Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Justification, The Spirit & The Family Of God (part 2 of 3)

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 Jesus 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 believers that God intends His redemption to be cosmically holistic.     

We can hear the language of an internationally inclusive redemption from exile flowing heavily from Paul: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by His life?” (5:10)  Reconciliation and salvation, from out of exile, are components of the language of justification, and Paul continues to apply it liberally to all peoples, as he also continues his self-identification with Gentiles.  As always, he re-centers his thoughts on Jesus and the belief in Him that provides said justification, writing “Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” another thumb in the eye to “lord” Caesar as he writes to this assembly of believing kingdom representatives in Rome, “through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (5:11).  Yes, it is through the instrumentality of the cross of Christ, and the belief in Jesus that centers on that event that did so very much to reveal God and His radical kingdom principles to the world, that God grants the exodus from out of exile that seemed to have been specifically and previously reserved to the designated covenant people that had begun with Abraham. 

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