Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The two stages of sonship--in us

I've been arguing (in the past few posts) that Romans 1:3-4 is all about the resurrection transition in Jesus from flesh to Spirit, from a natural human kingship to a glorified and exalted human kingship, from participation in this age to his present experience and enjoyment of the prerogatives of the age to come. Romans 1:3-4 is a contrast between two stages in Jesus' humanity, not a contrast between his human and divine natures.

This is important, I've been trying to say, because... this two-stage pattern in Christ is one which we were intended to share, as Romans 8 makes clear. Unlike Jesus, we are not both human and divine. However, like Jesus, we are human; indeed, he shows us what it means to be truly human in his movement from the fleshly stage to the Spiritual stage at his resurrection from the dead.

It is important, then, not to lose the connection between what happens to Jesus here and what happens to believers later in Romans 8. In brief, both the flesh/Spirit contrast and the two-stage sonship/kingship (remember, "Son of God" in the OT is a kingship title) are there applied to those who belong to Christ! Moreover, the final transition from one stage (flesh) to the next (Spirit) happens at the same point for believers as it did for Jesus: at their resurrection from the dead.

Let's take the sonship connection first, which is perhaps most clear. On the one hand, believers are already "sons of God":
For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For... you have received a spirit of sonship (Rom 8:15-15)
Yet our present sonship points beyond itself to, well, being sons of God in power:
For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God...(Rom 8:19).
So much could be said here, but it will suffice for the moment simply to note that language usually reserved for the Lord Jesus and those waiting for him at his return ("revealing," "eager longing") is here applied--in the plural--to believers ("sons of God"). Together with the OT usage of "son of God" (to refer to a king), this is the strongest argument for not taking "son of God" in Paul as a way of referring to the divine nature. Human kingship is in view, in two stages: an initial stage followed by its full consummation. It happened this way with Jesus. It happens this way with us.

And the point of transition in both cases is resurrection! We've already seen that in Rom 1:3-4. Now note this passage in Rom 8, in which the same pattern is applied to us:
...we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved (Rom 8:23b-24a).
We're already sons of God, but we're waiting for our final adoption as sons, which is here identified with resurrection, "the redemption of our bodies." This is an astounding hope. Indeed, Paul goes so far as to say that it was "in this hope we were saved." According to Paul, our Christian hope is to share in the human kingship which Jesus now enjoys in his resurrected and glorified human body!

Much more could (and will) be said about that literally, glorious hope. But it's worth noting at this point that, like Jesus in his earthly life, we're not simply waiting for sonship/kingship. We may not be sons of God in power yet, but we are already sons of God (kings). We've already been anointed, even if we haven't received our full inheritance. Already we see the kind of "already" and "not yet" that Russell Moore is referring to in his book.

And in the next post I'll discuss how that present Spirit anointing is related to the transition from flesh to Spirit that we, like Jesus, were destined to make.

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3 Comments:

At 11:55 AM, Blogger Mark Traphagen said...

This is very exciting stuff, Bill! I think your take on the meaning of 'Son of God' in Romans is a slam dunk. The comparisons you made later in the book pretty much seal it.

The implications for all this are important pastorally. I'm in the middle of some relationships right now with fellow believers who seem to feel that they must constantly view and reveal themselves as "sinners" before anything else. They have almost no sense of being "kings" (i.e., sons of God). What a difference that would make in their lives!

 
At 12:25 PM, Blogger B-Wildered said...

Thanks for pointing out the pastoral implications! How many of us use our son-of-God inheritance as encouragement (for ourselves or others) to fight against sin and persevere in suffering? Yet this is precisely what Paul is doing in the most famous 'comfort verse' of them all: "We know that God works all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose" (Rom 8:28). In context the working all things together for good is precisely our conformity to the image of God's son "in order that he might be the first-born among many brothers." We persevere in suffering (in this case) because our inheritance will make it more than worth it in the end! Paul makes this move constantly in his writings. Do we?

 
At 8:42 PM, Blogger P. Douglas said...

I've been arguing (in the past few posts) that Romans 1:3-4 is all about the resurrection transition in Jesus from flesh to Spirit, from a natural human kingship to a glorified and exalted human kingship, from participation in this age to his present experience and enjoyment of the prerogatives of the age to come. Romans 1:3-4 is a contrast between two stages in Jesus' humanity, not a contrast between his human and divine natures.

I don't understand. I see no grounds for your assertion. Christ was, with respect to His human nature, a descendent of David, while at the same time, the first Son of God – which His resurrection, made possible by the Holy Spirit, attested to.

This is important, I've been trying to say, because... this two-stage pattern in Christ is one which we were intended to share, as Romans 8 makes clear. Unlike Jesus, we are not both human and divine. However, like Jesus, we are human; indeed, he shows us what it means to be truly human in his movement from the fleshly stage to the Spiritual stage at his resurrection from the dead.

We are in fact like Jesus: both human and divine. What do you think the following scripture means?

John 10

31 Again the Jews picked up stones to stone him,
32 but Jesus said to them, “I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?”
33 “We are not stoning you for any of these,” replied the Jews, “but for blasphemy, because you, a mere man, claim to be God.”
34 Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’?
35 If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and the Scripture cannot be broken–
36 what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?
Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God's Son’?


Christ effectively said in the scripture above, "Why do you say I blaspheme when it is written in your law, 'I have said you are gods’? If God called to whom the word of God came, 'gods', how much more God is the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?''

The fact of the matter is that we are God like Christ. Christ is simply the first one among us, and is superior to all of us. Christ was the God among us who was set apart for the construction of the first creation, and for the salvation of us, His brothers, who were born into poverty so as to be tested and purified through suffering. However, all the elect (or more specifically, portions of all the elect) came into being from the beginning of all things, since those who have faith are eternal just like the Father. (Note: those who have faith become eternal like the Father through the joining of their eternal counterparts or images, who give us our eternal nature.)

One final thing: a son of God is God, just like the offspring of a horse is a horse, and the offspring of an owl is an owl. When we have faith, we are born of the Father and of the Holy Spirit (who is sometimes referred to as the Mother), the same way Christ is born of the Father and of the Holy Spirit (1 John 5:18).

 

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