Thursday, June 30, 2016

Paul and the Faithfulness of God Chapter 11, Part 2

Paul AFOGWe now continue through the final chapter 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 chapter 11, “GOD’S FUTURE FOR THE WORLD, FRESHLY IMAGINED,” Christ has caused Paul to rework Israel’s eschatological hope. He rules, but there is more to come. Again, this is a very brief summary of this very important book. Previous post on this chapter is here. I welcome comments and discussion on my Facebook page. I am using the Logos version of the book.

In the next section Wright turns to the "Hope Still To Come." Though there is fulfillment now, there will be a consummation of the hope in "that day." The Day of the LORD will primarily be a day of judgment, a day of setting things right. This will be accomplished by the "parousia," the coming of YHWH to his people (temple), in the person of the Messiah, in which everyone will be judged and the world will be set right. In one sense this coming has happened through the indwelling Spirit in the present, but will be experienced fully in the entire world as death is banished and the world becomes what God intended it to be.

Paul believed that the accomplishment of Jesus as Messiah, and the gift of the spirit, meant that in one sense the new day had already dawned: ‘the day of salvation is here’. But, just as ‘resurrection’ itself had as it were split into two, so ‘the day’ itself had divided up into the ‘day’—the ongoing ‘now’ of the gospel—in which promises were truly fulfilled, not just anticipated, and the further ‘day’ in which the work would be complete and the creator would be ‘all in all’. 1080

Jesus is not ‘absent’ or far away. As the risen sovereign of the whole world, he is always present and powerful. But one day this powerful presence will be revealed in action in a new way, when in the perception of those to whom he is thus revealed it will seem as though he has in fact ‘arrived’. 1083

Israel’s God justifies humans, puts them right, so that they can be people through whom the world is put right. That rule over the world, in both present and future, is what in Romans 8 Paul denotes by the language of ‘glory’. 1092

The creator has made a world that is other than himself, but with the capacity to respond to his creative power and love in worship and praise, and with the capacity in particular to be filled with his breath, his life, his spirit. And when that happens, it will not constitute something other than ‘the hope of the glory of God’, the ancient hope of Israel. It will be that hope, translated and transformed, through the Messiah and the spirit. 1093

Ethics must also be based on this view of eschatology. In the present inauguration phase of Messiah's kingdom, Jesus' resurrection and giving of the Spirit demand and enable a high morality (fulfilling the Torah) in the both in public and private. Knowing that the full expression of the kingdom is still to come should inspire believers to live as kingdom people now with private morality and the seeking of public justice.

Most of Paul’s imperatives are plural, and this is not accidental. Likewise, we should in fact follow Paul’s own train of thought on ‘justification’ itself into the wider notion of ‘justice’, that is, of a community that embodies in its own life the wise ordering which is the creator’s will. When he talks about ‘love’, and seeks to put that into practice in the churches to which he writes, he is talking specifically about something that happens within, and something that transforms, whole communities. 1097

Paul was indeed a deeply biblical thinker, in his ‘ethics’ as in everything else; that he believed in a strange new sort of transformed Torah-fulfilment which was open to Gentiles as well as Jews; and that he believed that such Torah-fulfilment would form the Messiah’s followers into a kind of genuine humanity, the sort of thing which his pagan contemporaries glimpsed from time to time but confessed their own inability to attain. 1100

The new creation—both the new creation and the new creation—has already been launched, and Messiah-people must learn how to live within that new world. They are ‘already in the new age’. Equally, the final new creation is yet to come, and their behaviour must look ahead to, and live in accordance with, something which is ‘not yet’ a present reality. 1100–1101

This kingdom life in the present age, the "already," is enabled by the Spirit. The Spirit enables the believer to live like Jesus did, to give up status and privilege for the gospel and to imitate the pattern, service, crucifixion, resurrection and exaltation, of Jesus. The follower of Jesus is enabled, by the Spirit, to make decisions, think and act like Jesus.

The new status must be the basis for new behaviour, which is to be achieved by implementing the death-and-life of the Messiah, and which can be spoken of in terms both of a new human nature and of ‘putting on the Messiah’ like a suit of clothes. 1103

Paul is urging his converts to maintain what is in all sorts of ways a thoroughly and strictly Jewish lifestyle, over against the swirling currents of pagan amorality. But he wants them to do this without becoming ethnically Jewish, without circumcision, the food taboos and the Sabbath. 1108

Paul understands the Messiah’s people to have been liberated from the ‘old evil age’, to have entered the ‘new age’, to be ‘daytime people’ charged with living by the standards of light even though the world around is still in darkness. As such, he sees them as the people of the renewed covenant, the people in whose hearts and lives the Torah, for all its necessarily negative work, is actually fulfilled. That fulfilment points forward all the way to resurrection itself, the ultimate fulfilment of Torah’s promise of life...Messiah-people are already in the New Age. Their baptism, justification and spirit-indwelt sanctification give them the platform on which to base this lifestyle. This is the first and major element of Paul’s eschatological ethics. 1111

However, this "New Age" has not yet arrived. Believers must "anticipate" future kingdom life in the present. The interval between the inaugurated kingdom and the consummated kingdom is necessary for God's people to develop, based on the Messiah's provision and the Spirit's enabling, the mindset, character and behavior necessary to rule with the Messiah in the new age. The cross must be lived out before glory comes.

The point here is continuity. Those who already stand on resurrection ground, and must learn to live in this new world, need to be reminded that what they do with their bodies in the present matters, because the spirit who dwells within them will cause them to be raised as the Messiah was raised. 1112

Paul’s goal, his telos, is the mature humanity which reflects the divine image and which will be reaffirmed in the resurrection. The attaining of that goal is as much a matter of self-denial as of self-fulfilment. 1116

Paul wants his hearers to think out for themselves, and put into practice, wise decisions as to what conformity to the Messiah’s pattern looks like in this situation or that one, not just in obedience to clear moral norms—though there are obviously plenty of those—but in the practical reasoning that, aided by the spirit, learns the ‘Messiah’s mind’ in day-to-day choices whose freedom only emerges once those moral norms are recognized. 1124

Another reason for the interval between the "already" and "not yet" is that the battle with evil is still being fought. Messiah has already won the decisive battle with evil and death, but His people now participate in the battle with the powerful "weapons" of prayer and the Word of God.

The practice of prayer, itself energized by the spirit and formed after the pattern of the Messiah, gives evidence of the same transformation we have observed throughout. The people who are called to stand at the crossroads of time, the strange interval between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’, the present and the future, are also called to stand at the intersection of heaven and earth, sharing the pains and puzzles of the present creation but sharing also in the newly inaugurated life of the spirit. 1127

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