Saturday, November 26, 2011

Believing In Him (part 29)

In verse five, Paul continues to push forward the proposition of the hope of the believer, with the life associated with hope resounding in concert with the believing hope of Abraham, and writing that “hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (5:5).  Just as Abraham’s hope was not disappointed, “with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement” (4:18b) even though such a thing was hardly believable, so too might we believe in the Resurrection that issues in justification for all peoples, while also hoping to personally participate in the resurrection that is yet one component of God’s long-planned and promised restoration of creation.  The reason why all can trust, like Abraham, in the God whose faithfulness is the foundation of all hope is because, as Paul has said, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” 

Because of the argument concerning Gentile justification that Paul is advancing, with that argument involving unconditional inclusion and full-scale participation under the auspices of covenant, this statement about the pouring out of the Holy Spirit goes well beyond the field of generalized acclimation and approbation of the Holy Spirit.  This is more than just a praise from the apostle, but is a soteriological statement that concerns itself with the ongoing justification of Gentile justification by means of their confession of Jesus as Lord and nothing more.  Again, with the use of “us” Paul is identifying with the Gentiles.  In doing so, he is drawing from a crucially important component of the story of the developing church. 

This story of development is chronicled in the book of Acts.  Though Acts will not have been written at the time of Paul’s letter to the Romans, just as the Gospels had not been written at the time of the letter to the Romans, we can be assured that, along with the oral Jesus traditions (a portion of which would eventually come to be codified in the Gospels), there were oral traditions concerning the church and the experiences of the community of Jesus believers that had been circulating from the days of His Resurrection and ascension until the day that Paul penned his letter.  Some of these oral traditions of the early believers would also be codified in the book of Acts, and we’ll get to that momentarily. 

At the same time, we do find biographical information about the believing communities in the letters of the New Testament.  As it relates to this issue of justification and to Paul’s communications that most explicitly deal with this subject, the letter to the Galatians, which we reviewed earlier in this study, reveals some specific information about the goings-on with that particular congregation.  In fact, there we can find Paul making mention of the Holy Spirit, doing so in the midst of his considerations of Gentiles and their justification.  In the third chapter we read “Does God then give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?” (3:5)  Of course, before that it was “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard?” (3:2b) and “Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?” (3:3b) Considering the location of talk of the Spirit’s role in the life of the believer in the letter to Rome, in Galatians we are unsurprised to find Paul moving from mention of the Spirit to mention of Abraham, as he then writes “Just as Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness” (3:6).  Believing what was heard is a hallmark of the Abraham story.  It is a hallmark of the believer’s story---the church’s story---as well. 

Though the story of Abraham has the Creator God speaking directly to Abraham with no mention of God’s Spirit, the Spirit of God is always “moving over the surface” (to borrow some terminology from verse two of Genesis one---“hovering” if you will) of the Abraham story.  Indeed, this could be said of the entire Scriptural narrative.  So though the Spirit is not directly in sight when Abraham is presented in the Genesis narrative, Paul appears to ascribe the communication between God and Abraham to the Spirit.  This is what we seem to be able to discern when we hear Paul ask about giving of the Spirit in verse five, the “Just as Abraham believed” of verse six, and the “so then… those who believe are the sons of Abraham” in verse seven.  The Spirit is the instrument that facilitates the believing of the hearer, generating a response like that of Abraham and bringing all believers, be they Jew or Gentile, into the Abrahamic fold.  Eventually, this issues in Paul’s declaration that what has taken place, which is contained and communicated in the Gospel (Jesus is Lord), has occurred “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we could receive the promise of the Spirit by faith” (3:14).  As we have now seen a number of times, Paul stands with the Gentiles, as when he mentions Gentiles he also is careful to articulate a “we.”  This reception of the Spirit by faith, an idea which Paul has also now brought into close contact with Abraham, and therefore with the well-known narrative of Abraham that was part of the story that every member of Israel (and by extension every member of the covenant people of God) told about himself and his relation to God, is akin to the mention of the pouring out of the Spirit in Romans.  

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