“The letter (the law) kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6).
By John David Hicks
The Garden of Eden had two trees that Adam and Eve could choose to live by. They chose to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, although God had forbidden them to eat of it.
That tree was an example of living in the flesh, living in self-centeredness. Like Satan, when you live in independence of God, you try to live by your own power. It is about your performance. The fruit or seed of this tree is self-righteousness, condemnation, and death. This tree is also the representation of the knowledge of good and evil, right and wrong, or the law. When you break the law, it confronts you and condemns you. For a law to have power there must be consequences when you break it. Condemnation kills. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). The harvest of this condemnation is death in your body, soul, and spirit.
The law helps us understand a broad framework of what it means to be the people of God. The Jewish people loved the law because it pointed to what it meant to live in the world and bring God’s peace (Shalom) into the world. The law of God is perfect and shows us our need for a Savior. Paul called the law “the schoolmaster that leads us to Christ.” It shows us what sin is, that we are a fallen race that needs a Savior.
When we disobey the law of God we feel guilty. There is a difference between guilt and shame. Guilt is when a person feels bad for something he has done wrong. Shame comes when we think we are horrible for committing the sin; that we are a bad person. Shame is not what God wants us to feel. He convicts us with our guilt but does not shame us. Guilt is a healthy part of what it means to be human. We all need to own up to our sins and mistakes and repent of them. People who do not experience guilt are called psychopaths and are in serious need of mental health care.
So “good guilt” will drive us to change and make us better human beings. Life is such that we ARE punished for our sins and failures by the consequences of our sins and failures. There are things that we SHOULD feel guilty about. However, shame from Satan or through others will condemn us and enslave us and is self-destructive.
It is important for every Christian to be able to tell the difference between condemnation from Satan and the conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit. One will destroy you; the other will build you up. Here are the differences in a nutshell:
(1) The conviction of the Holy Spirit is always specific, pointing to a specific sin or attitude that God seeks to remove or change. The condemnation of the enemy is always vague and general, condemning you as a person but never calling you to repent about a specific sin.
(2) When the conviction of the Holy Spirit is moving on us, we always feel drawn back to God or closer to Him. Condemnation makes us feel like pulling or even running away from God.
(3) The conviction of the Holy Spirit always feels like love and has the fragrance of life. The condemnation of Satan feels like rejection and smells of death.
(4) Conviction produces hope in us—hope for freedom from sin, hope for fellowship with God, hope of eternal and unshakeable salvation. Condemnation produces despair and the desire to give up.
Satan as the accuser uses the law to condemn you and to destroy you (1 John 3:8). The power of sin is the law. But when the law has humbled you by showing you your sin and failure, God can then offer grace. Grace is God’s unmerited and undeserved favor. Grace is God’s gift to you because of what Jesus did on the cross. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). The finished work of Jesus Christ redeems you and sets you free from condemnation.
When God forgives you, you are no longer under guilt, punishment, and condemnation for your sins. He then gives the gift of righteousness. If you don’t accept this gift, Satan will attack with condemnation.
A pastor in California tells of a young man who came to Christ for forgiveness of sins, but could not give up smoking. He felt it was wrong and sinful. He tried and tried to stop, but the more he tried the more he failed. He suffered great shame and condemnation because of smoking. He attended classes on how to stop smoking. The pastor tried to tell him that he was too hard on himself. But he felt like a total failure as a Christian.
Condemnation will put a cloud over your life and you will soon feel suffocated to the point where you just want to die. It will leave you living in embarrassment and fear. The devil will have you believe that you are worthless, vile, ugly, filthy, and unworthy of love—even God’s love.
This young man felt that the only way he would be worthy of forgiveness was to be “perfect.” He did not allow himself to make mistakes or fail. This became so unbearable that he wished he could die. The struggle simply to live was too great. One day he threw himself in front of a car. In the hospital, family and friends tried to reach out to him, but when he got out, he took his life by jumping from an eight-story building. Condemnation killed him.
In our zeal to clean up our own lives or the lives of others, we unfortunately use “killer soaps”—condemnation, faultfinding, and criticism. We think we’re doing right, but our harsh, self-righteous treatment gives place to condemnation.
- God wants you free from condemnation.
The Bible says, “By the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). When you have the knowledge of the law, you will be aware of your own sin. Don’t think of the law as doing right from wrong because God did not give us the law for that purpose. God gave us the law to show us that we cannot measure up; we need a Savior.
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). If you are in Christ Jesus and forgiven of your sins, then there is no condemnation because Jesus redeemed you and paid the price for ALL your sins. You are justified (just-as-if-I-didn’t-sin) before God.
When a woman caught in the act of adultery was brought before Jesus, the Scribes and Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by asking: “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do you say?” (John 8:5).
Jesus began to draw in the sand, and He answered, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). The Scribes and Pharisees began to leave one by one till none of them were left. The people in the crowd who wanted to condemn the woman could not. But Jesus, the only one in the crowd who truly had the power to condemn her, would not. He then asked her, “Has no one condemned you?” (John 8:10).
She answered, “No one, Lord” (John 8:11).
Jesus then spoke grace into her life. “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11 nkjv).
When she received the gift of no condemnation, then she had the power to “go and sin no more.” When your focus is on your sin, you are more likely to repeat it.
Grace is God’s gift in redemption. It comes out of God’s love, goodness, and mercy. It is unmerited and undeserved. It’s all about Jesus’ finished work and not man’s efforts. God has given you the gift of no condemnation, so that you can “look unto Jesus and He can author and perfect your faith” (Heb. 12:2).
- The devil’s main weapon against you is accusation, faultfinding.
“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of his Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death’” (Rev. 12:10-11).
Satan is Hebrew for “prosecutor at law”—the accuser, faultfinder. The role of a prosecutor in a court of law is to condemn you, the accused. The prosecutor never talks about your good points. He will bring up all the dirty laundry and ruthlessly accuse you till you feel condemned.
In Revelation 12:10, the announcement from heaven in a loud voice is for you to recognize Satan as the faultfinder, the accuser, the prosecuting attorney. The only place where you find NO condemnation is in Christ Jesus.
“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1 nkjv). When Jesus rose from the grave, He became your advocate, your lawyer. But unlike earthly lawyers, Jesus went through great sufferings for you and gave His life so that you can be reconciled to God and receive His blessings. “You are accepted in the beloved” (Eph. 1:6).
As your advocate before the throne of grace, Jesus defends you and guarantees that all the benefits of the cross are yours. He assures your salvation, healing, and deliverance.
When the devil tries to convince you that God is angry with you when you blow it, just say, “God does not condemn me today because 2,000 years ago He judged my sins at the cross.” God’s righteousness is not only imputed to you, but also imparted. We are righteous!
God can justly declare you innocent and completely righteous because of what Jesus did at the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). God is simply being faithful and just to what Christ has done.
God wants you to see yourself as righteous. When you sin or fail, remember that Jesus’ blood continually cleanses you from all sin (1 John 1:7). When the Lord sees the blood, the death angel of judgment and condemnation will pass over you. But you must apply the blood over the doorpost of your life.
The devil knows you are forgiven, washed in the blood of Jesus. All your sins are washed away; there is no record of them. So why does he continue to condemn you?
BECAUSE THIS IS HIS MAJOR TACTIC. His weapon of condemnation works on most people. The devil cannot enforce the curse apart from condemnation. He cannot defeat or kill you apart from condemnation. So you have to cooperate with him to receive condemnation.
Let’s return to Revelation 12:10 for a reminder of what God did to Satan: “For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.” The devil who is the “prosecutor at law” against God’s people has been cast out of heaven. God does not want to hear his faultfinding anymore. When you understand that Satan has no power to accuse, then “the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ will manifest in your life.”
Hear it! Satan has been kicked out of the court of heaven; he has been disbarred. He has no right to practice law in heaven. But on earth if he can get you alone and get you to think that you are not in Christ, he will find fault with you and will whisper in your ear: “How could you do that? How can you call yourself a Christian?” Condemnation is so subtle, especially if you are a person who believes in doing what’s right. That is why condemnation usually goes undetected.
Continue to do what’s right, but do not respond to the accuser. When you choose not to respond, he cannot condemn you. Jesus came to destroy the work of the devil (1 John 3:8). Satan has no right to condemn you.
THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL HELP YOU. “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit will “comfort” and guide you back to the cross every time you fail. The Holy Spirit’s ministry is to bring conviction, NOT condemnation.
The Holy Spirit convicts of three things: “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged” (John 16:8-11 nasb).
The Holy Spirit convicts the world (not you) of sin. Why the world (verse 9)? “Because they do not believe in Me,” says Jesus. It is the unbeliever who is convicted of sin. What sin? Unbelief in Christ. It’s not their sins (plural), but their chief sin—their failure to trust Christ as their Savior. Even if they stopped sinning, they still would have a problem with unbelief. Without faith in Christ there can be no relationship.
The Holy Spirit convicts you (the Christian) of righteousness. Why are Christians convicted of righteousness? Because, Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “I go to My Father and you no longer see Me.”
The Holy Spirit seeks to convince us of that reality of the cross. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Christians sin, the Holy Spirit causes us to “walk in the light…and the blood of Jesus Christ keeps on cleansing us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). We will fail. We will give in to temptation. We will sin again. However, God assures us that His love remains consistent and asks us to keep walking with Him.
It is humbling to be reminded of our weaknesses and shortcomings. Yet God does not condemn us. No, He continually woos us back into relationship with Him. He asks us to get back up and walk in His strength. The Holy Spirit convicts you that you are righteous, and guides you into righteous living.
The Holy Spirit convicts Satan (not you) of the judgment. You can be convinced that the ruler of this world has already been judged and has nothing on you anymore. God promises you, “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:12). Satan is judged, not you. The only thing the Holy Spirit convicts you of is your righteousness in Christ.
- You are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus.
“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
This gives you confidence to boldly go into God’s presence (Heb. 4:16). The Bible says, “Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame” (1 Cor. 15:34 nkjv).
The more you are righteous-conscious, the more you will speak, think, and act like a righteous person. Right believing always leads to right living.
The devil has been disarmed at the cross. God took his weapon—the law—and nailed it to the cross. “Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it” (Col. 2:14-15 nkjv).
The Lord has triumphed over the devil and all his demonic principalities and powers. The victory is already yours through the finished work of Christ at the cross. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1 nkjv).
The only place you find NO condemnation is in Christ. The word “therefore” refers to Romans 7, where Paul talks about being condemned by the law. The reason he now has NO condemnation is that our sins have been punished and condemned in the body of Jesus Christ at the cross.
“So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God” (Rom. 7:4). Like a wife is no longer married to her husband when he dies, so a Christian is no longer under the law because of Christ’s death on the cross.
When you believe you are righteous because of the cross, it will change you. It’s not your self-effort that makes you righteous, but believing that you have been made righteous through Jesus Christ.
- This righteousness causes you to reign in life.
“For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ. Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men” (Rom. 5:17-18).
Paul says if you can explain how by one man’s sin—Adam’s sin—we all became sinners, then you can explain how by Jesus Christ’s obedience we all become righteous. Under Adam you inherited the results of sin, condemnation, bondage, and death. Under Christ you inherited righteousness, peace, joy, and life.
It is the obedience of one Man, Christ, and not your obedience that has made you righteous. In Hebrews 10, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sin. In the Old Testament the priest examined the lamb to see if it was without spot or blame—not the person bringing the sacrifice. If the offering was acceptable, he was forgiven for a year, an annual reminder of his sins and need of a Savior. But now “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (verse 10). This was a perfect, eternal sacrifice for “those who are being made holy” (verse 14).
That is why God wants you to seek first His righteousness—“and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). Again, this righteousness is not right behavior. It is right standing with the Father. Your freedom from all guilt, shame, and condemnation lets you stand in the presence of God. No condemnation is God’s gift to you (Rom. 5:17).
To “seek His righteousness” is to be conscious of the fact that you have His righteousness. But you must confess, “I am the righteousness of God in Christ” (2 Cor. 5:21). In righteousness you can come boldly to the throne of grace and receive freely everything that Jesus died to give you. You are meant to reign in life through God’s abundant grace and the gift of righteousness.
- The gift of righteousness lets you know that you are loved, accepted, and anointed.
“And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 4:6 nkjv).
God was never known as “Father” until Jesus came to earth and revealed Him as such. In His prayer to His Father, Jesus said, “And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them” (John 17:26).
Now, what name was Jesus referring to? It was the name “Father.” If there was anything close to Jesus’ heart, it was to introduce God as Father to us.
Jesus said, “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’… For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (Matt. 6:31-32 nkjv). He also said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him” (Matt. 7:11 nkjv).
Jesus wants you to always have one image of God in your mind—that He is your Abba, Papa Father. Why? Because He wants you to know that there is nothing more important or too insignificant for God when it concerns you, His child.
A friend of mine took his wife and two-year-old son to the market. The child was fussing, and the father tried everything he could think of to quiet his son. Finally, holding his son close to his chest, he began to sing an impromptu love song to the boy. “I’m so glad you’re my boy, you make me happy…. I like the way you laugh…. I love you.” The song did not rhyme and was off key, but the little boy calmed down. Back in the car on the way home, he said, “Sing again to me, Daddy. Sing again to me.”
God desires to take you into His arms, to hold you close to Himself and sing His love song over you. “I love you. You are my child, forgiven, cleansed, and reconciled. You are accepted, made righteous, with no condemnation.” The Father’s grace transforms us. His gift of righteousness converts your heart and gives you eternal love and acceptance.
Remember the old hymn:
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that will pardon and
Grace, grace, God’s grace,
Grace that is greater than all our sin.
God wants you free from condemnation. The devil’s main weapon is faultfinding. You are the righteousness of God in Christ. This righteousness causes you to reign. You are loved, accepted, and anointed. “You then, my child, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 2:1).