Justification and condemnation are frequently misunderstood. The word justification has to do with God acknowledging or manifesting that something (whether it be a person, a condition, an action, etc.) is His own workmanship, that it is of Him and from Him, and so is one with Him in nature and purpose. It’s like He looks at it and says, “That’s Me. That’s mine. I did it. I recognize and accept it.” Strictly speaking, the only thing that is justified in the sight of God is the Spirit and nature of His Son, wherever it is found. The Bible, of course, speaks of men and women being justified, but this is not because of what they are or what they do in and of themselves, but because of what Christ is and does in them. God justifies the Spirit, life, and nature of Christ, born and brought forth in man by faith. So it is because we are given the Spirit of Christ, and cleansed and changed by the work of Christ, that we become justified in God’s sight.
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, … and such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
And notice the language of Paul’s prayer for the Hebrews.
“Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Condemnation is just the opposite. Condemnation has to do with the recognition or manifestation that something is NOT God’s workmanship, is NOT of Him or from Him, and so is not one with Him in nature and purpose. Many think of the words condemnation and judgment as being synonymous with punishment, but these words really just speak of a demonstration or declaration (made manifest in the light) that something (a person, an action, a desire, etc.) is growing up from another source, with another will, and towards another end. It’s like God saying, “That’s not Me. That’s not mine. I didn’t do it. I won’t own it.”
Condemnation and judgment are generally considered to be bad things, and they certainly are if they become the final determination or decree concerning your life. If, at the death of the body, you are found to be a “degenerate plant of an alien vine” (Jer. 2:21), that is, if your soul has received and grown up in a contrary seed, then God will not own you to be His workmanship, but rather manifest (to yourself and to all) that you have grown up in a life and nature that He can never justify. This is most certainly a very bad thing.
HOWEVER, in the course of our Christians lives, experiencing judgment and recognizing what God condemns in man, is so far from being a bad thing, that it can truly be called an incredible gift of God’s love. The truth is that it is entirely impossible to grow in the life, nature and power of Christ unless we are at the same time growing in our awareness (and rejection) of all that is condemned by Him. Light always brings judgment; that is, it brings a certain division between “the living and the dead,” “the precious and the vile.” And truly seeing what God sees will always cause us to condemn what God condemns, wherever we find it—first and foremost in ourselves. I’m not at all talking about human anger or disgust with ourselves or others. I’m talking about the light of Christ manifesting the nature and root of all that is growing in our heart, and the power of Christ “uprooting every plant which the heavenly Father has not planted.” (Matt 15:13)
We can judge nothing rightly “until the Lord comes, who will bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveals the counsels of the heart.” (1 Cor 4:5). Paul says, “All things that are reproved are made manifest by the light: for whatever makes manifest is light,” (Eph 5:13). We should therefore see judgment as a precious gift! It is the way that God helps us to identify our enemy. It is the way He diagnoses our true disease. And the One who shows us the problem, is the same who will free us from it. For this reason Isaiah said, “In the way of Your judgments, O Lord, we have waited for You.” (Isa. 26:8). And David testified:
“The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward. Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me. Then I shall be blameless, and I shall be innocent of great transgression.”—Psalm 19:9-13
Sadly, when Christians hear the word judgment or condemnation, they are often quick to say that there is no place for such an experience in the Christian life, and frequently quote the first half of Romans 8:1—“There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus,” (leaving out the second half of the verse, “…who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”) But the truth is that the fallen fleshly nature of man is always condemned (that is, it is NOT justified), wherever it is found, even in a Christian. As Paul explains in the strongest words throughout the rest of this chapter, the mind of the flesh is “death,” “enmity with God,” “not subject to the law of God,” and so it “cannot please God.” And so he concludes (addressing believers), “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
It is common today to hear that “grace” has taken away the need for judgment, and doesn’t take into account our ungodliness and worldly lusts; but, much to the contrary, Paul insists that grace “teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lust, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” Many say that Christ faced God’s judgment so that we don’t have to; but Christ plainly and frequently said that all who follow Him must deny themselves, take up their cross daily, lose their lives, and drink His same cup. Others go as far as to say that, because of Christ’s outward work on the cross, they are immediately perfected in the sight of God; but how does this bold claim align with the numerous New Testament declarations that the Spirit of God was given to “cleanse from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God”?
The reason for these misunderstandings is not that the Scriptures are unclear on this subject, but quite simply because man wants to be free from condemnation without experiencing a freedom from the nature that is condemned. Lamentably, this is the very purpose that religion serves in the hearts of many people. Man wants to feel free from the consequences of sin without being inwardly free from the power, pollution, and pleasure of sin. He wants to affirm that he is no longer in the flesh, even while his mind, desires, and treasure remain firmly fixed there. And so, while reading New Testament Scriptures about things like new life, freedom from sin, a new creation, a spotless bride, etc. we are quick to assume that these verses somehow describe our current condition, rather than turn to the light of Christ, the “swift witness” (Mal 3:5) in the heart, that always manifests things as they really are.