Friday, March 26, 2010
Resurrection, Justification and the New Covenant Community
Ephesians is quickly becoming one of my favorite Pauline books (However, whenever I am studying Paul, the letter I am studying usually becomes my favorite). There are so many great things that could be said about it but two themes in particular have been sticking out to me.
1) There is saving significance in the resurrection of Jesus. Does the resurrection actually contribute to or accomplish God's salvation? Or does it just prove that the cross was the effective means of salvation? I was reading a book on the cross this week, one of my favorites, and the author was saying, if I understood him correctly, that God accomplished our salvation on the cross and that the resurrection proved that it was so. In my mind this seems to downplay the importance of the resurrection; as if the resurrection was nothing more than God's approval of the cross. It is that, to be sure, but it is much more. Resurrection, in the Old Testament, was a vivid metaphor of what would happen to God's people when YHWH established his sovereign rule and met with his people in forgiveness. This was the beginning of the 'New Age', in fulfillment and faithfulness to God's promise with Abraham, where God would be with his people, he would remember their sins no more, the nations would come to God, they would know him and all things would be made right. This is what Paul had been waiting for and he saw that God had brought the kingdom in the death and resurrection of the Messiah. This meant that, since Jesus had been raised in advance of the final day, God's new day had already begun. Not only that, all those who are united to Jesus by faith participate in this redemption now. This is what Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-7, "But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus." In Romans Paul can talk about the cross as the moment of redemption but here he talks about the resurrection. Without the resurrection there is no redemption, no salvation.
2) In Christ Gentiles become true members of the covenant family. Gentiles should rejoice that through the work of Christ they become partakers of the covenants of promise, they join the family of God and they are reconciled to God. All these ideas are closely linked in Ephesians. Both Jew and Gentile are reconciled to God through the cross to form God's new covenant community. What Paul says here sounds very similar to what he says about justification in other letters, "Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith" (Galatians 3:7-9). Being made right with God and being members of the covenant people are two sides of the same coin. What God has joined together let us not separate. I do think we can still speak of the vertical and horizontal aspects of justification. But for Paul, at least in Ephesians, the ideas of 'being made right with God' and being apart of the covenant people are one.