Raised for our justification

Raised for our justification

The cross stands near the center of Christian treatments of atonement—and rightly so.

Paul famously proclaims that he resolved to know nothing when he came preaching to the Corinthians except Christ, “and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2).

But the cross is hardly the only aspect of God’s saving work; thus Paul writes in Romans 4:25 that Jesus was

delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Romans 4:25 NIV

In this short post, I want to focus on the last part of the verse.

RESURRECTING JUSTIFICATION

By definition, justification involves the declaration that one has been officially granted the status of “righteous” with regard to God’s covenant. In lay terms, it’s a bit like the pronouncement of “Not guilty!” handed down in court.

Unfortunately, while evangelicals often have some answer for how the cross connects to justification (usually involving some notion of penalty-bearing on our behalf), many accounts of how the resurrection fits in are either unsatisfying or missing altogether.

For this reason, N. T. Wright claims that

There seems to be something about the joining together of resurrection and justification which some of our Western traditions have failed to grasp.

Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision, 219

It’s not that evangelicals think the resurrection is unnecessary. We hear each Easter how if Christ had not been raised, we would still be stuck in our sins and to-be pitied for our misspent faith (1 Cor 15:17-18). It’s just that we rarely get around to addressing what exactly it means to say that Christ was raised “for our justification.”

GOOD ANSWERS TO DIFFERENT QUESTIONS

Instead of answering that question, accounts of the resurrection tend to run as follows:

Christ’s resurrection guarantees our own future resurrection.

True enough (1 Cor 15:20). But this doesn’t offer any explanation of how Jesus rising from the dead is connected to the declaration of us being righteous in the eyes of God.

Christ’s resurrection must be true, or our faith is based on a lie.

Also true. But if your only understanding of justification is that “Jesus paid it all,” then it isn’t clear why his resurrection is required.

After all, if someone paid my student loan debt by writing me into their will, it wouldn’t follow that their resurrection was also needed for my bill to be paid. In this scenario, a death is necessary, but resurrection isn’t.

So too in some evangelical treatments of atonement.

Christ’s resurrection is the vindication (or proof) that he is who he claimed to be, and that his work on the cross was effective.

Yep. But this point confuses the corroboration of atonement with the idea that the resurrection itself is necessary for our justification.

To use an imperfect analogy, that’s like assuming that the corroborating answers in the back of a math textbook are required for 2+2 to equal 4, or for your work in the front of the book to be accurate. (To be clear, I did need those answers—which is why I’m a theologian and not an engineer.)

If Paul had meant merely to highlight that resurrection vindicates Christ’s prior justifying work on our behalf, then he should have written Romans 4:25 differently.

In summary, each one of these answers is true. But each one also fails to explain how Christ was “raised for our justification.”

What is a better answer?

THE STATE OF OUR UNION

In a word, it has to do with “union” or “participation.”

For Paul, Christians have been raised up with Christ, and seated with him in heavenly realms (Eph 2:6) because we have been united with him in his death (Gal 2:20; Rom 6:5). Salvation therefore comes about by being “in Christ” by virtue of faith, as symbolized by baptism, and as brought about the uniting work of the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament highlights this saving union through a variety of metaphors—one of which is marriage. In this legal bond, the two become “one flesh” (Gen 2:24) so that what’s mine is yours, and what’s yours is mine. “But I am talking,” Paul says to the Ephesians, “about Christ and the church” (5:32). Insofar as we have been bound-together by faith with Christ’s broken body, his death is our own death to sin (Rom 8:3; Gal 2:20), and his resurrection is itself our justification. The logic here, however foreign to modern individualists (see here), is that of union.

Sadly, if all we understand about atonement is a sort of penalty-exchange, then we will never know what to do with Romans 4:25, and we will never understand the importance of the resurrection.

(To be clear, I spent just shy of a hundred pages in The Mosaic of Atonement arguing for a particular version of the idea that Christ justly bears the penalty for human sin on our behalf. So I can’t be accused of rejecting that biblical reality.)

But thankfully, there is more to Jesus’ saving work than penalty-bearing.

In the view of Michael Bird, Christ’s resurrection is his “justification”—not because Christ was a sinner in need of saving—but because it is the official declaration that he is, in fact, righteous.

Likewise, Constantine Campbell is right to say that

Believers share in the vindication of Christ’s resurrection by dying and rising with him; they are declared righteous by virtue of their participation in these events.

The Hope of Glory, 338

Union with Christ provides the foundation on which the language of justification and penalty-bearing make sense.

And it explains why Paul can say that Christ was not only “delivered over to death for our sins,” but also “raised to life for our justification.”


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Resurrection and Down Syndrome

Resurrection and Down Syndrome

Last week was Easter.

And in the Gospels course I teach, we spent time reading on the nature of the Resurrection.

As Scripture teaches, Jesus’ resurrected body was both like and unlike his prior one.

It bore deep scars of crucifixion, yet it no longer suffered, died, or was ravaged by disease.  His new body was “glorious” in a sense unlike the mortal one, and it did things—like passing through a locked door—that transcend normal limitations.

In other words, Christ’s resurrection life is physical sans fallenness. Or in the words of N.T. Wright, it is supra-physical.

This becomes even more relevant to us because, according to Paul, the same will happen to our bodies in the Age to Come.

Christ is the “first fruits” of resurrected humanity (1 Cor. 15.20), hence what happened to him will also happen to his people.  As Paul writes in Philippians:

the Lord Jesus Christ … will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body (Php. 3.20–21).

And in 1 Corinthians:

42 So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; 43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; 44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body (1 Cor. 15.42–44).

But what does any of this have to do with Down Syndrome?

WHAT WILL MY SIBLING BE LIKE IN THE RESURRECTION?

In our class discussion, I pointed students to an article written by my friend, Ryan (R.T.) Mullins. He is a PhD theologian from St. Andrews, and his sister (Kelli) has Down Syndrome.

In the article, he interacts with voices from the field of “Disability Theology,” and in particular the theologian Amos Yong.  Like Ryan, Yong’s sibling (Mark) also has Down Syndrome.

But despite a common desire for the church to be more inclusive toward those with disabilities, the two thinkers (Yong and Mullins) come to different views on how the resurrection may transform their loved ones with Down Syndrome.

First, for Yong:

  1. TO ELIMINATE THE DISABILITY IS TO ELIMINATE THE PERSON (YONG)

Following Stanley Hauerwas, Yong contends that to eliminate his brother’s disability would be to eliminate his brother’s unique personhood and personality.  As Yong asks:

If people with Down Syndrome are resurrected without it, in what sense can we say that it is they who are resurrected and embraced by their loved ones?

It would not be a “healing” but a kind of murder.

After all, Down Syndrome is not a “disease” (from which people are “suffer”) but a chromosomal condition that is constitutive of their unique and beautiful humanity.

An analogy might be the extent to which the “XY” chromosomes are constitutive to my identity as biologically male.  To take that away (say, by giving me the “XX” building blocks) would be to erase an important part of who I am—even if it is not the MOST important part.

One strength behind Yong’s point would seem to rest in the sense that many of us have when interacting with persons with Down Syndrome; this involves the feeling that maybe WE are the ones with a “disability” of a different kind—a loss of childlike wonder, a resistance to joy, and a tendency to misplace our pity in ways that dehumanize others.[1]

But I’ll come back to that…

  1. TO ERADICATE A DISABILITY NEED NOT ERASE THE PERSON (MULLINS)

On the other hand, Mullins takes issue with Yong’s extreme assertion (taken from Hauerwas) that “to eliminate the disability is to eliminate the subject.”

As Mullins writes:

I can imagine, perhaps as through a mirror dimly, my sister Kelli without Down Syndrome. This is because she is not identical to her disability. She has various character traits that are shaped by her Down Syndrome, but they are not causally determined by her Down Syndrome.

It is true … that her disability has shaped her personality, but why think that she would need to be continually disabled in order to retain that personality?

A RESURRECTED IMAGINIATION

While there is much more to Mullin’s argument, I want to focus on a single phrase within the quote above: “I can imagine…

Because while Yong’s treatment of disabilities in the Age to Come seems to spring from noble motives, it may also suffer (at least in my view) from a lack of biblical imagination.

Going back to Jesus, we saw that his resurrected body was both “like” and “unlike” his prior one in certain ways. The marks of wounds were there, but now scarred over. The physicality was real but amplified in power.

Perhaps even his appearance was altered. (Which might explain why some who knew him well apparently had trouble recognizing him [Jn. 20.15; Lk. 24.16].)

There is much we do not know about the life to come.

But that ought not quell our sense of hope and possibility.

EMILY WITHIN THE AGE TO COME 

After class, I brought some of these thoughts to the Dean of my department.

Dr. Weeter is himself a theologian, and the father of a daughter (Emily) with Down Syndrome.   Having known Mark and Emily for years, it was not difficult for my mind to wander to what she might be like ten thousand years from now.

After all, the hope of salvation is for everyone.

Is it possible to imagine Emily (and countless others) with all the beautiful aspects of Down Syndrome, without the accompanying trials? I think so.

Gone would be the heart defects, the vision challenges, and hearing loss that so often come with the condition.[2] Yet gone too would be my sense of misplaced pity or superiority when I and other (so-called) “able-bodied” persons sing next to her within the heavenly choir.

Gone might be certain mind-related limitations in both of us.  But who’s to say who might need more transformation. For Paul, the “darkened mind” had nothing to do with ACT scores; and Christ’s words were that “unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18.3).

With that as a pre-requisite for resurrected life, it seems possible that my own transformation from perishable to imperishable may be more dramatic than that of many image-bearers with Down Syndrome.

How recognizable will I be to my loved ones?

Whatever answer there may be to such speculative questions, the hope of Christ remains the same for all:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep [in death], but we shall all be changed (1 Cor. 15.51).

 

 


On the subject of Resurrection, I’ve been loving the new Andrew Peterson album (Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1):


[1] Credit to my student Sam Thomas for bringing up this point in class.

[2] Thanks to Rylee Kelly (a nursing major) for pointing out these accompanying aspects of trisomy-21 in class discussion.

For more on this subject, see:

Amos Yong, Theology and Down Syndrome: reimagining Disability in Late Modernity (Waco, 2007).

R.T. Mullins, “Some Difficulties for Amos Yong’s Disability Theology of the Resurrection,” in Ars Disputandi, Vol. 11 (2011), 24–32.