Thursday, June 29, 2017

Salvation By Grace Through Faithfulness

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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. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
You have been saved by grace through faith, Paul tells his readers. In the context of the Greek and Roman culture of the day, they would have recognized the language of “grace” and “faith,” especially when used together, as the language of personal relationship, especially one of benefaction; that is, a patron/client relationship.

A patron would extend himself in friendship to another person and show him favor. It was a gift, and offered freely. He was not obliged to extend his friendship but would offer it because he desired to do so. The other person, the client, would decide whether he wanted to enter into that friendship. If he did, he would respond to the benefactor’s gracious act with faith. (You can read more about patronage culture in Honor, Patronage, Kinship and Purity: Unlocking New Testament Culture, by David A. deSilva.)

What is the nature of faith in such a situation? If the object of faith is a set of propositions, then it might be sufficient to think of it merely as mental agreement to the reliability of those propositions. In the abstract, we might even agree that another person is trustworthy, but that is not the same things as having faith in or toward that person. In the context of human relationships, of entering into friendship, faith is more than that. It is not only trust in the reliability of that person as friend; it is also faithfulness to that person. In the patron/client relationship, both parties have each other’s back. The patron is on the side of the client and the client is on the side of the patron. It is the idea that “we are in this together.” They keep faith with each other.

In Ephesians 2, there are a couple of things that set God’s patronage apart from that of Paul’s surrounding culture, and their significance would be immediately grasped by Paul’s readers. First is that God has, in Christ, extended his patronage, which is to say his grace and favor, even to his enemies, to people who are against him. At the beginning of chapter 2, Paul reminds his readers that they had formerly been dead in trespasses and sins, in rebellion against God (vv. 1-3). But God did something that was completely unexpected and undeserved:
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:4-7)
For no other reason than his deep and abiding love for us, God showed the richness of his mercy and extended grace and favor, making us alive together with Christ, raising us up together with Christ, seating us with Christ in the heavenlies. This is salvation, freely and unconditionally given to us in Jesus Christ. In a key moment in the book of Romans, Paul declares, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). This is the unprecedented grace and patronage of God in extending his friendship even to all who have rebelled against him (which we have all done in one way or another).

The second remarkable thing about God’s patronage that sets it apart from all others is that even the pistis, the faith/faithfulness with which to respond to God’s patronage, is itself a gracious gift of God. That was quite unparalleled (and by the nature of things, quite impossible) in the patronage of Greek and Roman culture. But God has shown grace upon grace by his gift of faithfulness. It means that we do not have to somehow generate it in ourselves — and, indeed, we cannot — but it has been gifted to us. All is done by God, and that leaves absolutely no room for any of us to boast. In the patronage of men, a faithful client could boast of how faithful he was to his patron. But with God, there is no such room because even the faith/faithfulness is supplied by God.

Whose faith/faithfulness is this, then? Certainly not ours, for Paul tells us that it is the gift of God. I suggest that the faithfulness that has been given and through which we have been saved is the faithfulness of Christ. This would not be the first time Paul brings out this point. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul relates the words he spoke in rebuke to Peter:
We are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by the faithfulness of Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by the faithfulness of Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16, NET Bible)
We are justified, put right with God, by the “faithfulness of Christ.” The underlying Greek words are pisteos Christou. Grammatically, it is a genitive construction, and taken as a subjective genitive, indicates possession; in this case, the faith/faithfulness of Christ. However, it is also grammatically possible to take it as an objective genitive, which would indicate faith/faithfulness in or to Christ. There is ongoing discussion in scholarly circles concerning which is the most appropriate way to understand pisteos Christou as it is used several times in the New Testament.

My own view is that it should be understood as referring to the faithfulness of Christ. I have several reasons for this, but if I may digress for a moment, one I would like to mention briefly is what Paul says in Romans 5:18 in regard to Christ and our justification: “Consequently, just as one trespass [Adam’s] resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act [Christ’s] resulted in justification and life for all people.” Adam’s act of disobedience resulted in condemnation for all; Christ’s act of obedience — we may say “faithfulness” — resulted in justification for all. It is not our faith but Christ’s faithfulness that has done this.

Returning to Galatians 2:16, notice that Paul contrasts the “faithfulness of Christ” with the “works of the law.” Paul is adamant that we are reconciled to God by the former, not by the latter, and that justification by the faithfulness of Christ is the reason for having faith in Christ.

In Ephesians 2, there is a similar contrast between faithfulness and the works of the law. We are saved, Paul tells us, through God’s gift of faith/faithfulness, “not by works, so that no one can boast” (v. 9). The works in view here are the works of the Mosaic law. Paul goes on to show that the division between Jews and Gentiles, which was a division demarcated by the law, has been broken down by Christ, “by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility” (vv. 14-16). One of the issues was circumcision (v. 11), a work of the law that, for the Jews, marked out who belonged to the people of God.

In Ephesians 2:8-9, then, as in Galatians 2:16, faith/faithfulness is contrasted with the works of the law. We are put right with God through the former, and clearly not through the latter. And it is through Christ’s faithfulness, not our own, that we are saved.

In the next post, we will see how the faithfulness of Christ continues in Ephesians 2:10, and that our salvation, from beginning to end, is the work of God in Christ.