The 5th Sunday After Easter: The Resurrection, Justification by Faith, and the People of God

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I want to thank everyone who read and commented on my last post, The Resurrection and A Multi-Faceted Gospel. I want to spend these next three weeks responding to some of these questions and requests for clarification.

In doing so, I hope that I am not sending the mistaken impression that I have everything figured out. These are topics of continued study and learning for me; everything that I am saying here is an invitation for further dialogue and critique. Hopefully, all of us will gain in the process.

I would say that the critical responses to my post fell in three main categories:

  1. How can justification by faith be reconciled with your critique of an overly individualistic Gospel?
  2. How can capital-E Evil as an independent, rebellious force be reconciled with the sovereignty of God?
  3. So what? Why does your critique matter in the big scheme of things for our worship or mission?

This week I will try to tackle the first question–Where does justification by faith fit in this picture?

The Lutheran theologian Balthasar Meisner claimed that a proverb of Martin Luther, which fueled the Reformation, was that “Justification is the article upon which the Church stands or falls.” This is a very high and lofty claim, and I affirm it.

However, I must lay my cards on the table: I think my understanding of how justification fits in the larger picture of the Gospel probably is different from the evangelical versions I have heard. Because I have a different overarching framework in which justification fits, I may have a different understanding of what justification means

One caveat here–whenever we start talking about the overarching framework to interpret Scripture, further questions regarding election, predestination, and the relation between the divine and human wills inevitably rise up. The framework I am sketching out below is what I have discerned as areas of agreement among the Church Father Irenaeus, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Richard Hooker. So whether your theological commitments are Reformed, Lutheran, Orthodox, Catholic, or Arminian, I think you can profit from the proposed framework I will outline without having to abandon your view of election, Divine Providence, and Human Agency.

The argument will be a little long (sorry), but here’s the basic framework:

  1. The Trinitarian Purpose of Creation
  2. The Frustrated Vocation of Humankind
  3. The Promise to Abraham
  4. Israel and the Law
  5. The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ
  6. Justification by Faith

THE TRINITARIAN PURPOSE OF CREATION

Why did God create? The Western Church’s answer (Augustinian, Lutheran, Reformed)  is “For His Glory.” But let’s attempt to unpack that idea. Creation surely was not for any lack within God. Therefore, it was not because He was lonely, and it was not because He needed worship. To put a finer point on it, it was not to display or augment His excellencies, as if He needed an audience in order to magnify His perfection.

The Western Church’s understanding that God created for His Glory is rooted in the idea that Creation was not a necessity for God to be God. God is completely perfect, infinite, and absolute within Himself–perfect in Love, perfect in Glory, and perfect in Worship.

As Christians, we have to acknowledge that God’s glory is a Trinitarian glory. Before the foundations of the cosmos were laid, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existed in perfect harmony, love, and glory. The act of Creation did not spring out of a need; Creation sprang out of this perfect love. When stated this way, the Western Church’s understanding of Creation coheres with the Eastern Church’s understanding of Creation–Creation is pure grace, a superabundance of the eternal generosity where God is freely pouring Himself out of love for God, a gift that stems from the mutual, eternal exchange of Divine Love that is our Triune God.

Perhaps my fellow evangelical friends will ask, how can this be justified on the basis of the Bible? I think this idea is well-expressed in the Messianic Poem of Colossians 1:15-20, and in the speech by Lady Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22-31.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell,  and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.

–Colossians 1:15-20

“The Lord possessed me at the beginning of His way,
Before His works of old.
I have been established from everlasting,
From the beginning, before there was ever an earth.
When there were no depths I was brought forth,
When there were no fountains abounding with water.
Before the mountains were settled,
Before the hills, I was brought forth;
While as yet He had not made the earth or the fields,
Or the primal dust of the world.
When He prepared the heavens, I was there,
When He drew a circle on the face of the deep,
When He established the clouds above,
When He strengthened the fountains of the deep,
When He assigned to the sea its limit,
So that the waters would not transgress His command,
When He marked out the foundations of the earth,
Then I was beside Him as a master craftsman;
And I was daily His delight,
Rejoicing always before Him,
Rejoicing in His inhabited world,
And my delight was with the sons of men.

–Proverbs 8:15-22

All things are created by Christ, through Christ, and for Christ. Even before the Fall, the purpose of Creation was Christ. Further, Lady Wisdom in Proverbs, the poetic “craftsman” or “handmaiden,” with whom the Father created the world, is sometimes identified with Christ but I think more accurately identified with the Holy Spirit. Creation is an expression of God’s delight with God.

Here’s my point: The act of Creation was a thoroughly Trinitarian act, and Creation’s telos or purpose is similarly Trinitarian:  Creation is meant to be summed up in Christ by being filled with the Spirit so that God can be all in all. God’s eternal purpose was to bring Creation to perfection by filling it with the greatest gift He could give it, Himself. The incarnate Jesus is “the Firstborn of all Creation,” the central focus and blueprint and Logos for which God created.

I think this idea is well-captured in the Orthodox idea of theosis–that the glory of God is found in His Trinitarian purpose of union with mankind, a kind of union that actually glorifies humanity and even divinizes it. I think this idea of theosis sometimes makes evangelicals nervous, especially when we hear the Church Father Athanasius riffing off 2 Peter 1:4 to say things like “God became man so that men might become gods,” which we fear obliterates the Creator-Creature distinction.

But even Augustine, Luther, and Calvin adopted a similarly high view of union with God–that through the Spirit, we are united with Christ, and therefore are invited to participate in the life of God. This participation gives us rights as Sons, where one day we will even judge angels. J. Todd Billings, in a scholarly article, summarized Calvin’s view in this way:

Nevertheless, classical Reformed theologians do not hesitate in speaking about the uniting communion that we experience now – and will experience in fullness – in Christ. As Calvin asserts, in our present life of union with Christ by the Spirit – which is nourished through the preached and sacramental Word in community – believers are “participants not only in all his benefits but also in himself.” Indeed, “day by day, he grows more and more into one body with us, until he becomes completely one with us” (Institutes 3.2.24). Moreover, believers are “fully and firmly joined with God only when Christ joins us with him” (Institutes 2.16.3). Yet this union with Christ is impossible without a participation in the Spirit, who unites the believer to Christ (Institutes 3.1.2). Indeed, through the Spirit “we come to a participation in God (in Dei participationem venimus)” (Institutes 1.13.14). As the “perfection of human happiness is to be united to God,” this union takes place in redemption (Institutes 1.15.6). Yet this union does not make us “consubstantial with God” like a fourth member of the Godhead, but it is in Christ, through “the grace and power of the Spirit” (Institutes 1.15.5).

It is through this reconciliation and union of humankind with God that Creation itself will be restored and glorified, as recounted in Romans 8 and pictured in Revelation 21 and 22.

With this background understanding of Creation’s purpose in place, we can see how Paul uses the concept of “justification by faith” to explain the purpose and identity of the people of God, and how it fits into the larger biblical narrative. He does so most straightforwardly in the Letter to the Galatians.

THE FRUSTRATED VOCATION OF HUMANKIND

Mankind was created with a vocation: Adam and Eve were commissioned to steward Creation as God’s royal priests, who gather Creation’s praises up to God and reflect God’s glory back to Creation. But as Paul writes in Galatians 4, we surrendered the authority God had given us to “the elements of the world,” lesser created realities that we worshipped as idols. Our betrayal was not just sin understood as a breaking of God’s law; As Martin Luther wrote, all sins are really a manifestation of idolatry, where we place something as higher and worthier of devotion than God.

Tim Keller expands on Luther’s idea in a recent Gospel Coalition article–sin is is the result of incorrect and improper worship. By our nature, we will offer our covenantal, committed worship to something. And if we do not offer it to the Creator God revealed in Christ, we will offer it to lesser created things that deceive, enslave, and destroy us.

The Adam and Eve narrative explains humankind’s fall into sin and idolatry, and the rest of the Genesis narrative from chapters 3 through 7 details our continuing downward spiral into deeper and deeper corruption. The first murderer builds the first city; his descendant’s story shows how humankind is decaying as it moves further and further away from God; and finally God is so angry at the corruption of human civilization that He judges it and starts again with the family of Noah.

But the rot in the human heart has not been dealt with: Noah’s family itself falls into the same pattern of sin and corruption. Soon Noah’s descendants will build Babylon and be claiming for themselves the exalted status of God, a recapitulation of Adam and Eve’s story.

THE PROMISE TO ABRAHAM

It is from this mess of human corruption that God purposes to honor his original commitment to Creation and humankind’s high vocation by calling forth the Chaldean Abram, re-naming him Abraham, and promising him that He would build his family into a great nation through whom all the nations in the world would be blessed. This is the promise Paul refers to in Galatians 3 (see Galatians 3:8-9, Galatians 3:14-16).

Paul in Galatians clarifies that the promise was made not only to Abraham, but also to “Abraham’s Seed,” Jesus Christ. Jesus is the true heir of Abraham who fulfills the promise. He brings blessing to all the nations of the world through the pardon of His Cross. Through Jesus, humankind can be delivered from the elements of the world, freed to worship the Creator God and participate in His original purposes for Creation.

But this raises a question–what does this mean for Israel, and what was the purpose of the Law if the promise would be fulfilled in Jesus?

ISRAEL AND THE LAW

Israel understood itself as God’s chosen people who would be God’s royal priesthood, and from whom the blessings to the world would flow as God kept His promise to their forefathers. Israel is rescued from Egypt out of God’s love for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and then given the Law at Mount Sinai to live as His distinctive people who would display His Glory to the nations. In Moses’ farewell speech to the second generation of free Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, he summarizes the Law to remind them that Israel has a vocation: To be God’s first-born son, who would image God to the world and participate in His mission of Justice and Healing (summarized in the rabbinical Jewish concept of tikkun olam).

The Law is given as a means for Israel to live up to this vocation, the original vocation of mankind, to represent God’s presence in the world. It explains how God can dwell with a sinful people through the purity codes and atonement rites, and it outlines the high moral behavior expected from Israelites to set them apart from the other nations and to represent the beauty and goodness of God to the world. Israel was to be a community of true worship that lives out God’s true justice.

But Israel fails over and over to live up to this vocation. First the nation is divided into northern and southern kingdoms because of the idolatry and oppression of the Davidic dynasty. The northern kingdom of Israel is ultimately conquered and scattered because they failed to keep the Mosaic covenant. The prophet Isaiah warns the southern kingdom of Judah that the sacrificial system has become meaningless because of the people’s continued idolatry and oppression. Judah does not heed the warning, the glorious presence of God leaves the Temple, and Babylon conquers and carries off the Jewish people into exile.

During the time of Exile, the Jews hold on to to the prophetic dream that God will smash the idolatrous empires that He allowed to conquer Judah, that in the fullness of time He will allow the exiles to rebuild Jerusalem, and thereby allow the Creation-Salvation project–including judgment of evil–to continue through the restored Jewish nation.

Eventually, under the reign of Cyrus the Persian the Jewish exiles are allowed to return to their homeland and rebuild Jerusalem. They rebuild the Templere-discover the Law, and commit to reforms under the Law.

But strangely, they do not sense the return of God’s presence. Malachi chastises the bored priests of the Second Temple, and warns them that one day the Lord will return, and a messenger will come to prepare His way–implying that He has not yet returned.

In fact, the Jewish people continue under oppression for centuries–the Persians give way to the Greeks, who give way to the Syrians, who give way to the Romans. How can God’s salvation project be working through the Jewish nation if they continue to labor under the domination of foreign, idolatrous empires? Has Judah been forgiven, or is it still being punished for its sins? Will God remember His covenant?

THE FAITHFULNESS OF JESUS CHRIST

This is why Zechariah bursts into prophetic song when John the Baptist is born:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
    for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
    in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
     that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
    to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
    before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
    by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
    the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
    to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Mary rejoices with a similar song of prophecy when she visits her pregnant cousin Elizabeth, understanding the birth of her son as fulfillment of the promises to Israel and Abraham:

 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

The Christ, in fulfillment of the prophets’ assurances, will somehow restore, redeem, and purify Israel so that God can dwell with His people again and His salvation project for Creation–and judgment for evil–can move forward.

Jesus Christ is both the true Israelite who faithfully executes the vocation of Israel, and the Divine Logos who embodies the Lord’s return to Zion. I’ve written about this at length here, but let me give a brief summary. Where Israel failed in the wilderness, he succeeds by overcoming the Devil. He constitutes around himself 12 disciples to announce a new Israel, and teaches that loyalty to his way will be a true fulfillment of the Law. As his fame and popularity grows, he becomes a threat to the ruling elite. He enters Jerusalem in triumph, and the crowds hail him as Messiah, but he knows that they will turn on him because he will not be the Messiah they expect him to be.

Jesus is handed over to the authorities, abandoned by his friends, sentenced to death, crucified, and mocked. Finally, he dies.

But three days later, God vindicates Jesus and raises him up from the dead. The crucifixion–an act of torture and shame–has to be reinterpreted with the Resurrection, so that now it is a moment of pardon and victory. As the Church Father Gregory of Nazianzus wrote in the 4th century:

He lays down his life, but he has power to take it again. And the veil is rent, for the mysterious doors of Heaven are opened; the rocks are cleft, the dead arise. He dies, but he gives life, and by his death destroys death. He is buried, but he rises again. He goes down into Hell, but he brings up the souls. He ascends to Heaven, and shall come again to judge the quick and the dead.

The risen Jesus himself tells the disciples:

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Within himself as the true Israel, Jesus has founded the Church to be a new nation able to bear the fruits of Justice, Healing, and Restoration for the world, in fulfillment of the promises to Abraham. In this way, the Triune God’s purpose to fill Creation with Himself and raise humankind to maturity can be fulfilled.

JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH

And it is here we finally come to justification by faith. The question facing the early church was, if Jesus is the Messiah, who unexpectedly established God’s Kingdom by dying and rising again, what does this mean for Israel, and what does this mean for the Law?

As I wrote above, the Jews were the faithful remnant of Israel who believed that salvation for the world would come through them. And the Law was the means by which they demarcated who were the people of God in whom God was working His purposes, and who were outside God’s family.

The Gospel is the apostolic announcement that the crucified and risen Jesus Christ is king of the world, and that all who turn to him will be delivered from destruction. All who submit to His Lordship, regardless of ethnicity and tribe, will be joined to Him and inherit his rule, glory, and mission. This is the fulfillment of Isaiah 56:6-7–“My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”

This is why Paul was so angry at Peter’s hypocrisy in Antioch in Galatians 2:

But when Cephas* came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

(*Note, the church consensus has been that Cephas and Peter are the same person, as Cephas is the Aramaic version of the Greek word Petros, which became Peter in English. Both words mean “Rock” or “Stone,” and there is no record of these words being used as a name before Jesus re-named the disciple Simon as “Rock”–Cephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, Peter in English–in Matthew. It is also commonly accepted that Jesus spoke Aramaic.)

By refusing to eat with the Gentiles when the Jewish emissaries from James came, Peter was making it seem that either 1) there was some division within the people of God, where some were superior because they kept Jewish Law, or 2) those who were uncircumcised and outside the bounds of Jewish Law were not truly members of God’s family.

For Paul, table-fellowship among Jews and Gentiles is joined at the hip with justification by faith in the Messiah Jesus. They cannot be separated. Paul is telling the story of the confrontation with Peter in Antioch to the Galatians to support his core thesis in the letter: The Gospel of the crucified and risen Messiah forms a new, multi-ethnic family in fulfillment to the promise to Abraham, and this family is transformed by the power of the Spirit to bear fruit for the world.

The new people of God in Jesus will fulfill the failed vocations of Adam and Israel to be God’s royal priests, but only in, through, and because of the faithful vocation of Christ.

This is why Paul writes:

 “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.

“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”

The idea of “justification” is that someone is declared righteous. More specifically, it is the Old Testament idea that God declares that someone is in a right relationship with Him. It is Paul’s conviction that no one can be declared righteous by keeping the Law; the story of Israel itself shows that. Instead, the only way to be declared righteous is on the basis of the work and person of Jesus.

As he says, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” In Romans 6:3-4 he says much the same thing, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized in his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism in to death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

At the heart of Paul’s Gospel is this idea: That when people trust in Jesus, what is true of Him becomes true of them. His death becomes their death, and His resurrection and new life becomes their resurrection and new life. As Paul says in Colossians 3:3, “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” And this is why in Galatians 2 he says, “I no longer live, but Christ lives within me.” Paul is clear that we belong to Jesus’ New Covenant family, not because we keep the Law, but because Christ has died and risen for us, and because we have been united to Him.

This has huge implications for 1) who can be included in God’s family, and 2) what it means to live as God’s family.

First, Paul looks to the story of Abraham as an example of someone who was declared righteous by faith, because he trusted in God’s promise that all nations would be blessed through him and his offspring. Paul is careful to say this was God’s purpose all along: To have a people who related to Him on the basis of faith and trust, not by keeping Torah (the Jewish Law). See Galatians 3:1-18.

But then this raises a question: Why have the Law at all? Paul in Galatians 3:19-29 very tightly packs an argument he unspools at greater length in the Letter to the Romans

  1. The promise to Abraham came long before the Law was given to Israel at Sinai.
  2. God always intended the Law to play a role as a temporary guardian.
  3. As such, the Law had both a negative and positive role.
  4. The negative role was to highlight and magnify Israel’s sin, showing that even a holy people set apart for God would fail to serve His purposes without new hearts.
  5. This does not make the Law evil–the Law is good!–but it had the effect of clearly showing that Israel was guilty and worthy of condemnation, just like every other people.
  6. The positive role of the Law was to be a moral tutor which, despite Israel’s sin, kept together a faithful remnant until it could be whittled down to Abraham’s Seed**, Jesus Christ.
  7. Jesus fulfilled the Law in His life, work, and person. He was the faithful Israelite who truly loved God and neighbor.
  8. Jesus died to take the curse of Israel’s failure on to Himself, and He is free from the hold of Sin, Death, and the Devil.
  9. Anyone who holds on to the faithfulness of Jesus has “clothed themselves with Christ.”
  10. Because we are now found in Jesus, we become heirs to the promise of Abraham–the multi-ethnic people of God through whom God is repairing the world.

(**Paul expands on this in Romans 9, where he clarifies that not all of Abraham’s children are heirs of the promise. Ishmael and Isaac are both Abraham’s sons, but Isaac is the child of the promise. Jacob, not Esau, bears the promise in the next generation. Judah, not his brothers, is given the scepter. From the tribe of Judah, the Lord anoints David, not his brothers. And from the line of David, the heir of promise–Abraham’s True Seed, who fulfills the promise–is Jesus Christ.)

Paul is concerned because the teachings of the Jewish Christians make it seem like Jesus didn’t fulfill God’s promise or deal with our sins. This would constrain the new freedom given to us in Jesus’ Spirit, and would limit the inheritance of God’s promise to one ethnicity. He argues this at length in Galatians 4.

Paul then seems to anticipate a question in Galatians 5:13-14 when he writes:

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

As stated above, the Law is good, but if the Law was temporary and Christians now live in freedom, how can we be sure they won’t abuse that freedom?

Paul’s answer is that those who are clothed with Christ are given His Spirit.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

To say again, the Law is good–the command to love God with our entire being, and to love our neighbor as ourselves, is good. But the instruction did not give in itself the power to obey the Law. Our flesh desires our own security, advancement, and status, and these desires are in conflict with the Law.

The Good News is not only that Jesus fulfilled the Law on our behalf, but that He lives in us through the Spirit. This forms us into a new kind of human being–one able to properly image God in the world again.

Again, the old humanity (“the flesh”) objectifies people for our own satisfaction and destroys relationships and communities. But Jesus put the flesh to death on the Cross. So when we trust in Jesus and “walk in the Spirit,” we become a new humanity. Jesus’ life becomes ours, and we bear the fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Paul says, “Since we live in the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25. Only if we are justified by our trust in the work of the Messiah, so that the work, life, and person of Jesus is the very ground upon which we build our lives, can we organically bear the fruit of righteousness. Paul’s instructions in Galatians 5 and 6 are meant to be heeded as tools for our pruning and cultivation: Through the Spirit, Jesus shapes us into people who love God entirely and who love our neighbors as ourselves. In doing so, we will fulfill what Paul calls “the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2. Paul warns us: We either sow to the flesh or to the Spirit, and we will reap accordingly. Galatians 6:7-10.

Paul’s conclusion takes us back to the earlier parts of this post. Stirringly, Paul closes by saying that observing or not observing the Jewish Law is beyond the point; God’s eternal purposes are much bigger than circumcision! What matters is New Creation–In Jesus the true Israelite, God is uniting a multi-ethnic family of believers to be a New Israel, who will fulfill God’s original purpose for humankind to be His ruling royal priests who will steward Creation into glory so that God can flood the Universe with His presence, and be all in all.

Here’s your hymn for the 5th Sunday of Easter–

this is my father's world

In keeping with what we’ve talked about in this post, I wanted to highlight the last verse:

This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget

That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the Ruler yet

This is my Father’s world, the battle is not done.

Jesus who died shall be satisfied, and earth and heav’n be one.

Jesus who died, was raised from the dead, and He will be satisfied. But, until the day of satisfaction, the battle is not done, and we who have been joined to Christ’s Body now join in the fight–for reconciliation, for justice, and for New Creation.

Happy Easter!

 

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