Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Emasculated Evangelism

Tonight, while going through the argument of St. Paul to the Romans, my students and I stumbled across something that I don't think I've ever fully grasped before.

We started off by talking about how the oikonomia, or pattern, of salvation in Paul's writings doesn't end with either justification or the saying of a Sinner's Prayer. Rather, it starts with God's calling, proceeds to the justification/vindication of the Cross (I am passionately against those who argue that justification happens at the moment of individual belief: it happened at the Cross and in the Resurrection -- Jesus' vindication/justification, of which we take part in through faith and baptism), leads to sanctification (being made into Temples of the holy Spirit), and, finally, glorification -- that is, sharing in God's glory, which was always His intent. Man originally (and Paul seems to mean Adam as a sort of Everyman) "exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things" (1:23)which has caused all to "fall short of the glory of God" (3:23). However, since we have died to Death in Christ's death (appropriated through baptism), we are raised in newness of life to "seek for glory and honor and immortality" through "patience in well-doing" (2:7). This means that any sufferings, whether they are persecutions or the last grasps of Death at dominion over us through sin, are "not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us" (8:18 -- the ESV has "to us" at the end of this verse, which seems to me to miss the point: St. Paul seems to have Mt. Tabor in mind here). This "glory" is none other than the glory we originally spurned and fell short of: the glory of God. That is, man's chief end is to participate in God's glory, which Jesus Himself prayed for in the Gospel of John: "The glory that You have given Me I have given them" (17:22), which was "the glory that I had with You before the world existed" (17:5). Theosis, in other words, is man's telos or goal.

Here's where it gets interesting (as if it wasn't already interesting enough):

St. Paul concludes this section, after talking about how the whole of Creation is waiting to be released into the hands of the glorified "sons" [that is, inheritors, both male and female] of God, by saying that this will be accomplished when we have "the redemption of our bodies" (Rom. 8:23). The resurrection, our ultimate vindication/justification as "sons of God", just as it was Jesus' ultimate vindication ("with power") as Son of God (1:4), is the moment of glorification. "For in this hope we were saved..." Wait, what? What hope? The hope of glorification through resurrection. The hope of the liberation of all Creation through that resurrection, when God will be "all in all" (1 Cor. 15: 28).

How many evangelistic moments include this? I asked my students for a show of hands. None were raised. Mine certainly was not. I was "saved" because I wanted to go to Heaven when I died. I believed Jesus could accomplish that for me (or rather, that He already had). While this is true, in its own way, it isn't the hope that St. Paul is talking about here in Romans 8. Rather, he is talking about something much greater: the death of Death. He is talking about the original purpose of God, not to be clothed in animal skins (Gen. 3:21), but to be clothed in Christ ("put on" Col. 3 and elsewhere), in the "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens" (2 Cor. 5:1 -- possibly Paul's only reference to the virginal conception of Christ). The hope of the Gospel is, in Paul's trenchant phrase, "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27).

We need to change our evangelism. This is the hope in which we are saved: that God will gather all things in heaven and on earth under one Head, even Christ, and fill them with His glory. Hallelujah!

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