For a prank, English playwright Noel Coward sent an identical anonymous letter to ten well-known people in London. His note simply read: “We know what you have done. If you do not want to be exposed, leave town.” It is reported that soon all ten people got out of town. Not so nice a prank, but it does illustrate how guilt can haunt lives.
Ernest Hemingway, in his short story “The Capital of the World”, tells of tormenting guilt in a son estranged from his father. The son has done things that really hurt his father, and runs away feeling shame and guilt. The father searches all over Spain but cannot find his son. One day, in desperation, the father takes out an ad in Madrid’s daily newspaper. His ad simply said: “Paco, meet me at Hotel Montana Tuesday noon. All is forgiven, Papa.” As Hemingway tells the story, a whole squadron of police had to be called to keep the peace as some 800 young men named Paco showed up wanting forgiveness.
For any Christian wrestling with guilt and wanting to know forgiveness, there is a wonderful promise in Romans 8:1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It has been said that every time we see the word “therefore” in Scripture, we need to stop and see what it is ‘there for’. The “therefore” at the start of this verse signals that the apostle Paul is concluding what he has written in Romans chapters 1-7, where Paul talks about how we are put right with God through faith. It is not by any works, or by trying to be good, but we are put right with God through faith in Jesus Christ. So, Paul can now conclude: “…there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!” That is what the “therefore” is there for!
Paul is using language that any prisoner in a Roman law court or on death row would have immediately understood. The Greek word translated “condemnation” is katakrima, signifying the execution out of a guilty verdict. Katakrima was the punishment following the court’s verdict. So here Paul is stating yet again that as sinners put right with God, we are declared righteous and fully forgiven so that there is no punishment.
Paul is not saying that there are not condemnable things in our lives, but that Christ has taken to Himself our deserved condemnation. This is what the cross of Christ is about, as the Bible declares: “For our sake God made Christ to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). To insist on feeling guilty would be to insist that God needs our help in order to save ourselves; our insistence would repudiate what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross, declaring, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
One night Martin Luther was gripped with the sense of being attacked by Satan accusing Luther with the record of his many sins. But Luther just laughed at Satan, telling Satan that he had left out many of Luther’s sins, and then saying: “Every accusation against me is true. But write across my record the words: ‘The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. And where Jesus Christ is, I will be also.’”
And you today, as a believer in Christ Jesus, trusting in Him, can say with the apostle Paul: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”!
Name and reflect on the thoughts and feelings today’s reading stirs in you. Take a few moments to talk with God about them.