“Who Is the One Who Will Condemn?”

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.

Image of a Bible laying on a deck in the sunset, with text from Romans 8:34-35, 38-39, NET version: “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. Who will separate us from the love of Christ? ... I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Image by Lamppost Collective from Lightstock

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).

Image of a woman looking up at the sky, with text from 1 John 3:19-22, NET version: "And by this we will know that we are of the truth and will convince our conscience in his presence, that if our conscience condemns us, that God is greater than our conscience and knows all things. Dear friends, if our conscience does not 
condemn us, we have confidence in the presence of God, and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do the things that are pleasing to him."
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No Condemnation

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.

Image of a man reading a Bible, with text from Romans 5:17-18, NET version: "For if, by the transgression of the one man, death reigned through the one, how much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one, Jesus Christ!
Consequently, just as condemnation for all people came through one transgression, so too through the one righteous act came righteousness leading to life for all people.”
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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.

Image of  a woman reading a Bible with the blog's title text and the words "We can live lives of righteousness with confidence, knowing all we need to do if we make a mistake is repent. There is no condemnation when we have Jesus interceding for us."
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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

Living With Jesus’s Righteousness

I wasn’t planning to write another whole blog post about Paul’s letter to Rome. But I started studying “righteousness,” and didn’t make it out of Romans so here we are.

There’s a lot of talk in the Bible about righteousness. Scripture is full of how we ought to behave righteously, what happens to those who aren’t righteous, and the righteousness of God. Today’s world doesn’t spend much time thinking or talking about righteousness, but when we turn to God’s word the pages are filled with this topic. It can be overwhelming to try and understand it all, and it would take a far longer article than this one to cover the whole topic in depth. But we can get a good understanding of God’s take on righteousness just from this one letter by the apostle Paul.

God’s Righteousness Comes First

The first time Paul brings up righteousness in this letter, it’s in relation to the gospel revelation of God’s righteousness in contrast to humanity’s unrighteousness. This lays groundwork for an analogy he’ll use later to explain the relationship between righteousness, law, and grace.

For the righteousness of God is revealed in the gospel from faith to faith, just as it is written, “The righteous by faith will live.” For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness

Romans 1:17-18, NET

Immediately, Paul sets up a stark contrast between the righteous God and those who practice unrighteousness (particularly the ones who ought to know better [Rom. 1:32]). He makes some strong accusations against the readers, too, challenging them to check if they’re following righteousness or unrighteousness using this test: “it is not those who hear the law who are righteous before God, but those who do the law will be declared righteous” (Rom. 2:13, NET). Paul is laying an expectation on us that results from God’s righteous character. Listening to God’s words doesn’t do much for us, but putting them into action can. That’s not enough on it’s own, though.

Image of a man reading the Bible, with text from Romans 3:9-11, NET version: "we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, just as it is written: There is no one righteous, not even one, there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God."
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The Pivotal Righteousness of Jesus

One reason it’s so important to read scripture in-context is because there’s often more said on the subject in the nearby chapters and verses. Nowhere is that more true than in Romans, where Paul continues adding on to his teachings about righteousness. If we stopped at 2:13, we might think that doing the law is enough to make us righteous. But Paul goes on to say “there is no one righteous, not even one,” and “no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law” (Rom. 3:10, 20, NET). God’s law is a good thing, but it can’t make us righteous; it can only tell us where we don’t measure-up to God’s standard of righteousness. And transgressing the law even once means we justly fall under condemnation from the perfectly righteous God. We’ve all sinned, we’re all unrighteous, and we can’t fix that problem by our own power (Rom. 3:4-20). God would be well within His rights to condemn us, but He very much wants us to accept the alternative He offers.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (although it is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed— namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. God publicly displayed him at his death as the mercy seat accessible through faith. This was to demonstrate his righteousness, because God in his forbearance had passed over the sins previously committed. This was also to demonstrate his righteousness in the present time, so that he would be just and the justifier of the one who lives because of Jesus’ faithfulness.

Romans 3:21-26, NET

We can be righteous because God chooses to apply Jesus’s righteousness to those who believe in Him. Jesus’s faithfulness and righteousness meant He could be–and was–the sacrifice needed to fulfill the righteous requirements of God’s law and redeem us from the consequences of sin (Rom. 6:23).

Before moving on to the next part of Paul’s argument we must, as Paul did, take the time to clarify a potential misunderstanding. Paul makes clear that “we uphold the law” by teaching righteousness through Jesus rather than (as some wrongly suppose) nullify the law through faith and grace (Rom. 3:31). We need to look at Paul’s whole teaching on this subject, and make sure we don’t jump to conclusions about his overall theology based on a single part of one verse like “you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14-15).

Image of a man reading the Bible, with text from Romans 10:9-10, NET version: " if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation."
Image by Matt Vasquez via Lightstock

Compensation, Reward, and Credit

Paul continues to build on his explanation for how righteousness works by bringing in a money analogy. Chapter 4 breaks down the example of Abraham, to whom faith was “credited” as righteousness even before the law was given at Sinai. This shows righteousness was never about trying to keep the law perfectly; as if God would then “owe” you righteousness as wages for your works. Righteousness is something God “credits” to believers in response to their faith (Rom. 4:1-12, 20-25; the Greek word logizomai can “refer to deliberations of some sort” or “charging up a debt” [NET footnotes]). By sinning, we earned death because “the compensation due sin is death” (Rom. 6:23, LEB). However, Jesus’s actions on the cross credit us with righteousness that cancels out that debt.

Therefore, since we have been declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have also obtained access into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of God’s glory. …

God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath.

Romans 5:1-2, 8-9, NET

Righteousness by faith isn’t incompatible with law keeping (it would be strange if it was, considering how often scripture links obedience, love, and faith). Rather, Paul is showing that righteousness comes from God, not our own efforts. If we’re trying to make ourselves righteous–even by doing a good thing like obeying God–then our “zeal is not in line with the truth.” Righteousness only comes through God in response to our belief (Rom. 10:1-13).

Obligated to Walk in Righteousness

Image of a woman looking up at the sky with the blog's title text and the words "we can't make ourselves righteous on our own. Rather, righteousness is credited to our accounts through Jesus's sacrifice, as Paul explains in his letter to the Romans."
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After explaining the method by which we can be credited with Jesus’s righteousness, Paul then explains what a life of righteousness looks like for someone justified by faith. Because we’re under grace, we must not permit sin to take mastery over us again by presenting ourselves as “instruments to be used for unrighteousness” (Rom. 6:12-14, NET).

Do you not know that if you present yourselves as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves to sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were entrusted to, and having been freed from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. (I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh.) For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

Romans 6:16-19, NET

Having established that we’re credited with righteousness as a result of Jesus’s life and death–not our own efforts–Paul now highlights that we still have a choice to make. Jesus’s righteousness applied to us covers over our sins, but it does not give us license to keep sinning (though if we do sin, He covers those sins as well after we repent and turn back to Him). Jesus’s righteousness frees us from being slaves of sin to become slaves of God, following His holy, righteous commandments (Rom. 7:12).

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

As children of God, “we are under obligation” to live in the spirit rather than in the flesh (Rom. 8:12-14). It’s the same kind of obligation that’s inherent in covenant grace, which early Christians like Paul teach is both relational and reciprocal. We don’t follow the law in order to become righteous, but once God applies Jesus’s righteousness to us we keep the law as a result of aligning our lives spiritually with God’s righteousness. Now, we get to live with Jesus’s righteousness as a part of us, covering over the parts of us that don’t yet look like Him and enabling us to grow more and more like Him the longer we walk in His spirit.

Featured image by Pearl via Lightstock

Song Recommendation: “Your Great Name” by Krissy Nordhoff and Michael Neale

The Benefits of Living In Covenant With God

In his letter to believers in Rome, Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” He goes on to explain that God, who gave up His own son for us, will freely give us everything we need. And because God is all powerful and the One who has final say in judgement, nothing can separate us from His love even if the trials we face kill us (Rom. 8:31-39, all quotes from WEB translation).

What? I thought Paul just said nothing could stand against us, so why is he talking about us being killed? But Paul’s focus here is not on the people of God avoiding physical trials and suffering. Victory is found in Christ alone. Physical protection and healing can (and often do!) happen, but that is not our main concern.

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Could oppression, or anguish, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Even as it is written, “For your sake we are killed all day long. We were accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” No, in all these things, we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom. 8:35-27)

Paul quotes from a psalm that laments the deaths of God’s covenant people and asks God not to reject them forever (Ps. 44:17-26). It seems that Paul would tell the Psalmist, and us, that suffering does not mean God has forsaken us. In fact, we are more than conquerors even in the midst of all that.

Bold, Rational Confidence

I don’t want to deal with grievous distress (G2347, thlipsis), intense affliction (G4730, stenochoria), persecution (G1375, diogmos), famine and destitution (G3042, limos), total lack of clothing (G1132, gumnotes), extreme danger (G2744, kindunos), or slaughter by sword (G3162, machaira). I dare say none of us do. But Paul makes it sound like that wouldn’t be a big deal. And he should know, considering all he went through (2 Cor. 11:23-28). When Paul talks about suffering as a Christian, he speaks from experience. Read more

Putting the Law in Its Spiritual Context: What Did Paul and Jesus Teach about the Law of God?

During His ministry on earth, Jesus said He was not here to destroy the law. Yet we also have record of the Jews saying He “broke the Sabbath” (Matt. 5:17; John 5:18). Do those two statements contradict?

Similarly, Paul said his own writings “establish the law,” but he also asked his readers why they would be “subject to ordinances” now that they live by faith (Rom. 3:31; Col. 2:20). Aren’t those statements contradictory as well?

These statements actually don’t contradict each other, but to understand why you have to know something about the Jewish world at the time. On one hand, you have God’s law that He delivered to His people through Moses (the Torah). On the other hand, you have additional rules, regulations, and traditions that were put in place by human beings.

So if we look more closely, we see Christ was not here to destroy God’s law, but He did loose the Sabbath from restrictions added by human teachers. Similarly, in Romans Paul is talking about establishing the law of God, but in Colossians he is talking about walking away from “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Col. 2:20-23).

So what does all this have to do with modern Christians? We’ll take a close look at this question in today’s post, and I think we’ll find that these statement that at first appear contradictory actually teach us about how we are supposed to relate to God’s law. They also teach us how to respond when other people (including teachers and leaders) start to change or add to God’s word. Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part Two)

A couple days ago, I shared Part One of a two-part post about Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. In this letter, he combats a destructive heresy spread by Jewish legalists in the early church. If you haven’t read that post yet, you’ll want to start there before you continue reading.

I like writing these “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s so important to look at context when figuring out what passages of scripture really mean. With Galatians, it’s easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter. It also helps to look at some of Paul’s other letters, like we did last week by comparing Romans to Galatians.

Truly Fulfilling The Law

Now that he’s laid the ground work for his argument, Paul starts to clarify what it means to walk by faith as people who are no longer under the law. It’s kind of a weird balance to wrap our minds around. Much of Galatians 5 parallels Romans 12-13 in showing how walking in the Spirit means we’re fulfilling the true meaning of the law. However, Paul also makes it quite clear that we should not seek “to be justified by the Law” (Gal. 5:1-6). To say that we could earn  salvation by our own works introduces a harmful doctrine that spreads like leaven and corrupts the truth (5:7-12).

For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” … But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. (Gal. 5:13-14, 16-17)

Being free from the law doesn’t mean we’re free to break it (i.e. does not grant us license to sin). Rather, we’re released from the curse of being under the law. Now the law is written inside our hearts. Being filled with God’s Spirit and transformed to be like Him will turn us into a person who naturally does the things we’re told to in God’s law. The law’s not our schoolmaster anymore, though. We’re taught directly by God through His spirit inside us. Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part One)

When Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians, he did so to combat a destructive heresy. From his comments in this letter, it appears that a group of people came through Galatia teaching the Christians there that they had to be circumcised and follow Jewish law in order to receive salvation. Paul refutes this, along with the false teachers’ claim that he wasn’t really an apostle.

I like writing “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s important to look at context when interpreting passages of scripture. Ecclesiastes, for example, doesn’t make much sense unless you follow Solomon’s whole trail of thought from beginning to end. Similarly, Galatians is easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter (and put it alongside some of his other writings as well).

Another Gospel? Really?

Paul opens this letter by introducing himself as an apostle who was made so by “Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1, all scripture references from WEB). He also reminds his readers of the message he preached to them before — that our Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). With those facts established, Paul immediately jumps into his purpose for writing this letter. Read more