Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Destroying Idols

I am at the Gospel Coalition this week and have been having a great time. Yesterday there was a great line up of speakers and we were greatly fed. The conference started off with Tim Keller speaking on confronting and destroying the idols of our culture.

A reason that many people have false conversions is because their idols were not confronted. The apostle Paul would go into the places of influence and confront their idols and seek to destroy them. This is so important because every culture looks to something to rescue it whether it be money, morality or human reason. If it is not dominated by the glory of God then it is dominated by the worship of some sort of idols(s). Jesus Christ faced opposition, just as the apostle Paul would later, when he confronted the idols. In fact, all the idol worshippers came against Jesus and crucified him. Every single human being is guilty of idol worship and needs the atonement of Jesus so that they can rightly worship the one and true God.

That is just a little taste but I highly recommend listening to this entire message online.

Monday, April 20, 2009

I Believe in the Faithfulness of Christ Pt. 2

Last week I suggested that a valid interpretation of the phrase ‘pistis Christou’ is to read it as ‘the faithfulness of Christ’; in fact, I believe that this is the correct translation based on the context in which the phrase is found in the Scriptures. Now I want to suggest a couple benefits of this reading:

1) Although some fear that this reading is a threat to the doctrine of justification I would say that it actually reinforces what is sometimes referred to as ‘imputation’. When the Bible refers to the faithfulness of Jesus it does not speak of a ‘treasury of merit’ that is then placed into our account that God looks at and is satisfied. Rather, it refers to Jesus’ absolute obedience to the Father culminating in the cross. Whereas Adam, the original representative of the human race, failed Christ remained obedient. Likewise, whereas Israel failed to trust in God and worship him alone Jesus remained completely faithful to him in the wilderness. Jesus is God’s unique son and he joyfully submitted himself to his Father’s will, even when that meant that the nations would rise against him and crucify him like a criminal. Since Jesus is the Messiah, the true king of the world, he is the representative of all those who believe in him. Those who confess that Jesus is Lord are in Christ so that what is true of him is true of them. Even though we are sinner’s deserving of God’s holy wrath Jesus is the representative of every Christian so God can look at us and declare “Righteous!” He is our faithful Messiah. Christians are righteous because they are incorporated into Christ and all Jesus’ obedience is seen as being true for them; this is true of Jesus faithfulness to the Father in his earthly life, his death and his resurrection where God vindicated him.

2) The other day I was listening to a discussion concerning Tom Wright’s response to John Piper’s book. The panelist’s were Thomas Schreiner, Brian Vickers and Mark Seifrid. One of the issues that was addressed was Wright’s view that present justification is based on faith whereas future justification is based on works. Now, it should be noted, that a fair reading of Wright does not give the idea that we in anyway contribute to our own justification. I believe that Wright is saying something to the traditional reformed view that sees works as being the evidence that one was made right with God but does using poor wording. Thomas Schreiner, who is one of my favorite theologians, made the observation that our is justification is not based on works or faith but on Jesus. Many people place a target on Wright because he says, “Justification on the last day will be based on works” but then go around saying “Justification is always based on faith”. I know what they are saying but the wording is misleading.

All that to say that translating pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Jesus can help solve this issue. Our righteousness is not based on our faith but on the faithfulness of Jesus. Here’s Phillipians 3:9 in two different translations:

“…not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness” (NET).

“…not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith” (NASB).

Notice that one translation says that the righteousness we receive a righteousness based on Christ’s faithfulness whereas the other one says that it is based on faith. All that this demonstrates is that translating pistis Christou is one possible way of avoiding this error and reminds us that we don’t look to ourselves in any way for our status of righteousness but look to Christ alone, the faithful man and faithful Israelite.

Friday, April 17, 2009

I Believe in the Faithfulness of Christ

I believe in the faithfulness of the Messiah. I am referring to the way a particular phrase is often translated as “faith in Christ” in our modern English bibles. There is significant debate about this of which I would like to make several points.

1) Sometimes certain scholars make it seem like the translation of pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Christ is nothing more than wishful thinking. In reality this is a very natural translation of the phrase. This isn’t to say that any other translation is un-natural but those who think this is the proper translation don’t necessarily have some sort of hidden agenda. There are many other genitives in the book of Romans, for example, that we translate “of” not “in” (i.e. the faithfulness of God). The faithfulness of Christ is a very legitimate translation of pistis Christou and those of us who think so aren’t heretical weirdos with no appreciation for the Reformation.

2) It is easy to shrug something like this off thinking, “Most modern translators interpret this phrase as ‘faith in Christ’ so they’re probably right; how much do I know any way?” Though it is true that most modern translators take pistis Christou to mean faith in Christ that does not mean they’re right. There has not been unanimous agreement among translators what this phrase means in the present or in the past. Examples from Romans 3:22:

The NET Bible: “…the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe”.

KJV: “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe”.

Tyndale: “The rightewesnes no dout which is good before God cometh by ye fayth of Iesus Christ vnto all and vpon all that believe”.

Wycliffe: “And the riytwisnesse of God is bi the feith of Jhesu Crist in to alle men and on alle men that bileuen in hym”. (all emphases mine).

Now I know that most of these are translated faith of Christ not faithfulness but one thing to note is that those are the same word in Greek.

3) One big thing that determines the way things are translated is the immediate context of the passage. When Paul breaks out with his “But now” in chapter three we should look at what goes before and what comes after to see if our translation of pistis Christou makes sense in this particular context. To our surprise it makes perfect sense! Here’s what Paul says:

“Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God?” (Rom. 3.1-3 ESV).

Even though the Jewish people did not live up to the covenant God would remain faithful. But how would he do that? Well if we go to verse 22 and translate pistis Christou as the faithfulness of Jesus Christ then we have our answer. Jesus is the faithful Israelite! That is how God remains faithful. To translate the phrase this way makes perfect sense of the context.

Sometimes we can be scared of things we aren’t used to. That is why next week I will offer a couple reasons why we should welcome this translation with open arms. It does not minimize the doctrine of imputation, as is often thought, but rather reinforces it. It also shows us that our justification is based on Christ and not anything or anyone else.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Kirk Wellum on Propitiation

Kirk Wellum, principal of Toronto Baptist Seminary, makes an interesting point about the word "propitiation" in our English bibles. You should also check out the comments on that post.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Declaration of Membership

Over the past month or so I have been devotionally reading through Paul’s letter to the Romans. Two tools that have been helping me greatly are the ESV Study Bible and N.T. Wright’s little book, “Paul for Everyone”. Using these resources have been giving me a fuller idea of what Paul means when he talks about being, “Justified” or “Declared righteous in Christ.”

The ESV SB has reinforced my strong conviction that Justification is a declaration whereby God declares sinners to be in a right relationship with himself. This is crucial. The greatest gift of the gospel is God himself and justification makes a relationship with him possible. If it weren’t for this doctrine we would all be enemies of God.

Paul for Everyone has helped me to appreciate the covenantal aspects of Justification. One of the greatest ways to see this theme in Romans is to read the letter all the way through in one sitting. Paul talks a great deal about Abraham and Israel in relation to Justification and if we’re not careful these can be sidelined. But for Paul, when God called Abraham it was all about God graciously acting within creation to deal with the problem of sin. Humanity had become evil through and through but God was determined to make a new humanity through which his grace and justice would be manifest.

When Abraham trusted God, God declared him to be righteous. This means that Abraham entered into a right relationship, a covenantal relationship. His sins were forgiven and he was given the glorious promise of inheriting the land of Canaan. God gave him the sign of circumcision after he declared Abraham to be in the right as a sign of the relationship that had come into being. Romans 4.11 says, “He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised.” Genesis 17.11 says, “You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you.”

So Paul says that circumcision was a sign of the “righteousness he had by faith” whereas Genesis says that it is a sign of the covenant relationship. God is passionate about creating a world without sin. As N.T. Wright says, “He will put the world to rights”. The way he does this in the present is by calling wicked sinners to himself, forgiving their sins through the atoning work of Christ, declaring them righteous, and by giving them all the promises that come along with being a member of the new covenant people. There is much more that could be said. Justification is truly a glorious doctrine; it gives hope to sinner’s and displays God’s great desire to put the world to rights.