New stages--in more ways than one
Well, summer is over as far as the Wilder family is concerned. Despite at least one son's gallant attempt to delay its onset by refusing to think or talk about it ("No, Dad, I don't know my teachers' names; school hasn't started yet!"), the school year began today.
On this one I'm with my youngest daughter..., for whom the beginning of school has been the latest countdown in her life (following the grandest countdown of them all, her birthday in July). I'm glad school is here! It means a return to routine, not least family breakfast and devotion time before we all head off into our days. It's good to have the family all back together again and settled in for the fall.
School begins for me in another way as well this week. The University of Virginia begins classes on Wednesday and that means that Center for Christian Study ministry will soon be in full swing. Indeed, it's really already begun. Our Move-In Day luncheon was on Saturday, so the building was packed with hundreds of first-year students with parents and family. Drew Trotter begins his film lecture series tonight (2001: A Space Odyssey) and both the Graduate and Darden Christian Fellowships have their opening picnics. So we're off and running!
But let me pause long enough to say a few more words about Romans 1 and 8, a bit of an extended aside in my ongoing discussion of Russell Moore's book, The Kingdom of Christ. Moore notes that a consensus is emerging among evangelical scholars with respect to the kingdom of God, a consensus which has huge implications for how we understand both our present and our future.
In short, the kingdom of God has already arrived in Christ and will, at his second coming, fully arrive in the holistic restoration of our bodies and creation that his resurrection already anticipates. In this discussion of Romans 1 and 8 I'm trying to put a little flesh (pardon the pun) on the bare bones framework I've been summarizing from Moore.
By way of reminder, here's a summary of the contrast we've been discussing from Romans 1:3-4:
Son (of God).............................Son of God
From the seed of David..........From the resurrection of the dead
According to the flesh.............According to the Spirit of holiness
I've argued that the sonship ("Son of God") in view here does not refer to Jesus being the second person of the Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of the Father (though he certainly is). In this passage the title "Son of God" seems to refer to Jesus' human kingship (that's what "son of God" meant in the relevant OT passages, especially 2 Samuel 7:14 and Ps 2), the very kind of kingship we'll enjoy with him when he returns (see my earlier discussion on the meaning of "son[s] of God" in Romans 8).
In other words, Jesus was already an heir to a throne by reason of natural birth ("son from the seed of David"); surprisingly, he came into that inheritance by reason of his resurrection, at which point he sat at the right hand of God and received full human rule over the universe. This is not at all to deny that Jesus was and always had been fully divine; it is simply to say that what was new from the time of his resurrection was his distinctively human rulership over all things. And it is that human rulership which we hope, as those united with him, to share!
This brings us then to the flesh/Spirit contrast in Jesus and in us. For Jesus there was a transition from flesh to Spirit, a transition from a normal human existence marked by birth into the line of David to a glorified existence capable of cosmic rulership at the right hand of God. Romans 8 suggests that a similar transition from flesh to Spirit is supposed to take place--indeed, has already begun to take place!--within us (those who have been united with Christ) as well.
It is important, first of all, to note (once again) that the contrast between flesh and Spirit is not a contrast between the human and divine natures or, for that matter, between the material and the non-material. It isn't so much a contrast between two natures or realms as it is a contrast between two different ages or times.
So there's the age of the flesh, as it were, and the age of the Spirit. The new age has already begun in Christ, who has already entered the age of the Spirit. Most of the rest of the world continues living in the age of the flesh, as if nothing had happened. Believers are, by definition, those who have already entered into the age of the Spirit (or had it enter into them) and are leaving the age of the flesh behind.
So how do we know that "flesh" and "Spirit" have to do with ages and times (or even stages) and not with different natures (human and divine, material and non-material)? Mainly from the way in which the Spirit is identified with that fundamental mark of the new age: resurrection! In Romans 1:4 the Spirit-anointing of Jesus as the king/son of God in power takes place at the time of his resurrection from the dead.
Likewise, believers are assured in Romans 8 that "if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you" (v.11). The Spirit thus plays the same role in our lives and bodies as it did in Jesus' human life and body.
The same idea is present a little later in Romans 8 when Paul refers to our participation in the coming restoration of creation, by the agency of the Holy Spirit: "...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies" (v.23). Here again the Spirit is identified with our coming resurrection, though admittedly it is already present in us, beginning the inward work of transformation which anticipates and guarantees the future outward completion of that work.
Once the role of the Spirit in the coming restoration is understood--what Gerhaardus Vos called "the eschatological conception of the Spirit"--, then it makes sense to use "Spirit" as a kind of shorthand for this coming age. One's mind is meant to go back to all the prophecies in the Old Testament where the Spirit is the hallmark of the coming age (Joel 3, Ezek 11:19; 36:27, etc.). By way of contrast, then, the "flesh" comes to stand for this present age, marked as it is by weakness and perishability and, indeed, sin.
The question, then, for believers is whether they intend to live according to the age of the Spirit, which has begun--quite literally in the resurrected Christ--or whether they intend to deny their assumed union with him by living in the 'old-fashioned' manner, according to the flesh. It is in this way that "flesh" and "Spirit" begin to have ethical implications in the present.
But I've said enough for today. Next time I'll comment on the ethical implications of the flesh/Spirit contrast. This is, after all, one of the ways in which this whole understanding of the kingdom of God bears on the present.
Then I hope to return, at least for a little bit, to Moore's book...
Categories: Romans, Flesh, Spirit, Eschatology