I’m pondering righteousness “by grace through faith” (Romans 3:22; 5:2; Ephesians 2:8). I usually steep in the grace in this space. I want to put the other word in neon lights today: faith. The connection is clear and direct. Paul’s writings in the New Testament emphasize that righteousness, right relationship with God, is his gift to us, by grace, through faith in Jesus. Our entire relationship to our heavenly Father hangs on that alone.
What is this faith?
Some translations use the word faith; others use trust. Whichever English word appears (it’s pistis in the Greek), the author of the letter to the Hebrews defines it.¹ Chapter 11 begins with
Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen. 11:1 CSB
This is where confidence or assurance and not seen or not yet intertwine. How confident am I in the “unseen” and “not yet” parts of life? I make an attempt to be present in the moment, but faith encompasses that and so much more. The things yet to be seen test my faith and prove it. While it’s good to be in the present as much as possible, I want to be mindful of things I haven’t seen when it’s appropriate.
I didn’t walk Jerusalem’s narrow, dusty streets with Jesus. I didn’t witness the trial or weep during the agonizing torture. I didn’t shoulder the heavy, rough-hewn crossbeam. I didn’t cringe or reel when nails were pounded into his hands and feet. My ears didn’t hear him cry out “Eloi, Eloi, lemá sabachtháni ?” (Mark 15:34). I didn’t tremble when the darkness came, the ground shook, and the curtain tore from top to bottom (Matthew 27; Mark 15; Luke 23; John 19). I didn’t carry his lifeless body to Joseph’s tomb to bury him hastily. I didn’t stand, dumbfounded, in front of the same tomb—empty. I trust these events happened. I place faith in the significant gift exchanged on a blood-stained cross with “It is accomplished!” (John 19:30 CJB). His life for my sin.
Faith is like…
Some compare faith to sitting in a chair. Seeing the chair, assuming it can hold you, is one thing. That’s like knowing the biblical stories and truths—maybe even speaking about them comfortably. Following through on the knowledge of the chair’s stability in faith would be putting all your weight on the chair by sitting in it. That’s like believing the Bible is unchangeable, inerrant truth and doing what it says.
Some magnify the significance of faith by comparing it to The Great Blondin, suggesting it’s like choosing to cross Niagara Falls in a wheelbarrow on a tightrope pushed by a daredevil. Think about that for just a second: would you trust your life (whatever is left of the dash between the dates) to a man who says he can get you to the other side safely. The way looks long, frightening, and near impossible. Still, if you got in that wheelbarrow, you’d be placing the deepest trust in the man pushing it, wouldn’t you? You’re entrusting your life to him.
So, which is it—the chair or the wheelbarrow?
If I’m going to try to compare the faith we place in Jesus to something, I need to determine the importance or significance first. Is faith in Jesus like sitting in a chair or in a wheelbarrow over Niagara Falls? Does it matter either way? Maybe.
Faith in Jesus is like…a chair?
I have a completely different emotional response depending on whether it’s the chair or the wheelbarrow. How about you? Some passages in the Bible make me think of the comfy, over-sized, leather chair.
For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:26 NAS
The same verse in another translation reads: “For in union with the Messiah, you are all children of God through this trusting faithfulness” (CJB). The word union is important, and it’s obviously and directly linked to trust and faith.
Other verses remind me God decides and provides righteousness.
He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:26 CSB
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, Romans 4:16 ESV
It’s easy to envision sitting in a chair when it comes to the adoption-sonship part of faith. Those who place faith in Jesus’ gracious sacrifice on the cross become children of God, “and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:17a,b ESV). Placing faith in Jesus changes our positional relationship with our heavenly Father. The estranged, wayward, runaway child relationship is exchanged for a close, dearly loved, embraced, royal heir relationship. It’s quite a transformation, and the chair is lovely! Maybe the chair suggests an image: beautiful, consistent, a place to rest.
Faith in Jesus is like…a wheelbarrow?
Why do Christians emphasize the significance of the decision to place faith in Jesus? Why the life-and-death urgency? Is placing faith in Christ like getting into the wheelbarrow over the falls and trusting a somewhat extraordinary man? Yes. And no.
There are too many verses to include. Over and over, the Bible speaks to the significance of the decision and the reason for it.
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
Because God is holy, the offenses can’t be ignored. The sin debt is infinitely beyond what we can pay, except with our very lives. Though we deserve death for offending holy God, he offered mercy and grace in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Given to us freely. We could never earn it! Jesus’ death satisfied the requirements of the debt.²
This single decision to trust Jesus with our life really is the difference between life and death. Right now we stand on one side of the falls (this earthly home). A whole other life is promised when we arrive on the other side, having crossed the harrowing distance on the rope in the wheelbarrow (our lifetime). Only one person can promise to get us there safely (Jesus). Eternal life only comes through faith in Christ, any other choice cannot remove God’s wrath (John 3:15-16, 36).
A bit long, and maybe requiring some deeper personal study, this passage in Romans indicates the tension between the law and grace, the need for righteousness through faith in Jesus, and the redemption we’ve been offered.
21 But now, apart from the law, God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets 22 —that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe, since there is no distinction. 23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. 24 They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Him as a propitiation through faith in His blood, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. 26 He presented Him to demonstrate His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus. Romans 3:21-26 CSB
For those who have yet to sort out the trust-faith-Jesus “thing,” this is the crux of it all. And, as I said, this dense slice of Romans 3 may require a bit of study in order to grasp it more fully. Reading it in a few different translations may be helpful. Try that HERE.
For those who have placed faith in Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, there’s a little more to think about. Searching for God and deciding to follow him is the beginning. It’s trusting and following—meaning, we surrender the lead on decisions and humbly wait to know what to do. We acknowledge what we can’t see or don’t know, God does. We place faith in his wisdom and base our thoughts, words, and actions on his example or guidance.
Living out everyday life in response to that decision involves daily commitment and a million little choices. Does that sound a little long, challenging, or even crazy-hard to you, too? Romans reminds me I have the opportunity to live a life that honors God. Sometimes the following verse encourages me.
We know that our old life died with Christ on the cross so that our sinful selves would have no power over us and we would not be slaves to sin. Romans 6:6 NCV
I’m thankful God’s character is good and loving. I’m really thankful he loves li’l old me that much! I believe (trust and have faith) that my God has provided a way to him through Jesus’ death on the cross (that I did not see with my own eyes). I’m trusting every one of the rest of my days (that I cannot count or predict) to him. I have faith he will take me into eternity with him.
So—the chair or wheelbarrow? Maybe I sit confidently in the chair daily…with daring, heart-racing, deep faith in the One who beckons me to the tightrope.
So, which is it for you, the chair or the wheelbarrow?
Hoping your weekend is full of gratitude and joy in the redemption.
Scripture sourced from http://www.biblestudytools.com.
¹ Hebrews is possibly a Pauline letter, but is not certainly attributed to him.
² The polysyllabic terms are substitutionary atonement or propitiation.
Photo Credit: Christ image from http://www.morguefile.com.
Photo Credit: Butt, George, Blondin’s Wheelbarrow. Rights: Louis Toussaud’s Wax Museum (London). Source: Niagara Falls Library.