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