4) Consecration and agape

2.2.4 Consecration and agapê: transformation of the ‘holy People’ theme and its associated motifs

In the Old Testament, God’s holy People are set over against the Gentiles:

  • the People belong to God and are consecrated to his worship
  • The Gentiles who are characterized by idolatry and sexual immorality and are alienated from God

Paul does not abandon this distinction, but sees it in a new light. It is not just that the external worship is ‘spiritualized’, since even in the Old Testament there was an understanding that God required a spiritual as well as a material offering.

The novelty of Paul’s vision is that it is not limited to the religious practices of a particular group,

…but rather the fundamental egosim to which all men are subject, and from which all men are to be delivered only by God’s salvation deed in Christ (cf. 2 Cor 5:15), so consecration, at its deepest level, consists not simply in spearation from the idolatry of the ἔθνε [Gentiles] by membership of an exclusive cultic [worship] community, but in separation from self through the orientation of one’s existence to the other.p.97

2 Cor 5:14-15 reads:

  • For the love of Christ controls us, since we have concluded this:
    • that Christ died for all; therefore all have died.
    • And he died for all so that
      • those who live should no longer live for themselves
      • but for him who died for them and was raised.
    …it is no longer simply a question so substituting ‘spiritual offereings’ (eg. prayers, praise, contrition) for material ones, or of equating certain mements of man’s ethical activity (eg. good deeds, works of mercy, studying the Torah) with material sacrifices. Rather… through the consecration effected by the Holy Spirit in the centre of his personality, his ‘cult’ [worship] must consist in self-offering— ‘presenting for sacrifice’ of the whole of his earthly existence.…”p.97

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The clearest statement of this is Romans 12:1

  • I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your self as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God which is your spiritual worship.
    …which, whatever its exact relation to the preceding chapters of the Letter, is clearly intended to urge upon the Christians of Rome the basic formal demand of their new existence in Christ: self-offering.p.97

The word σῶμα in Paul often refers to a person’s self (as it is translated above and in 1 Cor 9:27, 13:3; Phil 1:20) “…but it cannot be simply reduced to a synonym for self”p.98 There is very often a distinction between the one acting (I/you) and the self (σῶμα), and so self can be the the object of one’s own actions, which in Rom 12:1 implies a kind “…of radical self-detachment, whereby the totality of his existence is given over to God…”p.98 which is his sacrifice.

Note that this is a single sacrifice, “…realised in the core of his personality and therefore involving the whole of his existence; for is consists in detachment from self and orientation of the other.”p.99 An offering of self-relinquishment.

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The difference for Paul between Old Covenant and New Covenant consecration is that;

  • it “…can no longer mean entry into the sphere of the ‘sacral’ through physical separation from the sphere of man’s ordinary existence…”p.99 (it is no longer a matter of clean and unclean foods etc.)
  • It is no longer about belonging to one group “…whose ‘holiness’ depends precisely on its separation from other groups.”p.99 by circumcision, etc.
  • Instead “…man’s relationship to God (ie. his consecration) requires an inward transformation of the person through the removal of egoism—a circumcision of the heart (cf. Rom 2:29; Gal 5:6; Col 2:11; cf. 1 Pet 3:21).”p.99

So God’s People are no longer a separate people insofar as all men are now called into membership of the one People of God. When what

…man’s relationship with God demands of him consists in the sacrifice of self, then, at the deepest level, gthere can be no distinction between religion and morality. It is not that Paul ‘desacralises’ religion: he ‘sacralises’ existence.… Gratuitous self-relinquishment for the sake of the other answers to the total demand of both religion and morality, and so consititues christian holiness.p.100

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Does Paul typically view the self-yeilding of Christ in the context of a sacrifice? The answer is the relationship that Paul sees between Christ’s death and resurrection. The self-giving death is necessary for his resurrection entry into a new sphere such that “he has become… our… holiness” (1 Cor 1:30); and for the communication of the Spirit to Christians which brings us into that sphere. So we can say that: “In Christ crucified and Risen, love and holiness are united.”p.101

Updated 2009-10-20 (build:62) by Andrew Fountain