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.

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