This year as I focus my reading on the Apostle Paul I am seeking to understand better the writings of N.T. Wright. So I am doing a chapter-by-chapter summary of his book, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997). Today we are looking at chapter 8.
God’s Renewed Humanity
Gentiles: They lived in a way contrary to the way God intended human beings to exist.
Jews: This was Israel’s vocation but they were failing to attain it without the Messiah.
In other words, Paul challenged both Jew and Gentile and articulated a new way to be human to his converts.
The Centre of Renewed Humanity: Worship
The centre of this new humanity was the worship of the one true God revealed in Jesus the Messiah through the Holy Spirit. Paul’s desire was to see idolatry replaced with true worship.
Commenting on Romans 1, Wright says that Paul gives a fairly standard Jewish critique of the Gentiles . They choose to worship creation rather than the one true God and they, therefore, cease to reflect the image of God. However, he then turns to the Jew and points out that they cannot boast in their ‘Jewish-ness’ since they themselves are still in exile and share in the plight of humanity. God, however, is creating a new humanity who worships the one true God in fulfillment of his ancient promises.
The Goal of Renewed Humanity: Resurrection
Again, Wright shows how Paul’s views of resurrection challenged both Paganism and Judaism. Paul saw the future resurrection of believers as a physical reality that offered the reality to which the confused ideas of ‘immortality’ in paganism pointed. On the other end, Jewish belief in the resurrection was bound up with the Jewish hope that they would be vindicated as God’s people and the Gentiles would receive judgment. However, Paul saw sin and death as the real enemies of God that would be destroyed in the end. Moreover, Paul saw that God had already acted in Christ so that, “we are living in the first days after the great act of God within history to defeat sin and death and liberate the whole cosmos.”
The Transformation of Renewed Humanity: Holiness
When Jew and Gentile come to worship God they are transformed in the present. All those who are in Christ become holy through the Spirit (but not perfect). Christians still eagerly wait for what is yet to come. This holiness does not come through following the Torah as Paul once did but it is a matter of dying and rising with Christ. “The death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah are not, for Paul, merely events in the past, however climactic. They are the foundation of his, and the church’s, daily existence.”
The Coherence of Renewed Humanity: Love
Love is not just a fuzzy feeling for Paul. Love happens when God’s new humanity comes together, both Jew and Gentile, and they accept one another as equal members in God’s family. This was always what God intended with his covenant with Abraham. When this happens it shows the ‘principalities and powers’ that their time is up.
The Zeal of Renewed Humanity: Mission
The mission of the church is to announce the kingdom of God to the world. This is a different sort of kingdom to that of Caesar. God’s empire was the reality and Caesar’s was the parody.