Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 81: The Faith of Christ
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 81: The Faith of Christ

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

Many Christians believe that salvation depends on whether or not one believes that Christ is one's Lord and Savior. In other words, faith, not works, justifies us in the eyes of God. This view largely derives from reading Romans 3:21-22 as follows: "But now, the righteousness of God has been disclosed apart from the law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." However, the phrase "faith in Christ" could also be translated as "faith of Christ," with profound theological implications.

The Greek phrase here is pisteos Christou (also used in Romans 3:26; Gal 2:16, 3:22; Phil 3:9), which is the genitive (possessive) construction. It could be translated as either "faith in Christ" or "faith of Christ," and the latter is the more typical meaning. For example, in Romans 4:16, Paul used the genitive construction to describe the faith of Abraham. Obviously, he meant the faith of Abraham rather than faith in Abraham, since the Hebrews did not regard Abraham as a God. When Paul clearly wished to communicate "in," he used the Greek work en. Two exceptions, of sorts, are Ephesians 1:15 and Colossians 1:4, where en is used for "faith in Christ," but neither passage states that faith in Christ is essential for justification. Further, scholars have doubts about Paul's authorship of these two epistles. Therefore, it appears inaccurate to translate the genitive pisteos Christou as faith in Christ, as many translators have done in Romans 3:22 and 3:26, Galatians 2:16 and 3:22, and Philippians 3:9. A difficulty is that translators, in trying to determine what particular passages mean, invariably impose their own theology and values on the text.

Even with the best of intentions, translators can misrepresent a writer's intent, and I think the theology that equates of Jesus with God has prompted translators (perhaps mistakenly) to translate pisteos Christou as "faith in Christ."*

Why is this important? For one thing, it seems to denigrate the importance of works, because it seems to hold that faith alone justifies us.

However, on closer inspection, it does not fully dismiss the value of works; instead, justification requires only one work -having faith in Christ.

People may think that this is relatively simple and easy, but it can be exceptionally hard for those who have experienced great loss or other kinds of suffering. On the other hand, our experiencing the faith of Christ happens by grace. We know from Jesus' life, teachings, and death, that the faith of Christ involves love, compassion, and caring. When this faith abides in us, we may find it soothing and/or empowering. However, if we cannot experience that faith we are not bad, evil, or unjustified in God's eyes. I don't think that God's love for people depends on their performing the task of believing in Christ.

The Holy Spirit saves us by commuting the faith of Christ to us. We become new creations in Christ, and our works reflect Christ's faith in us.

Therefore, the Apostle Paul wrote, "So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!" (2 Cor 5:17) Though we are not saved by works per se, our loving, compassionate works reflect Christ's faith in a loving God, which dwells in us. Jesus said, "Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves." (John 14:11)

Another important implication is that faith is not just an individual choice or event. It is a communal event, which is why we need the church to strengthen our faith. At the Pentecost, the Holy Spirit was poured out on everyone present, creating the church. So, while the vicissitudes of life may strengthen or weaken our own, individual faith in Christ, our church community is always there to support us by virtue of its collective expression of the faith of Christ. We may not always have the faith that Jesus manifested when he surrendered himself to his destiny on the Cross, but the faith of Christ is available to us through the work of the Holy Spirit in us individually and collectively. Indeed, when we manifest the faith of Christ in our works, we make it easier for other people to receive that faith, which helps them cope with difficult situations and encourages them to perform works of love that help others.

This is one reason that the Christian Vegetarian Association is an important ministry. Many of us despair over the terrible plight of so many of God's creatures. However, as a community, we can become empowered by the faith of Christ to believe in God's love and to believe that our struggles, however vain they may sometimes appear, glorify God and, in the final analysis, matter.

* I do hold that Christ is divine. I think Paul was asserting a more subtle and profound point than Christ's divinity in describing the faith of Christ.

Go on to: Part 82: Guided by the Faith of Christ
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