I set stage for this blog with the question, What is Christian Salvation and Why Would Anyone Want It? If you haven’t read that blog first, you might want to take some time to read it. I set this piece up with my own story, but I am no different than anyone else who has encountered the God of the Bible and the salvation that He offers.
In this piece we will get into some detail on the meaning of salvation, sin that poses the problem for which salvation is the solution, and righteousness, which is, perhaps, more misunderstood than the other two.
To begin with, salvation means, generally, “preservation or deliverance from harm, ruin, or loss”; theologically, it means “deliverance from sin and its consequences” according to Google. Righteousness means, generally, “the quality of being morally right or justifiable” according to Google.
These definitions are simple and easy enough to understand generally, but they have very specific and nuanced meanings in context of faith that belie the richest and deepest of Christian truths.
Abraham believed God, and God “reckoned” that faith to Abraham as righteousness. When God told Abraham to look at the stars and said to Abraham that he would bear offspring and have descendants like the stars in the sky, Abraham believed God. What does that really mean?
We get a bit of a clue by looking at the Hebrew word translated “believe” is ̓āman. It means to confirm (support), as when putting confidence in something that is supported (trustworthy). The Hebrew suggests that Abraham confirmed, affirmed, supported, or had confidence in what God was telling him.
But there is more to it than that. The word, āman, as used in this passage, is in the hiphil form. The hiphil form suggests an act of intentional interaction with a subject. Abraham didn’t just star at the stars in wonder, he consciously and intentionally engaged God and what Goad was saying to him, and he affirmatively confirmed, supported and put his confidence in what God was saying to him. In effect, Abraham said, “Amen”, in his heart, and he meant it!
Faith/belief is a key concept and critical characteristic of the follower of Christ. Abraham is held up as the prime example of faith. Abraham is the father of all us all. Paul says that Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.” And this faith, trust and confidence in God that Abraham had is what God “counted to him as righteousness”.
This same faith, Paul says, will be counted to us as righteousness who “believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
Abraham didn’t do anything, but believe God, and God gave him counted him righteousness in return. Such a simple thing! And that is all we must do to be counted as righteous in God’s sight today – to believe in the one God sent to us, Jesus Christ, who suffered, died and was buried for us, and who has risen from the dead establishing the promise of God to us that we will be risen too in newness of life.
This seems so very simple that we are tempted to want more. We are tempted to think we must do more to be counted as righteous.
For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:2-4)
Paul was writing here of the Jews. Paul spoke with particular authority about this because he was a Jew, trained in the highest Jewish traditions by the greatest teacher of the time, and he had once zealously protected the Jewish tradition of the law against the upstart followers of Jesus. And then, he dramatically encountered the risen Jesus.
Paul is saying that the Jews were ignorant of God’s righteousness because they sought to establish their own righteousness, instead of accepting (submitting to) God’s righteousness. Paul knew this because Jesus was the embodiment of God, righteousness and all, in the flesh.
But righteousness seems sometimes like a nebulous concept. It seems better understood with “self” in front of it. It’s hard to think of righteousness without thinking self-righteous. In truth, only God is righteous. We can only try to understand His righteousness.
Another way to look at righteousness is through the lens of “rightness”. Simply put, God is right because he is God. When we think we are right, especially in comparison or contrast to God, we are asserting that we are the measure of right, rather than God.
I believe that faith has a point, though I have often wondered exactly what it is. I believe there is a reason that faith is necessary, though I have often wondered why. I think these questions are worth exploring.
“Seeing is believing” is a truism that characterizes the world that we live in. Some people are generally skeptical and not willing to believe anything (give themselves to an idea) unless they are overwhelming convinced. Other people are quick to believe the things they want to believe, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. People are kind of funny that way.
I believe both extremes are rooted in the same vein. We are born in sin and naturally want to control our own destinies. Skepticism is one way we hang on to that control. Believing in something we want to believe is just another way of clinging to the control of our own destiny (gullibility and naiveté aside). Continue reading “The Point of Faith”→