N. T. Wright’s The Day the Revolution Began, Romans Reconsidered, Part 32 (suffering produces endurance)

dayrevolutionbegan

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 accomplish our salvation.

Rom 5:1-2

At last we get to my favorite (or second or third favorite) chapter in Romans — and it’s a chapter that’s ignored by the Churches of Christ — and the one we need to hear perhaps more than any other.

(Rom. 5:1-2 NRS) Therefore, since we are justified [declared covenant faithful and so a part of the covenant community] by faith [in Jesus or the faithfulness of Jesus], we have peace [shalom or right relationship, a Kingdom promise: the Exile is over!] with God through our Lord Jesus Christ [Messiah/King],  2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace [unmerited generosity] in which we stand; and we boast in our hope [confident expectation] of sharing the glory of God [by being in God’s very presence in the NHNE]. 

“Peace”

God’s justice has led to peace: the echoes of the world Paul was addressing are strong. Augustus Caesar had established the Roman Pax [Peace], founded on Iustitia [“Justice”]. H1s successors, enjoying among their titles “Lord” and “Savior,” maintained the powerful imperial myth not least through the imperial cult. Paul is revealing to his Roman audience a different justice, a different peace, in virtue of a different Lord and a different God: the God of Abraham, the world’s creator, who has now established peace “through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This peace, the first characteristic Paul mentions of the present tense of salvation, includes the deeply personal reconciliation between each believer and the true God, but can hardly stop there; already Paul is sowing the seeds for that communal peace he longs to see come about in the whole Roman church (14:1–15:14; see esp. 14:17, 19), the work, indeed, of “the God of peace” (15:33; 16:20). It is this peace, embracing alike each person and the whole community, that reveals to the wider world the existence and nature of the alternative empire, set up through the true Lord, the Messiah. In one short verse Paul manages to articulate both the heart of Christian personal experience and the politically subversive nature of Christian loyalty.

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 515-516.

“Peace,” as Wright points out, carries a seditious sense — the peace that matters is God’s peace, through King Jesus, not the peace of Rome and its Caesars. But “peace” also hearkens back to prophecies of the end of the Exile —

(Lev. 26:6 ESV)  6 I will give peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and none shall make you afraid. And I will remove harmful beasts from the land, and the sword shall not go through your land. 

(Isa. 9:7 ESV)  7 Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

(Isa. 53:5 ESV)  5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

And many more. You can’t read “peace” in the context of God’s covenant promises and not remember that peace marks the end of Exile and so the restoration of right relationship with God.

“Grace”

By way of explaining this peace, Paul uses the language of the [Temple] cult: we have obtained, he says, “access” to grace, the same root being used as the regular verb for approaching the altar with a sacrifice. “Grace” is here clearly a shorthand, not so much for God’s action on behalf of undeserving sinners, but for the sphere of God’s continuing love. The metaphor envisages grace as a room into which Jesus has ushered all who believe, a room where they now “stand,” a place characterized by the presence and sustaining love of God. Just as the Temple symbolized and actualized Israel’s meeting with the gracious God, so now Jesus has effected such a meeting between this God and all who approach by faith.

N.T. Wright, “The Letter to the Romans,” in The Acts of the Apostles-The First Letter to the Corinthians, vol. 10 of NIB, Accordance electronic ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 515-516.

Rom 5:3-5, Part 1

(Rom. 5:3-5 ESV)  3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope [confident expectation of redemption],  5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

We don’t speak of this passage much because it assumes Christian suffering — a doctrine largely ignored in the West. We just don’t suffer that much and so we don’t understand this passage. In other parts of the world, however, this passage speaks loudly.

But then, in the other passage, he explains that sharing the Messiah’s sufferings is the means by which, already in the present and then ultimately in the future, those who belong to him will share his rule in the new creation:                      

If we’re children, we are also heirs: heirs of God, and fellow heirs with the Messiah, as long as we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him. This is how I work it out. The sufferings we go through in the present time are not worth putting in the scale alongside the glory that is going to be unveiled for us. Yes: creation itself is on tiptoe with expectation, eagerly awaiting the moment when God’s children will be revealed. Creation, you see, was subjected to pointless futility, not of its own volition, but because of the one who placed it in this subjection, in the hope that creation itself would be freed from its slavery to decay, to enjoy the freedom that comes when God’s children are glorified.

Let me explain. We know that the entire creation is groaning together, and going through labor pains together, up until the present time. Not only so: we too, we who have the first fruits of the spirit’s life within us, are groaning within ourselves, as we eagerly await our adoption, the redemption of our body. We were saved, you see, in hope. But hope isn’t hope if you can see it! Who hopes for what they can see? But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it eagerly— but also patiently. (8: 17– 25)

This rich, vivid portrayal of the present time— with creation groaning in expectation like a pregnant woman about to give birth, and with the Messiah’s people groaning

Wright, N. T.. The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion (Kindle Locations 5867-5880). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

And so Wright ties Rom 5:3 to Rom 8:17-25. The suffering that produces endurance and ultimately hope is the same suffering that we endure with Jesus himself — the agony of childbirth — of knowing that we must go through pain in order to receive an incomparable blessing. We groan in pain as a woman in childbirth groans — both in present pain but also in impatience for the birth. “Lord, come quickly!” the early church prayed. Maranatha! is the Aramaic and surely is a one-word prayer that goes back to the Jerusalem congregation, that we pray with James, Peter, Stephen, and all from the very founding of the Kingdom, just as soon as the inevitable persecution began.

Now, there is the suffering of impatience and living in a broken, fallen world as broken, fallen people. But there is also the very real pain of persecution, imprisonment, separation from family, and all the other distresses of Christian living. Paul says we suffer “with” Jesus because he felt many of those same pains — as well as his own crucifixion. It’s expected that some — perhaps many, even most — Christians will suffer the same pain.

In the West we don’t suffer as Paul expects, not because the government is benign toward Christianity, but because we don’t feel the pain of our brothers and sisters throughout the world who give up their families, their jobs, their homes, and even their lives for Jesus.

Make Me a Channel of Your Peace
(based on a prayer by Francis of Assisi)
Sinéad O’Connor

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is hatred let me bring your love
Where there is injury, your pardon Lord
And where there is doubt true faith in You

Make me a channel of your peace
Where there is despair in life let me bring hope
Where there is darkness only light
And where there’s sadness ever joy

Oh, Master grant that I may never seek
So much to be consoled as to console
To be understood as to understand
To be…

 

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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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