Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Believing In Him (part 45)

It has become clear that the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (5:5) has created a unified family of God that lacks any and all national distinctions.  The family of God is a new humanity, empowered to live and worship together by the very Spirit that raised Christ from the dead.  They are “spiritual people,” as opposed to being “fleshly” people, as the power of the new age and the new creation (spiritual) has overcome, in their lives and in the sacrificial demonstrations of the fellowshipping community, the power of the old age and the old creation (the flesh).  As has been repeatedly indicated, Paul unites all peoples together in Christ, and now, when speaking of the church, speaks of them as a people in which there are no longer any divisions or separations---the “we” becoming ever more prominent.  Thus we hear him say “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly… But God demonstrates His own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (5:6,8). 

The “we” and the “us” of Paul’s way of thinking is the result of justification.  We would not be mistaken then, to hear Paul referring to all, whether Jew or Gentile, in order to make his inclusive point, as “ungodly” and “sinners.”  As he has said, “Christ died for us”---the ungodly and sinners, with this encompassing the whole of humanity.  Though there is much to be gleaned from this profoundly loaded statement, the underlying message is that Jesus the Messiah is the focal point.  Indeed, “He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification” (4:25).  The death of Jesus, the Christ of God, which gains its full meaning by the Resurrection, is of fundamental import for the inclusion of all peoples under the covenant.  Therefore, revisiting the thought which began the fifth chapter, Paul reiterates and adds “Much more then, because we have been now declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from God’s wrath” (5:9). 

We once again resist any temptation to consider “righteousness” in detached, spiritual terms, keeping the concept within the realm of covenant inclusion (declared righteous=in covenant), and recognize Paul’s employing of historically rooted theological terminology and ideology that is drafted from Israel’s history, further demonstrating that Paul insists that Gentiles now share in the history of Israel just as they share in the history and lineage of Abraham via faith.  The historically tinged terminology is that of exile and exodus, and it is here subtly deployed.  According to the Scriptures, Israel, as the covenant people of God, was given instructions as to how to represent themselves and their God. 

If they represented Him correctly, adhering to a few basic principles, which were avoiding idolatry, keeping God’s Sabbaths, and reverencing God’s sanctuary---His Temple and His cosmic sanctuary, which is the creation, the place where God rested on the seventh day (in the ancient world, a temple was understood to be the resting place of a god), all would go well for them and they would be blessed.   If they failed in these areas, God would send His people into exile, the primary manifestation of which would be oppression by foreign rulers.  Sometimes this would be inside their promised land, but the ultimate exile would see the people removed from their land (primarily effected by the removal of the rulers, the nobility, and the priests, while the poor, which would make up the majority of the population, would be left in the land). 

If the people of God were in exile, it was well understood that they were not in covenant (not in right standing, not righteous).  A people in exile, or a people experiencing the Levitical/Deuteronomic curses that accompanied exile, were understood to be experiencing God’s wrath.  When a time of exile was brought to an end and the people were restored to their right standing according to God’s covenant with them, they were then thought to have escaped (having endured) God’s wrath.  It was also understood that God Himself would intervene to end the exile of His people, and this was very much the hope of Israel in the days of Jesus (though they were in their land, they were under the heel of Rome).  However, the oppression went much further than that of Rome. 

Owing to the understanding of the world’s oppressive powers/kingdoms that was provided by the visions of the book of Daniel (a popular book in the days of Jesus, and a book on which He relied quite heavily, as evidenced by His employment of the title and imagery of the Son of Man), the people of God were under the impression (quite rightly it seems) that the true oppressor was not the kingdom of man that happened to be the prevailing world power under which they labored and to whom they paid tribute, but was actually the power of death that stood behind and animated those kingdoms.  Post-cross, towards the end of the first century, and drawing heavily from the imagery on display in Daniel and the popular prophetic genre of apocalyptic, this understanding of the nature of power in the world is given voice by the book of Revelation. 

What has this to do with what Paul writes in Romans?  Well, it goes hand in hand with the drawing together of all peoples, as they share in Israel’s covenant and Israel’s history.  In this sense then, all peoples, being ungodly and sinners, are in exile, rightly experiencing God’s wrath.  It is belief in Jesus, which provides justification and therefore induces right standing with God, that delivers all people from their long-standing exile, and so saves (justifies) from God’s wrath.  God’s wrath, of course, is generally reserved for His people that are failing to live up to their covenant responsibilities.  By extending this to all peoples, Paul makes the point that it has always been God’s intention to encompass all peoples within His covenant family, doing so on the basis of belief in Him that produces an unswerving loyalty to Him and His ways.  Therefore, this saving from God’s wrath informs the reader/hearer that God does indeed view all of humanity as being His covenant people.  This goes a long way in informing beleivers that God intends His redemption to be cosmically holistic.     

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