Faith and Gospel
I googled “what is the gospel” and came up very quickly with some simple lists, steps, and answers. I wanted to see how the requirement of faith is generally brought into a gospel scheme. Here is one that is rather typical:
1) God is holy, 2) we are hopeless sinners, 3) Christ died and rose again for sinners, and 4) this great salvation is enjoyed by faith in Christ.
In other words, for a person to be accepted by God they must conclude that there is a God, that he is singular, that he is separate from the evils of human character, that we are accountable to him for our evils, that our situation with him is hopeless, but that he gave us Christ and that having faith in Christ causes him to forgive us.
If a human being does not come to all of these realizations, she will be exiled forever to a place of gloom or, worse, possibly a place of unending pain.
Never mind that in some versions God supplies us with faith and we do not have to achieve it on our own. I say “never mind” because in these auto-faith theologies, still the majority of human beings will not believe. Therefore, God deliberately dooms the majority of people by not supplying them with faith.
Never mind that in some versions God wants to save everybody but refuses to override our free will. I say “never mind” because these theologies say God holds us victim to our own childish ignorance and does not intervene as a parent should, incessantly showing us a better way and wooing us toward it.
What I want to question in this series of posts is that last part of the gospel equation above: “this great salvation is enjoyed by faith in Christ.” The preposition “by” is most readily understood as instrumental. The cause or instrument of our salvation is us meeting the condition of possessing “faith in Christ.”
This seems to be derived from the Bible itself. I hope to show it is not. Instead of “faith in Christ,” the Bible says the instrumental cause of our salvation is “the faithfulness of Christ.”
Is it Our Faith or Messiah’s Faithfulness?
Is it that our ability to have faith stirs God to save us? Is faith the right answer to the divine test? Does God wait for us to believe and then reward us with salvation?
Or is it that Messiah’s faithfulness reveals God’s goodness and demonstrates to us that God can and will save us?
Obviously, I think it is the latter. In a recent post, I stated that Romans 5:1 should be, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faithfulness [Messiah’s, not ours], we have peace with God through our Lord Messiah Yeshua.”
A commenter named Phil said I should look back into Romans 4 for context and:
Paul’s topic was NOT “look at how faithful God has been in Christ,” but rather “look at how God responds when men trust Him.” And that’s why all the translations posit that we’re justified by faith: OUR faith, not Jesus’. They’re reading the context. You’re not. Sorry, Derek, but you’re simply and completely wrong.
Am I wrong? Have I adopted some sort of overly hopeful theology? I don’t think so. And to be clear, I am not saying that faith, believing in God and Messiah, is without purpose. Faith is crucial. As I will explain, it is not a condition of God accepting us. Rather, it is the precondition of our own happiness and wholeness.
But let’s not get there yet. Let’s begin to un-see the “you must believe for God to save you” idea and start seeing the “God’s Messiah came and was faithful to the point of living out your human condition, experiencing the same death you experience, and defeating it to show you why you can trust God to save you.”
Bible Translation, Faith, and Faithfulness
Step one. Realize that English translations of the Bible have created a bias in you. You’ve seen it the “faith in Christ” way for so long, it will be an uphill battle to get you to re-see it as “the faithfulness of Christ.” In grammatical terms, the standard translation “faith in Christ” is called the objective genitive. “The faithfulness of Christ” is the subjective genitive.
Step two. Realize that the Greek word pistis πίστις usually means “faithfulness” in Greek literature as a whole. Interpreters have often justified rendering it faith/belief assuming that in a religious context it could have a different connotation. Note that there is a theological bias against the idea of faithfulness and in favor of faith. But consider the Bible as a whole and the importance of faithfulness (human and divine) as a concept.
Context and Romans 5:1
Step three. Take a look at the immediate context of Romans 5:1. The verse right before it says:
. . . Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.
So, in Romans 5:1, when Paul says, “we have been justified by faithfulness,” we can argue he is referring to Messiah’s faithfulness which was just referenced in the preceding verse. The thought sequence of Romans 4:24-5:1 could be read like this:
- Messiah was delivered up (allowed to be crucified by the Romans).
- Messiah was raised up (from the tomb, from death, into eternal resurrected life).
- Our “justification” (rightness with God) comes from these Messianic accomplishments.
- Therefore, we have been justified by faithfulness (Messiah’s faithfulness).
The commenter I mentioned earlier, Phil, wants us to follow a different order of thought. He wants us to reference the ability of Abraham to believe God’s promise, which was the topic of chapter 4 right up to verse 24. Phil wants us to skip over the thought of vs. 25, which is the actual immediate context of Romans 5:1. He wants us to conclude that “we have been justified by a faith like the kind Abraham had.”
Well, interestingly, “justification” is attached to Messiah’s deeds in Romans 4:25 not to Abraham’s faith. The one possible objection someone like Phil could raise is Romans 4:5, which says, “to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
Looking at Romans 4:5, someone might say, “See? Faith causes justification.” But that is not what Romans 4:5 says. It says “faith is counted as righteousness.” I agree. But the verse does not say “faith causes justification.” It merely says “God justifies the ungodly.”
When we get to justification language in Romans 4:25, we see that the things Messiah experienced were the cause of our justification. Messiah died and rose so we can be justified. “Therefore, we have been justified by faithfulness.”
My case is far from complete. I have plenty more to say. All I want to argue here is that the “justification” in Romans 5:1 comes right after Paul says Messiah’s deeds bring about justification. They do not say “our faith” or “Abraham’s faith” brought it about.
- Faith Terminology in Paul #2
- Romans 1:16-17 and justification by the faithfulness of Messiah.
- Faith Terminology in Paul #3
- Romans 3:22 and righteousness by the faithfulness of Messiah for all who believe.
- Faith Terminology in Paul #4
- Faith as a precondition of our happiness, not a prerequisite of salvation.