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“In Me First”: “Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?” – Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

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“In Me First” [1]:

“Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?”

Romans 3:3 Geneva Bible

If Christianity be merely another phase of the “good life,” and Jesus but another good man, the university has only relative need to take account of it.. . . If Christianity, on the other hand, offers Jesus as what He said He was, that is something else again.  That is something unique in life and in liberal education. . . . It is a revelation more profound and right than any other could be. . . . God’s giving man the supreme image of Himself as a man was the most universal expression possible of any universal truth.

-Howard Lowry, The Mind’s Adventure, pp. 140-141-

CO-9-1-13

Objective Consideration

The Christian faith, objectively considered, consists of a body of written testimony in the form of twenty-seven New Testament books which fulfill and rationally cohere with the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament.  Totally aside from the issue of whether or not the testimony of the Old and New Testaments itself is true, it is indisputable that these are the primary sources of Christianity.  The validity of the faith experience of believing Christians stands or falls upon the reliability of these primary documents. [2]  These documents constitute the objective basis for the personal experience of the believer.

The experience of the believer today corroborates the written testimony, but does not establish it.  The reliability of the Testaments is established by the integrity of the ancient writers and ultimately by God Himself orchestrating these testamentary events in human history. Yet many fail to grasp the testimony or acknowledge it as true.  Concerning them,  Paul wrote, “the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” [3]  To us who believe, Jesus Christ is the Rock of salvation.  To those who remain in their unbelief upon hearing the gospel, Jesus is a Rock of offense. [4]

Exhibit A

“Faith,” as the term was objectively employed in Galatians 3:25, is spelled out by the apostle in Galatians 4:1-7 as epochal, revelational, incarnational, redemptive, adoptive, trinitarian, christocentric, and propositional (i.e. rationally expressible).  Only by the enablement of the Holy Spirit do Adam’s descendants think, emote, or act rationally with respect to their own eternal good.  Only a divine act of grace can make them receptive to the truth. [5]  Accordingly, we must not overlook the subjective, experiential, human experience of “faith” –the engagement of a man’s innermost being.  Faith characterizes the inner life of every true Christian, [6] and despite his “great learning,” [7]  Paul was no exception to this rule.  In fact, he was “Exhibit A.”  The falling of the scales from the eyes of Saul of Tarsus was emblematic of the spiritual transformation of his inner person.

This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should believe on him to life everlasting. [8]

That God picked Saul of Tarsus to be “Exhibit A” of salvation is established by the following  key expressions in the above Scripture: (1) “of whom I am chief”; (2) “in me first”; and (3) “for a pattern to them.”

Objectively Subjective

For Saul of Tarsus, the arrival of “faith” was not only epochal– it was autobiographical  constituting the heart of his profile in the Philippian Letter:

If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.  But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ.  Yea, doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ.  And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death. [9]

Even in controversial matters the Pauline bottom line was that whatever did not proceed from faith was “sin.” [10]  This was, of course, “the faith which worketh by love.” [11]  While “faith” was subjective, it was not relativistic, as the twenty-first century has so democratized it with so-called “inter-faith” dialogues and “faith-based” government programs.  “Faith” for Paul was not without definition, to designate all varieties of religious experience whether true or false. [12]   “Faith” came by “hearing” and “hearing” “by the word of God.” [13]  Faith, accordingly, was objectively subjective!  Nowhere is this more obvious than in Paul’s autobiographical declaration in Galatians 2:20: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I but Christ liveth in me: and the life I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”

“Faith,” as Paul employed the term, had evangelical substance and issued in confession “because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thy heart that God hath raised him from the dead [a propositional affirmation of an historical or rather supra-historical [14] fact], thou shalt be saved.” [15]  It should come as no surprise, therefore, that in Galatians 2:20 and 3:25 Paul included the definite Greek article [represented by the English “the”] to set this “faith” apart.   “Faith” defined the new disposition of heart and mind which Paul personally received during his encounter with the risen Lord on the road to Damascus.  It was clearly distinguished from any human exertion or effort originating in fallen human nature which Paul designated the “works of the flesh.” [16]

Paul associated “faith” with the “word” of the gospel or the promise of grace, as distinct from the “law,” and yet as the only means by which the law could be upheld. [17]  “Faith” itself was the “gift of God” and the mode through which Christ dwelt in the heart. [18]  For Paul, the arrival of faith, objectively established and subjectively experienced, was synonymous with the arrival of Christ. [19]  Jesus Christ was the foundation and substance of that “faith” and the personification of the gospel. [20]

For Paul to speak of New Testament “faith” in such epochal terms, as he did in Galatians 3:25, did not mean that faith was totally absent in the Old Testament, but simply that, in spite of the faithful remnant, [21] the Jewish nation as a whole had “stumbled over the stumbling stone.”  While “faith” had characterized all the true Old Testament saints, attention to outward formality under the ceremonial law had overshadowed faith in the promised Messiah.  Israel erroneously imagined  that she could obtain righteousness based upon works rather than faith in the Righteous One. [22]  While the ceremonial law portrayed the substance of that “faith” quite graphically, the Jews as a whole failed to discern that connection in their hearts and minds much less exhibit it in their behavior. [23] 

“No Creed But Christ”

But what of the expression “No Creed But Christ” affirmed in many churches today?

Properly understood, such a statement would not contradict the historic Christian creeds and confessions.

If Christ alone is our creed, we have a sufficient creed. Such a confession would only lack credibility if it did not ultimately embrace the entire system of doctrine embodied in the Old and New Testaments and hold each respective part of that system in proper proportion and relation to every other.  But championing an historic creed would also lack credibility if, at the same time, love for the Lord, one’s brethren, one’s fellow men, one’s country, one’s family, or even one’s enemies, was lacking.

Assuredly there is but one way in which to achieve what is not merely difficult but utterly against human nature: to love those who hate us, to repay their evil deeds with benefits, to return blessings for reproaches (Matt. 5:44).  It is that we remember not to consider man’s evil intention  but to look upon the image of God in them, which cancels and effaces their transgressions, and with its beauty and dignity allures us to love and embrace them. [24]

 


Endnotes

[1].1 Tim. 1:16

[2].1 Cor. 15:14-19

[3]. 2 Cor. 4:4; Rom. 11:7-10

[4]. 1 Pet. 2:4-8)

[5]. Ezek. 36:25-27

[6]. Gal. 3:1-9

[7]. Acts 26:24

[8]. 1 Tim. 1:15-16

[9]. Phil. 3:4-10

[10]. Rom. 14:23

[11]. Gal. 5:6

[12]. Ephes. 4:5

[13]. Rom. 10:17

[14]. George Eldon Ladd, critiquing Bultmann’s view of history in The New Testament and Criticism, makes the point that “the essential portrait of Jesus found in our Gospels” “completely transcends historical categories, cannot be explained in terms of historical causality, and is quite without historical analogy.”, p. 185.  This writer would add the following qualifier to Ladd’s statement with respect to “historical analogy” : “apart from the Judaeo-Christian Scriptures” with references to Luke 24:25-27, 44-46; Romans 4:13-22 and Hebrews 11:17-19.

[15]. Rom. 10:9

[16]. Gal. 1:11-16; 2:15-16; 5:19-21  This is not to suggest that Paul was a Keswick-type or pietistic in the sense that the redeemed faculty of volition was not to be exerted. The contrary is quite apparent in Paul’s polemic in the opening chapter of the Galatian epistle.  See also 1 Cor. 15:10.  Commenting on Ezekiel 36:26, Jeremiah 32:39-40, and Ezekiel 11:19, John Calvin concluded, “For it always follows that nothing good can arise out of our will until it has been reformed; and after its reformation, in so far as it is good, it is so from God, and not from ourselves.” Institutes of the Christian Religion, II, iii, 8

[17]. Rom. 3:31; 4:13-16; 10:8

[18]. Gal. 3:20; Ephes. 2:8: 3:17; Jonathan Edwards in his treatise on Justification by Faith defined faith simply as “the soul’s active uniting with Christ” or the “very act of unition,” as distinct from the classical Reformed view as the “instrument of justification.” Works, 1:626

[19]. Gal. 3:23-25

[20]. 1 Cor. 3:12

[21]. Rom. 11:5-6

[22]. Rom. 9:32-33; Isaiah 53:11

[23]. Amos 5:21-24; Matt. 11:25-30; 15:8; John 2:18-22

[24]. John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, III, vii, 6; See Gen. 50:15-21; Luke 23:34; Acts 7:59-60

Sources

Brand, David C. 1991.  Profile of the Last Puritan: Jonathan Edwards, Self-Love, and the Dawn of the Beatific.  American Academy of Religion Academy Series, edited by Susan Thistlethwaite. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Bruce, F. F. 1961. The English Bible: A history of translations. New York: Oxford University Press.

Calvin, John. 1960. The Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed., John T. McNeill. 2 vols. The Library of Christian Classics. Vols. 21 & 22. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Edwards, Jonathan. 1879. The Works of Jonathan Edwards, A.M., rev. & ed., Edward Hickman, 2 vols. 12th edition. London: William Tegg & Co.

Geneva Bible. 1560.  www.genevabible.org/Geneva.html

Ladd, George Eldon. 1967. The New Testament and Criticism. Reprinted 1991. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Lowry, Howard. 1950. The Mind’s Adventure: Religion and Higher Education. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

The Holy Bible. 1611 Edition. King James Version. New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

 

About the Writer

                                David Clark Brand is a retired pastor and educator with missionary experience in Korea and Arizona.  He and his wife reside in Ohio.  They have four grown children and seven grandchildren.  With a B.A. in the Liberal Arts, an M. Div., and a Th.M. in Church History, Dave continues to enjoy study and writing.  One of his books, a contextual study of the life and thought of Jonathan Edwards, was published by the American Academy of Religion via Scholars Press in Atlanta.

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