“No Condemnation”

Ruth Haley Barton, in her book on spiritual disciplines and crafting a spiritual rule of life, Sacred Rhythms, lays out one of the most helpful and well-rounded orders for Lectio Divina I’ve encountered.

  1. Read (and Remain)
  2. Reflect
  3. Respond
  4. Rest (and Resolve)

This is the order I try to use whenever I go through Lectio (which is just a fancy way of saying “devotional” or “sacred reading”); very helpfully, Barton says of these four “movements”:

“We might think of them as moves rather than steps because it reminds us of dancing. When we are first learning a new dance, we are very awkward and very concerned about getting it right. We watch our feet, trying to get them to do what they are supposed to do. We wonder what to do with our hands. If we are dancing with a partner, we may be clumsy at first as we try to figure out how to move together gracefully. But in the end, the point is to be able to enter into the dance, flow with it, improvise and enjoy the person we are dancing with. It is the same with lectio divina.”

I feel a little clumsy this morning, unsure of my feet, stepping on my own toes, but eager to pick up the steps again.

Epistle | Romans 8:1-11

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law—indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.

This is a complicated passage for Lectio. It’s a bit long, and the wording is technical, but the opening is strong and striking. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v.1).

No condemnation.

In remaining with this phrase, I am led to reflect on the undeserved and absolute forgiveness and reconciliation that is mine in Christ. Undeserved, because I didn’t work my way toward Christ through obedience or good works — Paul goes on to lament the insufficiency of “the law” to achieve this reconciliation. Absolute, because in Christ’s death and resurrection, sin is no more. This is a marvel for me, that where the law was a standing condemnation to sinners, Christ made a once-for-all sentence against sin itself.

In response, then, is it enough to be simply grateful? Isn’t this the complicated message of Matthew 18? As those who have been so undeservedly and absolutely forgiven, we must be agents of undeserving and absolute forgiveness. What is more, as one who has been so completely reconciled to God the Father through Christ by the Spirit, I am charged to be an agent of reconciliation, welcoming and accepting and reinstating anyone who claims Christ’s forgiveness. What would it look like, for Christians — for whole churches! — to be recognized for their gracious welcoming and forgiveness and bearing one another’s burdens, rather than for their judgmental moralism and narrow understanding of who’s in and who’s out? What if we abandoned this “Love the sinner, Hate the sin” ethic, which has historically been so harmful to the so-called “sinner” precisely because it fixates on “the sin,” and instead we lived toward others as though God really has freed all sinners, because, in Christ, sin itself has been sentenced to death? What then?

As I read the passage again, concluding the lectio exercise, I am drawn to verse 6: “to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Life, because I have been granted a radical gift of grace, and stand, by God’s grace, under “No Condemnation.” Peace, because just as I have been forgiven, so am I called — and resolved — to live toward others in a posture of radical forgiveness, which “is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ” (1 Corinthians 13:5-7). This is the foundation of Christian unity, that we bear with one another in love; this is a costly unity.

Come, Holy Spirit, and lead us into unity and peace.

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