We’re continuing our study of Michael J. Gorman’s Inhabiting the Cruciform God.
Now, at this point, I begin to sound a bit antinomian (lawless), because it sounds as though I’m saying you can be sinful and not submit to God’s will and still be saved. And, not surprisingly, Paul was accused of the same thing. Indeed, if you never suffer such an accusation, it may be that you aren’t teaching the gospel as well as Paul.
N. T. Wright explains in Christian Origins and the Question of God: Jesus and the Victory of God, p. 263, how “repent” and “faith” were used by First Century Jews. He refers to a story told by Josephus about a Jewish rebel named Jesus –
I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me … ; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.
[quoted by Wright at p. 250.]
The Greek in the Josephus, metanoesein kai pistos (repent and believe = show repentance and prove loyalty) is identical to the Greek in Mark 1:15 —
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
Josephus notes that “believe in me” is translated “be loyal to me” in most translations. “Believe in” or “have faith in” means “be loyal to” or even “submit to as lord.”
Josephus asked Jesus the Galilean brigand leader, ‘to repent and believe in me,’ in other words, to give up his agenda and follow Josephus instead. Jesus of Nazareth, I suggest, issued more or less exactly the same summons to his contemporaries.
To “repent” in this context is not “no longer commit that sin” but “change loyalties.”
(Acts 20:21) I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Now, when we consider the life of Abraham, we see that he showed his faith through obedience — by relocating to Palestine, by attempting to sacrifice Isaac — but that he was capable of great sin (giving his wife to a king for his harem twice!) Therefore, he obedience was far from perfect, but he was, on the whole, deeply loyal to God and his life was characterized by obedience even though he sinned.
Recall that we earlier concluded that pistis = faith = faithfulness. We are saved by the “faith” = “faithfulness” of Jesus. And we concluded that Jesus’ faithfulness is found in his kenosis — his faithfulness to the covenant by paying the price for our sins on the cross. For Jesus, faithfulness/faith is cross-shaped.
For the Christian, as we considered in several posts, our faith/faithfulness is also cross-shaped. Our loyalty = faith = faithfulness all equals submission to the cross of Jesus.
(Rom 6:1-4) What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? 2 By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? 3 Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
While we’ve tended to use this text as a prooftext for baptism, it’s much more about the nature of what happens at baptism. We are baptized into his death to live a new life, which is a cruciform life.
(Rom 6:6-7) For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin– 7 because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.
(Rom 6:12-13) Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.
Notice that “offer” in 6:13 is the language of sacrifice. Paul here anticipates Rom 12:1 —
(Rom 12:1) Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship.
You see, the “therefore” to grace is submission to self-sacrifice. It’s being like Jesus — on the cross.
Hence, true faith, the faith that saves, is faith that submits to the cross and dies with Jesus to be resurrected with Jesus. The idea of baptism isn’t to strike a bargain with God — eternity with God in exchange for getting wet for 5 minutes. That’s not the deal.
No, baptism and faith are both about the crucifixion and our becoming shaped like the cross. That is faith/faithfulness/loyalty.
So — our faith/faithfulness/loyalty/kenosis/cruciformity matches Jesus’ own faithfulness, because he saved us by his faithfulness, loyalty, kenosis, cruciformity — which is the way God chose to keep the covenant for us — to be righteous — so that we could be credited with keeping the covenant/being truly righteous and circumcised.
The difference, of course, is that Jesus achieved perfect faithfulness, loyalty, kenosis, cruciformity, whereas we are saved by grace through faith. We are cruciform, but imperfectly so. Hence, we must be credited with a righteousness we don’t actually deserve. It’s truly a gift.
But then neither is it enough for us merely to have “faith” in the sense of intellectual acceptance that Jesus is the Christ. Even the demons understand that. But they don’t submit to crucifixion — not even a little bit.
(Luke 9:23-24) Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.”
Thus, we begin to see that justification, the completed work of Jesus on the cross, the nature of God, faith in Jesus as Messiah, and Christian ethics all come together into a beautifully symmetric unity. Faithfulness and righteousess and kenosis — it’s all the same thing, which is why Jesus reveals God through the cross and why we are to live the cross. Living the cross is to be like God.
And this begins to explain why faith is essential to justification, that is, to being deemed faithful to the covenant. By believing in Jesus and him crucified, and by submitting to him as Lord, we submit to live the cross. It’s not just that we accept that he is the Messiah and that we get baptized. It’s that our baptism takes us from self-centered, self-seeking beings into a new existence in which we are transformed into self-giving, self-emptying beings — and so are restored to the image of God.