NT Wright on Prayer & Holiness


I’ve been reading N.T. Wright’s book, After you Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. I keep returning to his discussion of Romans 8:12-17. Absolutely beautiful! My systematic theology professor, use to say our generation had one of the most under-developed eschatological visions ever. N.T. Wright is out to change that.


After You Believe, p. 93-95. (Harper One, 2010, paperback)

So the telos, the “goal” of being “glorified” over the creation, is to be anticipated in the present by replacing the slave-habits of mind, heart and body with freedom-habits—habits that both share in God’s freedom themselves and bring that freedom to the world. That is, more or less, what Paul understands by holiness or sanctification, the learning in the present of the habits which anticipate the ultimate future. But that sovereign and redemptive rule of renewed humans over God’s world is also anticipated in the present time through prayer.

The whole creation, he says, is groaning in labor pains, longing for the birth of the new creation from the womb of the old (8.22). We ourselves, within that creation, find ourselves growing as we await our own “adoption as sons and daughters, the redemption of our bodies” (8.23) But precisely in that state, as we are longing for and anticipating the final “glorification,” the Spirit is also at work within us, “groaning without words,” and thus enabling us, even when we don’t know what to pray for as we ought, nevertheless to be interceding for the whole world (8.26-27). This essentially priestly vocation, standing before God with his whole creation on our hearts, joins up with the vision of royal sovereignty over creation, and is one of its key aspects. This passage offers one of the strangest but also most moving descriptions in the whole New Testament of what the Christian understands by prayer: the inarticulate groaning in which the pain of the world is felt most keenly at the point where it is also being brought, by the Spirit, in the very presence of God the creator. This is central, in the present time, to the entire human vocation. Learning this language is the second key habit which forms the pathway to the eventual goal, the goal of “royal priesthood.”

In other words, the present anticipation of the future glory consists not in lording it over creation, imagining ourselves already its masters, able to tyrannize it and bend it to our will. It consist, rather, in the humble, Christlike, Spirit-led activity of prayer, the prayer in which the love of God is poured into our hearts by the Spirit (5.5) so that the extraordinary and almost unbelievable hope that is set before us is nevertheless firm and secure (5.1-5; 89.28-30). Thus, at the heart of arguable the greatest chapter of certainly his greatest letter, Paul sets out the pattern of present anticipation of future hope. This is what virtue is all about. The hope is that all those who are “in Christ’ and are indwelt by the Spirit will eventually reign in glory over the whole creation, thereby taking up at long last the role commanded for humans in Genesis 1 and Psalm 8 and sharing the inheritance, and the final rescuing work, of the Messiah himself, as in Psalm 2. And if that is the telos, the goal, it is to be anticipated in the present by the settled habits of holiness and prayer.