Saturday, February 6, 2010

Isaiah’s New Creation and the Gospel

We were privileged to have Dr. Darrell Bock, Research Professor of New Testament and Professor for Spiritual Development and Culture at Dallas Seminary, as a visiting lecturer at Liberty University this past week. In his lecture to the seminary students and faculty, Bock discussed the issues surrounding the New Perspectives on Paul and particularly the debate over justification between N.T. Wright and John Piper. In agreement with Wright, Bock argued that justification is primarily a legal and forensic term where the believer is declared to be "righteous" in God's law court, in contrast to Piper's view that justification involves the moral imputation of Christ's righteousness to the believer. Bock believes that the moral imputation of righteousness has more to do with sanctification and the Spirit's work in the life of the believer than the act of justification itself. Bock also stated that he believed the weakness of Wright's position in the debate is that he has not properly developed the role of the Spirit in the working out of salvation. More important than the critique of Wright and Piper was Bock's discussion of the nature of the Gospel itself. Bock stressed that we have diminished the gospel message by reducing salvation to a transaction that delivers us from the death penalty of sin and the punishment of hell. In Bock's words, "what jazzed Paul about the Gospel" is the promise that God has accepted us by his grace and that graces changes us into a new creation, indwelled and empowered by the Spirit to reflect Christ in the way that we live our lives (cf. Rom 1:16; 2 Cor 5:16-20). More than simply saving us from hell, the Gospel is that we have new life in Christ.

Paul's use of new creation imagery from the Old Testament reflects the radical nature of this new life given to us in Christ. The Old Testament prophets often present the kingdom era as a time of restoration for Israel. God would restore Israel to their land so that they would enjoy the covenant promises under the rule of a righteous Davidic king (Messiah). At other times, the prophets' view of the future transcends the present order and envisions nothing less than the creation of new heavens and new earth. We find one such vision in Isaiah 65:17-25:

For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy, and her people to be a gladness. I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain or bear children for calamity,for they shall be the offspring of the blessed of the LORD, and their descendants with them. Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall graze together; the lion shall eat straw like the ox, and dust shall be the serpent's food. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain," says the LORD.

We see echoes of this new creation imagery throughout the book of Isaiah (cf. Isa 32:14-18; Isa 41:18-19; Isa 55:12-13; Isa 66:22-23). Nothing could more stress the transformative power of the Gospel than Paul's use of the imagery of New Creation to describe for us what God has done for us in Christ. In his New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ, Thomas Schreiner reflects in several places on the fact that the new creation promised in Isaiah has dawned in Christ.
 

Those who are in Christ Jesus are now a new creation (2 Cor 5:17). …. The new creation is tied to the promise of "the new self" (Eph 4:24), and this new person represents what believers are in Christ instead of what they are in Adam (Rom 5:12-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Believers are a new creation in Christ Jesus and created by God to do good works (Eph 2:10). The 'new creation' language fits with the theme that believers have been regenerated, which is the work of the eschatological Spirit (cf. Titus 3:5) [cf. Isa 44:3; Ezek 11:18-19; Ezek 36:26-27; Joel 2:28] (p. 31).


Because believers are in Christ, they are a new creation (2 Cor 5:17; cf. Eph 2:10) and "sons of God" (Gal 3:26), and they enjoy the blessings of Abraham (Gal 3:14). In other words, being in Christ is an eschatological reality, signifying that God's covenantal promises are theirs. Because of believers' union with Christ, there is "no condemnation" (Rom 8:1), and they are sanctified (1 Cor 1:2). By virtue of union with Christ believers enjoy the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21; cf. Phil 3:9). They have been freed from the power of sin and death because they are united with Christ (1 Cor 1:4), so that they are complete in Christ (Col 2:10) (pp. 316-17).

The new creation is not merely personal and individual but also corporate because God has created a new humanity where the distinction between Jew and Gentile is done away in the body of Christ (cf. Gal 6:15; Eph 2:11-15). In reading the New Testament, we see that Isaiah's promise of a new creation is in fact a "pattern prophecy" fulfilled in successive stages. The new age has arrived (Gal 1:4), but overlaps with the present evil age and is awaiting a final consummation. Schreiner again explains: "Christians live in, so to speak, the 'twilight zone' for they have experienced the saving power of the age to come, and yet they still reside in the present evil age. Even now, Jesus reigns, but the consummation of his rule and the destruction of every enemy has not yet occurred (Eph 1:21; 1 Cor 15:26-28)." (pp. 98-99). The new creation has arrived, but believers await their full redemption from sin and death. The creation itself groans in anticipation of its own redemption (Rom 8:19-22) that will come at the climax of redemptive history when the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven (Rev 21:1-4).

I appreciated Dr. Bock's reminder of the real message of the Gospel and our tendency to make it something far less than it really is. Salvation is more than a transaction, and the Gospel is an invitation to live the new life that God has made possible through our becoming a new creation in Christ. It is impossible to truly believe this message about Jesus and not be changed. Even more importantly, the theme of new creation reminds us of the cosmic significance of the Gospel and that the message of Christ crucified, buried, and risen again is the only real hope for our fallen world.


 

1 comment: