Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Believing In Him (part 13)

Once again, with Paul having brought covenant markers into the picture, the bridging of the gap between Jew and Gentile, and God’s extension of justification to all peoples takes center stage with Paul writing “For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith” (3:26).  Previously, if a Jew was making reference to sons of God, this would be limited to ethnic Israel in general, and those who bore the covenant markers (both Jew and Gentile) more specifically.  Now, as a covenant family is created via Jesus the Messiah, and as He is looked to as the Messiah (king) of Israel and of the whole world, it is “all” that become the sons of God, with this becoming a reality through the confession of covenant loyalty (faith) in Jesus. 

To this Paul adds “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (3:27).  The church of Christ that is formed by this means (faith), and which is further identified by the rite of baptism (though many cultures and religions practiced baptism, this baptism, while also becoming equated with the death and Resurrection of Jesus, because of Paul’s insistence that the story of Jesus is the culmination of Israel’s history and because he sees the inclusion of Gentiles under the covenant as a fulfillment of that which has been promised by God through the prophets and is thus a continuation of Israel’s history, is a symbolic re-enactment of the exodus story and Israel’s passing through the waters of both the Red Sea and the Jordan River, thus allowing Gentiles to symbolically share with and locate themselves within Israel’s story, as the story of Israel, as the covenant people of God, becomes the story of the covenant people of God that is composed of all peoples), is the church in which all peoples, regardless of ethnicity or status, are brought together and share equally in its covenant provisions and its responsibilities.  By sharing this “clothing with Christ,” which is, in effect, the righteous status that is gained by the confession of faith, distinguishing features, which have previously been so cherished by God’s covenant people, and which continue to be cherished by a world then defined by considerations of status and class and honor and shame, fall completely away, leaving only those that are called upon to bear the image (and example) of Jesus in and for the world. 

This leads to the upending realization that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female---for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (3:28).  This is revolutionary on so many levels, but for Paul it is the conclusion that demands to be reached by the Gospel of the Lord Jesus the Messiah.  If the Gospel message brings together and equivocates Jew and Gentile under the justified, covenant tent, with this being, for the Jew, the single most important separation in the world (as some Jews went out of their way, beyond their unique identity markers, to maintain separation from Gentiles so as to avoid contamination and ritual defilement), then the reach of this Gospel is interminable.  It demands equivocation between slave and free, male and female, and by extension, any other source of unique group identity to which people may hold in order to preserve their position, their prestige, their honor, or even their shame (victim status?). 

Furthermore, Paul goes on to say, “if you belong to Christ”---if you are a member of the covenant family that identifies themselves with Him as the One that provides your covenant standing, rather than looking to Abraham alone as your source of status (as did the Jews and Judaizing Gentiles that followed the rite of circumcision)---“then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise” (3:29).  Thus, Gentiles, because of their faith in Jesus (believing in Him), and their faith in the faithfulness of Israel’s covenant God as demonstrated through Jesus, become heirs to the promises that had been made to Abraham, passed along to Jacob, and then bestowed upon Israel as a people.  Effectively, Gentiles become Israel---God’s elect people, participating in Israel’s story without having to bear the old covenant markers of the old age that had passed away and had become of no effect (in terms of righteousness---justification, covenant standing) at the death of Jesus. 

Though there has been some intervening material, Paul’s stance against those that are preaching a contrary gospel in Galatia (1:8), which he has referenced in the opening rebuke of chapter three, and which insists upon a reconstructing of dividing walls that have been torn down by the cross, is obviously very much in mind when he goes on to write “They court you eagerly, but for no good purpose; they want to exclude you, so that you would seek them eagerly” (4:17).  Honor and shame considerations are very much at play here.  Judaizers and their presumably Jerusalem-backed supporters, that seek to continue divisions between Jew and Gentile and want to elevate the Jew over the Gentile even inside the church of Christ (wanting Gentiles to acknowledge the superiority of the Jew by their adherence to covenant markers), which we know must be present because of Paul’s recollection of his encounter with Peter in Antioch (attempting to force Gentiles to live like Jews – 2:14), want to use a lack of traditional covenant markers so as to exclude Gentiles from the covenant.  In so doing, the Judaizers and Jews will be elevated in the eyes of the congregation, as having primacy in relation to the covenant, thus increasing their honor within the church and most likely their public honor outside of the church.  Gentile openness to such things pains and perplexes Paul (4:19-20).  

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