N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 4 (the Salvation of those in Jesus)

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N. T. “Tom” Wright has just released another paradigm-shifting book suggesting a new, more scriptural way of understanding the atonement, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion. Wright delves deeply into how the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus accomplishes our salvation.
Wright continues,

Rom 2:11-16, Part 2

Now we see what {Paul] means [by 2:11-16]. “There is no condemnation for those in the Messiah . . . because God . . . condemned Sin right there in the flesh” [JFG: Wright’s paraphrase of Rom 8:1-3]. The punishment [condemnation] has been meted out. But the punishment is on Sin itself, the combined, accumulated, and personified force that has wreaked such havoc in the world and in human lives.

Here is a point that must be noted most carefully. Paul does not say that God punished Jesus. He declares that God punished Sin in the flesh of Jesus. Now, to be sure, the crucifixion was no less terrible an event because, with theological hindsight, the apostle could see that what was being punished was Sin itself rather than Jesus himself. The physical, mental, and spiritual agony that Jesus went through on that terrible day was not alleviated in any way.

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 4612-4621). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. (Emphasis mine.)

Wright makes the point that, in Romans, Paul sometimes shifts from “sins” to “sin,” and the singular is often (not always) speaking of sin in general, not your sin or my sin but the powerful Sin that so dominates the world who worship the wrong gods. Wright capitalizes Sin when he believes that Paul has this broad meaning in mind.

For example,

(Rom. 3:9 NET)  9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 

Here, “sin” means something like “Sin’s power to seduce people into idolatry/covenant unfaithfulness, and hence condemnation.”

This use of “Sin” is particularly evident beginning in chapter 5 —

(Rom. 5:12-13 NET)  12 So then, just as sin entered the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all people because all sinned – 13 for before the law was given, sin was in the world, but there is no accounting for sin when there is no law.

And so when we get to chapter 8, we have —

(Rom. 8:2-3 NET)  2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.  3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,

The crucifixion of Jesus did not result in God condemning Jesus or imposing the world’s punishment on Jesus — not in this passage. Rather, in this passage, the crucifixion produces condemnation of Sin in the flesh of Jesus. Jesus’ death somehow broke the power of Sin.

Thus, as verse 2 declares, the Law of the Spirit in Jesus “has set you free from the law of Sin and death.” That is, outside of Jesus and God’s covenant faithfulness, there is no salvation, only idolatry and Sin — which prevails over all not within the protection of Jesus — and produces in them death.

“Death” goes back to chapter 5 and refers to the opposite of eternal life: eternal death. We all die physically, but the damned die twice. They die physically and then face judgment, which results in punishment and the Second Death (per Revelation) — they die eternally. This is the “law of sin and death.”

Thus, Romans 8:1-3 ff answers the question raised by Rom 2:6-11: If idolatry and covenant unfaithfulness damn, who can be saved?

The immediate answer is:

(Rom. 2:6-10 NET)  6 He will reward each one according to his works: 7 eternal life to those who by perseverance in good works seek glory and honor and immortality,  … 9 There will be …  10 … glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, for the Jew first and also the Greek. 

More precisely, the people described in 5:9 and 8:1-4 are NOT the people who are condemned under 2:6-10 —

(Rom. 2:6-11 NET)  6 He will reward each one according to his works:  7 … 8 … wrath and anger to those who live in selfish ambition and do not obey the truth but follow unrighteousness.  9 There will be affliction and distress on everyone who does evil, on the Jew first and also the Greek, … .  

These people turn out to be the people described in Rom 5:9 —

(Rom. 5:9 NET)  9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. 

— who are further defined in Rom 8:1-4 —

(Rom. 8:1-4 NET) There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  2 For the law of the life-giving Spirit in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.  3 For God achieved what the law could not do because it was weakened through the flesh. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and concerning sin, he condemned sin in the flesh,  4 so that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

The receipt of the Spirit brings faith/faithfulness/trust that allows God to treat those who believe in Jesus as righteous. The prophets declared that the Spirit would change our hearts so we’d obey. Paul takes this quite seriously. For example,

(Ezek. 36:26-27 ESV)  26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.

Nothing could be plainer than the promise that the outpoured Spirit, to be received when the Kingdom and the Messiah come, will bring obedience. Who are the obedient people? Those who have the Spirit. (Paul will make this claim explicitly at the end of chapter 2.)

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About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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