Justification: The Hope of Glory

Another great post reflecting some thoughts he has gather while reading N.T. Wright’s new book, “Paul and the Faithfulness of God“: paul-and-the-faithfulness-of-god

Justification: The Hope of Glory 

By Seraphim Hamilton

What Paul means by “justified” must be mapped around Paul’s understanding of the Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection. As Habbakuk says, “the righteous one will live by his faithfulness.” The messianic nature of this passage is attested at Qumran, and it is echoed several times in Acts and once in 1 John, where Jesus is referred to as “the righteous one.” Even though the Jews were unfaithful in their vocation to bring God’s oracles to the nations, the Messiah, in whom Israel’s election is summed up, is faithful unto death, “even the death of a cross” and thereby finds “life.” Then, all who are “in the Messiah” find life “in Him.” And the way that we enter “into the Messiah” is by “sharing his sufferings” and thereby his risen glory. Because God undid the verdict of the Jewish lawcourt (a declaration) precisely by raising the Messiah from the dead (a transformation), we receive “in the right” verdicts when we share in the Messiah’s resurrection. This permeates Paul, but it’s all there in brief in 2 Corinthians 4.

This is a thick passage. The context is the superiority of the new covenant to the old covenant. Whereas the Israelites couldn’t look on Moses’ radiant face because he had seen God’s back, we actually look on the face of God and share in his glory through beholding the face of Jesus the Messiah. Whereas Israel’s uncircumcised heart inevitably spiraled into idolatry and exile, the return from exile has come and the law is written on our hearts. Galatians 6:16-17 makes it clear how this works: whereas the circumcision in the flesh was a mark made on the organ of generation (a sign of the promise of seed) we embody the death of the promised seed through suffering: hence Paul bears the “marks of Jesus” on his body, and all who bear these marks (as opposed, of course, to the marks of circumcision) are thereby constituted as the “Israel of God.” Let’s look at 2 Corinthians 4 verse by verse.

(2 Corinthians 4:4-6)  In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of the Messiah, who is the image of God. For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus the Messiah as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Messiah.

Here we have several themes drawn together. The “glory of the Messiah” is the same glory that Moses saw, the divine light and radiance, what we as Orthodox call the “uncreated energies.” The Messiah is the Image in whom Adam was made, and thus, in Him, we fulfill the calling of Abraham’s people to be the new-adam-people,  a calling evident from the structure of Genesis as well as from Second Temple Judaism. God has “shone” the divine light “in our hearts.” In context, the echo of Deuteronomy 30 should be clear. Moses promised a new and better covenant, where Israel’s heart would be circumcised.

(Deuteronomy 30:6)  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.

Note the miniature “ordo salutis” here. God circumcises Israel’s heart. Because of the circumcision of the heart, Israel is enabled to truly love God. Because Israel loves God, Israel “lives.” There’s no room for imputation. The discovery of life is causally linked to “loving the Lord your God.” For Paul, this has occurred through the crucified and risen Messiah, in whose face we see the glory of God, and through whom God shines his glory “in our hearts.” Taken together with Galatians 6:16, the way we receive the divine glory in our hearts is through sharing the Messiah’s sufferings, and this is made clear in the rest of 2 Corinthians 4:

(2 Corinthians 4:7-12)  But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you.

Here the passage is fairly plain and dovetails quite nicely with Galatians 6. We embody the life and glory of Jesus the Messiah through embodying his death. As Paul says in Romans 8:17, we “suffer with him in order that we might be glorified with him.” There is the causal chain, again. But the real key is right here:

(2 Corinthians 4:13)  Since we have the same spirit of faith according to what has been written, “I had faith, and so I spoke,” we also have faith, and so we also speak,

Paul says that he shares the same spirit of faith of him who said “I had faith, and so I spoke.” The quotation is from Psalm 116. Psalm 116 is the prayer of the righteous sufferer who goes down into Sheol but is delivered from it. It’s actually quoted with reference to Jesus in Acts 2:24. This is one reason I strongly hold to the “subjective genitive” reading of pistis Christou. Paul’s exegetical method here is the same as it is in Romans 15:9-11. The prayers of national Israel are put on the lips of Israel’s Messiah, because Israel’s election is focused in the Messiah. The one who said “I had faith, and so I spoke” is Jesus, who dove into Sheol and was delivered by his resurrection. This is why this passage is quoted precisely as Paul discusses sharing the Messiah’s risen, divine life through embodying his crucified life.

All in all, there is ample reason to place this in the realm of “justification.” First, all of this is apparently what Paul means when he speaks of justification by faith, since it is summed up in sharing the spirit of the one who prayed  in Psalm 116. Second, the topic under discussion is an extended version of what is compressed into Romans 3:22-23:

(Romans 3:22-24)  the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah for all who are faithful.

The “righteousness of God” is God’s covenant faithfulness. This makes good sense of the whole Pauline corpus, but is best seen here in two ways. First, Paul, in Romans 3:20, echoes Psalm 143, which speaks of the “righteousness of God” as God’s own commitment to save and redeem His people. Second, this makes great sense of Romans 3:3-5, where Jewish unfaithfulness does not nullify the “faithfulness” of God. Then, the interlocutor asks about the implications of our “unrighteousness” (synonymous with unfaithfulness, given the context) showing the “righteousness” (which, by implication, must be synonymous with faithfulness) of God.

The righteousness of God goes forward through the faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah. The subjective genitive makes good sense here- Romans 2:17-24 talks about Israel’s failure to serve as the light of the world. Instead, Israel had been the means for the nations to blaspheme the Lord’s name. Then 3:1-8 affirms God’s commitment to His original plan to bless the world through Israel. “The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God”, that is, they were given God’s message so that they might proclaim it to the nations.” “What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” By no means, the Apostle answers- and here, he explains how. God heals the world through Israel in Israel’s Messiah, Israel in person, Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus’ “faithfulness” is His utter commitment to fulfill God’s purposes for Israel in going to the Cross, in faith that God would bring life from His dead body. This is why his faith is Abraham-faith and constitutes those with Messiah-faith as members of Abraham’s family. Abraham, being a hundred years old, had a body that was “already dead” but nevertheless “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God”, fully convinced that God would bring life out of death. (Romans 4:17-21) Furthermore, Jesus’ “faithfulness” is articulated as his “obedience” in Romans 5, which is His obedience in going to the Cross. This makes sense, given that Paul opened the letter by declaring his mission to bring about the obedience of faith among all nations. (Romans 1:5)

And the “faithfulness of Jesus the Messiah” benefits “all who are faithful” or “all who are of faith” or “all who have faith.” The particular translation here isn’t quite relevant- the point is that it is intentionally constructed so that our “faith” is mapped around the faith of the Messiah, which is a Cross-and-Resurrection faith. This is why, in 2 Corinthians 4, our faith is discussed as sharing the Messiah’s sufferings.

(Romans 3:23)  for all have sinned and lack the glory of God,

Far too many people think that the reference to the “glory of God” is a rhetorical flourish here. Actually, the theme of divine “glory” is a golden thread which runs from Romans 1 straight through Romans 8. 1:23, the nations gave up the “glory of God” to worship animals. 2:6, those justified on the Last Day will receive “glory, honor, and immortality.” This echoes Psalm 8, which discusses man’s creation to justly rule over the animal creation- their worship of animals is thus an exact reversal of their original vocation. The close connection of “glory” with “immortality” suggests, as Ben Blackwell has noted, a close connection, so that the “glory of God” is that which gives life to those who share in it.

Hence, in 3:23, through embodying the faithfulness of the Messiah (sharing in his crucified life) we receive the “glory of God” (sharing in his divine, risen life.) 5:2 thus explains that “in the Messiah” we have the “hope of glory.” We share in the glory of God in the present. How? According to 6:3-4, by sharing in the Messiah’s death and resurrection through Baptism, the Messiah raised by the “glory of the Father.” (6:4) Note that Paul calls this “justification” in 6:7. Finally, the whole creation will be raised to divine life when the “glory of God” is revealed “in us.” (8:18) How so? Because “the whole creation groans” (8:22), and through the Spirit, who prays in us with “groanings too deep for words” (8:26), we share in the groan of the Messiah, who suffered for the sake of all creation. Thus, we are fellow heirs with the Messiah, “if indeed we suffer with him, that we may also be glorified with him.” (8:17)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s