to me that the word “guilty” as used in the Bible (it occurs twenty-seven times in the KJV) most often conveys a sense of liability, that one is deserving of a penalty. To illustrate my point, two quick examples of where this word “guilty” appears would be Genesis 42:21 in the Old Testament and Mark 14:64 in the New Testament.
In the Genesis passage, Joseph’s brothers acknowledge to one another that they deserve the calamity that has befallen them because of their offense against their brother. In the passage in Mark, the Jews convince themselves that Jesus deserves a death sentence because he claims to be the Son of God. So, getting back to Romans, I believe that when Paul says there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, he is saying that they are not deserving of the penalty for sin. God is not just saying there will be no punishment for them, he is saying they deserve no punishment even though they are not “innocent.”
And to me, this makes God’s gracious forgiveness all the more wondrous. For even though I often feel guilty when I remember the grievous sins that I have in fact committed, God tells me he doesn’t hold me guilty. He tells me I don’t deserve sin’s punishment even though I am not innocent of the offenses. How can this be? The answer is that God tells me I am not deserving of punishment because Jesus suffered the penalty for me, in my place. Make no mistake, sin demands punishment. God does not just forego applying it for the redeemed. Instead, he inflicted it on his Son. And so for us, there is therefore now no condemnation.
Soli Deo gloria — glory to God alone!