Thursday, November 24, 2011

Believing In Him (part 28)

What has all of this talk of kingship and kingdom to do with belief and with justification?  Quite simply, it is a question of loyalty.  Acknowledgment of a ruling power engenders questions about the demands being placed on those subordinate to that power.  Since being declared righteous (coming under the covenant, being justified) has to do with belief, and because belief, again reaching back to Abraham and to that which is fundamental for Paul as he observes the ramifications of the Christ-event and the full sweep of the covenant people of God, has to do with the production of an unswerving loyalty to God, concerns of kingship and kingdom have everything to do with the believer’s justification.  Because the kingship of Jesus extends to each and every component of this creation, calling Jesus “Lord” (acceding to His Gospel) has inescapable consequences for how one engages in and with the world, bearing on every decision and every moment. 

Following the multivalent suggestions of verse one of the fifth chapter, in which Paul has expressed the peace with God that is established and that goes hand in hand with submission to the fact of His becoming King through Jesus (and as it stands in contra-distinction to the peace promised by Rome and its son of god), Paul writes “through whom we also have obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand” (5:2a).  “We” includes both Jews and Gentiles, and the access by faith is the means by which one enters upon the covenant (is justified, declared righteous, saved).  Based on the scope of his analysis of what has been and is being wrought in and for the world through God’s faithful action, which will continue to be made manifest by His covenant people, we can surmise that the “grace in which we stand” is yet another way of referring to covenant standing.  This could be taken to refer to the gracious extension of the covenant to those previously excluded, which would fit nicely with Paul’s continual identification of himself with Gentiles, but it can also just as easily be applicable to members of Israel, who are to be cognizant of the fact that, beginning with Abraham, they were also specially chosen by God through no effort or causation of their own (with this made explicit based on the words of God delivered to Israel through Moses).   

Regardless of applicability, the recognition of God’s grace rightly leads one to “rejoice in the hope of God’s glory” (5:2b).  This rejoicing in hope points us forward to the hope that is so profoundly expressed in the eighth chapter of Romans (which will fall outside of the scope of this study), while mention of God’s glory reminds us of the words of the third chapter and Paul’s insistence that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23).  We remember the importance of the “all” there, as the statement is provided its context by the context of Gentile justification (gaining of covenant standing) through belief in Jesus. 

Jesus, having revealed the glory of God by being the first to rightly bear the divine image, not only reminds us of where and how we fall short of living up to what was intended by God for humanity, He also points the way and displays the means by which we too can be truly human and so reflect the glory of God into the world.  At the same time, as Paul draws conclusions from which he can build as he moves on to the next period of thoughtful reflection, these words from the beginning of chapter five draw on the fourth chapter, as Paul continues to root talk of righteousness, peace, faith, and grace in Abrahamic sensibilities.  It is Abraham’s loyalty to God that serves as the model, along with that of Jesus (which first mimics that of Abraham) of the believer’s loyalty to God, which we are able to demonstrate through loyalty to the words and ways of Jesus, as He has taken up His throne of all power and all authority.  More specific to Abraham and the fourth chapter, talk of “hope” and “God’s glory” remind us that Abraham believed with hope, against hope (4:18).  Can we not say that belief in a crucified and resurrected Lord, through which one enters into covenant with God, is also a hopeful belief against hope?  Abraham’s hope concerning the promise that had been spoken to him, which runs parallel with our belief in the Resurrection and the hope of resurrection in the same manner as that which was experienced by Jesus, redounds to God’s glory, just as was the case for Abraham, who “did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God” (4:20). 

While we can certainly imagine Abraham glorifying God, we can just as easily make the case that it was Abraham’s lack of wavering, continuing in belief, that gave glory to God.  Regardless of what he saw, regardless of his age, regardless of his wife’s age, and regardless of all those things that could militate against his trusting in the promises of God concerning descendants, Abraham believed.  How can we make this application in the here and now?  As we believe in the Resurrection, so believing in Jesus (standing in covenant with God in the process and so standing in the line of descendants of Abraham and being positioned to share in the blessings promised to him), we believe that He was the first of those to be raised from the dead.  We believe that this portends another Resurrection.  Regardless of that which we see around us, as evil seems to make its way in the world without fetters or restraints (though this is patently false), we believe that the kingdom of God has come, that Jesus is ruling, and that we participate in that kingdom, in its peace, and in its life.  We stand by faith and “rejoice in the hope of God’s glory,” trusting that He is going to bring His kingdom to full consummation and restore His creation as was promised and for which was hoped and expected by the prophets of old (with Jesus and the earliest believers operating with the same hope), such that “we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance, character, and character, hope” (5:3-4).  By this, we are allowed to imitate our Lord, so learning how to represent Him in the world.         

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