The third chapter of After You Believe: Why Christian Character Mattersentitled Priests and Rulers is a prime example of why I respect NT Wright. He has a way of taking Biblical themes that I am aware of - ideas that I think I understand - and expanding them to their fullest meaning within the story of God, Israel and the church. Before reading this chapter I could not have done what he does here - namely, to trace the theme from Genesis to Revelation that God's people have the goal of serving as rulers and priests in the ultimate fulfillment of the Kingdom. He shows that the Torah, prophets, psalms, synoptics, Paul, Peter and John all point us to the same central belief:
God created Humans with a two-fold purpose - to worship and reign over creation. Made in his image, Humans reflect God to the rest of nature and respond to him on creation's behalf. The God of love allowed his creation to join him and reign with him, but Humans elected to try to reign apart from God. God called Israel to be a nation of priests and kings in order to get creation back on track. Israel couldn't live up to their side of the covenant though. Though God wanted to return back to the days of Humans reigning with him, Israel faltered. So Jesus comes as the Ultimate Man - the Ultimate Israelite - to announces the Kingdom come - that creation is back on track and things have begun to be right or normal again. Messiah Jesus is King of Kings and the Great High Priest, but like God's original pattern in creation, Jesus shares his priestly and kingly duties with Humans: first his disciples, then the church. Through the Spirit, Humans now move toward our original destiny to rule with God (as kings) and to gather worshippers for him (as priests). The resurrection of Jesus paves the way for life after life after death for all Humans who will one day rule the world in resurrected form. This allows John to conclude the Scriptures in Revelation with imagery of a new heaven and a new earth where the saints reign for and with God. It allows Paul to believe that Humans will one day judge the world and the angels. It allows Jesus to tell his twelve disciples that they will one day sit on twelve thrones as kings and judges. Our destiny is to live, die, live again, and then to give glory to God while ruling creation as those created in his image. The two-fold goal of Humans is to rightly rule creation and worship the Creator.
How does this sort of theological reset apply to Christian character? Wright says it this way as he unpacks Romans 8:
God had promised the Messiah that he would give him the whole world for his inheritance...Now, it appears, this worldwide "inheritance" is to be shared with all of Messiah's people. That is what Romans 8:18-30 is all about. But if they are called to be God's free and freedom-bringing people, then they must learn to live as God's free people, giving up the habit of slavery - yes, slavery is as much a habit of mind as a physical state - and learning the art of responsible, free living. To put it another way, if these people are to take redemptive responsibility for the whole of creation, they must anticipate that by taking redemptive responsibility, in the present time, for that one bit of creation over which they have the most obvious control - namely, their own bodies.
Herein lies my personal breakthrough this week. If I really believed that the entire story of creation is going to lead to a point where I am one of the ones entrusted to reign with God...I had better start practicing now with what little authority I have. I had better begin to anticipate my future position by learning better how to control, discipline and "rule" my body. I think this understanding truly opened the door to the answer of the book's subtitle - Why Christian Character Matters.
My character matters because I am going to be around for a long, long time after I die...and I'm going to have authority with God (somehow) over a part of the new heaven and new earth.
Another way I have thought of it this week is this: If I knew for certain that I would be elected President of the United States in 2024, what would I be learning and doing (and not doing) today and tomorrow to prepare? Who would I be spending my time with? What practices or situations might I avoid? How would I change my character?
It would appear that based upon the Scriptures, those who follow Christ should be anticipating a position higher than President in the future. Who you are becoming matters forever.