I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).
There is now a growing consensus among New Testament scholars about an important expression in the Pauline letters concerning the condition-for-salvation (of, for instance, unbaptized infants or non-Christians). The Greek phrase in question is pistis Iēsou Christou. Bible versions translated in the twentieth century render this phrase as “faith in Jesus Christ”. Both Catholics and Protestants accept this Pauline expression as stating the condition for being saved. However, it creates problems in the case of unbaptized children who die before they are capable of expressing this faith, as well as in the case of nonbelievers in Christ, who constitute the greater percentage of the population of the world.
Interestingly, before the twentieth century the phrase in question was typically rendered as “faith of Jesus Christ”. A return to this more literal rendering of the Greek expression is what is currently being proposed by a good number of Pauline scholars. This renewed translation shifts the basis-of-salvation from “my own” or “your own” or “our own” faith in Jesus Christ to something that is truly gratuitous and unmerited—the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ. It is a basis-of-salvation whose origin is entirely outside of ourselves, and is not subject to human whim and fickleness. It rests entirely on the pure initiative of God and his Son’s response to that initiative. There is no room here for pride and boasting about “my own” faith in Jesus Christ as satisfying the condition for my salvation. There is no more room for triumphalism for those who profess “faith in Jesus Christ” and regard non-Christians as excluded from the scope of salvation.
Paul in no way diminishes the importance of the believer’s faith by highlighting the faith of Jesus Christ. The shift of emphasis from “faith in Jesus Christ” to the “faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ” does not mean that a Christian can now take it easy and relax since Jesus Christ has already taken care of everything. In fact, this new interpretation calls a Christian to greater responsibility: a participation in the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
What is this participation all about, in concrete terms? Definitely, it is not just the minimal fulfillment of a Sunday obligation or the mere compliance with some norm of life. Seeking the highest and fullest expression of Christ's faith/ faithfulnes brings us back to the cross, which is a place of victory—the victory of a double faithfulness: God’s and Jesus Christ’s faithfulnes. To participate in that victory means to let one’s life be molded according to the form of the cross of Christ, that is, to accept the necessary pains and sufferings that come into our life as doorways leading to our transformation in Christ. Here even non-Christians can have access to Jesus Christ, because suffering is a universal phenomenon. Non-Christians may not know Jesus Christ in person, nor his teachings, nor Christian practices of faith, but if they have learned to accept the necessary sufferings of their life, then the door leading towards transformation is also open to them. In a way which has not yet been brought to the level of consciousness, they are already living a cruciform existence and anonymously participating in the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
For Christians, the deeper implication lies in the fact that the Greek word pistis means both “faith” and “faithfulness.” The two ideas are connected. Faith entails faithfulness. Jesus had faith in his Father, that is why his only response to him was faithfulness, even at the price of his own life.
In our old understanding that “faith in Jesus Christ” is the condition for salvation, it is easy to dichotomize—to profess faith with the lips, but not to respond with faithfulness, or worse, to remain inactive and unresponsive. That all changes if the faith that we profess is not our own, but the active faith of Jesus Christ which engages and involves those who dare to profess it. In this faithfulness of Jesus, whatever we ask the Father in his name, he will give us, because the faith with which we invoke his name is his very own faith (the faith of Jesus Christ), in which we are only participating. Participation in the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ also means that the believer does not stand alone, relying on private devotions without getting connected to the social unit which is the local church community. Christian baptism is precisely the initiation of a person into the community where participation in the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ is concretized.
Thus, there is no such a thing as an “inactive faith”: what we call “our faith” is a participation in the active faith/faithfulness of Jesus Chris engaging our energies, deepening our sense of belonging, and at the same time, calling forth our efforts for the greater good of the community. This is what it means to “live by the faith of the Son of God”!
Excerpted and adapated from Glimpses of Paul and His Message.
Bernardita Dianzon, FSP, is a member of the Daughters of St Paul. She obtained her Licentiate in Sacred Scriptures from the Pontifical Biblical Institute and her Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Loyola School of Theology, where she also teaches the Letters of St Paul and biblical Greek.
About the Image: Apse mosaic of the Basilica of St Paul-Outside-the-Walls, Rome.