The Faith of Jesus

What identifies God’s people and determines membership in His covenant community is Jesus, especially the Messiah as revealed on the cross, and nothing else! This does NOT mean that the Law given at Sinai served no purpose, but it is not the basis for determining who is and who is not acquitted of sin by God. Right standing before Him is obtained “through the faith OF Jesus Christ,” and not “from the works of the Law.” His obedience unto death is the all-sufficient basis and means for our acquittal from sin.

In his Letter to the Galatians, Paul explains how he received his Gospel for the nations by revelation from Jesus, a commission confirmed by the leaders of the Jerusalem Assembly. He compared the situation in Galatia to the “false brethren who were smuggled in to spy out our freedom which we have in Christ Jesus” in an earlier conflict in the city of Antioch.

Cross Mountain - Photo by Anna Scarfiello on Unsplash
[Photo by Anna Scarfiello on Unsplash]

Certain men from Jerusalem” infiltrated that Assembly and disseminated disruptive teachings, especially the claim that it was inappropriate for Jewish believers to eat with uncircumcised Gentiles.

If implemented, their policy would have prevented Jewish and Gentile followers of Jesus from participating together in communal meals. The pressure to conform was so great that even Peter and Barnabas were entangled in the practice. Therefore, Paul confronted Peter over his hypocrisy:

  • When I saw that they are not walking straightforwardly regarding the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of all: ‘If you, being a Jew, are living like Gentiles and not like Jews, how are you compelling the Gentiles to Judaize?’” - (Galatians 2:11-14).

The controversy concerned the status of Gentile believers. Were they acceptable members of the community without submitting to circumcision? The key phrase in Paul’s statement is - “COMPELLING Gentiles to Judaize.”

The Greek verb is a strong one and means just that - “To compel, to force” (anangkazō – Strong’s - #G315). The infinitive translated as “to judaize” occurs only here in the New Testament. It is from a Greek word applied at the time to someone who lived like a Jew, and it meant to adopt a Jewish lifestyle - (Strong’s - #G2450).

This was the crux of the matter. Some Jewish believers were “compelling” Gentiles to conform to their customs, and refusing to eat with Gentiles insinuated there was something defective about their faith.

Paul’s opponents did not deny the necessity for faith, but circumcision was presented as a necessary practice and addition to faith in Jesus. It was necessary to “complete” the Gentile believer’s faith - “Having begun in Spirit, are you now to be MADE COMPLETE by the flesh?” - (Galatians 3:1-5).

PAUL’S ARGUMENT


Paul’s opponents had a strong case. Circumcision was given by God to Abraham as the “sign” of His “everlasting covenant.” Any male not circumcised was “cut off from Israel” since “he has broken my covenant.” Because the Church originated from the religion of Israel, confrontation over this matter was inevitable once the Gospel was offered to the Gentiles - (Genesis 17:7-14, Acts10:44-48).

Galatians is his response to the agitators. In it, he argues why it is a mistake for Gentiles to submit to circumcision. If they adopted circumcision, they would place themselves under the Law with all of its obligations - (Galatians 3:10, 5:2-3).

The first disciples were Jews, and the Gospel was preached initially only to the Jewish people and proselytes of the Jewish faith. The Church did not view itself as a new religion but as the fulfillment of the beliefs and traditions of Israel.

So, what is the basis on which Gentile believers become acceptable members of God’s people? If they are not acquitted before Him “from the works of the Law,” what was the purpose of the Law? Paul addresses both questions in Chapter 3. To become full members of the covenant people must Gentiles add circumcision to their faith in Jesus? Paul’s emphatic answer is “NO!

Paul explains his position in Chapter 2. He presents what he holds in common with his opponents (verses 15-16), and then summarizes the areas of disagreement (verses 17-21).  He begins by describing the basis on which a man is acquitted before God:

  • (Galatians 2:15-16) - “We ourselves by nature Jews and not sinners from among the Gentiles, know that man is not declared righteous from the works of the law but through the faith of Christ Jesus; even we believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be declared righteous from the faith of Christ and not from the works of the law; because from the works of the law will no flesh be declared righteous.”

The statement opens with an emphatic Greek pronoun translated as “we ourselves.”  Paul is referring to something on which he and his opponents agreed. A man is not put in right standing with God “from the works of the Law but from the faith OF Jesus Christ.” This was common ground.

The Greek clause does not read “BY faith in Jesus,” but “through the faith OF Jesus.” Its genitive construction refers to something that Jesus had or did, not what the believer does, at least, not at this point in the process. Justification is achieved through the faith of the Son of God.

Paul also refers to justification “from the faith of Jesus” in verse 16. The Greek preposition translated as “from” (ek) points to the “faith of Jesus” as the source of our justification.

The Greek noun ‘pistos’ can be translated as “faith” or “faithfulness.” Here, it is shorthand for the faithful obedience of Jesus “unto death.” This is confirmed in verse 21 - “I live by faith, the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself up on my behalf.” It is the “faith of Jesus,” his death, that justifies a man or woman.

Acquittal before God is based on Christ’s act of obedience, not by performing the deeds required by the Law. Paul’s opponents wished to add things to it, and here, he reminds his audience that these same Jewish believers also responded to the Gospel by putting faith in Jesus (“even we believed in Christ Jesus”).

Exercising faith in what God has done in His Son is how the believer responds to the faithfulness of Jesus, and there is nothing that he or she can add to the all-sufficiency of Christ's sacrificial death. Therefore, we now live from the "faith of the Son of God" who gave himself for us.

  • (Galatians 2:17-21) - “Now, if in seeking to be set right in Christ we ourselves also were found sinners, is Christ therefore a minister of sin? Certainly not!  For if the things that I pulled down these again I build, I prove myself to be a transgressor. For I, through the law, died to the law that I might live to God. With Christ have I been crucified; and I am living no longer, but living in me is Christ, as long as I now do live in flesh, I live by faith, the FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD who loved me and gave himself up in my behalf. I do not set aside the grace of God; for if through the law is righteousness, then Christ died without cause.”

Most likely, the agitators claimed that if the Law did not regulate the Assembly, then moral anarchy would result. But according to Paul, that would make Jesus responsible for all subsequent sins, a charge he adamantly rejects.

Cross on mountain - Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash
[Photo by Xavier von Erlach on Unsplash]

To return to the Law after being freed from its jurisdiction and “
curse” is the real transgression. By insisting on faith plus any of the “works of the Law,” we would declare openly that Jesus “died in vain,” and that his sacrificial death was powerless to justify and save us. That would be a transgression of the worst sort since we would thereby declare that his death was insufficient to acquit us of the guilt of sin before his Father.

What defines the people of God is identification with Jesus and his act of faithfulness on Calvary, not circumcision or submission to the other regulations and rituals of the Mosaic Law. Our justification by God is based on the “faith OF Jesus,” and nothing else. The penitent man can do nothing but respond to his gracious act and sacrifice with repentance and faith in Jesus.



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