Friday, June 10, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 10, Part 5

Paul AFOGI am getting a little behind my reading with my posting, so I will try to get caught up this month. So I continue in chapter 10 of Book Two and Part III of Paul and the Faithfulness of God, vol. 4, Christian Origins and the Question of God, by N. T. Wright. In this section he focuses on how Paul has redefined the idea of election, focusing on justification, as in the rest of chapter 10, around the actions of Jesus and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Again, this is a very brief summary of this very important book.  Previous posts on this chapter are here, here, here and here. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

Next Wright looks at Paul's understanding of the "shape of justification." He insists that "justification" must be understood as the end of a "clear sequence of ideas." "Justification by grace through faith in the present time on the basis of the work of the Messiah—comes as the crucial seventh and final element in this sequence." (926) The sequence is that 1) God as Creator is committed to making the world right again in the age to come, 2) The world cannot be put right until humans are made right, 3) God will make things right through covenant 4) "The covenant will be the means of sorting out the problem of universal human idolatry and sin (934)," 5) All the above steps point toward a final judgment when God will set things right. 

The various Pauline uses of the dikaios root (‘justification’) take for granted the belief (a) that Israel was chosen, with a purpose, by the creator God; (b) that this purpose had to do with the creator’s ultimate plan to set the whole creation to rights; and (c) that this purpose was to be taken forward through the setting to rights of human beings. 925

The covenant is indeed the answer to the forensic problem—but it is the covenant as fulfilled in the faithful obedience of the Messiah and the outpouring of the spirit...In the language of ‘righteousness’ and ‘justification’, already implicit in the covenantal train of thought, Paul found the perfect vehicle to explain how the covenant God, through the Messiah and the spirit, had dealt with the deeper problem of human sin, including Jewish sin. 933

‘Law-court’ language expresses, in a non-transferable way, something vital and central about the determination of the creator God to put all things right at last. One cannot, of course, make the law court the only matrix of understanding, even for ‘justification’. We need covenant, eschatology, participation and much besides. Equally, though, one cannot marginalize ‘forensic’ language and hope to escape scot-free. 934

The future verdict will consist, according to Paul, of the gift of ‘life’: the dikaioma that meant ‘death’ is matched by the dikaioma that meant ‘life’...Once again we note the dovetailing of forensic and covenantal ideas. The ‘verdict’ here, and in 8:33–34, is certainly ‘forensic’, but the idea of the two verdicts of ‘life’ and ‘death’ is certainly ‘covenantal’, as in Deuteronomy 30:15–20 and elsewhere. And once again the whole thing is ‘incorporative’. The place where the verdict ‘no condemnation’ is issued is precisely ‘in Messiah Jesus. 936.

Once the first 5 ideas of the sequence are understood, the key points 6-7 make sense. Wright sees Romans 1-8 as a unified explanation of an "inaugurated/incorporative forensic/covenantal eschatology" in which the acts of Messiah Jesus are the decisive expression of God's righteousness which inaugurates the coming kingdom promised in the Abrahamic Covenant and developed in the rest of the OT. Justification in the present is a declaration of God, based on Jesus' death and resurrection, of righteous status before God which will result in an assures final justification in the final judgment. This is assured because believers are incorporated in Christ and the indwelling Spirit works in producing a faithful life.

Christian living is not a zero-sum game, so that either ‘God does it all’ or ‘we do it all’. That false notion is always raised whenever anyone draws attention to Paul’s strong words about a final justification on the basis of the whole life, with the constant implication that unless one simply says ‘God does it all’ we are forfeiting assurance, or even salvation itself. 940

The entire Jew-plus-Gentile family, now designated as ‘Abraham’s seed’, has that title because they are ‘in him’ and ‘belong to him’ (Galatians 3:26–29); and the badge of that belonging is of course pistis, the ‘faith’ which believes that the one God raised Jesus from the dead (Romans 4:24–25; 10:9). 944

The first thing to get clear, then, is that the word ‘justification’, within its forensic sense, refers very precisely to the declaration of the righteous God that certain people are now ‘in the right’, despite everything that might appear to the contrary. 948

So how does this work out practically? The Spirit calls the person to belief through the Gospel. This is a gift of God. God then declares the person to be part of his covenant family and forgives his/her sins. Subsequent transformation is inevitable as the Spirit works in the life of the believer and the believer responds.

The ‘faith’ in Paul’s sense is not valued for a ‘quality’ it possesses in itself. It is defined entirely by, and in terms of, its object. 952

The point about the ‘call’ is that it is not ‘an invitation to enjoy a new kind of religious experience’. It is a sovereign summons to acknowledge the risen Jesus as lord. It, like the ‘faith’ which it inspires, is all about Jesus, not about oneself. 955

‘Justification’ is the declaration of the one God, on the basis of the death of Jesus: this really is my adopted child, a member of Abraham’s covenant family, whose sins are forgiven. And that declaration, in the present, anticipates exactly the final verdict which can also be described as ‘adoption’ (all this language, of course, reflects Israel’s ‘adoption’ as ‘God’s son’ at the Exodus): ‘we who have the first fruits of the spirit’s life within us are groaning within ourselves, as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our body’ (Romans 8:23). 958–959

Wright now comes to his conclusion that the main point of justification is the declaration of the covenantal inclusion of all people who believe in the Messiah into God's family. God's purpose from the beginning was to "save" the world through humanity, but he had to save humanity first. The symbol of this is baptism which pictures the new life, new family and new unity produced by what Christ has done and what the indwelling Spirit now produces. Unity of God's people is God's intended present result of justification.

The reason the divine declaration ‘righteous’ is issued, on the basis of the Messiah’s death and ‘for the benefit of all believers’, is to constitute that single family, whatever its moral or ethnic background, as the worldwide company which the covenant God had always promised to Abraham. 960

Baptism is as it were the public celebration of justification by faith, the active and visible summoning up of the Exodus-events which were themselves freshly encoded in the death and resurrection of Jesus and the constitution of the believing community as the Exodus-people who have firmly and decisively left Egypt behind and are being led by the spirit to their inheritance. 963

Wright now moves on to validating this view of justification through the exegesis of key passages in Paul's letters. He sees the central meaning of the concept of "justification" to be "declared to be in God's family" in Galatians, with the forensic layer of meaning brought out in the concept in Romans, as Paul thought through the implications of it. He begins this study with Galatians 2.15-4.11. Paul pictures here the redefining of election around the faithful death and resurrection of Jesus as an "Exodus event." The faithful of all the world will now be pronounced righteous at the final judgment, and this must be lived out through the Spirit in the present.

'So that we might be justified’ in Galatians 2:16 does not simply mean ‘so that we might attain a righteous standing before God’, though that is obviously part of the core meaning of the term. Rather, it must mean, in order for the sentence to work in its context, ‘so that we might be declared to be members of God’s single family.’ 968

The unity of the Messiah’s people, especially in their table-fellowship, thus flows as a non-negotiable imperative from the gospel itself. 970

Here is the redefinition of election, writ clear, cognate both with Romans 2:25–29 and with Romans 4:9–17: the covenant is renewed through the divine spirit, and Jews who want now to belong to Abraham’s renewed family must be spirit-people and faith-people. 973

In 1 Corinthians this idea that the present declaration of God brings the future judgment into present actuality is assumed even in church life and discipline. In the church "the verdict of the future is enacted in the present (979)."

Even when (Paul) is not discussing ‘justification’ as such, his mind regularly and easily works on the basis that the coming day of judgment has already arrived in the present in the Messiah, and is to be implemented and applied in the community in the power of the spirit. That is the basis on which he declares that what will be true about the future must become true in the present life of the church. 980

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