Saturday, September 29, 2012
Paul wrote in Galatians 2:16, "yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified."
I spent the better part of a semester researching this verse and writing about it. Without getting boring, there is an alternative reading of the Greek phrase pistis Christou (often translated "Faith in Christ") which would offer this simple change: a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith of Jesus Christ (and again later in the sentence). The difference lies in that Christ is now the subject possessing the faith instead of the object that Christians put their faith in. Both are grammatically possible, and scholars split on the issue; many reputable people take each side. I tend to agree with the translation "faith of Christ" or possibly "faithfulness of Christ" for more reasons that I can mention here.
So what is the significance of this translation of the text? Paul is battling false teachers who are saying that the Galatians need the Law of Moses to fulfill Christ's sacrifice. These words then direct our attention towards what is truly important: Christ's sacrifice as the single saving act for all humanity. Paul's word's remind us that there is truly nothing we can do to earn salvation, and that it's not even our own faith, but rather that we have a Savior that was faithful to death on our behalf.
It is easy to get caught up in what we do. As an example, let us consider baptism. A person's action in baptism does not save him or her, Christ's action does. Being raised in newness of life is passive; it is not something we do. Let me be clear on this, I hold baptism as one of the most important events in the Christian's life; by it we come in contact with the blood of Christ and are washed clean by that blood as well. We also are given the gift of the Holy Spirit in this event. However, an act can never save, Jesus does. Christ is our salvation - there is nothing else. Paul's words do not negate personal faith, or the necessity for obedience to Christ's commands. What his words do, however, is remind us of where our focus should be: We have a faithful savior; we are justified by the faith of Christ
Thursday, September 6, 2012
What is the most common thing for friends to do together? I've been thinking about it, and I think what we do with company more than anything else is eat. "Hey, want to grab lunch tomorrow?" "Have dinner plans?" And the ever so infamous, "Just bought a stick of cookie dough, ready to party?" Jesus was no different really; He used banquets as illustrations, Last Suppers as special times of fellowship, and minimal amounts of food to attract and feed very large crowds.
In John 6, Jesus calls himself the "Bread of Life", saying that whoever partakes in Him will never go hungry or thirsty. He's said these types of things before, such as to the Samaritan woman at the well. In these occasions, Jesus uses very real and tangible concepts (hunger and thirst) to illustrate how He is in fact the only constant source of sustenance.
Jesus tells a crowd He is teaching that "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness-they will filled."(Matthew 6:6) In that day, hunger was a real thing. If you're reading this, chances are you haven't gone hungry for more than a few hours, because you have access to a computer. However, think of what that means, to long for righteousness the way that the hungry long for food. I think this illustration could very possibly be lost on us too often because we don't know what it means to hunger for something.
Before Jesus even ends this lesson though, he touches on the idea of food/hunger one more time in the very next chapter. "Here is the bottom line: do not worry about your life. Don't worry about what you will eat or what you will drink. Don't worry about how you clothe your body. Living is about more than merely eating, and the body is about more than dressing up...So do not consume yourselves with questions: What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?...Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you." (Matthew 6:25, 31, 33) So here is another idea almost completely, this idea that we aren't to worry about food, drink, and clothing, but are instead to seek the kingdom of God (you might even say, Hunger for God). We're promised that if we do that, then we won't have to worry about the other things. What a promise! Do you believe it?
Sometimes certain texts don't make sense to us, or at least are hard for us to swallow. Part of this is because we live in a completely different culture than those in these biblical accounts did. However, think about the culture that these people are apart of - it's a patriarchal culture - one where people often relied on a patron to meet their needs, whether that be the head of the household or even more of a business relationship where one takes care of the other (I've touched on this idea before in my "Friend of God" blog post, check it out for more detail).
Reading these passages through that type of cultural lens helps us see more clearly what Jesus is saying and promising. We are commanded to not worry, but to lean on God for all of our needs. The other thing we are to do is to seek/long/hunger for His kingdom and to better bring it about. That can be such a hard thing to do. Trusting God to take care of you no matter what the circumstances is FAR easier said than done. I realize that I'm kind of calling most church going people out, but stop and think: How much have I worried this week alone? As the Bride of Christ, the church is called to nothing less than what would be expected of a wife in that time and culture: trust the husband to meet all of her (our) needs.
God calls us for a change of trust and also a change of focus. One of the key ways He does that once again uses the idea of food. Fasting is a very neglected discipline. More often than not, people who "fast" do so because they are trying to get rid of a gut or simply feel guilty (and bloated) from the incredible amount of food they had during the previous meal. Fasting, however, is far more than a health decision or a guilt trip, it is the giving up of the physical in order to better long for the spiritual. Prayer accompanies this spiritual discipline, and one of the reasons they go so well together is because every time you feel hunger pains, you remember to stop and pray. Even more though, when you feel those hunger pains, you remember who you are truly suppose to be hungering for: God. That is why fasting is such a respected discipline, because it reminds us to long for God and it also reminds us that God is ultimately our food source in every possible physical and spiritual way.
I challenge you, dear reader, to be called blessed because you hunger and thirst for righteousness. I challenge you to fast, pray, and seek out God's direction. I also challenge you to drop the individualistic mindset that we all fall prey to and truly trust God for all your needs, physical or otherwise. Hear and believe God's promise: Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then all these things will be given to you.