I want to talk this morning about ‘faith.’[i]
It's a word that crops up a fair bit in the letter to the Romans.
It’s a word that crops up a fair bit when we talk about being a Christian.
Being a Christian is about having faith,
and having faith specifically in Jesus Christ.
It is faith, according to Paul, that justifies us.
We are justified by faith.
We are saved by faith.
Faith is a big deal.
It is at the heart of the Christian life.
There’s been a debate that’s been going over 30 years now
amongst New Testament scholars about faith.
The debate has been about whose faith are we talking about
when we read certain verses in Paul’s letters.
Is it our faith or is it Christ’s faith?
One of those verses is Romans 3.22,
which as you read it your Bible says:
‘This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’
What you may notice is the small ‘h’ after the word ‘in’ which takes you to a footnote at the bottom of the page and gives you an alternative way of translating the verse:
‘This righteousness is give through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ
to all who believe.’
The original NIV translation didn’t provide that footnote, but it’s been included now, showing that there is now a real debate over how to read this verse and others like it.
The traditional ‘faith in Jesus Christ’ still dominates,
although the King James Version has ‘the faith of Jesus Christ.’
Historically up to the Great Reformer Martin Luther all Bible translations rendered the phrase ‘faith of Jesus Christ’, since Martin Luther nearly all Bible translations have spoken of ‘faith in Jesus Christ.’[ii]
Why there is a debate and why you have two possible versions is that the Greek does not tell us whether the faith belongs to Christ or to us,
It is left undefined.
What difference does it make? Why does this matter?
Well I want to suggest it makes a big difference
because at its heart it addresses the question how are we saved?
The gospel that Paul proclaims
is one which focuses on the faithfulness of Christ,
what we might call Christ’s fidelity, his obedience:
In chapter 5 he says:
‘through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous’ (Rom 5.19)
and in Philippians he says:
‘he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross’ (Phil 2.8)
The faithfulness of Christ is most clearly demonstrated in the cross.
Where the rest of humanity is disobedient,
is under the power of sin and death
is helpless, ungodly and enemies of God (Romans 3.9; 5.6, 7, 10)
Christ comes in order to suffer and die
for our salvation
and this is an act of obedience, of faithfulness and love.
What Christ does is also an act of God, who sends, and does not spare
his own Son out of love for us (Romans 8.32).
The gospel is good news because Christ saves us.
Christ liberates us, frees us, delivers us
through his faithfulness, not our faith.
This is what we mean by grace.
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
and (says Paul)
all are justified, i.e. saved, freely by his grace
through the redemption that came by Jesus Christ (Romans 3.22-24).
This act of salvation is grace all the way down.
And this means it is:[iii]
Unconditional – it doesn’t come with any terms and conditions
Boundless – it is not limited to a particular people group; instead there are no limits on its reach
Undeserving – it is given without concern for merit or worth
and as such it is
Generous – it is a gift of love
Creative – this is a new birth, this is a transformation
Effective – it does what it claims; we really are free
One of the places Paul is clearest on this is in Ephesians:
For it is by grace you have been saved,
Through faith –
And this is not from yourselves,
It is the gift of God …
For we are God’s handiwork,
Created in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2.8, 10)
The words ‘through faith’ means the faithfulness of Christ,
that is God’s all-surpassing gift.
What of our faith?
Am I saying our faith doesn’t matter?
By no means! (as Paul might say)
But our faith
it is a consequence of our salvation,
it is a product of grace.
There’s a story of a priest coming to see a theologian on a personal matter
which eventually boiled down to the priest saying
‘The problem is, Dr. Barth, I’ve lost my faith;’
to which the theologian, Karl Barth replied,
‘but what on earth gave you the impression it was yours to lose?’[iv]
It might be better to speak not our faith
but our sharing in Christ’s faith.
It is not I believe and so I am saved,
It is I am saved, and so I believe.
There is no ‘if-then’ to the gospel,
such as: if you believe, or if you repent, then you are …
but rather ‘because-therefore’
because you recipients of grace or objects of mercy, therefore
you already are ….[v]
Faith is not a feeling, it is an attitude of trust,
a form of knowing and being known,
a life of faithfulness.
Faith comes from our sharing in the life of Christ
It is a fruit of the Holy Spirit who draws us into the life of Christ
We are saved through faithfulness for faithfulness (Romans 1.17).
When we start to understand faith as first belonging to Christ
and the a gift to us,
it should alter the way we see ourselves and
the way we approach evangelism.
In terms of ourselves
We should not think too highly of ourselves.
We should not made the difference between us and those who are not Christians too big.
We should see ourselves only as those who have been woken up to what God has done in Christ.
We are all addicted to Sin,
We are those who are in rehab … in God’s hospital the church:
‘There for the grace of God go I’
We have not healed ourselves,
We have not conquered our addiction,
We have been and are being freed from our addiction.
Grace has found us
and we now walk and breath the fresh air of new life in the Holy Spirit
but Sin continues to tempt us and call us back to our previous life.[vi]
In terms of evangelism
Our role is simply to be witnesses to a life free of addiction.
Too often evangelism is done by trying to convince people
over and over that they are a sinner and should believe in Jesus
as if a person is able just to decide ‘I believe.’
The more faithful way to evangelise is befriend people,
to not see them as objects for conversion,
but as those loved by God,
as those for whom Christ died and rose.
We live in ways that are sensitive to others,
at the same time without pretending to be something we are not.
The opposite of evangelism is make our Christian life so private that it makes no visible difference.
We live to share the story of the gospel,
the story of Jesus through words and deeds,
acknowledging that we are not finished,
but works in progress
learning to live under grace.
We learn to be people of prayer
People who pray something like:
as you revealed yourself to Paul
as you have revealed yourself to me,
reveal yourself to [insert name]
that they might come to know
the freedom and truth
that is in Christ Jesus.’
Evangelism is not the same as being a salesman,
the gospel is not something we sell
Evangelism is allowing Christ to live us
that we become free samples of Jesus.[vii]
[i] Nearly all I’ve learned about faith I’ve learned from the work Douglas Campbell.
[ii] Douglas Harink, Paul and the Postliberals (Brazos, 2003), p.26.
[iii] This explanation of grace is a combination of John Barclay (Paul and Gift, Eerdmans, 2015) and Douglas Campbell (The Quest of Paul’s Gospel, T & T Clark, 2008).
[iv] Quoted in J. Lou Martyn, ‘The Apocalyptic Gospel in Galatians’, Interpretation 54 (July 2000), p.250n.
[v] See Fleming Rutledge, ‘Sentences and Verbs: Talking About God’ in Apocalyptic and the Future of Theology (Cascade, 2012), p.18 who attributes it to Philip Ziegler.
[vi] The language of addiction I’ve borrowed from Douglas Campbell.
[vii] I offer that phrase to Nick Lear, Regional Minister, Eastern Baptist Association.