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Condemnation in the Bible: What Scripture Says and Why

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Condemnation in the Bible is centered on the whole point of the word of God, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. By studying this word as it transitions throughout scripture, we can see how God’s love and all of his glory are unveiled right before our eyes.

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What is Condemnation in the Bible

Condemnation, both biblically and secularly, means punishment or sentencing. Think of a criminal receiving their sentence; they are condemned to five, ten, fifteen, etc., years in jail. 

There is another version, or tense, of the word condemnation that I think is important to note and define to understand condemnation in the Bible: “condemn.” According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, to condemn something means “to declare to be reprehensible, wrong, or evil usually after weighing evidence and without reservation”. 

See how these two would work together? Something is declared wrong, and if it is acted upon anyway, the offender is punished. Biblically, the Holy God declares something wrong to be a sin, and humanity faces condemnation for it, which would be an eternity spent in hell, separate from God. 

To put into perspective even further, let’s follow the condemning and condemnation in the story of Adam and Eve, and of course, the fall. 

It all started with God creating Adam, giving him the entire Garden of Eden to both work in and live from, except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. God condemned Adam eating from this tree. 

And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Genesis 2:16-17 (ESV)

Spoiler alert! Eve, who God created to be in the garden with Adam as his helper, is tempted by Satan in the form of a serpent to eat from the tree. She takes the fruit of the tree to Adam (who received the original command from God) for him to eat from it as well, and he does so. This is the very first act of disobedience to God and, therefore, the entrance of sin into the world and into humanity. 

“So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

Genesis 3:6 (ESV)

Adam and Eve committed the condemned action of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, and They now must face their punishment, their condemnation from God. 

“By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Genesis 3:19 (ESV)

This is just the very end of the punishment that Adam receives, but the entire condemnation of the serpent, Adam, and Eve, begins in verse fourteen. This last part however, is the entrance of death into creation, all because of the entrance of sin. God had designed Adam and Eve, and therefore all of humanity, in his own perfect image, free of sin. However, when they ate from the tree, everything changed. Humanity now faces the death of our mortal bodies and a condemnation to eternity apart from God – that is, without the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 

This punishing concept is seen throughout God’s word, as the Old Testament and New Testament work together to unfold God’s glory through the good news of Christ Jesus. 

Condemnation in Old Testament Light

The lens through which condemnation is looked at in the Old Testament is a lot of negative. Not in a way that everything is awful, but because of the law of sin and death, which God gave to his people so that their sins would be made known. The purpose of this law of sin was so that they could make things right with God whenever they committed a condemned act – a sin. If they did not have the law, making clear what was condemned and what was not, they would not know whether or not they were in right fellowship with Heavenly Father

“For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

Romans 3:20 (ESV)

That being said, let’s go through the old testament and find out where we get this specific perspective on, or approach to, condemnation from. 

The first thing that comes to mind for me, and probably most Christians, is the ten commandments. God spoke these ten commandments for following him righteously to the people of Israel from Mount Sinai, after they had left Egypt. 

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

Exodus 20:2-3 (ESV)

In this commandment, the first of the ten, idolization of anything other than God himself is condemned. The rest of the commandments, in order, condemn taking the Lord’s name in vain, working on the sabbath day, disrespecting or dishonoring one’s parents, killing, adultery, stealing, false witness, lust over anyone but one’s own spouse, and covetousness or envy. 

And that’s not all that was condemned under the old testament law of sin! God continued on through Exodus 23 (that’s three whole chapters) preaching the law to the Israelites. This law contained a lot of “you shall not” ‘s and instructions on what to do if someone defies this law. 

“You shall not spread a false report. You shall not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness. You shall not fall in with the many to do evil, nor shall you bear witness in a lawsuit, siding with the many, so as to pervert justice, nor shall you be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit.”

Exodus 23:1-3 (ESV)

Each of the people of Israel under the Law of God was still a human being, so of course, they did not keep the commandments perfectly. This means they needed a way to re-enter right fellowship with God. For this reason, God offered instructions on animal sacrifices and rituals to do as a sin offering, which would atone for their sin. 

“He shall bring the bull to the entrance of the tent of meeting before the Lord and lay his hand the head of the bull and kill the bull before the Lord.”

Leviticus 4:4 (ESV)
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This specific instruction on sacrifice continues on in great detail for eight more verses. And to think, everybody who sinned had to go through one of these incredibly meticulous rituals every single time they committed a sin, to cleanse themselves and be free of the condemnation of death. 

The law of sin and death is named as it is because the people were bound, chained, by sin and death. The Law and it’s multitude of commandments was their only way out of those chains, and even that was only temporary, as they would continue to sin over and over, just like we today do as well. 

All of these rules, this condemning of so many things, is where that negative light on condemnation really sets in. Don’t get me wrong here, condemnation is in fact quite a negative thing, it is the opposite of what the Heavenly Father wants for us. That is what leads us to the New Testament’s approach to condemnation in the Bible, where the narrative is completely flipped. 

Condemnation in New Testament Light

Again, this is where the narrative of condemnation in the Bible is flipped like nothing has ever been flipped before. No that does not mean that condemnation is suddenly a good thing. But what it does mean, is that when the word condemnation, or condemned, is used, it is in the context of the freedom from the chains of sin and death that is offered to all of creation through the grace of God, who sent his own Son to give his life for every sin in every person, ever. 

“For God so love the world, the he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 3:16-17 (ESV)

What a weight lifted off our shoulders after all the stress of God’s laws in the Old Testament when it was man’s responsibility to take care of their shortcomings (which are never-ending). 

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I love what Karla Rose from Zion People says about condemnation. She says “condemnation has guilt and punishment attached to it, there is no wriggle room, no space to grow and change, there is only the consequences of actions”. This just sheds all the more light onto what Christ did on that cross. Yes we are free from death, but we are also free from the feelings of guilt, feelings of inadequacy, and all other wages of sin. 

Because of God’s grace and God’s forgiveness manifested in the saving work of the blood of Jesus, we are free of that weight. All of our sins have already been atoned for, once and for all, and we are given the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of Christ himself, to guide us as we continue on in our daily lives as a new creation, fighting off our sinful nature. We no longer dread the death of our mortal bodies, but await it, as that means we will enter into eternal life in the presence of the Holy God. 

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:1-2 (ESV)

Read that second verse again and just meditate on the difference between the names of the two laws. How does the sound of the law of sin and death make you feel? Versus for the law of the Spirit of life? That difference is the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

All we have to do to gain this freedom is repent of our sin and walk in the love of Christ daily as a new creation. We do not have to work for anything, for we can earn nothing but condemnation in our own power. Instead, salvation is a completely free gift of God. Not given to use because we deserve it, for we most certainly do not, but given to us because God just loves us that much. 

Not only are we freed from the weight of man’s sin through the life and death of the Son of Man, but we are given Jesus’ own righteousness, the righteousness of God to wear, becoming a child of God, and therefore heirs alongside Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. 

It is as the Apostle Paul says:

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit, that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.”

Romans 8:16-17 (ESV)

Catch that last part – being a child of God does not mean life is easy. However, through the Holy Spirit, a piece of God’s power – against such things there is no law (Galatians 5) – literally living inside of our bodies, we have everything we need, and more, to get through it. 

We are not condemned, we are no longer bound. For we are free for Him. 

You may enjoy this video on condemnation in the Bible and When You Feel Condemned and Don’t Know What to Do

Or this recommended resource for further study:

No Condemnation: Sermons on Romans 8 by Thomas Manton

ESV – “Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”

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