The Cruciform God: Chapter 2, Gal 2:15-21, Part 2

We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.

(Gal 2:16b) … so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by [the faithfulness of] Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Jesus was “faithful” = pistis to God’s covenant. He obeyed, but his obedience to the Law is almost secondary. The emphasis is on his crucifixion, which the Law of Moses certainly didn’t require. He obeyed by being true to God’s kenotic nature and God’s covenant. And this is the work of Jesus that is repeatedly emphasized in Galatians.

Therefore, if we are to be Christ followers, we must also be kenotic. Obedience to law isn’t so much the point as obedience to the character of God. And that can only be done by having the character of God. You see, Jesus, repeatedly condemned the Pharisees as “hypocrites” — a word meaning “actor.” They were just pretending to be like God. That won’t do. God has to have your heart.

When our hearts are actually like God’s heart, it’ll be because we’ve submitted to the work of the Spirit in us, and the evidence will be fruit of the Spirit, not for show and not even to earn a place in heaven, and not even as a matter of obedience. We’ll bear fruit of the Spirit because that’s our new co-crucified nature.

And so, you see, our “faith” [= pistis] is also faithfulness to God’s covenant. We want to say that means obedience to God’s laws, but Jesus’ faithfulness was especially his kenosis [= self-emptying], and our justification is our co-crucifixion with Jesus — our kenosis.

This takes us all the way back to Abraham. This is a story I’ve told a few times before, but I have to tell it again to make the point. Consider God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15 –

(Gen 15:4-21) Then the word of the LORD came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir.”

5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the heavens and count the stars — if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”

6 Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

7 He also said to him, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it.”

8 But Abram said, “O Sovereign LORD, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?”

9 So the LORD said to him, “Bring me a heifer, a goat and a ram, each three years old, along with a dove and a young pigeon.” 10 Abram brought all these to him, cut them in two and arranged the halves opposite each other; the birds, however, he did not cut in half. 11 Then birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away.

12 As the sun was setting, Abram fell into a deep sleep, and a thick and dreadful darkness came over him.

13 Then the LORD said to him, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. 14 But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions. 15 You, however, will go to your fathers in peace and be buried at a good old age. 16 In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

17 When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passed between the pieces.

18 On that day the LORD made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates — 19 the land of the Kenites, Kenizzites, Kadmonites, 20 Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

God wanted to assure Abraham of the certainly of his promise, and so he made a solemn covenant. Abraham’s end of the bargain was to have faith in God. God’s promise was “offspring,” which is literally the word “seed,” which is singular. In Gal 3:16, Paul interprets this as referring to the Messiah.

Before the ceremony, Abraham suffered “a thick and dreadful darkness,” which means he was very afraid. What was there to fear in making a covenant with God Almighty?

Well, we need to understand the meaning of “faith.” We take “faith” to mean that we accept the truth of what is said. We “believe” the person speaking. But the thought is deeper.

Josephus was a First Century Jew and a soldier. He tells a story of a soldier under his command who was disloyal. He caught him and threatened his life. He then told him to repent and be loyal to Josephus and he’d spare his life, giving him a second chance.

Well, the word translated “be loyal” is what we translate in the Bible as “believe.” He literally told the soldier to “believe in me.” He didn’t claim to be deity. He just wanted the man’s loyalty. You see, “faith” includes “faithfulness.”

Abraham’s end of the covenant was not just intellectual assent, accepting God’s word as true. Abraham was to be loyal to God.

Now, imagine having God himself come to you and ask for a blood oath of loyalty. You could hardly say no! But then, would you really want to bet your life on your ability to keep your word?

To firmly establish the seriousness of the covenant, God asked not for an animal, but every kind of animal used in sacrificial worship. Indeed, Abraham lined up each of the very animals that would later be used as a sacrifice under the Law of Moses centuries later! It’s no wonder Abraham was afraid.

But when night fell and it was time for God and Abraham to each walk between the animals, an amazing thing happened. God passed through both as a torch of flame and as smoke pot. He went through twice — and Abraham didn’t pass through at all.

Rather, when it was time for Abraham to walk in the blood, saying if I don’t keep my promise, you may do to me as we have done to these animals, God himself took the walk — and only God. God promised to pay the penalty for Abraham! [This interpretation is thanks to Ray Vander Laan.]

Jesus was faithful to both the Mosaic and the Abrahamic covenants — and it’s the covenant with Abraham that has been continued (in a Christ-transformed way) for Christians. Jesus fulfilled the covenant by paying the price for our sins with his death. The crucifixion honored God’s blood oath.

And here’s the deal. When we were co-crucified with Jesus, we shared in his death and in the fulfillment of the blood oath. We died. We paid the price, but God resurrected us before we even knew we were dead! And Jesus was resurrected in us through the Spirit.

Thus, our pistis = faith = faithfulness to the covenant is not only the fact that we believe, it’s also the fact that Jesus was faithful for us, and the fact that we continue to believe and continue in Christ’s faithfulness. As Paul said,

20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by [the faithfulness of] the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Son’s faithfulness is not only that he was obedient 2,000 years ago. He continues to be obedient to his oath today — in us. When he lives in us, he is faithful in us. His faithfulness is seen in the Spirit’s causing us to be faithful to the same blood oath by also continuing to live the crucifixion through our kenosis.

Hence, in a very real sense, our pistis = faith = faithfulness = Jesus’ pistis = faithfulness = righteousness = justification = the Spirit’s work in us. And this refines and even re-defines much of how we read Paul — and obliterates many of the old fights.

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