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.
Romans 8:29-30, Part 3
(Rom. 8:29-30 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. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.
“the image of his Son”
There’s a lot packed into these two verses, and we really can’t leave without discussing “image.” I mean, we tend to get so enamored of the arguments about Calvinism that we often fail to see other key lessons that may be far more important.
In the Bible, “image” (eikon) typically is a reference back to Gen 1:26-28, where God said that he’d create humankind, male and female, in his own image and likeness. Hence, the “image” passages also parallel the “new creation” passages, both of which speak to God restoring us to our pre-Fall condition.
More exactly, as John Walton teaches (and we’ve covered here many times), the Creation is about dedicating the cosmos to become a temple for God. Adam and Eve serve the same role in the Creation as a status of Venus (also an eikon) would have served in a temple for Venus — to represent to all present the special presence of the god who lives here and to show the nature of the god being worshiped. Thus, God made us not only in his image, but made us images to display his nature to the world and to show worshipers where God might be found.
With that in mind, Wright’s comments are very insightful —
This process will bring God’s renewed people to the point where they reflect the Son’s image, just as the Son is the true image of God (2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:15; 3:10). They are, that is, to become true, because renewed, human beings.
This is the point, at last, to which the long argument beginning with 1:18 was looking forward. The image of God, distorted and fractured through idolatry and immorality, is restored in Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God; and the signs of that restoration are visible in those who, like Abraham, trust in God’s life-giving power and so truly worship and give glory to God (4:18–22).
But the purpose is never simply that God’s people in Christ should resemble him, spectacular and glorious though that promise is. As we saw in vv. 18–21, it is that, as true image-bearers, they might reflect that same image into the world, bringing to creation the healing, freedom, and life for which it longs. To be conformed to the image of God, or of God’s Son, is a dynamic, not a static, concept. Reflecting God into the world is a matter of costly vocation.
That, indeed, is the thrust of vv. 28–30, which otherwise can easily degenerate, as the history of interpretation shows, into an abstract theory of personal predestination and salvation. God’s purpose for those in Christ is precisely Christ-shaped. …
Conformity to the Son means, of course, conformity to his death. This is familiar enough elsewhere in Paul (e.g., Phil 3:10–11, a passage very close to the present one in theme and expression). Here it is the major subject of the unit of thought that, beginning with v. 17, reaches its climax in the present verse. It is by reproducing the likeness of the Messiah, not least in suffering and “groaning,” that Paul’s apostolic labor went forward; that is the subject of 2 Corinthians, especially chapters 4 and 6, and it is summarized in other passages such as Col 1:24.
But it is not merely apostles to whom the privilege of sharing the sufferings of the Messiah is granted. It is, in some measure at least, all Christians. Though the last sections of Romans 8 are often (rightly) thought of as triumphant, it should never be forgotten that the triumph is announced and celebrated, with irony and paradox, from the midst of circumstances that would be simply unbearable, were it not for faith in God the life-giver, and for the hope and above all the love that accompany this 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), 602.
In fact, one goal, perhaps the primary goal, of sanctification is to transform the Christian more and more into the image of Christ. And so although Paul doesn’t use the word “sanctification,” the concept is very much in this passage.
It’s helpful to me to note the parallels with —
(2 Cor. 3:17-18 ESV) 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The Spirit transforms use into the image of Jesus from “one degree of glory to another.” We begin in glory and we conclude in far greater glory — all from the Spirit as we become more and more like Jesus.
Comprehended within the concept of “image” are the ideas that Christians, being restored to dominion over the Creation per Gen 1:26-28, are kings and queens themselves — which only makes sense if we’re enthroned with Jesus per Eph 2:6. And more subtly, “image” includes the concept of being priests who serve God in his temple. Much of the language of Gen 2 is priestly/temple language.
We see pointers in the Torah in this direction —
(Deut. 14:1-2 ESV) “You are the sons of the LORD your God. You shall not cut yourselves or make any baldness on your foreheads for the dead. 2 For you are a people holy to the LORD your God, and the LORD has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.”
(Exod. 19:5-6 ESV) 5 “Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; 6 and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
— which is picked up in the Revelation —
(Rev. 5:9-10 ESV) 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, 10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”
Now, the challenge here is to understand that this means for us today. I mean, it sounds really nice and all, but if we’re all kings and queens, then who do we get boss around? After all, the damned will be destroyed. Who’s left?
The answer is that a king that reigns as Jesus reigns does not rule by power or compulsion. Rather, like Jesus, our royal role is to die for others, to wash the feet of Judas Iscariot, to walk the second mile, to turn the other cheek, and to carry a cross. This is the nature of Jesus’ kingship, and it’s to this sort of rule that we’ve been called.