December 3, 2016

The Christmas story

During Advent-Christmas we look forward to Jesus' 2nd Advent, then back to his 1st Advent and birth. Concerning his birth, I've reproduced below a sermon that was published recently on GCI's Trinitarian Preaching Facebook page, and emailed to GCI's Sermon Series subscribers (to be added to the distribution list, email your request to Ted.Johnston@gci.org).


Jesus Shares our Humanity

by Ted Johnston

Introduction

In Luke chapter two, the beloved physician gives us a glimpse of Jesus’ early life as newborn baby, infant, and youth. Luke shows how Jesus, sharing our humanity at each stage of human development, beat back our fallen nature with the temptations it brings. At every point on this journey, Jesus (in his vicarious humanity and by the power of the Spirit) was at work re-creating our humanity. As God incarnate (sharing our flesh), Jesus not only is with us, but as one of us, he is radically for usJoy to the world---the Lord is come!

1. Jesus, the newborn baby (Luke 2:1–20)

Luke shows how the eternal Son of God came into the world of his creation in the most humble and helpless way; a human baby, born in a stable, placed in an animal’s feeding trough.

a. Jesus’ birth draws Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem (vv. 1–7) 

1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to his own town to register. 4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.
Caesar was ruling, but God was in charge—now using Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph 80 miles from their home in Nazareth to Bethlehem. Every 14 years, Rome took a census, and each Jewish male was required to return to the city of their fathers to record their name, occupation, property and family.

When Mary says, “Be it unto me according to Thy word” (Luke 1:38, KJV), little did she know what was in store for her as God went about fulfilling the many prophecies concerning the promised Messiah, including that he would be human (Gen. 3:15; Heb. 2:16), Jewish (Gen. 49:10), of the line of David (2 Sam. 7:1–17), born to a virgin (Isa. 7:14) in the village of Bethlehem, David’s city (Micah 5:2). Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” was the ideal birthplace for the Bread of Life (John 6:35). Its rich historic heritage included the death of Rachel and the birth of Benjamin (Gen. 35:16–20), the marriage of Ruth, and the exploits of David. This ordinary scene thus speaks of God’s mighty hand.

Mary’s journey to Bethlehem must have been exhausting. Nevertheless, she rejoiced in doing God’s will, and, no doubt, was glad to get away from the gossip-mongers in Nazareth.

b. Jesus’ birth draws the angels from heaven (vv. 8–14) 

8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."
The Adoration of the Shepherds by van Honthorst
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Think of it—the Creator of the vast cosmos born as a lowly creature. The eternal Word of God has become a speechless baby! The angels announced this stunning event first to the lowliest of the lows—shepherds. How ironic! Shepherds were outcasts—not even allowed to testify in court. Their work not only made them unclean under the Law of Moses, but kept them from the temple for weeks at a time so they could not be made clean. Luke’s point is clear: God cares about the poor and lowly (Luke 1:51–53; 1Cor. 1:26–29). Moreover, Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10) and the Lamb of God sacrificed for ALL humanity (John 1:29). Luke is emphasizing that the gospel is good news for everyone. All are included!

“Do not be afraid” (Luke 2:10) is a key theme in Luke’s Gospel (see 1:13, 30, 74). Literally the angel says, “I announce to you good news, a great joy which shall be to all the people.” He uses the Greek word that means “preach the good news,” a word Luke uses often in his Gospel and in the book of Acts, which he also wrote. What is this good news? That God has sent a Savior to meet the greatest need of ALL people—that need here described as peace. The Jewish word shalom (peace) means much more than the absence of war. It means well-being, health, prosperity, security, soundness, and completeness. It has to do more with inner character than outward circumstance.

Life was difficult at that time just as it is today. Taxes and unemployment were high, and morals were slipping lower. Roman law, Greek philosophy, and even the religion of Israel under the Law of Moses could not bring the shalom of God to men’s hearts. So God sent his Son. And the angels cried out in praise. They had done so at creation (Job 38:7), and now as God commences a stunning re-creation in and through Jesus, the Creator of the cosmos now clothed in our humanity.

The purpose of this re-creation is to unite all humankind with God’s “glory.” That glory once dwelt in the tabernacle (Ex. 40:34) and then in the temple (2 Chron. 7:1–3), but it had departed because of the nation’s sin (1 Sam. 4:21; Ezek. 8:4; 9:3; 10:4, 18; 11:22–23). Now God’s glory has returned in the person of Jesus—God in flesh (John 1:14). Now the “holy of holies” containing God’s presence is a human baby lying in a lowly manger. Glory to God!

c. Jesus’ birth draws shepherds from the fields (vv. 15–20) 

5 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The shepherds knew what to look for: a newborn babe lying in a manger. When they found the baby, they worshiped him and marveled at God’s grace and goodness and the miracle he had wrought for them. These shepherds are models of receptivity to Jesus—they received by faith and responded in obedience to the message God sent. After finding the baby, they shared the good news with others, “glorifying and praising God.” Then they humbly returned to their duties, new men going back to their life’s vocation. There is great irony here, for shepherds were not permitted to testify in court in that culture. Yet God used them to be the first human’s to testify to the arrival of the promised Messiah!

2. Jesus, the infant (Luke 2:21–38)

Luke now shows us more about the child Jesus through three encounters: 1) with the Law (the rites of the Law of Moses), 2) with Simeon, and 3) with Anna.

a. The Law (vv. 21–24) 

21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived. 22 When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, "Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: "a pair of doves or two young pigeons."
Though Jesus came to deliver us from the Law: its curse (Gal 3:13) and bondage (Gal 5:1), he lived “under the Law,” perfectly obeying its requirements on our behalf (Gal. 4:1–7). As shown here in Luke 2, Jesus did so from the very beginning of his life, including through his circumcision, which symbolized how he would remove (circumcise) our sin nature through his own substitutionary-representative humanity (see Gal. 6:15; Phil. 3:1–3; Col. 2:10–11). Jesus’ circumcision was also an example of how Jesus suffered at every point of his life for us. In obedience to the Lord, Mary and Joseph named him Jesus, meaning “Jehovah is salvation” (Mat. 1:21).

When Jesus was 40 days old, Mary and Joseph took the baby to the temple so Mary could be purified as mandated by the Law (Lev. 12) and so Jesus could be “redeemed” for five shekels as mandated by the Law in the case of a firstborn child (Ex. 13:1–13). Joseph and Mary thus redeemed with a paltry five shekels the one who from day one was giving his precious substitutionary life to redeem all humanity. Their sacrifice of two doves was the standard sacrifice given by the very poor instead of a lamb (2Cor. 8:9). However, the one they brought to the temple was the true Lamb of God—the ultimate sacrifice for sin.

b. Simeon (vv. 25–35) 

25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. 27 Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all people, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel." 33 The child's father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."
Simeon by Mironov
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Simeon was a faithful Jew waiting and praying for “the consolation [deliverance] of Israel.” His prayers were answered when he saw Jesus, now 40 days old, in the temple. Simeon’s response is the fifth and last of the “Christmas hymns” in Luke (Elizabeth, 1:42–45; Mary, 1:46–56; Zacharias, 1:67–79; the angels, 2:13–14). Simeon’s hymn is a worship hymn as he blesses God for keeping his promise and sending the Messiah. He joyfully praises God that he has been privileged to see the Lord’s Christ. Simeon’s hymn is also a salvation hymn: “For my eyes have seen your salvation” (Luke 2:30). Now he is ready to die! The word dismiss in Greek (v29) has several meanings, each telling something about the death of those who trust in God’s salvation: to release a prisoner, to untie a ship and set sail, to take down a tent, and to unyoke a beast of burden. As believers we do not fear death because we understand the deliverance (freedom) we have in our Savior—in this life and the next. Thirdly, Simeon’s hymn is a missionary hymn—he sees this great salvation going out to all (see Luke 2:10)---the compassion and provision of Jesus for the whole world is one of Luke’s major themes.

Having finished his hymn of praise, Simeon prophecies (Luke 2:34–35), noting first that the nation of Israel will “fall” (stumble) over Jesus (see Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:32), but in him, many would “rise” in salvation. Jesus will be a “sign”—the word means “a miracle,” not so much as a demonstration of power but as a revelation of divine truth. Jesus’ miracles in John’s Gospel are called “signs” because they reveal special truths about Jesus (John 20:30–31). Jesus is God’s miracle; and yet, instead of admiring him, the people attacked him and spoke against him (thus revealing what was in their hearts). Thus Jesus is both Savior and Judge. The basis of this judgment is their view (acceptance or rejection) of Jesus. Lastly, Simeon prophecies that a “sword will pierce” Mary’s “soul.” This speaks to the suffering and sorrow she would bear as the Messiah’s mother. During our Lord’s life, Mary experienced more and more sorrow until one day she stood by Jesus’ cross and saw him suffer terrible pain and die (John 19:25–27).

c. Anna (vv. 36–38) 

36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38 Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
Anna, meaning “grace,” was a godly widow of great age. There are 43 references to women in Luke’s Gospel, and three times they are widows. Widows were particularly vulnerable in that day—often neglected and exploited. Nevertheless, Anna, a prophetess, devoted herself to worshipping God in the temple. She came up just as Simeon was praising the Lord for the child Jesus, and she joined in the song! Anna then spoke, sharing the good news concerning this child among others gathered there who were awaiting the redemption of Israel. The excitement began to spread as more and more people heard.

3. Jesus, the youth (Luke 2:39–52)

39 When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40 And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him. 41 Every year his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. 42 When he was twelve years old, they went up to the Feast, according to the custom. 43 After the Feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. 44 Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. 45 When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. 46 After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. 48 When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, "Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you." 49 "Why were you searching for me?" he asked. "Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?" 50 But they did not understand what he was saying to them. 51 Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. 52 And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.
Jesus Found in the Temple by Tissot
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Having fulfilled the requirements of the Law, Mary and Joseph returned home to Nazareth, where Jesus lived until his public ministry began some 30 years later. What did Jesus do during those years growing up? We don’t know the details, but Luke indicates that Jesus developed in the way all humans do—one step at a time: physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually (Luke 2:40, 52). Through his incarnation, the Son of God had set aside the capabilities of his divinity and lived and operated out of his assumed humanity (Phil. 2:1–11). This is illustrated here by Luke in a story from Jesus’ youth.

As devout Jews, Joseph and Mary travelled to Jerusalem each year to observe the Passover. Relatives and whole villages often traveled together in pilgrim caravans, and kept an eye on each other’s children. At age twelve, Jesus could easily have gone from one group to another and not have been missed. They had gone a day’s journey from Jerusalem when they discovered that Jesus was missing. It took a day to return to the city and another day for them to find him.

During those three days, Joseph and Mary had been greatly distressed (Luke 2:48). Whether Jesus had spent the entire time in the temple, we don’t know. We do know that when Joseph and Mary found him, he was in the midst of the teachers of the Law, asking questions and listening to their answers; and the teachers were amazed at both his questions and answers.

Mary’s loving rebuke brought a respectful but astonished reply from Jesus: “Why were you searching for me…didn’t you know I had to be [KJV=”must be”] in my Father’s house?” (v49). Luke often quotes Jesus using this word “must” to speak of his sense of divine compulsion—here at a young age already understanding that he is God’s unique Son, and something about his mission in the service of his Heavenly Father. Jesus’ parents “did not understand” (v 50) all this. The “sword” of discrimination spoken of by Simeon in v35 is at work already, though Jesus willingly submitted to his human parents (v51). Here we see God as a Servant come to suffer with us and for us.

Luke adds in v52 that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” Jesus, in his humanity, grew---he developed just as we all do. But Luke may be telling us even more than that here. The Greek word he uses for “grew,” is prokopto. In a general sense it means simply “to grow.” But literally it means “drive forward as if by beating.” Thayer’s Lexicon assigns the following possible meanings: to beat forward, to lengthen out by hammering (as a smith forges metals), to go forward, to increase/make progress. Jesus, through the incarnation that unites his divinity with our humanity, is our representative and substitute, who took upon himself our fallen humanity and “beat it back” at every stage of life—in the womb, at birth, in childhood, here in his youth, in an adult vocation, and through much torture ending in a terrible death. Jesus truly does share fully in our humanity, including our nature and life experiences—thus he truly is our merciful, understanding, faithful high priest—the one able fully “to sympathize with our weaknesses…[having been] tempted in every way, just as we are—yet…without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In Jesus, our humanity is re-created!
Comment: An erroneous idea held by some is that Jesus in his incarnation assumed human nature as it was before the fall. But this is not what Scripture teaches and the early church taught. Jesus was human in every way we are (including having a fallen nature), except he never sinned. To have a fallen nature like we do, yet to avoid all personal sin is a HUGE part of how Jesus suffered for us as one of us, and as noted above, how he accomplished our salvation. The atonement accomplished by Jesus on our behalf included his sacrificial death on the cross, AND his ongoing suffering in battling corrupt human nature from conception through death. And, we should note, Jesus’ sharing in our humanity continues, because the incarnation is forever – Jesus is now, and forever will be, both fully God and fully human (and now he is a glorified human like we shall one day be). All for us. Thank you Jesus! [For more about the type of human nature Jesus assumed, click here.] 

Conclusion

Jesus is fully God and fully human—he shares our humanity just as we experience it—as a baby, an infant and a youth; and also as an adult. Bearing our humanity, Jesus redeems us—delivers us—re-creates us. Oh come let us adore him! Merry Christmas.

November 25, 2016

The wonder of God's grace!

This post continues a review of James B. (JB) Torrance's book, "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace." For additional posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 3.

[Updated 12/3/2016]

Through the incarnation, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus, our humanity has been re-created. This stunning gift of God's grace was accomplished on our behalf, not merely through what Jesus did (though it includes that), but by and through who Jesus is---the God-man who in his vicarious humanity stands in for and represents us all. As JB likes to say, Jesus is the one and the many. In order to do for us what we could never do for ourselves, the eternal Son of God became fully human. In doing so, he assumed our fallen humanity (not some other type of human nature) so that we "might be turned back to God, in him by his sinless life in the Spirit and through him in us" (p. 53). Oh, the wonder of God's grace!

Icon of Christ illustrating his dual nature
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
To understand and appreciate who Jesus Christ is for us, as one of us, it's vital to grasp the nature of our Lord's dual mediatorial role. As God, Jesus acted on God's behalf in the God-humanward direction. As human, he acted on humanity's behalf in the human-Godward direction. Whereas Christians readily acknowledge the former, they frequently overlook (or at least minimize) the latter. Though seeing Jesus coming to us bearing God's forgiveness (justification), they fail to see Jesus responding back to God as our representative and substitute. As a result, sanctification is viewed largely our own responsibility (albiet with the Spirit's help) with our own faith, repentance and obedience being the only human-Godward movement at play. JB decries this mistaken viewpoint:
It does not do full justice to the meaning of grace, for it short-circuits the vicarious humanity of Christ. Grace does not only mean that in the coming of Jesus Christ, God gives himself in holy love to humanity. It also means the coming of God as man, to do for us as a man what we cannot do for ourselves---to present us in himself through the enternal Spirit to the Father. In other words, the human-Godward movement, in which we are given to participate (as in worship and communion), is given freely and unconditionally. Our response in faith and obedience is a response to the response already made for us by Christ to the Father's holy love, a response we are summoned to make in union with Christ.... [Calvin, in alignment with the Greek fathers, understood] that "all parts of our salvation are already complete in Christ" in virtue of [Christ's] obedience for us, and that we are summoned to a life of "union with Christ" to become in ourselves what we already are in Christ our head. (pp. 53-4, emphasis added)
JB makes an important distinction between what Calvin (following the teaching of the Greek fathers) refers to in his writings as "legal repentance" and "evangelical repentance." Whereas legal repentance says "Repent, and if you do you will be forgiven," evangelical repentance says "Christ has borne your sins on the cross; therefore receive God's forgiveness in repentance." Repentance (our response) does not condition God into being gracious---no, forgiveness precedes respentance. As the New Testament clearly shows, we repent not in order to be forgiven, but because we are forgiven (already). JB explains this priority (in time and importance) of grace by noting that the indicative ("you are forgiven") precedes the imperative ("repent"). "Repentance" says JB, "is our response to grace, not a condition of grace" (p. 54). It is the goodness (grace) of God that leads us to repentance.

Because we hear (and receive) the word of forgiveness and love already spoken by the Father (a word that, by its very nature, includes God's judgment on us as being guilty of sin), we respond in humble submission, gratefully receiving God's gift of forgiveness in Christ. Of course, our response of faith and repentance is imperfect, but what we cannot do (respond perfectly to God), Jesus, in his vicarious humanity, has done already for us (on our behalf) by perfectly submitting to the Father. JB comments:
That is the wonder of God's grace! God not only speaks the word of forgiveness to us, He also provides for us one, in Jesus Christ, who makes the perfect response of vicarious penitence. So God accepts us, not because of our repentance---we have no worthy penitence to offer---but in the person of one who has already said "amen" for us, in death, to the divine condemnation of our sin---in atonement. (p. 56)
What then is the place of our faith and repentance? They are our response to grace, not a condition of grace. This response is the Spirit's gift to us, allowing us to participate in the vicarious repentance of Christ---his self-offering to the Father on our behalf as our High Priest. As JB notes, "God's grace is unconditionally free, but it summons us to receive it unconditionally in faith and penitence, in love and obedience" (p. 57).

Though most Christians rightly undersant that it is by grace that we are forgiven (justified), many (erroneously) believe that we take it from there---we grow up in Christ (are sanctified, in that sense) through our own effort. But the gospel truth is that justification, sanctification and glorification are all by grace, which is to say that they are accomplished by, in and through Christ on our behalf. As God, Christ forgives us, and as human (through his vicarious humanity), Christ sanctifies, then glorifies us.

When we fail to understand the dual, mediatorial role of Christ (and rely upon it), we inevitably take our eyes off Jesus---off his worship and offering to God on our behalf. When that happens we are "thrown back on ourselves" (as JB likes to put it) relying upon our own feeble efforts---our own worship ("religion")---instead of relying on Christ. Decrying this unfortunate situation, JB makes this impassioned declaration:
There is no more urgent need in our churches today than to recover the trinitarian nature of grace---that it is by grace alone, through the gift of Jesus Christ in the Spirit that we can enter into and live a life of communion with God our Father. (p. 59)
Jesus, for us, as one of us, is the one true worshipper, the one faithful and obedient child of God, who alone fulfills God's righteous requirements for humanity. That being the case, it is in and through him (and only in and through him) that we may draw near to God (having been brought near to God in him). Thus worship is God's gift of grace to us in Christ. And that is why all of our acts of obedience-worship (e.g. baptism, Eucharist, prayer, etc.) must be seen as ordinances of grace. Rather than what we do to earn (or in some other way secure) God's grace, they are ways by which we celebrate and thus "live into" (receive, in gratitude) the grace of God that already is ours in Jesus Christ, by the Spirit. JB comments:
God comes to us as man in Jesus Christ to stand in for us, pray for us, teach us to pray and lead our prayers. God in grace gives us what he seeks from us---a life of prayer---in giving us Jesus Christ and the Spirit. So Christ is very God, the God to whom we pray. And he is very man, the man who prays for us and with us.... 
Grace means that God gives himself to us as God, freely and unconditionally, to be worshiped and adored. But grace also means that God comes to us in Jesus Christ as man, to do for us and in us what we cannot do. He offers a life of perfect obedience and worship and prayer to the Father, that we might be drawn by the Spirit into communion with the Father, "through Jesus Christ our Lord." (pp. 64-5)
From start to finish---justification through sanctification, all the way to glorification---our salvation is by, in and through Jesus Christ, the "one for the many." This is the truth, the stunning reality, the wonder of Gods' grace! Let us embrace it (and be embraced by it) and in doing so, find life! Amen.

November 18, 2016

Jesus: the one and the many

This post continues a review of James B. (JB) Torrance's book, "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace." For additional posts in the series, click a number: 1, 2, 4.

Be Not Afraid by Liz Lemon Swindle
(used with artist's permission)
In chapter two, JB points out the encouraging truth that Jesus Christ knows all about us: "He has been through it all---through suffering and death and separation." In Jesus we are blessed to have a High Priest fully able (and willing) "to carry us through all we face into resurrection life" (p. 44).

Hallelujah!

How thankful we can be that Jesus, our High Priest, "is touched with a feeling of our infirmities, interceding for us, opening our hearts by the Spirit" (p. 45). When we are unable to pray (rightly or at all), we need not fret, for Jesus prays for us. When we suffer, we need not add fear to our struggle, for Jesus hears our groans and intercedes for us, just as he did for Peter in his many struggles with fear, doubt and misunderstandings (Luke 22:31-32).

Our loving Father in heaven has graciously given us Christ and the Holy Spirit to draw us to himself in worship. Yet, as JB notes, it's all too common for Christian teaching and preaching to...
...throw people back on themselves with exhortations and instruction as to what to do and how to do it [instead of directing people] to the gospel of grace---to Jesus Christ, that they might look to him to lead them, open their hearts in faith and in prayer, and draw them by the Spirit into his eternal life of communion with the Father. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar...of grace, the grammar of our pastoral work. (p. 45) 
To rightly understand prayer and all other aspects of our worship of God, it's vital to understand the New Testament teaching concerning Christ's mediatorial priesthood---the reality that "we have someone who stands in for us to do for us and in us what we try to do and fail to do---someone who lives forever to intercede for us (Heb 6:20; 7:25-28; 8:1-6) and who gives us the gift of the Spirit to share in his intercessions" (p. 46).

Noting that The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines prayer as "an offering up of our desires unto God for things agreeable to his will, in the name of Christ," J.B. points out that we pray "in the name of Christ" because of what Christ has done and is doing in our name (that is, on our behalf). In several ways we see this mediatorial role of Christ foreshadowed in the actions of Israel's High Priest in the Temple of the Day of Atonement:
  1. Jesus comes to us from the Father to be our one High Priest as both God and human. As human, he is "bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh, in solidarity with all humanity." As one of us he offers to the Father "that worship, that obedience, that life of love in unbroken intimate communion" that we are unable to offer due to our fallenness. 
  2. Jesus "consecrates himself for this ministry of leading us into the presence of the Father"---we see this in Jesus' high priestly prayer in John 17:19. Jesus, we are told, is "the one for the many" (Heb 2:11 ASV) and his life of prayer is fundamental to his self-consecration on our behalf. 
  3. Jesus offers himself on our behalf in death, "saying amen in our humanity to the just judgments of God" against sin. In doing so, "he does not appease an angry God to condition him into being gracious, but in perfect acknowledgement of the holy love of the Father for a sinful world, seals God's covenant purpose for all humanity by his blood."
  4. Jesus enters heaven (the holy of holies) on our behalf, there to intercede for us (John 20:17).
  5. Jesus returns to us from heaven, by the gift of the Spirit, to both bring us his peace (John 20:19) and to share with us his apostolic mission to the world (Heb 3:1) "as a royal priesthood with the word of forgiveness" (p. 48-49).
In these ways, we see Jesus, the One (our High Priest and Mediator) acting on behalf of the many (all humanity). As JB notes, only Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, is able to fill this dual mediatorial role, for he, uniquely, is both God and man. Consider these stunning implications: When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, our humanity was born again in and with him. When Jesus was baptized by the Spirit, suffered, died, rose again and ascended, all humanity was included in his "representative vicarious humanity." And now, in heaven, Jesus, fully divine and still fully human... 
...presents us in himself to the Father as God's dear children, and our righteousness is hid with Christ in God---ready to be revealed at the last day.... Because Jesus has lived our life, offered himself through the eternal Spirit without spot to the Father in our name and on our behalf, as the one for the many, God accepts us in him. We are accepted in the beloved son---immaculate in him, and only in him---"[holy] whole and blameless in his sight" (Eph 1:4). (p. 50)
All of this wondrous truth, this awe-inspiring, earth-shattering reality, is behind what it means when we pray "in the name of Christ." JB elaborates:
Because of what [Christ] has done and is doing for us in our name, we worship the Father in Christ as well as through Christ.... Jesus is the Mediator of the new covenant, the one in whom God draws near to humanity in covenant love and the one in whom we draw near to God through the Spirit. In worship we offer ourselves to the Father "in the name of Christ" because he has already in our name made the one true offering to the Father, the offering by which he has sanctified for all time those who come to God by him (Heb 10:10, 14), and because he ever lives to intercede for us in our name. The covenant between God and humanity is consecrated in his person. (p. 50)  
It's vital to understand this reality that Jesus truly is the new covenant---"the one and the many." This is no mere concept or principle. Jesus is not merely an "ideal embodiment of humanity." No, there is an "absolute uniqueness to the person of Christ," as JB notes:
[Jesus] is deeply concerned for every single one of the many to bring every single one into personal union with himself, to share his personal union with the Father.... Thus in Jesus Christ "the one and the many" means at once the one for the many, the one who stands in for the many, the many represented personally in the one, the one who comes by the Spirit to each one of the many whom he loves and knows by name.... (pp. 51-2)   
Glory to God!

Because of who Jesus is (fully God and fully human), and because of what this God-man did (and continues to do) on our behalf, as our representative and substitute (through his vicarious humanity), Jesus fulfills God's purposes of love and obedience and worship for all humankind. JB comments:
What was lost in the one man ("in Adam")---communion with God---is restored and fulfilled for each one of us in Christ ("the last Adam"), and held out for us by the Spirit in the Lord's Supper [note here the importance of the sacraments]. This, of course, is the Pauline doctrine of Romans 5 and Ephesians 1---that God's great purpose is that "he might gather together in one all things in Christ" (Eph 1:10 NKJV). 
This concept of recapitulation [emphasized by Irenaeus], of the fulfillment of God's purposes for humanity in and through the inclusive and vicarious humanity of Christ, received fuller elaboration by Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria, and the Cappadocian divines in their statement that "the unasssumed is the unredeemed".... [Jesus] assumes that very humanity which is in need of redemption, and by being anointed by the Spirit in our humanity, by a life of perfect obedience, by dying and rising again for us, our humanity is healed in him, in his person. We are not just healed through Christ, because of the work of Christ, but in and through Christ. Person and work must not be separated. (pp. 52-53, italics added)
We'll stop here and pick up more next time concerning the essential reality that Jesus is "the one and the many." Stay tuned!

November 11, 2016

Trinitarian vs. unitarian worship

This post continues a review of James B. (JB) Torrance's book, "Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace." For additional posts in the series, click a number: 1, 34.


[updated 11/12/16]

Trinitarian worship

In chapter one, JB contrasts "Trinitarian worship" with what he refers to as "unitarian worship." He emphasizes that Trinitarian worship is all about Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, who through his high priestly ministry, grants humanity the "gift of participating through the Spirit" in his own "communion with the Father." In and with Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, we "draw near to God our Father" in worship that is Trinitarian in both form and substance (pp. 20-21, and see the quote above). JB elaborates:
There is only one Mediator between God and humanity. There is only one offering which is truly acceptable to God, and it is not ours. It is the offering by which [Jesus] has sanctified for all time those who come to God by him (Heb 2:11; 10:10, 14). There is only one who can lead us into the presence of the Father by his sacrifice on the cross.
...[This] trinitarian and incarnational [view of worship]... takes seriously the New Testament teaching about the sole priesthood and headship of Christ, his self-offering for us to the Father and our life in union with Christ through the Spirit, with a vision of the Church as the body of Christ. It is fundamentally sacramental, but in a way which enshrines the gospel of grace---that God our Father, in the gift of his Son and the gift of the Spirit, gives us what he demands---the worship of our hearts and minds. He lifts us up out of ourselves to participate in the very life and communion of the Godhead, that life of communion for which we were created.... The Christian doctrine of the Trinity is the grammar of this participatory understanding of worship.... (pp. 21-22)
Trinitarian worship is thus Christ-centered, emphasizing the person of Jesus Christ as "the real agent of worship....the High Priest who, by his one offering of himself for us on the cross, now leads us into...the holy presence of the Father, in holy communion" (p. 23).


Unitarian worship

In contrast, "unitarian worship" is human-centered---a "do-it-yourself-with-the-help-of-the-minister" form of worship that we do before God. It wrongly assumes that the only priesthood needed is our own (p. 20). One of the sad results is a de-emphasis (even marginalization) of the sacraments, which in Trinitarian worship are "the supreme expression of all worship."

Last Supper by Liz Lemon Swindle (used with permission)
JB points out that in the sacrament of Communion (also called the Lord's Table and the Eucharist), the risen and ascended Lord "meets us...in the power of the Spirit, to bring his passion to our remembrance and to draw us to himself that we may share his communion with the Father and his intercessions for the world" (p. 23). Sadly, this reality does not find a central place in unitarian worship.

Over the last 20 years, my own tribe (Grace Communion International) has followed the Spirit in transitioning from a legally-shaped, moralistic, unitarian worship, to a Trinitarian worship that is both grace-based and gospel-shaped. As we've traveled this path, I've seen our appreciation for and emphasis on the sacraments (communion in particular) grow. I look forward to greater growth, and commend to my brothers and sisters in GCI (and all tribes) JB's book as a guide.

What went wrong?

How is it that many Christians (GCI included---we were WCG back then), in embracing a unitarian worship, drifted from the ancient and orthodox Trinitarian, Nicene faith of the historic church? The answer is rather complex, but as JB notes, it has largely to do with allowing the doctrine of the Trinity to recede from its once central and foundational place in Christian faith and practice. By most definitions, to be Christian is to accept as primary the doctrine of the Trinity. The sad reality in many churches, though, is that if that doctrine were taken out of the statement of beliefs, essentially nothing would change in that church's teaching and practices. [1] JB elaborates:
If [in diminishing the doctrine of the Trinity] we take our eyes off Jesus Christ, the only one who can lead us by the Spirit into communion with the Father, do we not fall back on ourselves and our own religious efforts...what Paul calls a false "confidence in the flesh" (Rom 10:3 [and see Philippians 3:3]), that we can meet God's holy requirements, the dikaiomata of the law? (p. 24)

Forms of unitarian worship

Unitarian worship comes in several forms and JB examines two of them. The first is a moralistic form where Jesus is viewed primarily as a teacher of ethical principles. The second form is individualistic, emphasizing religious experience with a focus on personal encounter with God. As good as it might sound, this second form tends to reduce the gospel to "events" with an emphasis on the blessings of Christ more than on the divine-human person of Christ. As JB notes, this individualistic approach fails to recognize that "salvation is not simply through the work of Christ...but is primarily given to us in his person..." (p. 28). Though this second form of unitarian worship rightfully acknowledges the God-humanward work of Jesus, it (sadly) tends to diminish or entirely overlook the human-Godward work of Jesus---substituting our work (and worship) for the ongoing work (and worship) of Jesus on our behalf. JB comments:
[The unitarian approach] emphasizes our faith, our decision, our response in an event [oriented] theology, which short-circuits the vicarious humanity of Christ and belittles [our] union with Christ. For all that it may emphasize [about] the vicarious work of Christ on the cross to bring forgiveness and make our faith a real human possibility, it fails to see the place of the high priesthood of Jesus Christ as the leitourgos (Heb. 8:2).... To reduce worship to this two dimensional thing---God and ourselves, today---is to imply that God throws us back upon ourselves to make our response. It ignores the fact that God has already provided for us that response which alone is acceptable to him---the offering made for the whole human race in the life, obedience and passion of Jesus Christ.... Whatever else our faith is, it is a response to a response already made for us and continually being made for us in Christ, the pioneer of our faith. (pp. 29-30)

Trinitarian worship: it's about relationship!

In contrast to these two forms of unitarian worship, incarnational, Trinitarian worship has as its essential "grammar" the doctrine of the Trinity, putting at the heart and center of worship the unique relationship between the incarnate Son of God, Jesus and the Father, in the Spirit. JB comments:
[In Trinitarian worship] Christ is presented to us as the Son living a life of union and communion with the Father in the Spirit, presenting himself in our humanity through the eternal Spirit to the Father on behalf of humankind. By his Spirit he draws men and women to participate both in his life and worship and communion with the Father and in his mission from the Father to the world. (pp. 30-31)
Rublev's Trinity
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
Incarnational, Trinitarian worship is about relationship---first and foremost between the Son and the Father, in the Spirit; and then between the triune God and ourselves: with the Father, in the Spirit, by and through Christ (our Mediator and High Priest). This relating between God and humanity is a "double movement of grace: God-humanward and human-Godward"---a movement that in both its aspects is grounded entirely in the relational, "perichoretic being of God." (pp. 32-33).

As JB notes, incarnational, Trinitarian worship is "a gift of grace [by which] the Father has given us the Son and the Spirit to draw us into a life of shared communion---of participating through the Spirit in the Son's communion with the Father---that we might be drawn in love into the very trinitarian life of God himself" (p. 36).

This "deep intimate communion," (p. 40), is a relationship of "mutual indwelling" and "perichoretic unity" (p. 38). JB then concludes chapter one with this exhortation:
[Let us] return to "the forgotten Trinity"---to an understanding of the Holy Spirit, who delivers us from a narcissistic preoccupation with the self to find our true being in loving communion with God and one another---to hear God's call to us, in our day, to participate through the Spirit in Christ's communion with the Father and his mission from the Father to the world---to create in our day a new humanity of persons who find true fulfillment in other-centered communion and service in the kingdom of God... (p. 41).
And to that I say, amen!
_________________

[1] Readers of this blog may be familiar with Karl Rahners statement (in his book The Trinity), that "Christians are, in their practical life, almost mere 'monotheists.' We must be willing to admit that, should the doctrine of the Trinity have to be dropped as false, the major part of religious literature could well remain virtually unchanged."
____________

For audio recordings of some of JB's lectures, click here. For a related essay from JB, click here.

November 2, 2016

The faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22)

[Revised on 11/4/16]

In Romans 1:16-17 (KJV) Paul makes this declaration: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.”

Then in Romans 3:21-22 (KJV), Paul tells us whose faith, manifested in the Gospel, accounts for this "righteousness of God": But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe.... This powerful, yet often misunderstood passage in Romans 3 is helpfully examined by Ian Potts on pp. 67-68 of Romans the Gospel of God (and on Ian's blog). Below is a lengthy (though partial) quote from those pages with my editorial comments and edits added in brackets. For another post on this topic here in The Surprising God, click here.

Jesus among the Doctors of the Law (as a child in the Temple)
(public domain via Wikimedia Commons)
[Paul's significant phrase] “by faith of Jesus Christ” [Romans 3:22 (KJV)] ...is one that we find repeated in several other passages of scripture in various forms. For example in Galatians 2:16 (KJV), a passage which also refers to our justification through the work of God in Christ, we read this: A man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. But what is "the faith of Jesus Christ," and how [does that lead to our justification]?

Mistranslations

...Most modern translations of the Bible, including the NIV and the NKJV, have altered this vital phrase to read "faith in Jesus Christ"... [though] the overwhelming weight of evidence from the Greek [rests] on the side of translating the phrase as "faith of Jesus Christ." The English phrase “faith of Jesus Christ” could be understood more than one way, for example as Christ’s personal faith or faithfulness, or that faith we have which comes from Jesus Christ. However if translated “faith in Jesus Christ” only one understanding is allowed for – our faith in Jesus Christ. Hence those who have translated the passage in this way have forced upon it their own interpretational decision of what the phrase means which effectively rules out the reading of the passage as meaning the personal faith (or faithfulness) of Christ.... The accurate and faithful translation of these passages is certainly to render them as "the faith of Christ," as it was always translated in the various English versions of the Bible up to the 19th century, including the Great Bible, the Geneva Bible, Tyndale’s Bible, and the Authorised Version (KJV). It is the modern versions, influenced by erroneous theological thought (which places justification as conditional upon our faith, rather than being surely accomplished by God in Christ for all His people), which have switched to rendering "of" as "in." 
...The original Greek from which the English is translated is the phrase ‘Pistis Christou’, which is a genitive, and in the context, a subjective genitive, meaning that the faith spoken of is that belonging to the subject, even Jesus Christ. It is His faith which is in view here. The evidence for the wording being a subjective genitive, referring to faith belonging to, and personal to, Jesus Christ, is backed up by similar grammar used elsewhere in the New Testament. There are many other verses referring to things which are personal to Christ or to God (eg. The "hand of God," the "face of Jesus Christ," etc.) which are worded in identical grammar in the Greek as with "Pistis Christou" (the Greek construction used in Romans 3:22 (KJV) and Galatians 2:16 (KJV), meaning “faith of Christ”). 
Few would question those translations but when it comes to “faith of Jesus Christ” doubt is cast upon it. Why? Because the theological leanings of a number of modern ‘scholars’ prevent them from comprehending just why these verses refer to Christ’s personal faith. They think the writer must mean our faith in Christ. But in this they have stumbled, and rather than translating the text they have interpreted it, and obfuscated the truth from the readers of their mistranslations, and in so doing have shifted the focus away from that objective truth in the Gospel to that which is subjective in relation to it. But the text should be translated “faith of Jesus Christ,” for it is by the faith of Christ that [we are justified--the great good news that] is revealed in the Gospel.

Faith or faithfulness?

So, having considered the correct translation of the passages themselves, let us begin to consider the meaning of the phrase itself. What is to be understood by the phrase in these two verses? Does “faith of Jesus Christ” refer to faith which comes from Christ, or to Christ’s personal faith, or even to His faithfulness? 
Firstly, Romans 3:22 (KJV) is not referring to faith which comes from Christ, or that we have in relation to Him. Whenever the Apostle Paul wanted to refer to our faith or our believing he was very specific in the Greek he used. He knew perfectly well how to speak of our believing, or our faith in Christ, in contrast to the faith of Christ Himself.
Compare in the AV/KJV verses such as Galatians 3:26 (KJV), Ephesians 1:15 (KJV), Colossians 1:4 (KJV), or even the phrase “we have believed in Jesus Christ” in Galatians 2:16 (KJV) in contrast to “the faith of Jesus Christ” in the very same verse. The underlying Greek differs, and it differs for a reason. When Paul writes “faith of Jesus Christ” he is not referring to our faith in Him, whether that faith originates from God, from Christ, or not. He is referring to Christ’s own faith in God. 
What about the translation of the Greek word pistis? Does this refer to Christ’s faith or His faithfulness? The same Greek word can be translated into English with either meaning but whilst theological bias again leads some, who might concede that the AV has translated the passage correctly, to speak of Christ’s faithfulness in regard to Romans 3:22 (KJV), the fact remains that virtually all English translations render the word as faith, just as they do when speaking of a believer’s faith. Not only this, but given that faithfulness has to do with obedience, with works, whereas faith has to do with belief, trust and submission, the contrast demonstrated in Galatians 2:16 (KJV) between the works of the law and the faith of Jesus Christ points to the fact that it is not faithfulness but faith which is in view, which is being contrasted with works. The AV/KJV has translated the phrases correctly. Romans 3:22 (KJV) refers to the “faith of Jesus Christ” – pistis usually being translated as faith elsewhere in the New Testament.

The righteousness of God revealed

So if the correct translation of Romans 3:22 (KJV) is “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference,” what does this phrase actually mean? Does it really mean that the righteousness of God is manifested by the faith of Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-22, KJV)? That we are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:16, KJV)? Yes, that is precisely the meaning of the passages. It is the faith of Jesus Christ which brought to light the righteousness of God, by which we are justified. The righteousness of God was manifested, revealed, brought to light, by the faith of Jesus Christ. 
But one may answer that we are justified by the blood of Christ, by His death on the cross. And that is quite true – we are. But Christ’s death on the cross, His blood-shedding was a work of faith, an act of faith. It was the “obedience of faith.” Not obedience to the law, but the obedience of faith. The law didn’t demand that one lay down his life for another – but Christ’s faith revealed such love for His people, that while they were yet sinners He laid down His life for them. It is this which we see in the Gospel. It was by faith that He lived (“The just shall live by faith” Romans 1:17, KJV) and by faith that He died (Hebrews 12:2, KJV). Hence we are justified by the faith of Jesus Christ. By that substitutionary death which He died as an act of faith on behalf of those people whom He loved and gave Himself for (Galatians 2:20, KJV). 
Likewise the righteousness of God is manifested by the faith of Jesus Christ, because it is through the manifestation of this righteousness that we are justified, made righteous, before God. Christ lived a perfect and sinless life. His life which He lived from conception and birth unto death was characterised by faith. He lived a life in constant communion with the Father, doing the will of the Father, not His, in perfect and willing submission. He completely submitted to the Father, trusted in Him for all things, looked to Him in all things, and walked before Him with His eyes fixed upon God. Christ was the “Just One” and “the just shall live by faith.” 
Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6, KJV), yet Jesus pleased his Father in all things that He did (“This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”). Romans 14 (KJV) tells us that “what is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23, KJV). Clearly then, Christ, the sinless one, lived by faith, for He never once sinned. It is by faith that He pleased God, by faith that He lived, and by faith that He died. 
When He died, Christ’s faith looked to God to lay upon Him the sins of all His people, to make Him to be sin for them, and to judge those sins according to the righteousness of God in order to blot out all the sins, and all the sin, of His people, that they might become the righteousness of God in Christ. In so doing the righteousness of God was manifested and God the Father rewarded the faith of His Son by justifying His people, purifying them as His Bride, a Bride without blemish, fit for a King.

The righteousness of faith

Romans 10 contrasts two types of righteousness: the righteousness of the law (Romans 10:5, KJV), which is about ‘doing’ (“Do this and live”), and the righteousness of faith, which springs from believing (“…If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” Romans 10:9, KJV). It is this "righteousness of faith" which is revealed in the Gospel – the “righteousness of God by faith of Jesus Christ.” 
This righteousness springs from faith. Through it is the fulfilment of all the law’s demands, but it is characterised not by legal obedience but by the obedience of faith. Faith characterises it. And Christ revealed it in the Gospel through His faith. For we are justified not “by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:16, KJV). Hence in Paul’s statement about the Gospel of Christ in Romans 1:16-17 (KJV) he says: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith.” 
What a summary of the Gospel! It is the power of God unto salvation. Why? Because therein, in the Gospel, is the righteousness of God revealed. How is it revealed? From faith to faith. But what does that mean? Well, once the fact of Christ’s own faith be recognised, this phrase "from faith to faith," which has puzzled many a commentator (*) becomes much plainer to understand. The righteousness of God is revealed from faith – but whose faith? It is revealed to faith – but what faith is this? 
The meaning of Romans 1:17 (KJV) is this. It means that the righteousness of God was revealed from, or out of, Christ’s faith, unto our faith. Christ manifested the righteousness of God by His faith (Romans 3:22, KJV), and we come to see and believe in that righteousness (and that one great act of righteousness which Christ did in laying down His life on the cross to justify many by His blood) through faith. God gives us faith to see the righteousness of God revealed by Christ’s faith, within the Gospel. 
It is this revelation, this manifestation of the righteousness of God which is described in Romans 3:21-22 (KJV). For the righteousness of God is not simply revealed by the Gospel to our faith subjectively, but it is actually revealed in the Gospel objectively. It is that revelation, objectively in the Gospel, by the faith of Christ, out of which the righteousness of God is revealed to our faith subjectively: “from faith to faith.” Hence we can see the importance of the correct translation of these passages in the scriptures and how the mistranslations of modern versions undermine the truth here, because they seek to take that revelation of the righteousness of God which is objective in the Gospel, and make it merely subjective to the faith of the believer. 
Yet the scriptures plainly state that the “Gospel of Christ is the power of God unto salvation” because therein, in the Gospel objectively, “is the righteousness of God revealed.” Yes, this revelation is in the Gospel. How? Firstly by Christ’s life. His very life exhibited the righteousness of God. But secondly, in His death when He brought that righteousness to light in judgment against the sins of His people as He looked to His Father by faith whilst suffering upon the tree. This is what revealed the righteousness of God – The faith of Jesus Christ – And it is this revelation of righteousness in the Gospel which God’s people are brought by faith to believe in. Hence Paul writes that the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17, KJV). 
This phrase “The just shall live by faith” is absolutely central to the Gospel. It characterises it. It is at the heart of it. The just shall live by faith. Christ lived by faith. He justified us by His death, by His faith. His death was an act of His faith. And by it He justified His people, hence they too live by faith. By Christ’s glorious act of faith at the cross dead sinners are brought to life. That justifying work later to be brought home to these people in their experience by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, who gives them faith to believe it. Their lives then follow, as it were in the footsteps of Christ, as those who live by faith. The "just ones," who like the "Just One" before them, live by faith. 
Who can question that Christ’s life was lived by faith? Or that He died as an act of faith? Psalm 22 describes His sufferings and the whole language of that psalm is of faith, of trust in God. Likewise from Hebrews 10:38 (KJV) through to Hebrews 12:2 (KJV) we read an exposition of the same phrase taken from Habakkuk 2:4 (KJV), “The just shall live by his faith.” Hebrews 10:38 (KJV) quotes that and the next chapter goes on to define faith, to show that “without faith it is impossible to please God,” and to enumerate many wonderful instances of lives lived by faith. What made the deeds of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Rahab and others pleasing to God, was that they sprang from faith. By faith!

Christ, our forerunner

[In] Hebrews 12:2 (KJV), [the book of Hebrews] reaches its focal point, its summit: Christ. Here the attention is centered on that great forerunner of faith, Jesus. It is not simply that He is the object, or end, of man’s faith, but He is the “Just One” who ran before us, living by faith. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of [our] faith”. ‘Our’ here has been inserted by the translators. Also ‘author’ and ‘finisher’ are merely two words used to translate Greek words which have much fuller meanings. A better, more descriptive, translation might be “Looking unto Jesus the chief [or captain] and end [or object] of faith.” We look to Jesus who is the ‘end’ or object of [our] faith, but He is also the chief of faith, the captain or forerunner of faith. He is the One who went before us, who lived by faith, whom we follow. And what did Christ do by faith? We read in chapter 11 of what Noah did by faith, of what Abraham and others did ‘by faith,’but what main thing did Christ do ‘by faith’? We read “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” That is what Christ did by faith – He endured the cross, despising the shame. Why? “For the joy that was set before him.” What joy? To justify all those whom the Father had given unto Him from before the foundation of the world. To be united in resurrection life with His bride, the church. To live for ever in eternal bliss with all those justified by His blood. That was His joy, His satisfaction. “He shall see the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many; for he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11, KJV). 
In laying down His life for sinners Christ trusted His Father with complete trust, complete knowledge (“by his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many”), complete faith, counting Him faithful who had promised. He believed that God would lay all the sins of His chosen people upon His Son and that in Christ’s bearing them and taking their just punishment that those people would be really, truly, justified through His death. Christ had perfect faith in His Father and in that covenant they made before the foundation of the world.....

Justified by the faith of Christ

Finally, take another look at Galatians 2:16 (KJV). How is a man justified? By the works of the law? No. By the faith of Jesus Christ. Not by faith in Jesus Christ. Our faith doesn’t justify us, it is Christ’s death by which we are justified. Then ‘by the faith of Jesus Christ. Why? Because His death was an act of that faith. 
And what is a result of being justified by Christ’s death, by His faith? The result is that “we have believed in Jesus Christ.” Our belief doesn’t justify us, it is a result of our justification, inwrought by the Spirit. Our belief brings us to an experimental knowledge of our justification before God subjectively in which God declares a sentence of justification in our hearts, but it is God that justified us objectively in the Person of His Son, who shed His blood for His people. And when Christ shed His blood for that people the righteousness of God was unto all of them from that very moment, to be applied by the Spirit upon all of them when they believe, “even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference.” For we are justified, not by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” 
May God give us grace to both see the glory of His work in Christ, that work of faith by which He justified His people forever, and believing, to walk by faith, looking unto Jesus, “the author and finisher of faith.” Amen.
_____________
* One common interpretation of the phrase "from faith to faith" in Romans 1:17 (KJV) is that it refers to the believer’s faith which, it is said, goes from one measure of faith to another, greater, measure. The problem with such an interpretation, however, is that the subject of Romans 1:17 (KJV) is not the believer or his faith, but the righteousness of God, and how that is revealed in the Gospel. It is the revelation of the righteousness of God which is ‘from faith to faith’, and, as is shown in this article, this righteousness is revealed from (by, or out of) the faith of Jesus Christ unto the faith of the believer.