Chapter 21 Romans 7-8 Atonement Passages

Author: Kevin George

This book is a work in progress. Posts on this blog are to enable readers to examine the manuscript and make commentary. These blog posts are NOT the final version!

Sadly, one of the downsides to splitting the Bible into chapters and verses is that at times the context of a passage is cut and readers disconnect two chapters that were originally continuous. We see this at the end of Romans 7, going into Romans 8. In chapter 7 Paul describes his condition as a follower of the Mosaic law, yet failing in his struggle to attain true righteousness from his heart due to sin being his master. But he found the solution in Jesus Christ. Unfortunately, the conclusion of Paul’s argument is right at the transition point of chapters 7 and 8. Here is that passage with no marked division, from the ESV, and a few added underlines and remarks in brackets:

Romans 7:24-8:4 “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God [, it is] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For [because] the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” ESV

Notice that the answer to Paul’s pre-conversion struggle is not a cosmic payment for sin, but rather that Jesus condemned sin in the flesh by his obedience to God. We who are in, or following Christ, can also be free of condemnation by means of internalizing the same spirit of life provided by Christ. This new breath of life fulfills all the righteous requirements of the law, not by rote obedience to the law, but by having a new life, a new spirit within us, the spirit of Jesus. Paul goes on…

Romans 8:5-8 “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”

Romans 8:9-11 “You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the spirit is life because of righteousness. If the spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his spirit dwelling in you.”

Romans 8:29 “For those whom he foreknew [knew formerly] he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified/corrected/rightened/set right, and those whom he justified/corrected/set right he also glorified/honored.” ESV (bracket and / words added)

Reformed Theology has made a disaster with verses 29-30. Verse 29 simply states that those whom God knew before Christ, such as Abraham, David, etc., were also predestined to be made in the image of Jesus, so that Christ might be the firstborn, the preeminent one, among many brothers. There is no cosmic or pre-birth selection or predestination to salvation here, rather, the predetermination was that all humans who are granted eternal life will become like Jesus, God’s image of a perfect human. Verse 30 adds that all of these who become like Jesus will be set right and honored, honored with whatever God chooses to grant them in the next life, whether position or influence, or some other special purpose. There is no statement of a declaration of righteousness here.

Romans 8:33-34 “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies/rightens/sets right. 34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” ESV (bracket and / words added)

Some have used this passage to try to claim that “justifies” and “condemn” are declarations. However, a second look easily disproves this claim. God’s elect, those who are God’s, are set right because our God is a righteous God and they imitate Him. A righteous God is demonstrated by the righteousness of those who serve that God, in the same manner as if our god was a pagan god, then this unrighteous pagan god would be on display in our lives due to unrighteous behavior.

The word “charge”, “enkalesei” in the Greek, is an accusation, a declaration of wrong doing. But Paul’s question is, what human would not consider a formerly ungodly person to have been set right by our righteous God? The declaration is not in the word “justified”, “dikaiōn“, as this is a present participle active verb, more accurately translated as “justifying” or “rightening”, and is an ongoing action. Furthermore, the “who” in both phrases, “Who shall bring any charge” and “Who is to condemn?” are rhetorical humans who are imagined to be examining God’s elect. What human would not consider a formerly ungodly person to have been set right by our righteous God, and therefore they are unable to condemn? (The question obviously excludes those who are wicked, who call evil good, and good evil.) The answer is “nobody, there is no valid condemnation because these are living righteously, according to God’s definition of righteous”.

In contrast, where it is written, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect, it is God who [declares righteous]”, we can consider what would happen if the person, the elect, has not been set right, not corrected/rectified in his conduct. Would not that be a positive basis for making a charge? Would not a person who continues to live in unrighteousness be grounds for bringing an accusation, a legitimate charge? Declaring someone to be “justified” in the sense of “declared righteous” while positively not having been set right would be an undeniable basis to bring an accusation not only against the person but against any God or god who would declare that person to be righteous when they are not.