Sometimes, I’ll come across something during Bible study that makes me sit up and think, “Oh! That’s what that means.”
I suspect this is one of the ways God keeps me humble; by reminding me that I haven’t figured anything out yet, even things that in hindsight seem obvious. It’s also one of the ways He keeps me interested in Bible study; I’m not very motivated to keep studying something after I’ve figured everything out, and thankfully that doesn’t happen when you’re studying scripture.
So, Romans 8:34 typically reads something like this: “Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, yes rather, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us” (WEB).
One thing I’ve learned studying Greek and French (the two languages other than English I’ve spent the most time with) is that sentence structures don’t always translate well from other languages into English. Word orders are different in many cases, and sometimes you need to add or rearrange things to get the same intention in English as there was in Greek. Figuring out how to do that is complicated by the passage of time. If we have a harder time guessing what Paul meant here because we can’t talk with him or anyone else who used this particular Greek; they all died centuries ago.
That’s a long, rambling introduction to saying that this particular sentence structure kinda makes it seem like Christ is the answer to the question, “Who is he who condemns?” We know from context that Paul is not saying Jesus condemns us; he’s saying the opposite. It still seems odd the way it’s setup in English, but I just read over it and didn’t really think about why it looks odd and if there might be a translation that would make more sense to me.
Setting Up A Contrast
I started reading the NET Bible a few years ago, and I’m still finding translation choices that make me notice verses in a slightly new way. It’s one of the best translations I’ve found for balancing a desire to stay as close to the original languages as you can with transferring the sense of the original into English. I particularly like reading the New Testament in this translation. For Romans 8:34, the NET translators make it extra clear that Paul is setting up a contrast here rather than saying that Christ is the one who condemns.
What then shall we say about these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is the one who will condemn? Christ is the one who died (and more than that, he was raised), who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us.Romans 8:31-34, NET
In other words, verse 34 continues the exact same pattern as the previous sentences. Do you think anyone can stand up against us or charge us with wrong doing? Don’t worry–God is for us and He’s the one who justifies His people. Do you worry about people who might condemn us? No need–Jesus Christ died for us and He’s interceding on our behalf with God, so we’ve got nothing to worry about. With Jesus mediating for us, not even the “the one called the devil and Satan … the accuser of our brothers and sisters” can condemn us (Rev. 12:9-10, NET).
Paul addressed the topic of condemnation earlier in this same letter as well, just a page or so farther back in our Bibles. It’s part of a point he’s been building up to through the whole letter of Romans about how we relate to God’s law in the New Covenant.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death. For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.Romans 8:1-4, NET
Paul is not contradicting Jesus’s statement that He did not “come to abolish the law or the prophets.” Rather, Paul is clarifying what Jesus meant when He said, “I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them. … whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:17-20, NET). Jesus removes the condemnation that the Law placed on us as sinners by taking our sin away and paying the penalty for it Himself. Now, we’re free to keep God’s law by living in the Spirit, fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law as God’s grace covers our mistakes.
Salvation and Belief
There’s a delicate balance in how we understand God’s grace. I think we often error toward one extreme or another. On the one hand, we might make the mistake of thinking grace means we don’t have to obey God’s law and He’ll just give us salvation no matter what we do. On the other hand, we might stray too close to an idea of “salvation by works” and think our actions play a bigger role in salvation than they really do. The truth is something much more amazing.
For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. The one who believes in him is not condemned. The one who does not believe has been condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the one and only Son of God.John 3:16-18, NET
God offers us salvation that we had nothing to do with; we cannot save ourselves. In return, He asks for life-changing belief. There’s a reciprocal aspect to grace. It’s part of a covenant agreement God offers us and if we accept this covenant we also accept our role as lovers of God who want to become like Him and follow His commands.
When we enter a relationship with God, we can trust that He is all-in with His commitment as well. He’s already demonstrated this in a spectacular way with Jesus dying for our sins. Moreover, He continues to demonstrate it today with Jesus acting as our mediator and advocate “who is at the right hand of God, and who also is interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34, NET). We can live lives of righteousness with confidence, knowing that if we make a mistake all we have to do is repent and ask forgiveness. There’s no condemnation for us when we have Jesus interceding for us.
Featured image by Aaron Kitzo from Lightstock
Song Recommendation: “Our God” by Chris Tomlin