Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Saving Righteousness of God 4

Michael Bird has quickly become one of my favorite theologians. When you read him it is obvious that he loves truth and desires unity within the church. I am currently reading his book The Saving Righteousness of God: Studies on Paul, Justification, and the New Perspective (Wipf and Stock, 2007). Today I will be taking a look at chapter 3.

Raised for Our Justification

In this chapter Bird is examining the relationship between resurrection and justification. He laments the fact that most of the time the resurrection is nothing more than God's approval of the work of the cross. (To me the equivalent of this would be to limit the cross work to God's disapproval of violence. Sure it's there, and it's important, but that by no means exhausts its meaning.)

Bird goes on the highlight some attempts that have been made to link resurrection to justification. He begins with Walter Kunneth. He believes that in the cross God dealt with sin and death and he overcomes them with new life in the resurrection. At the same time he closely links the verdict that arises from the righteousness added to the believer and the righteousness within the believer. Bird says that this actually detracts from his thesis because although justification and sanctification arise from union with Christ one cannot be subsumed under the other. Markus Barth grounds the believer's justification in both the death and resurrection of Jesus. He says that Christ's resurrection was the justification of God, Christ, and the sinner. According to Richard Gaffin the resurrection removes the sentence of death and the verdict of condemnation over believers. The resurrection is the justification of Christ and believers participate in that verdict. Mark Seifrid says that the gospel centers on the resurrection of Christ. "Christ's death and resurrection contain a verdict - condemnation and vindication...The death and resurrection of Christ is God's verdict against the ungodly, and simultaneously his vindication of them" (p. 47-8).

Next Bird shows how justification and resurrection are connected in three Pauline passages. In 1 Corinthians 15:17 Paul says that without the resurrection there would be no forgiveness of sins; in other words, the cross has no atoning significance without the resurrection. In Romans 1-5 the gospel that Paul proclaims has life as its goal; in Jewish thought vindication and life were linked in that vivification was the evidence that one had been justified. Rom 4.25 is an important text for Bird as he sees it as demonstrating that justification is actually caused by the resurrection. In the death of Christ God's wrath is propitiated and in the resurrection God's declaration of vindication is enacted. Lastly, Bird examines 1 Timothy 3.16; quoting N.T. Wright he says, "It is likely that 'he was justified' is an oblique way of referring to the resurrection: Jesus was 'vindicated' by the living God - not least as Messiah - after being condemned and killed" (p.54). The eschatological verdict had taken place in Christ and believer's can participate in that verdict.

Bird briefly looks at the theme of resurrection and the final judgment. Just as our present verdict of justification is based on the resurrection so is the verdict on the final day.

Bird has done the church a great favor in writing this chapter. We would do well to make the connection between justification and resurrection. Resurrection is not merely a proof that the cross was effective but actually causes our justification before God.

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