Over the last year, I have mentioned through a variety of means how God has been bringing some new things to light for me, theological things which have really taken me deeper into who God is, His character and nature, and how He operates.
It has happened once again this morning.
I have mentioned before how I have been translating the passages from which I have been preaching. I am currently preaching from Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers. As I translated and have been poring over the text, God, through His Spirit has been revealing what I consider deeper truths than I have ever before realized, truths that have huge implications for me theologically, spiritually, and practically.
This morning, I was “minding” my own business as I was studying the passage for this coming Sunday’s sermon (Galatians 2:15-21). Once again, I was hit with Paul’s words about whose faith it is that makes the justification of a person possible. Paul says,
“15We by nature are Jews and not sinners like the Gentiles; 16but knowing that a man is not justified from works of the law but through the faith of Jesus Christ, even we believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by means of the faith of Christ and not by means of the works of the law, because by works of law will no flesh be justified.”
The faith/faithfulness that brings justification (makes salvation possible) is not mine, but Christ’s. I read one commentator who even said that it wasn’t until into the 1800’s that the translation of this passage was changed in some translations from “of Christ” to “in Christ.” That change makes the faith which originates in me the basis for justification. How can my faith, since I’m dead through the law and sin and have demonstrated myself to be faithless before God, do that? It cannot. This cannot be talking about my faith “in Christ” but rather the faith of the only One who is found faithful, Christ.
That got me thinking about other passages that have been used in my growing up years to teach me about salvation and faith, much, if not all, of which was based upon faith that originates in me and what I do in order to become saved. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”
This is a passage familiar to many Christians. The question is this – from where does the faith through which I have been saved originate? Paul is very clear that this faith is what is God’s gift to me.
Romans 10:9-10: “If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
Once again, this is a familiar passage. Somehow, I had also been of the mindset that once a person confessed and believed, it was then that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to the person. Based upon two other passages of Paul’s that bring a deeper understanding to these words, I now believe that is incorrect and improperly placed an emphasis on what the person did to achieve justification/salvation (and wouldn’t that this then be a type of “work” on my part?).
First passage – I Corinthians 12:3: “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” One cannot confess with his/her mouth that Jesus is Lord without first being enabled to do so by the Holy Spirit.
Second passage – I Corinthians 2:12-14: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.” A person cannot believe in his heart that God has raised Jesus from the dead without it first being revealed to us by the Spirit because this belief is in an event which is of a spiritual nature.
The evidence of this reality within me is found in the Holy Spirit’s nature, God’s nature, emanating from me because that nature has been placed in me and it becomes the nature by which I am known. Just like a person who didn’t know what an apple tree looked like but knew what an apple looked like could go out into an orchard of different trees and recognize an apple tree when s/he saw apples hanging from the tree, I am recognized as a follower of Jesus because the reality of the presence of the Spirit’s nature in me is seen as the fruit of the Spirit which are God’s characteristics and nature “hangs from my limbs.”
I guess what all this boils down to is this: I am becoming to a deeper realization of how little I have to do with this whole justification/salvation process. Therefore, that means that I have absolutely zero right to view myself as somehow better or more deserving of God’s love, justification and salvation.