Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Justification, The Spirit & The Family Of God (part 1 of 3)

And 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. – Romans 5:5  (NET)

In the fifth chapter of Romans, it becomes clear that the pouring out of God’s love by the Holy Spirit 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).  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---Paul’s use of “we” in his letters to largely Gentile churches becoming increasingly 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 (being declared righteous by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ), 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 here 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). 

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