A Comedy of Errors, a Tragedy of Mistaken Identities (cont’d.)
What if “the forbearance of God” in “passing over the penalties of sins which occurred before” Christ’s resurrection (Rom. 3:25), like the other virtues with which forbearance/tolerance (anechomai/anoche) is associated—kindness, patience, amenableness, humility, love, peace, blessing others, pitying and tender compassions, dealing graciously, enduring persecutions, not reviling in return, not threatening others, not avenging oneself (Rom. 2:3-6; 1 Cor. 4:12; Eph. 4:1-3; Col. 3:12-15; 2 Thess. 1:3-10; Rom. 12:17-21; Gal. 5:22-6:2; 1 Pet. 2:20-25, 3:8-18)—is of one piece with the justness (dikaiosune) displayed by God at Christ’s resurrection, although, to be sure, the latter overwhelmingly transcends all the former in magnitude?
In sum, what if God did not need to “pay back” or “hang in effigy” those earlier sinners to “show His hatred for sin,” since He’d devised a way to pay back the Sinned-Against so as to swallow up any deserved wrath by overwhelming graciousness…abundant enough to cover the sins of “the current era” (Rom. 3:26) in the bargain (getting raised from the dead is such sweet revenge)?
Thus, what if Paul is here unveiling God’s premial rationale: a resurrectionary act of justice that packs enough punch to fund all that historic forbearance in “passing over” past sins (all of which were committed not only against the Father, out of Whom are all things, but also against the Son, through whom all things were made—John 1:1-5; Rom. 11:33-36 1 Cor. 8:6; Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:15-20; Heb. 1:2-3, 2:10-11, 11:2; 1 John 1:1-9), namely, by bestowing resurrectionary justice that awarded the divine Victim directly (instead of penal justice to punish him indirectly, as a mere substitute)—a rationale equally applicable “in the current era,” and which would render God most eminently just?
What if integral distributive justice must encompass both penal and premial/restorative facets—in other words, it is double-edged or symmetrical, congruent with God’s curse/blessing sanctions in the Old Covenant?
What if, in Romans 2:32, 5:16,18, and 8:4, dikaioma (whose ancient meaning has been very diversely rendered: “righteousness,” “act of righteousness,” “act of uprightness,” ”righteous act,” “righteous deed,” “establishment of righteousness,” “accomplished righteousness,” “recovery of righteousness,” “righteous result,” “righteous judgment,” “judgment,” “judicial decision,” “righteous sentence,” “sentence,” “sentence of absolution,” “verdict,” “justification,” “justifying,” “God’s approval,” “undeserved gift of ‘Not guilty’,” “acquittal,” “declaration of ‘Righteous’,” “right standing,” “establishment of right,” “establishing of right,” “re-establishing of the right,” “restoration of the right,” “amendment of a wrong,” “legal ordainment of the law,” “legal claim of the law,” “legal deed of right,” “plea of right,” “pleadings,” “document [in a suit],” “fulfilling of the law,” “legitimate claim,” “righteous award,” “righteous demands,” “righteous requirement,” “just requirement,” “duty,” “God’s standards,” “God’s law,” “ordinance,” “decree”—so much for consensus!) can be narrowed by its cultural sitz im leben and these particular contexts to its forensic sense of the just due judicially decreed by law to recompense a defendant’s deed(s)—whether penalty or reward, depending on the criminal deserts or legitimate claims of the individual defendant (hupodikos, Rom. 3:19), according to God’s judgment, such that Paul’s meaning here may most accurately be distilled as “just deserts,” which in Christ’s particular case (not being liable to lawful penalty) would equate to legal damages, i.e., a “just award,” conferred in his favor?
And hence, what if God’s integral Covenant justice (i.e., both penal retribution and premial restitution) is designed to play out as punishments/curses for the sinners who deserve those, but also as rewards/blessings for the righteous/just who deserve those, as the case may be?
What if, instead of giving Christ “what we deserved,” at the cross, God gave him what he himself deserved, at the resurrection, thereby both reversing fortunes and sharing the bounty?
Conversely, what if God, with His Son’s uncoerced prior agreement, strategically authorized (John 10:17-18) him to suffer from Satan what he did not deserve, precisely so He could unload His ultra-compensating premial justice on that single flawless Covenant-keeper who ever lived?
What if God graciously includes us, the undeserving, in the Covenant blessings that the Covenant-keeping Savior exclusively deserved, by means of the graphic rite of water baptism?
What if Paul’s characteristic “in Christ” language is baptismal imagery, referring to the entire creation-renovating contents of our salvation-of-such-proportions policy package (Heb. 2:5) into which we get immersed, namely, the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11, 28:19; Mark 1:7-8, 16:14-20; Luke 3:16; John 1:32-34; Acts 1:4-5, 2:38-39, 8:14-17, 9:17-19, 10:37-48, 11:15-18, 16:30-34, 19:2-6, 22:16; Gal. 3:26-29; Rom. 6:3-4; 1 Cor. 12:13; Eph. 4:3-5; Col. 2:9-13; 1 Pet. 3:18-22), the down payment of the future complete inheritance in Christ (Eph. 1:13-14), so human options reduce down to either live in Christ or die in Sin?
What if Jesus came to baptize both in the Holy Spirit (the just-award of premial justice) and in fire (the punishment of penal justice) because he was specified by God to be Judge of the living and the dead (Matt. 3:7-12; Luke 3:16-17; Acts 10:42, 17:31; John 5:21-22; Rom. 2:16; 2 Tim. 4:1,8; 1 Pet. 4:5-6)?
What if the Holy Spirit just so happens to testify to these factors as well (John 16:7-11)?
What if grace characterizes God’s premial justice, even as wrath characterizes His penal justice?
What if Christ never got “punished in our place,” yet we do get rewarded in his place, as portrayed by baptismal inclusion in his wrongful death and compensating rightful resurrection?
What if Jesus, by getting baptized by John although he had no sin to repent from or get forgiven for, was not identifying with our sin, but with our plight as sinners, in effect saying, “I’m all in!” and so joining us in our deserved judgment ordeal, which for him was undeserved and would be super-compensated when God justified him by a vast overflow of life-making Spirit to baptize us?
What if Christ, on the cross, was “identifying with” neither the guilt of sinners, nor their sin itself, nor their deserved punishment, yet now indeed does welcome all sinners to “identify with” his own undeserved death and well-deserved resurrection, by means of faith and baptism?
What if the Bible’s angle on Atonement should be characterized not as “penal substitution,” but as “premial inclusion,” so aptly depicted by water baptism and realized in Spirit baptism?
~~ To be continued ~~