There is a popular TV commercial where a little old lady has mounted photos on the wall of her living room and has several friends over to share the photos with. Another little old lady stands up and says, “That’s not how this works…” and sometimes I want to stand up and say that to folks about Christianity.
I recently challenged someone and asked them if they knew how to do something that they were talking about in Holy Scripture. The response surprised me, I was told I was bringing condemnation, not exactly sure how I was because there were no specifics, and then I was told, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” to which my mind popped up the vision of the little old lady in the TV commercial, “That’s not how this works…”
The scripture the person was trying to apply was, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:1 NKJV
A Baptist preacher once told me, “Anytime there is a ‘therefore’ in Scripture, you need to back up and read more to find out what the ‘therefore’ is THERE FOR.
The passage in Romans 8:1 that was referred to, was being applied to try to shield from criticism. A kind of “get out of jail free” card like in Monopoly. That’s not even close to its application. It was being used as if to say, you cannot question me or criticize me because there’s no condemnation in the kingdom of God. Well that’s not what St. Paul was teaching in Romans 8:1.
Let’s look back, St. Paul was expounding in Romans 7 about how the Law of God brought judgement and starting in verse 13 of Chapter 7 he explained how in his mind he wanted to obey God but his physical body with its passions, desires, hungers were at war with his mind and he was feeling torn and battle weary in all this. THAT is what immediately preceded Romans 8:1 where he said that THEREFORE there is now no condemnation (from God) for us WHO WALK BY THE SPIRIT. That really is the operative thought, those who aren’t under God’s condemnation are those who walk by the Spirit and not the flesh or physical body with its weaknesses and desires.
That does not free us from criticism, if we are wrong in something, anyone in the Church has the responsibility to point it out. If you were to observe another Christian involved in something that was wrong, you shouldn’t just ignore it. They are part of you and when they hurt, you hurt.
“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.” Galatians 6:1 NKJV
Restoration requires identification and honesty. This will sound like criticism. If you question someone, because it appears to you that something isn’t right, it will sound like criticism. That’s not wrong, it’s how this works. It’s how ALL of this stuff works.
Imagine the situation that was presented in the Corinthian Church, a man was shacked up with his step-mother. The people in the congregation knew what was happening and were trying to pat themselves on the back for being so tolerant. Saint Paul wrote them about how sad he was over this because they were allowing it to go unchallenged. That congregation was told to put him out, not to allow him to be part of the community, not to allow him to receive communion with them so that HOPEFULLY he would repent, change his ways, and be restored. After he repented, St. Paul told them to let him back in.
Imagine, if you will, if that man had said, “there’s no condemnation in the kingdom…” and tried to convince the congregation that they could not judge him. Imagine the confusion that the Church would have to correct if he said, “There’s no condemnation in the kingdom…”
It is like the people that say “Judge not” where they ignore the rest of the verse. Jesus specifically warned that whatever judgement you apply to others is how you will be judged. In the Corinthian Church, referenced above, St. Paul instructed the congregation specifically to judge the situation because HE had already judged it and he gave them instructions on what to do. He told them that “We” would Judge the angels so our judgement must be sound and practiced.
So I’ve rambled a bit but in conclusion I must say, we cannot be ignorant children, refusing any question or criticism but we must evaluate our words and actions soundly. To reject any challenges simply because we think we are above them is the height of arrogance and childishness.
Saint Peter told us, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” I Peter 3:15 NKJV
Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks a reason for the hope in you. Can we expect to just slide through? Are we free from challenges? The religious leaders of his day challenged Jesus all the time. They sought the authority which he claimed and he showed them by the very miracles he performed that he was authentic. I suppose if someone came along performing miracles, there would be some deference given to their words but if they didn’t speak in line with already accepted teaching from the scriptures they would not be respected by most.