Live: N.T. Wright and Greg Boyd Discuss the Crucifixion

Professor N.T. Wright's latest book and online course, The Day the Revolution Began, has challenged the Church to reconsider what Jesus' crucifixion is all about.

On Friday, April 28, at Alfred Street Baptist Church, in Alexandria, Va, Wright will be joined by Dr. Greg Boyd for to continue this discussion in an event entitled 'Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross'.

You can register for the event HERE.

Both authors have spent recent years focusing on the crucifixion of Jesus and have written books that help us revisit the full impact of this in light of Scripture and expounding on its significant for the life, witness, and mission of the Church.

Boyd is the author of The Crucifixion of the Warrior God: The Cross of Christ and the Revelation of God, forthcoming from Fortress Press. The book addresses the tension that confronts every Christian believer between the images of violence in scripture, Jesus teachings against violence and his sacrificial death. You can learn more about the new book here.

In The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion Wright goes to great lengths to demonstrate how our current popular understanding of Jesus’ death is rooted in the problems of the Reformation world. Delving into the first-century Jewish mind, Wright proposes a more ancient understanding of why Jesus died within the scope of the drama of Scripture.

The Day the Revolution Began, as well as N.T. Wright Online's accompanying course, is available here.

Both authors have offered the Church a profound opportunity to rethink and reclaim vital aspects of Jesus’ death on the cross and their implications for the life and witness of believers and the Church.

During this unique evening, you’ll learn from both Wright and Boyd about the Cross. You’ll also hear them engage in discussion about how their ideas align, how they differ, and why it matters for the Church. Attendees will also have the opportunity to participate in a question and answer session at the end.

'Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross' will take place in conjunction with the Missio Alliance North American Gathering, Awakenings: The Mission of the Spirit in the Life of the Church, which N.T. Wright Online is co-sponsoring.

This special Friday night discussion is open to the public for $20.

Those attending the entire Awakenings conference can register at a discounted rate of $10.

All Awakenings registrants also receive a free course from N.T. Wright Online entitled Simply Jesus.

Awakenings features both Boyd and Wright, as well as Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Charles Montgomery, Tammy Dunahoo, Howard-John Wesley and many more, discussing how the Church follows the Holy Spirit into Mission.

Those already registered for Awakenings who would like to attend this special Friday night event can purchase an add-on ticket beginning today!

Those not yet registered for Awakenings can register for both events beginning today at one time.

Public registration for those wishing only to attend 'Beyond Atonement: Recovering the Full Meaning of the Cross' will open on Monday, January 16.

Click HERE to Register.

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Pastors: 5 Tips for “Translating” N.T. Wright’s Book on the Cross

In an earlier piece, I reflected upon N.T. Wright’s newest book, The Day the Revolution Began.  More specifically, I pondered the question, how am I, as a pastor of a local congregation, to 'translate' the message of this important book for the people in my church?

As I continued reading I found additional concepts, insights, and thoughts from Professor Wright worthy of translation. Again, in doing so, the goal is not to make concepts simplistic, but instead to make them simple in order to be clear. And so, I continue with Part 2 of the translation efforts in order to make Wright’s book accessible to the “ordinary” people in my congregation – and hopefully in yours as well.  

How do you translate the ideas in the latest book by @ProfNTWright for your church? Click To Tweet

1. Address—and contrast—the popular view of the cross with its original context. 

Just as we need to help people unlearn—and then relearn—the gospel, we also need to help people unlearn—and relearn—what the meaning and weight of the cross actually is.

No doubt, the symbol of the cross is en vogue. In a postmodern everything-goes society, it’s somewhat ironic that the cross has somehow become cool. Look closely at the bulging shoulders of NBA athletes next time SportsCenter is on. Notice what’s dangling around the neck of a famous musical artist next time they are featured in a magazine at the checkout line at the grocery store or a Buzzfeed article online. Look above the mantle next time you pop in for a quick visit at your neighbor’s house. You’ll notice them everywhere—even in the places you’d least expect it. 

The cultural attitude toward crosses, and its presence in fashion, sports, and interior decoration, has been widely unaddressed; and yet, it remains in many corners of our culture - hidden in plain sight. This is not inherently bad, but it does need to be further addressed. This can be a bridge to meaningful discussion.

Contrast the current cultural posture of the symbol of the cross with the gruesome reality of people in the first century. As Wright points out, it was so horrific and offensive that the cross and the act of crucifixion were hardly talked about in public in any capacity. To see a crucifixion in process could lead anyone with a weak stomach to throw up. Brutal. Barbaric. Inhumane. 

So, how does this translate? On a practical level, help people understand the nature of the cross through this cultural contrast. Paint the fashionable treatment of the cross today in contrast to the first century reality.

It would be like an NBA power forward revealing a large tattoo of an electric chair on his forearm or a musician wearing a small diamond encrusted noose on a chain around her neck or a neighbor displaying a beautiful outline of a large syringe symbolizing lethal injection on the dining room wall flippantly stating, 'Yeah, I got that piece on sale last week'.

It would shock us, confuse us, disturb us, and possibly make us ponder the mental state of these athletes, musicians, and neighbors. And yet, that’s the power and the horror of the cross in the first century.

Simply pointing these facts out to those in our congregation can healthily jolt us into the reality of the gruesome nature of crucifixion that God’s son, Jesus, participated in voluntarily in the outlandishly loving act to rescue the entire human race. It’s through this love demonstrated on the stomach-churning execution instrument that the revolution of Jesus actually began. 

The symbol of the cross might be compared to a lethal syringe or an electric chair. Click To Tweet

2. Communicate the radical nature of discipleship

A clear picture of the horrific and gruesome nature of the cross, then, leads us naturally to talk about the nature and the weightiness of the path of a Jesus follower.

The onus is on us as pastors to communicate to people that picking up one’s cross, denying oneself, and following Jesus is not fun, appealing, or simply 'a plausible option'. It is much more radical, significant, and countercultural (even offensive) than we think. Wright states 'suffering and dying is the way by which the world is changed' (368).

This is not a message the world is used to hearing. In fact, in a culture drowning in convenience and consumerism, this message is bound to raise objection and receive pushback. Really? people might think. Are you sure? Is that how it works? Is it really supposed to be that radical and all encompassing? 

In short: yes. Yes, it is.

To teach the radical, countercultural, and oftentimes unpopular journey of voluntarily picking up our execution device and denying ourselves is a non-negotiable element of worshiping and following King Jesus. We live in a culture that discourages any denial of ourselves. In fact, it encourages—demands, even—that we pursue what we believe as our own personal fulfillment and self satisfaction.

No wonder in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said this was the narrow path that few actually find. While not wildly popular, this is, in fact, the true message of Jesus to anyone who wishes to follow in his ways. To preach a gospel of personal fulfillment is to preach something other than the good news of Jesus.

A gospel of personal fulfillment is something other than the good news of Jesus. Click To Tweet

3. Rethink our understanding of sin

As pastors, we often assume people know what we mean when we talk about sin. These assumptions are terribly misguided. It’s imperative that we are extremely clear with people when we talk about sin; we are in need not just of clarity, but also in rethinking the nature of sin itself. 

Initially, this statement may lead some to believe a suggestion for a softer view of sin as a mere 'shortcoming' or 'small mistake'. (This softening of sin’s sharp edge and provokes devastating consequences in our relationship with God is also en vogue.) But this certainly isn’t what Wright suggests in his book. In fact, Wright refocused sin in a way that helps us understand just how deeply damaging it is to God’s desire for his people to participate in his mission. 

Here are Wright’s words, which are more articulate than my own:

The normal Greek word for ‘sin’ namely hamartia, means ‘missing the mark’: shooting at a target and failing to hit it. This is subtly but importantly different from being given a long and fussy list of things you must and mustn’t do and failing to observe them all. 

A bit farther down he continues: 

In this story the Bible is telling, humans were created for a purpose, and Israel was called for a purpose, and the purpose was not simply ‘to keep the rules’, ‘to be with God’, or ‘to go to heaven’, as you might suppose from innumerable books, sermons, hymns, and prayers. Humans were made to be 'image-bearers', to reflect the praises of creation back to the Creator and to reflect the Creator’s wise and loving stewardship into the world. Israel was called to be the royal priesthood, to worship God, and to reflect his rescuing wisdom into the world.

Wright defines sin as a failure of worship. Scripture reveals that humans are created in order to live as worshiping stewards. 'When humans sin', he writes, 'they hand to non-divine forces a power and authority that those forces were never supposed to have'. This doesn’t dilute or soften the nature of sin. In fact, quite the opposite; it makes sin even more consequential and damaging to God’s ultimate desire for his people to participate in his mission. On a personal level, Wright’s definition of sin put the wheels of my mind and my heart into motion for several days after reading it. 

Our sacred calling is to lead people to embracing and participating in relationship with God and his mission as worshipers of the Creator. Part of that charge is helping people grasp, embrace and believe in their marrow that sin is the single greatest break of our worship of God. 

4. Preach to people’s idols, which are almost entirely found in the forms of money, sex, and power. 

If we teach sin as a failure of worship by human beings, then this has implications on how we preach about people’s idols. Wright shares that our idols (anything that eclipses our participation as God-worshipers) are found in three primary areas: money, sex, and power. 

Practically speaking, consider challenging people to drill down further into their personal idols. Challenge them to see if they can find an idol in their lives that cannot be tied directly back to one of these three areas. (They’d be hard pressed to find one). As people find clarity in their areas of idolatry, we challenge people to repentance. Repentance, of course, is the act of pulling a U-turn of our failed worship direction and pointing the vehicle of our hearts rightly in the direction of true worship of the King.

If we can help people understand the damaging effects of misdirected motivations of these three areas we will help people recognize the break in their worship, which naturally leads us to repentance. It certainly is important to help people realize that money, sex, and power can be stewarded appropriately and in ways that honor God. But equally important is to help people see that when handled inappropriately, it causes immense damage and desolation in the world – and in our own hearts.

'What is required', Wright explains, 'for God’s new world and for renewed humans within it is for the power of the idols to be broken'. This is the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Challenge people to drill down further into their personal idols. Click To Tweet

5. Preach and teach the Bible in such a way that people see the biblical story as their own 

The stories that humans find most powerful, the ones that impact us most deeply, are the stories where we are invited to participate in them directly.

As pastors, our sacred calling involves helping 'ordinary' people realize that God’s story is not simply an ethereal story 'out there in the heavens' for us to grasp solely on an intellectual level. God’s story is the story not simply to be understood, but also to participate in directly. And God’s story is not the story that is 'out there' or to participate in at a later point in time; it is open to participation by anyone in the here and now.

The gospels invite us to make this story our own, to live within the narrative in all its twists and turns, to see ourselves among the crowds following Jesus and witness his kingdom-bringing work, to see ourselves also in the long-range continuation of that narrative that we call, in fear and trembling, the life of the church.

Our sacred calling as pastors also includes helping people grasp that the good news is not my story in which I invite God to participate; instead, it is God’s story of which he lovingly, graciously, and redemptively invites us to participate in. This is not mere nuance; this has radical implications in how the good news of Jesus Christ is explained, embraced, and lived.

Our job is to passionately, clearly and compellingly tell of this wondrous God who throws his arms out wide and says, 'Join me!' For that is the nature of participation as worshiping stewards in his mission.

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How to Apply N.T. Wright’s Latest in Your Church

Recently I finished reading N.T. Wright’s newest book, The Day the Revolution Began, and my mind and heart continue to be stirred and challenged. Like for many others, Professor Wright’s works have formed me significantly, having read several of his books and taken a handful of his online learning modules. In many ways, the book is vintage Wright. And yet, he delves deeply into a topic that needed further exploration: the cross. In typical Wright fashion he doesn’t just talk about the cross and it’s implications on sin and forgiveness; he takes the next step, helping us understand how the cross informs and propels us farther and deeper into participants in God’s mission. 

Wright doesn’t just talk about the cross' implications on sin & forgiveness... Click To Tweet

Reading Wright through the Eyes of My Congregation

As a pastor rooted in a local context, I couldn’t help but think about the lives of the people in my congregation as I read the book. I was reminded again of Eugene Peterson’s jarringly honest words: “A local church is a congregation of embarrassingly ordinary people in and through whom God chooses to be present in the world.”

While many pastors find deep theological study to be a great joy (some might even call it a hobby) that certainly isn’t the case with most of the people in my church. Many of our hungry yet “ordinary” people – nurses, union electricians, stay-at-home moms, students, truck drivers, retirees, steel workers, IT specialists – have admitted to me throughout the years that they find the study of theology to be intimidating, cumbersome and even dry.

Most people in my congregation won’t find a 90-minute conversation about atonement theory to be life giving and engaging. And the truth is, most people in our church won’t read Wright’s new book, no matter how great it is. This, of course, isn’t wrong, but it is something I have to keep in mind. 

And so, I am left with questions: How does N.T. Wright’s book about the hope of Christ’s life, death and resurrection intersect with the typical Tuesday afternoons of the “ordinary” people in our church? And how can I communicate its important message in a way that impacts these “ordinary” people entrusted to me?

The challenge and the goal with deep theological books like Professor Wright’s isn’t to dilute or dumb down the message; instead, it is to break down these important insights into more accessible and tangible truths for their lives. This, of course, isn’t to make the message simplistic, but to make it simple, clear and accessible. Wright states:

Jesus died in order to make us not rescued nonentities, but restored human beings, with a vocation to play a vital part in God’s purposes for the world.

For those in mission-oriented pastoral leadership, our task is to then ask: how, exactly, do these “embarrassingly ordinary people” among us (me included) play this vital part in God’s purposes for the world? 

Five Ways Pastors Help "Ordinary" People

Reflecting on these questions forced me to reflect upon the role pastors can play in the lives of our “ordinary” people in a handful of practical and pointed ways: 

Helping people unlearn – and then relearn – the gospel 

The scriptures, of course, were written in order to be understood as a communal story of God and His relationship with His people. In a sense, it is a book majoring on the community as a whole, while minoring in personal and individual implications. And yet, we swim in cultural waters that prioritize individualistic and consumeristic experience; this, of course, leaks into how we read and understand our Bibles.

Our work is cut out for us. It is important to frequently reflect upon not just the gospel message we are communicating, but to ask what gospel message our people are hearing. Much of the role of the pastor today is to assist others in unlearning the inaccurate and truncated versions of the good news – then helping our people to relearn God’s Grand Story and the good news of Jesus that lies within in. Language, of course, creates culture.

Therefore, let us be particularly mindful of our pronouns in how we instruct and pray, preach and converse with others.  Training our people to grasp “we” over “me” is a crucial part of our calling. 

Pastors assist others in unlearning inaccurate & truncated versions of the good news Click To Tweet

Preaching the resurrection throughout the year, not just during Holy Week

Churches acknowledge the importance of the resurrection of Jesus and the centrality of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. But the truth is, too many churches leave this message to unpack almost solely during Holy Week.

A few months ago I asked a few dozen pastors how often they preach on the cross and the resurrection, many told me sheepishly that it was almost entirely left to around Easter time. If the cross is as central and significant as we believe it is, shouldn’t its message be something we proclaim more regularly?

Take inventory of the conversations you’ve had in the past month and ask yourself, how often have you talked about the cross?

Look back the preaching calendar from the past few months and ask, when was the last time my preaching focused primarily on the cross and the power of the resurrection outside of Lent and Holy Week? 

These answers can be quite telling. 

When was the last time you preached on the cross outside of Lent and Holy Week? Click To Tweet

Communicating the gospel that includes both what we are saved from and what we are saved for

Churches can communicate (intentionally or unintentionally) a truncated and inaccurate gospel of a highly individualized theological fire insurance policy, overemphasizing a gospel of fear and individualism of what we are saved from. What’s left out is the good news that God has a significant role for his people to join His mission. As Wright reminds us,

Once we replace the common vision of Christian hope (‘going to heaven’) with the biblical vision of ‘new heavens and new earth,’ there will be direct consequences for how we understand both the human problem and the divine solution” (68).

Does the gospel we are proclaiming possess the hope of what we are saved from and what we are saved for? I find that asking people in my church a simple and direct question can reveal a lot about what we are communicating when I ask them, “Why does the cross matter?” Do their answers reveal a mindset of a rescue plan from hell, or a grander vision of God’s love and grace to join with Him in the renewal and reconciliation of all creation (2 Corinthians 5)? 

Replacing 'going to heaven' with 'new heavens & earth' effects how we understand the problem… Click To Tweet

Preaching from weakness and brokenness so people know that I need the cross, too

Preaching from our shortcomings can be one of the most important ways to show our humanity and our need for the cross. It can be easy (and safer) to share only “victory stories” from the pulpit or over coffee. But doing so on a regular basis can easily lead others to believe (or solidify their already held assumptions) that pastors are somehow more spiritual than others. By making ourselves the hero of the stories we tell, people often begin to believe that Jesus does not need to be the hero in their own stories.

Modeling vulnerability by sharing our pain and shortcomings in appropriately vulnerable and courageous ways greases the skids of people’s gospel imaginations and reminds them that, yes, pastors desperately need grace, too.

Preach from your weakness & brokenness so people know that you need the cross, too Click To Tweet

Taking people on walking tours and helicopter flyovers

My family lives two hours south of New York City and we find as many excuses to visit as we can. Each time we visit, we see guides hosting walking tours with groups of curious tourists, pointing out specific points of interest – the intricacies of specific architecture, the historic landmarks, spots where movies have been filmed – and sharing particular stories of interest. When we walk along the East River we hear the constant hum overhead of helicopters, giving aerial tours that provide panoramic perspectives, the topography of the five boroughs and the key landmarks, allowing riders to comprehend the vastness of the Big Apple.

In order to get a clear picture of the context, largeness and beauty of New York City, participating in both walking tours and helicopter rides are significant.   

Within local congregations, translating theological concepts into the everyday language of their context – in the boardroom, the classroom, the living room and the playroom – is crucial. Walking tours. But if we only take people on walking tours by focusing solely on the intricacies and nuances of theology - people are unable to see its connection to the larger, wider and grader vision of God’s story and mission for all of creation. And when we spend our time solely on the big picture of God’s story (giving operating helicopter tours) we can easily romanticize God’s mission and the good news can feel theoretical and excarnated.

Professor Wright’s book is a gift. It is thorough, giving attention to specific portions of Scripture and their nuances. And yet, he wisely strikes the right balance by frequently reminding readers of the overall vision of God’s mission and His heart for the world. He walks us through the streets of God’s story, while also providing aerial coverage of the grand scope of His mission.

Wright’s writing reminds pastors and kingdom practitioners of our calling: to properly translate the insights of deep theological minds in order to make them accessible to “ordinary” people. Additionally, his book reminds us that our calling requires discernment to know when to take our people on a walking tour through God’s cosmic story and when to give a helicopter flyover tour that gives the entire perspective of God’s mission and our role in it. Both types of tours are crucial in helping people grasp the richness, vastness, depth and beauty of the cross and it’s central place in God’s good news to the world.

How are you making the cross accessible to the people you know?

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How Jesus Birth Makes Us Think About Death (and why that’s a good thing)

Here in the U.S. we celebrate the lives of some well known people in our history by declaring their birthdays national holidays. For instance, early in the year we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., and we remember Presidents George Washington and Abraham Lincoln on Presidents Day. These three people are notable for their accomplishments and for their roles in shaping the nation in extraordinary ways.

Christmas is different. Most people within the U.S. recognize Christmas more for the gift-giving aspect than for marking Jesus’ birthday. The retail industry counts on the fact that purchasing a gift for someone is necessary and promotes the holiday with relentless intensity. Fewer and fewer people note that Christmas is related to Jesus’ birthday.

How Christmas is Different

Of course, we really don’t know if December 25th is the actual birthday of Jesus. But we mark his unusual birth by gathering on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to read the narratives of the amazing events that occurred around the time of His humble birth.

The narratives of Jesus’ birth mean something special for Christians because of the rest of His story. Unlike Martin Luther King, Jr. or President Abraham Lincoln, Jesus did not have a massive impact on the nation of Israel. After Jesus died, Israel carried on pretty much in normal fashion until A.D. 70 when the Temple and Jerusalem were destroyed.

The birth narratives remain important because they are the beginning of the story that ends with Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection. It is likely, had these events not occurred, that there would be no need to celebrate Jesus’ birthday if he died a normal death and remained in the tomb.

Sickness, Death, and Christmas

As I write this, the family of my friend, John, is counting the final breaths of their beloved  husband, father, grandfather, and friend. John is rich in faith in Jesus as his King.

John has ALS, sometimes called Lou Gehrig’s disease. Slowly and methodically his body has deteriorated. First, his legs didn’t function as they should have. He needed a wheelchair. Then, eventually, his speech was affected. Soon after that, he was not able to eat. In the last several months, only his eyes had deliberate movement.

In order to communicate, John uses a device that is linked to eye movement. His eye movement enables him to choose letters on an electronic screen. Then the device speaks the words he has entered. When I began visiting John, he was able to ‘speak’ through this wonderful device. It wasn’t easy; it was tedious. We knew that he was thinking and his mind was very much engaged in what was going on. He compiled a library of messages that he played for his family at Thanksgiving. They all laughed and cried ‘hearing’ him.

My role was to be his pastor. He and his wife asked me if I would visit on a regular basis. Of course, I said, ‘Yes’. I enjoyed my visits with John. We talked about the mundane things of life, like caring for their yard and about the beauty of the autumn colors. We also talked about his future. He knew his body was useless. He knew he was marching to his death.

He had some fear. But he also knew about Jesus’ work on his behalf and about the meaning of Jesus’ crucifixion. He also wanted to know about a future ensured by Jesus’ resurrection. I spoke to him about the promised future when he will meet the Lord after his body fails. We also talked about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and what that meant for him. He would weep when I would talk of the New Heaven and New Earth. I reassured him that he would have a body like Jesus’ resurrected body. John was used to activity. Now he couldn’t move.

What a joy it was to speak of his future ability at the Day of Resurrection when Jesus returns. All things will be renewed. He will walk, run, and enjoy a new human existence that is fully human in a way none of us can fully appreciate now.

Now, just before Christmas, John will enter the presence of the Lord. His family will grieve. They will grieve with hope, however. Yesterday his daughter was begging that her father could leave his emaciated body and go to be with the Lord.

Jesus Birth and Death

The day we celebrate Jesus’ birth has meaning because of His death which started a revolution. His death started a revolution which is validated by Resurrection Day, Easter. The resurrection appearances and the physical nature of Jesus’ body point forward to the Day when all things will be made new. The description in 1 Corinthians 15 indicates what kind of body we shall inherit. We shall have the same kind of body Jesus has.

The day we celebrate Jesus’ birth has meaning because of His death that started a revolution. Click To Tweet

Jesus’ present existence is a bodily existence at the right hand of the Father. This idea is full of mystery.

In Surprised by Hope, Wright helps us think about the mystery of Resurrection this way:

This new body will be immortal. That is, it will have passed beyond death not just in the temporal sense (that it happens to have gone through a particular moment and event) but also in the ontological sense of no longer being subject to sickness, injury, decay, and death itself. None of these destructive forces will have any power over the new body. That indeed may be one of the ways of understanding the strangeness of the risen body of Jesus. The disciples were looking at the first, and so far the only, piece of incorruptible physicality.

During Christmas, we remember Jesus’ birth. But Jesus’ birthday is marked around the world by people who look forward to His death and resurrection.

This new body will no longer being subject to sickness, injury, decay, and death itself. Click To Tweet

A Christmas Prayer

In some ways, that means that Christmas helps us look forward to a time when there will be peace and joy in ways that we can only slightly taste now in comparison to the Day when all things are renewed. In that day my friend's body will be renewed as well.

By the time you read this blog, John may already be in the presence of the Lord. John and his whole family hope not in Christmas, however, but in the promise of Easter. Please pray for his family.

They hope in what Jesus’ birth points to: bodily resurrection reality. We all should remember Jesus’ humble birth, cruel death, and glorious resurrection. The revolution began and will culminate in full New Creation.

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Are We Really Glorified Now?

Are We Really Glorified Now?

Last week Thursday evening I taught for three hours on Romans 12-13. In this passage the apostle Paul, at lightning speed, delivers imperatives to the fledgling community in Rome who are followers of King Jesus. The Roman believers were living under the watchful eye of Caesar and Caesar’s powerful machine.

Augustus Caesar, some decades back, had promised the good news of a new era, one of peace and salvation, different from any of the dark past Rome had experienced. The power of Rome was at a high point and the Empire had a way of securing peace through killing off any would-be rebels and defining ‘justice’ in such a way as to suit the Roman way of life.

The way of life in the Roman Empire was very brutal. Most people barely made a sustainable living and illness and death were never far away from people’s minds.

The Problem in Romans

In the Epistle to the Romans, Paul argues that idolatry is the core problem of humankind. People worship and serve things created (including themselves) rather than the Creator God. This leads to a dehumanized life. The more idolatry forms the basis of a culture, the more destructive the world becomes and the more entrenched the 'principalities and powers' become.

Paul has a marvelous argument in chapters 1-11. God in Christ deals with:

  • the problem of idolatry
  • the need for forgiveness from sin
  • dethroning the reign of sin
  • how to walk in freedom by the Spirit.

Paul focuses his emphasis, though, not on the problems but on God’s covenant faithfulness. In so doing, he grounds the hopes of humanity, whether Jew or Gentile, on who God is.

Paul grounds the hopes of humanity, whether Jew or Gentile, on who God is. Click To Tweet

Life in the Kingdom

Although Paul deals with the 'theological problem' of sin and death in his argument, there is still the need to reestablish the life-giving rule of the King. God restores the vocation of humanity. In other words, the image-bearing people of God are now established as the people who bring in the King’s rule. Many have wondered why the apostle Paul, in Romans 8:30, uses past tense verbs. This implies that these actions have already taken place:

And those he marked out in advance, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Prof. Wright explains this in his commentary, Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part One:

The last verse sets out the simple but profound steps by which God goes to work to call out those who, in his purpose, are now to share the image of his son, to be among those summoned to advance his work in the world. Those who were marked out for this task in the first place have been, mysteriously, ‘called’; Paul uses ‘call’ as a technical term for what happens when the preaching of the gospel works powerfully in someone’s life to bring them to faith, to urge them to baptism, and to flood their hearts with love for God by the spirit. When the gospel produces faith in this way, as we have seen, God declares the person to be indeed a true member of the family: the word for that is ‘justification’. And the purpose of it all, a purpose which is every bit as secure as those that have gone before, so much so that like the others it can be spoken of in the past tense, is that they may be ‘glorified’, sharing the Messiah’s sovereign, redeeming rule over the whole creation.

God declares the person to be a member of the family: the word for that is ‘justification’. Click To Tweet

How to Rule with Jesus

This brings me back to my class and the commands given in Romans 12-13, in particular. Paul presents four ways we exercise the 'shared' sovereign rule of the Messiah:

  • First of all, we worship by dedicating our whole selves to God. This reverses idolatry.
  • Second, we commit to the renewing of the mind. This limits our tendency to 'suppress the truth in unrighteousness' (Romans 1:18).
  • Third, Paul indicates that, as the new covenant people of God, we live intertwined with one another through the gifts God has given us. This reverses the problem of Babel where the fracturing of society becomes outwardly prominent.
  • Fourth, in Romans 12:9-16, we, the people of God, show the world how to live in the new way of the family of God, without the usual dysfunction. This leads to a peaceful and healing manner of life towards those who may be hostile to the Way of the King.

In Jewish life, the first aspect of the law of God concerns how we love Him. That is covered by Romans 12:1-2:

So, my dear family, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and appropriate worship. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete.

The second aspect of the law of God concerns how we love others. Paul not only goes into detail about this, as explained in the specific command about interpersonal relationships.  Paul summarizes commands concerning others in Romans 13:9-10:

Commandments like 'don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t covet'—and any other commandment—are summed up in this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' Love does no wrong to its neighbor; so love is the fulfilment of the law.

New Creation in Action

Professor Wright often discusses the theme of 'New Creation'.

Being glorified is seldom regarded by believers as a present reality. But Paul insists not only that it is the case, but expects God’s image bearers to live out this new reality.

Of course, in contrast to a world focused on power and image, we operate with weakness and suffering for the sake of others. It is being Jesus for the world, acting in ways consistent with his own manner of life and with His authority exercised in humility and gentleness. In so doing, the powers of this age are robbed of their influence among the in-Messiah family.

This is New Creation in action.

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