Both Claire and I were sick much of the week and at home the first two days of the week and as a result I watched daytime TV, which gave me great incentive to get well. I watched a show called “Catch a Contractor.” This show is about contractors who would abandon homeowner’s projects. They would then be caught in a sting operation and forced to do the work right. One contractor had said he could do it for half the cost of the others, but he used dangerous shortcuts and used materials. I also saw a show that exposed diet gimmicks. Just take a water pill to fit into that dress? It’s going to be a problem. As a result, one of the things that was affirmed to me was that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. If something prompts us to ask, “How can that be so,” there is a good chance that it is probably not so.
I thought of that this week as I prepared this sermon on the song “And Can It Be.” Charles Wesley seems to be a bit incredulous that what is so amazing could actually be true. But the good news is that the message that this song summarizes is indeed true. What God has done for us in Jesus is absolutely true and real. We can and should marvel at what God has done. And so we can end up by saying “no condemnation now I dread” for we have nothing to fear if we have faith in Christ. And that is truly an amazing gift! Let’s read Romans 7:21-8:1.
The author of this song was Charles Wesley. Charles and his brother John were both ordained ministers and founded “The Methodists.” They were called Methodists because of their methods of rising early and strict Bible study. It was a form of Christianity that lent itself to focusing on what the person does as opposed to what God has done. As such both brothers ended up being caught in the trap of legalism. A mission trip to the American colony of Georgia proved to be disastrous and Charles came home broken and ill. After his return, both he and his brother met Moravian Peter Bohler, who urged Charles to look more deeply at the state of his soul and who taught them about true Christianity.
The first verse says, “ And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain— for me, who Him to death pursued?” Notice the phrase, “for me” in the first verse and the refrain. Clearly Jesus’ death was something that struck Wesley very personally. Jesus didn’t just die for the sin in the world or for sinners in general. Jesus died “for me,” the one who caused his pain and death. Now we may be a bit hesitant to have such a personal reference that Jesus died for me.
However, look at what Paul writes at the end of Romans 7. In Romans 7:24-25, Paul writes: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Paul expresses a very personal view that he was in a wretched state and you can feel his relief as well when he realizes that God had rescued him from that through Jesus.
And then the refrain, “Amazing love! How can it be, That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?” The thought of Jesus doing that for him strikes him as truly amazing! And not just another man dying for him, but God himself died for him! And it is so amazing that he repeats it again in the refrain!
The second verse says, “He left His Father’s throne above so free, so infinite His grace— Emptied Himself of all but love, And bled for Adam’s helpless race: ‘Tis mercy all, immense and free, For O my God, it found out me!” Here Wesley reflects on all that Jesus did even before he suffered pain and death. Jesus left all the glories of heaven to die for us. Philippians 2:6-8 says, “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!” He also puts it in an earthly perspective that goes back to Adam and his helpless race. Remember what we learned when we studied the covenant of grace. God was faithful even when Adam and his descendants were faithless.
The third verse says, “Long my imprisoned spirit lay, Fast bound in sin and nature’s night; Thine eye diffused a quickening ray— I woke, the dungeon flamed with light; My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” This reflects Wesley’s personal conversion but it resonates with deep biblical truths. Romans 7:24-25 says, “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” Our sin kept us imprisoned and God’s law made it clear that we deserved to be there.
The final verse says, “No condemnation now I dread; Jesus, and all in Him, is mine; Alive in Him, my living Head, And clothed in righteousness divine, Bold I approach th’eternal throne, And claim the crown, through Christ my own.” This is what Wesley looks forward to now for the future. There is no condemnation but life because we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. As such we can be bold as we approach God’s throne of grace and find reconciliation and peace with God.
This song is a beautiful celebration of the gospel and the huge difference it makes in our lives. In fact, it in some respects is a summary of the first seven chapters of Romans. As such, Romans 8:1 celebrates the good news of the gospel.
II. Paul’s words ring out with joy and confidence: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation!”
This means that we are justified and being justified means two things. First, we are declared “not guilty!” by God. We can stand before God as if we were completely innocent. Whatever sin we have done or will do is completely gone! Secondly, “no condemnation” also means that the punishment that we had coming is also removed. Condemnation is the sentencing of people to eternal death. That sentence is now no longer in effect and we are free from it. The song says, “My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” There is no legal guilt or the resulting punishment from God.
Moreover, we should not lose sight of the little word, “now” in Romans 8:1. Now, right now, Paul says, we are innocent! Not just when we go to heaven where we will be made perfect. This means right now while we are still on earth. God views us right now as legally, officially “not guilty.” It means that we need not live under a cloud or burden of guilt throughout our lives.
And we also know what we are supposed to be like. We know that God expects obedience because it says this clearly in God’s word. What we are supposed to be like and what we actually are and do are quite different. As a result of this, it is easy to feel guilty. But this false guilt results from not taking God’s grace toward us seriously enough. God’s grace says, “I know you are rotten, but I have forgiven you.” You may feel guilty but you are not actually guilty. Why? Because God sees us as forgiven sinners and accepts us.
III. How can this be? We must be in Christ.
The New Testament talks about two distinct places people can be: a person can be in Adam or in Christ. Before Christ came to die and rise again, the Bible describes the human race as being in Adam. Being in Adam means you are dead in sin and are under the punishment of God because of sin. That is why Wesley added the phrase, “And bled for Adam’s helpless race” in the second verse.
Or a person can be in Christ. Being in Christ means that by believing that Jesus’ death and resurrection are for you, you are saved. We get the credit for all that Jesus did while on earth. This means that we need not fear condemnation when Jesus comes again. But being in Christ also means a great deal for us right now. But being in Christ also means a great deal for us right now.
Being in Christ means that we are guilty but forgiven, no matter what we have done or what has happened to us in the past. Being in Christ means that we can freely admit our weaknesses and failures and know that Christ forgives us and that leads to freedom from guilt. Guilt should not drive us in our lives; God’s grace and our response to that grace should! No matter what we may have done, or may yet do, if we confess our sins and ask God’s forgiveness; He will forgive and accept us. Who are we to question this marvelous gift of grace? And can it be? Let the words of Romans 8:1 free you completely.