Reflecting on Genesis
Before we go any farther, we need to reflect a bit more deeply on what Paul has been saying — in light of the Law and the Prophets. We begin, of course, in Genesis. Fortunately, Paul is happy to lead the discussion.
The Creation account of Genesis 1 tells us that God created man in God’s own image — a plural image destined to rule — that is, to reign as kings.
(Gen 1:26 NAS) Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
After the Fall of Man in Genesis 3, the story of God’s dealings with man is his work to restore mankind to his image.
(Rom 8:20-23 ESV) 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.
Romans 8:20 is plainly a reference to Genesis 3. Paul paints a picture of the rest of world history as God’s efforts to free creation (especially humans) from “bondage to corruption” and to gain “freedom” — that is, freedom from the penalties for sin.
This gives new poignancy to “adoption as sons,” as to be adopted by a King is to become a prince — and potentially a co-regent with the King.
(Rom 8:29 ESV) 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.
Now, if God’s goal is to restore humans to his own image, we see that plan being worked out in Romans. To suffer is to be like Jesus. To become a living sacrifice is to become like Jesus. To become a slave of righteousness is to become like Jesus (compare Phil 2:7 “servant” = doulos = “slave”). To become a son of God is to become like Jesus.
To be saved by faith/faithfulness is to be called to become like Jesus, who saved us by his faithfulness. To be saved to righteousness is to become like God, who saves us because of his righteousness. To be filled with the very Spirit of God is to become like the Trinity.
To adopt the “mind of the Spirit” is to think as God thinks, indeed, to have his law written on our hearts and minds. And to have God’s law written within us to be like God, indeed, to think as God thinks.
And along these lines, we begin to perceive the deeper nature of the Torah of the Spirit of life. The law of the Spirit is the mind of God. The heart of the Torah is the call to become like God.
(Gen 3:5 ESV) 5 “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
To know God’s will — to know good and evil — is to become like God. It also makes us accountable at a level we cannot attain to, and hence requires grace. But it’s still true. When God writes his law on our hearts and mind, we become more like God — indeed, we are on the path toward being restored to his image. (A theme Paul also works out in other epistles, but I’m sticking with Romans for now.)
God’s cosmic goal is that we become like Jesus — the Messiah, king of the universe. How? Well, by what Paul has just been discussing — receipt of the Spirit and transformed minds, among many other things.
Therefore, when we read Romans 12 – 15, we have to read the passage as deriving from these thoughts. Paul is going to tell us in practical terms what it means to live all this out — and in so doing, he implicitly defines “Torah of the Spirit of life.” But we already know the definition: It’s being like Jesus.
The Torah — “law” in Hebrew — is much more than the Law of Moses. It’s also Genesis 1 and Abraham, and all the rest. It’s all Torah. Therefore, the point of the Torah of the Spirit is not to give us a new “written code” — obviously — but to give us a freshly viewed, fulfilled, re-imagined Torah — the story of God’s dealings with humankind.
It’s not to contradict the Law of Moses but to put it in its proper place in Torah — in the history of God and Israel and mankind.
And the dramatic shift is to discover that God’s image is found in Jesus — the true Messiah of Israel — and therefore God’s mission is to restore mankind into the image of Jesus — the Suffering Servant of Isaiah and Son of God.
God has chosen to accomplish this through a covenant he made with Abraham, a covenant that promises salvation by faith in Jesus — God’s image — to all nations, with the goal that they become righteous and just —
(Gen 18:19 ESV) 19 “For I have chosen him, that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring to Abraham what he has promised him.”
And whom do the Scriptures repeatedly refer to as righteous and just? God. The point of the Abrahamic covenant is to make Abraham and those who come after him like God.
Therefore, the Torah of the Spirit of life is all about the character of God himself, especially as revealed in Jesus.