Faith: Of or In Christ?
Ever have one of the moments where you leave a discussion and on the drive home you think of an amazing point you could have contributed? That happened to me the other night in Bible study. We are studying Romans and the material referenced Martin Luther's incredibly impactful changing of a single word in his translation of Romans-- a change that shifted Christian theology. Luther changed the word of in Romans 3:22 to in:
- New Revised Standard Version translation: "...the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ..."
- Common Englsh Version: "God's righteousness comes through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who have faith in him."
We talked about this change and its significance, not only for what the Bible says but how it effects the mission of the church, for quite some time, to the point where one or two basically said, "There's really not much difference. Let's move on." I was ready to move on too!
But on the drive home I thought: wait a minute. What if the significance of in/of is not an either/or question-- but a both? Forget a scholarly translation of the Greek text of Romans 3:22 for a moment (by the way I do not know Greek-- so there). What if experiencing faith was a process that begins with faith in Christ and then becomes-- eventually, not immediately-- the faith of Christ? So we begin as believers. We believe in Christ and faith becomes real. But that faith is not stagnant. It grows to the point where, at times-- or for a few it shines brightly perpetually-- our faith more reflective of the actual faith of Christ. Meaning that our faith is no longer modeled after Jesus' faith, but it is the embodiment of Jesus' faith.
How do we see Jesus' faith embodied in scripture? Well, everywhere-- here are a few examples that quickly come to mind:
- His refusal to transform rocks into bread even though he was starving (Luke 4:2-3)
- His speaking the truth in love to his neighbors at his hometown synagogue (Luke 4:23-27)
- His confrontations with the overly religious and self-righteous (Luke 6:41-42)
- His courage in the face of imperial, earthly power (John 19:11)
- His confidence in God's sovereignty and presence (John 18:11)
So what difference does it make in my life when this change happens-- from faith in Christ to faith of Christ? I thought of this woman: the Rev. Renita Lamkin, a pastor shot with a rubber bullet by police in Ferguson, Missouri last week as she walked, praying, in the street, surrounded by the chaos of that night. Or the Rev. Willis Johnson, pastor of the two-year-old Wellspring United Methodist Church in Ferguson. Or a few weeks ago, a couple of friends and colleagues of mine, the Revs. Eric Folkerth and Owen Ross, were arrested outside the White House after protesting US immigration policies. These are just a few examples recently of folks being led by their faith in Christ to exhibit the faith of Christ, even at risk to themselves.
There are many, many ways this faith of Christ is lived out-- not just in places of danger or discomfort. Folk who go beyond the normal, accepted definitions of comfortable discipleship to dreaming bigger, reaching further, serving more through the outreached arms and love of God's grace. The faith of Jesus, shown by his disciples, will transform our communities, relieve pain and suffering, heal injustice and oppression, and feed every hungry person. Flash back to Jesus in his hometown synagogue, reading a scroll of the Book of Isaiah. May it be a prayer for each of us to move from faith in Christ to the faith of Christ:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to preach good news to the poor,
to proclaim release to the prisoners
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to liberate the oppressed,
and to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor (Luke 4:18-19).
And may others see and hear your faith of Christ, and echo his own words:
"Today this scripture has been fulfilled just as you heard it" (Luke 4:21).