Rhonda and I are wishing you the best of Christmas greetings from our new home in Franklin, Tennessee. After nearly thirty years of living in Houston, we have relocated to the Volunteer State. There is definitely a small town feel to Franklin with its thriving downtown square, shotgun style homes on narrow lots, and so much within walking distance. But we also feel the proximity to Nashville, 25 miles to the north, and all that the Music City has to offer.
Our Christmas prayer for you is to experience the “no condemnation” life that God promises to His children. It is easy – as husbands and wives, parents and children, employers and workers, leaders and ministry partners – to let those around us know that they are not living up to expectations. It is easy to put a layer of guilt and blame on those close to us. When we look deeper, however, maybe putting others down is just a veiled attempt to elevate ourselves.
Has this been your experience? I see it all the time in the workplace, but it also infiltrates our families and churches. We seem to think that our value and significance improves and we are made to look better if others are being put down. We even justify this, at times, by saying that they need to be “put in their place.” But this is not how a believer should live.
Remember the point of the parable Jesus told about the two debtors? The one who owed an infinite amount was forgiven by the king and then proceeded to beat his fellow servant over a small debt. He failed to grasp the concept that he who had been forgiven a great debt by the Master should forgive his brother. Likewise, how can we who have been so miraculously set free by Christ and the promise of “no condemnation”, lay a condemning attitude or comment on our brother? God’s stance toward us is fundamentally optimistic, calling us saints. This should be our view as well toward those who serve us and whom we serve.
Part of the challenge in seeing this is the erroneous teaching regarding Romans chapter 7 that the apostle Paul’s condemning passage about himself reflects the life of a believer. Paul’s diatribe of condemnation clearly describes his life prior to salvation; a point made clear when he ends with “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). We somehow see the condemning tone of Romans 7, and thinking it applies today, use it to condemn both ourselves and others.
But it is not supposed to be that way. You have been set free from the power of sin. It is no longer your master. That condemning voice you hear is Satan, not God. Satan wants you living under a rock of self-condemnation. And he wants you to bring as many people as you can under the rock with you by criticizing their work or behavior. Christ, on the other hand, wants you living out in the open; experiencing and celebrating a life set free. Remember, “There is now [present tense, after I have left the pre-Christian life of condemnation behind] 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 death” (Rom 8:1-2).
Do you recall this quote from a Christmas classic? “Charlie Brown, you’re the only person I know who can take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem.” In your best Linus voice you might be thinking, “Jay, you are the only person I know who can take a perfectly good Christmas message and turn it into a discussion of Romans chapter 7.” Yes, I can. Because the heartbeat of this blog and the Fanning the Flames ministry is for you and us to experience all that came with our new identity in Christ when we embraced His gospel message. At the heart of that message is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” We have been set free.
So celebrate the season with an attitude of encouraging and building up those you love. Christ the newborn King was born in a manger, lived a perfect life, died in your place, and rose again to give us a new life, free from guilt and condemnation. Embracing that truth and living into it will make this a very merry Christmas indeed!