Wednesday, August 06, 2014

N.T. Wright Helping To Put the Story of the Law Back Together Part 3: A Bountiful Harvest

And if you faithfully obey the voice of the LORD your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth…Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground and the fruit of your cattle, the increase of your herds and the young of your flock.…7 “The LORD will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before you…. And you shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow…you shall only go up and not down…. And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you, 2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, 3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you….6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.... 19 I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. – from Deuteronomy 28-30

Romans 7: 4, which was discussed near the end of the last blog post of this series , highlights the model of faith that “justifies” one who is “united with Christ.” The model of faithful action of a disciple of Christ is not the racial or national self-righteousness fed by Torah described previously, but the self-giving and sacrificial love of the cross. Various forms and examples of this love activated by faith and modeled after the cross are found throughout Paul’s letters. Philippians 2: 1-11 is the main place N.T. Wright discusses this in The Climax of the Covenant. There, Paul exhorts the church to love each other in a number of practical ways, multiple times reminding them that this kind of love is modeled after that of Christ. He tells them to encourage, comfort, and sympathize with each other. He also tells them to have unity and to be humble and not selfish, always putting others first. Continuing to the heart of the matter:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Regarding the topics of Christ and Torah, Wright discusses this passage in a number of ways. Firstly, Wright notes Paul’s echoes of Adam. According to Wright, “grasped” in verse 6 hearkens back to Adam’s grasping for the forbidden fruit and taking a place in the order of things that properly only belongs to God. Obviously, then, Christ’s obedience refers back to Adam’s disobedience. In addition, according to Wright, Christ’s exaltation and Lordship refers to Genesis 1: 26-31:

26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

For Wright, part of the point of the referenced exaltation and Lordship in Phil 2: 5-11 is that Adam was meant, from the beginning, to share in God’s glory by ruling over or subduing creation. It was built into the very fabric of how he was made. Part of what sin does is enslave humanity, though, so sin clearly gets in the way of God’s purpose. The covenant is, then, God’s beginning to do something about sin. The cutting of the covenant, therefore, was also the beginning of restoring man to being made in God’s image, ruling over creation, sharing in God’s glory. Torah, as part of God’s story of restoration, was intended for that, as well. The reference to man’s original authority of creation is made explicit in the Law, again, in Deuteronomy 27-30, when the blessings and curses that hinge on Israel’s obedience include, respectively, rule over the land and nations or exile and oppression. The Law, in and of itself, fails to restore this blessed image of man, but Christ vindicates the Law, redeems man, and, in the recreation of all things, restores the image of man. Hence the references throughout the New Testament to the authority of the saints and the glory of the church. As part of this process, the Spirit helps equip the church to complete the work of God here.

The church is empowered to the “obedience of faith.” Wright points out that similar love based on faith and modeled after Christ’s obedience unto the cross (rather than modeled after Torah) is evident throughout Romans 12-16, Galatians 5 and 6 (especially Galatians 6: 2 Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.), Ephesians 4: 1-16, and Ephesians 5: 21 through 6: 9. In Romans 12-16, this cross-modeled love works itself out in the unity of the church, in humble submission to authority, in genuine love for one another, in obedience to the commandments and lifestyle of God as taught by Christ, and, if you are a more mature Christian, in submissively bearing weaker brothers by not offending one by eating meat that you know is OK to eat. Galatians 5-6, other than discussing circumcision as not being the mark of God’s family, in talking about love modeled after the cross, talks about the church serving one another, living a lifestyle of love, humility, and purity of heart, and, again, bearing one another’s burdens. The love of Christ modeled after the cross shows itself in Ephesians 5: 21 – 6: 9 in mutual submission between husbands and wives (treating the other’s body as if it were your very own), loving obedience of children and concern for the welfare of one’s children, humble obedience of masters by slaves, and respectful treatment of slaves by masters without hording power over them. These, of course, are all actions or “good deeds” like those referenced in Romans 7: 4.

In order to complete the picture and fully put the story together as Wright begins to do in The Climax of the Covenant: Christ and the Law in Pauline Theology, one thing that needs explicit clarification that was mentioned in the preceding paragraphs is the link between glory and rule. When Paul refers to the glory of Christ or the church, he is referencing Adam’s original vocation as ruler. This brings light to Paul’s multiple references to “the glory of the cross.” The “glory of the cross” and “the splendor of Solomon” are not so separate. In other words, as discussed in Phillippians 2: 5-11 above, the church, in union with Christ, has paradoxical authority or rule by and through crucifixion of the self, by daily taking up the cross. Again highlighting the role of Torah in the story, this fulfills the blessings of freedom and rule as opposed to the curses of exile and oppression in Deuteronomy 27-30. The freedom – freedom being a primary blessing pronounced by the Law – to serve only makes sense in view of the cross and is only possible by the power of the Spirit.

And, in order for the Torah to have this role of helping to fulfill the covenant rather than simply being abolished or disregarded after having been given as part of the word of God, N.T. Wright notes that Christ vindicates the Law. Wright says Paul partially draws this out in Romans 8: 1-11:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as a sin offering, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

Notice it does not say that Christ condemned or abolished the Law. Instead, Paul builds on what was said throughout Romans 7, which established “sin in the flesh” as the real culprit (rather than the Law), which rendered the Law ineffective. That is why Christ “condemned sin in the flesh,” rather than condemning the Law. Paul instead refers to Christ’s enabling Torah to be fulfilled in the church. This fulfillment of the Law occurs through the Spirit, which is what “gives life.” Noted above, life was the primary blessing pronounced by the Law. In other words, Paul did not refer to the giving of life arbitrarily or generally.

This life of the Spirit is said to be given “because of righteousness,” precisely because Paul has in mind and is discussing who is part of the people of God and how that is the case. Paul is discussing Torah and faith, because “righteousness” means the people of God, called by the Spirit, to a life of faith, will share in the glory of Christ’s resurrection at the time of final judgment. It does not mean dying and going to heaven when you die, by the supernatural power of the Spirit, because you made the individual decision to follow God. That has nothing to do with the term of blessing pronounced by the Law and spoken of by the prophets.

Ephesians 2: 4-10 brings much of this together and helps us move towards the end of the story and the completion of the picture of Pauline thought regarding Christ and the Law:

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

As noted in verse 8 and keeping in mind that the Law is fulfilled through the Spirit, N.T. Wright makes the point that faith is the gift of God through and from the Spirit. Faith is evidence of the Spirit at work. Since “works” are a big issue for Protestants when it comes to the Law, the referenced work in the last sentence is that of revealing the character and kingdom of God. In fact, concerning the kingdom, verse 6 - and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus – is, again, partially in reference to the “glory,” or “rule” of the church, which fulfills and restores the original vocation of Adam and involves freedom as opposed to oppression. 2 Corinthians 3, therefore, because it draws from the same covenantal story as Ephesians 2, shares the same theme of freedom that comes from faith, given by the Spirit.

17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. – 2 Corinthians 3: 17-18.
Returning to Ephesians 2, When Paul says that salvation – which, in the context of covenant blessings, is connected at the hip to the freedom that opposed the current state of exile experienced by the Jews under Roman rule, and which includes “exaltation above all nations” - is “not a result of works” in verse 9, he is referring, again, to those “works” that identify and distinguish a Jew as such. That explains the “boasting”; there is no need for national/racial self-righteousness. All that is required for “exaltation” is submissive obedience to God.

If “we are his workmanship,” and if that “work” is also the revelation of the kingdom of God, then the church, in all its glory, is the kingdom of God here on earth. Wright also notes that Christology (study of who Christ was and his role in salvation), soteriology(study of the doctrine of salvation), and ecclesiology (study of the church body’s relationship to Jesus, its role in salvation, its leadership, and its future) are, for Paul, not all as separate as we tend to make them. We like to chop things up systematically. Paul was telling a story. In other words, we, the church, are united with Christ. In self-sacrificial love for one another, we “mutually participate in Christ,” as Wright refers to it, and, thus, present and represent him to the world (Christology). Wright’s sample text where this “mutual participation in Christ” is discussed is Philemon 6, where, in learning, in Christ, to love one another as Christ, believers “attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Philemon serves as such a good example of this “mutual participation in Christ,” because Paul tells Philemon that, if Onesimus has wronged him in any way, to count it as though Paul himself had wronged Philemon. Paul also notes, in the process, that Philemon, having heard the gospel from Paul, owes Paul his very life.

Philippians 2: 1-11, among other passages that discuss mutually submissive union, is discussed in this context of “mutual participation”, as well, because believers are exhorted to mutually submit to one another with the cross of Christ as their model. As a result, in the world’s seeing Christ in the body, then, the church participates in God’s salvation and recreation of all things (soteriology). And, it is the gathering, worshiping, and submissively loving body of Christ that shows precisely that love and, in union with him, shares in Christ’s suffering and glory or rule (ecclesiology).

Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. - from John 14

The “work” there is precisely Christ’s revelation of the character and kingdom of God. As Jesus goes onto discuss in that very sermon, if you want to call it that, it is through the Spirit that the church will go on to do even “greater works than these,” through which God will be “glorified” (remember that, for Paul, according to Wright, “glory” and “rule/authority” are connected).

In addition, N.T. Wright, in numerous places, is adamant that this “work” of God is in and through the very fabric of human history. As an example of what this means that would often sound foreign to us is Wright’s take on 2 Corinthians 3: 18, which is very tied to the points above about mutual participation in Christ. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. The “mirror” there is not the Lord, nor the gospel. According to Wright, who is here drawing on the previously discussed idea of “mutual participation in Christ,” the “mirror” is each other! The implication is that Paul had in mind the PRESENT GLORY of the church! Even more primarily, however, Wright’s basis for talking about God’s work being within the fabric of history is the very covenant story that serves as the baseline of thought that, for Wright, draws all of Paul’s body of work and thought together. This story, from covenant, to Torah, kingdom, prophets, and, centrally, to its climax in Christ, who establishes the glory of the church, occurs and is told in and through human history. That is why separate and fragmented presentations of teachings on Christology (Christ was in heaven, Incarnated, died and was resurrected, ascended and now reigns in heaven) or soteriology (substitutionary atonement) miss the mark.

A big part of how Wright goes onto complete this picture and story of scripture is to note that the story is not yet finished. The kingdom HAS COME, IS HERE – in the interconnections between Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology noted above - but it has not yet been fully established. That will occur in the parousia (the Second Coming, or, the Second Appearing).

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