It helps to know what we’re looking for.
Our friends’ dog went missing a few weeks ago. They searched all the places near their home, checked with neighbours, phoned friends, and posted pictures on social media. Several days later, one of their friends saw a ‘found dog’ notice at a shop and recognized the dog from the Facebook photo.
If you’re searching for faith, it helps if you know what you’re looking for. Would you like to know what kind of faith Jesus is looking for?
The faith Jesus was looking for
One day, an officer from the Roman army asked Jesus to heal his suffering servant. “I don’t expect you to come into my gentile house. I know how authority works; you only need to give the command.”
Jesus was amazed by this foreigner’s faith. “I have not found anyone in Israel with this kind of faith! It’s true! Many from the east and the west will join us to celebrate heaven’s reign.” (See Matthew 8:5-13.)
His own people believed Jesus could heal, but they had not yet understood his authority. This is years before Peter and the others confessed Jesus as God’s anointed ruler (the Christ). Yet this guy — whose day job was enforcing Rome’s rule over God’s people — recognized Jesus as commissioned by heaven to set things right on earth.
For Jesus, faith was not a dogma or a doctrine. The faith he was looking for was our trust in his heaven-sent authority, our reliance on his leadership to restore heaven’s reign to earth.
The faith Paul was looking for
Paul discusses faith a lot, nowhere more than in Galatians 3. Previously, any non-Jew who joined the Jewish faith was expected to comply with all the details of Jewish Law. But Paul told the Galatians (in Turkey) that they did not need to keep the works of the Law.
The heart of Paul’s message is that God is looking for a people who are in the Messiah (in Christ), and God doesn’t regard anyone as in the Messiah on the basis of their ethnicity or Torah obedience. God evaluates whether you’re his or not based on one criterion: your trust in his Messiah.
When Paul wrote of justification by faith, he did not mean belief in a dogma or doctrine. He was talking about trust in God’s Son, loyalty or fidelity to the one appointed by God to lead us. Allegiance to his Messiah is the only grounds for our acceptance by God as his people. As Matthew Bates likes to say, we’re saved by allegiance alone.
That changes everything for everyone. No longer do ethnicity, social status, or gender have anything to do with our standing before God, since we’re all one in Messiah Jesus. If you belong to Christ, you’re included in the Abrahamic family, inheriting the promise of God restoring the world in the Messiah (Galatians 3:26-29).
For Paul, faith was allegiance to God’s Messiah.
The faith James was looking for
James was looking for faith that works in practice. A living faith is expressed in action.
James asks us to imagine meeting a family member who’s cold and hungry. Would you say, “See you later. Take care. Look after yourself.” (James 2:15-17). That’s not faith; that’s unfaithfulness to the family.
This James was probably Jesus’ brother. Family is personal when your brother is king. Only those who are richly faithful to the king experience kingdom life, while those who keep their riches for themselves miss out (2:5). The royal edict of King Jesus is what God has always required of us: to take care of my neighbour the same way I take care of myself (2:8).
In the world under his governance, that’s what faith in King Jesus looks like.
The faith John was looking for
John’s Gospel never mentions faith (the noun). He always presents faith as an action (a verb): to believe. His reason for writing was that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31). For John, faith is not a thing in its own right; it’s all about who you trust
The faith John was looking for was recognition of Jesus as the anointed ruler (Christ), the Son entrusted with heaven’s authority on earth. Believing is no mere credal statement about the Son; it’s the life we have in his leadership: the life in his name.
In John’s letters, this trust in the authority of the Son finds expression in the way we care for each other under his leadership: This is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us (1 John 3:23).
The faith heaven is looking for has both vertical and horizontal dimensions.
What God is calling us to is more than a theoretical belief about himself. He’s calling us into faithful relationship with himself and each other in Christ.
Faith relies on God’s Son as the only leader who can overcome all that’s wrong within and around us, restoring earth as a kingdom of heaven.
Faith forms us together as the people of God. To be faithful to the king is to be faithful to the kingdom.
Faith is faithfulness to the one whom God has appointed to lead us by raising him from the dead, loyalty to his leadership.
Faith isn’t just what to believe; it’s who to trust.
What others are saying
Lord of the Rings fans may recall Pippin’s oath of fealty, a word that encapsulates faith so well:
Here do I swear fealty and service to Gondor, and to the Lord and Steward of the realm … in peace or war, in living or dying, from this hour henceforth, until my lord release me, or death take me, or the world end. So say I, Peregrin son of Paladin of the Shire of the Halflings.
Nijay K. Gupta, Paul and the Language of Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2020), 7:
Given that the Hebrew terms behind the use of πίστις in the Septuagint (chapter 3) refer to words that are often best translated “faithfulness” (or loyalty, reliability, commitment), why is it that where πίστις appears in Paul it is usually rendered “faith” by most English translations? This question is central to the concerns of this book and one, I hope, that every student of Paul will examine carefully.
N. T. Wright, Paul and the Faithfulness of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2013), 967–968:
The point of pistis [faith/faithfulness] for much of Galatians is that this is the badge worn by the Messiah’s community. Such people are thus defined as people of ‘faith’ — not in the modern sense of ‘faith’ as ‘religious belief’ (most people in the ancient world, like most today, had some kind of ‘religious belief’!), but very specifically the ‘faith’ that confesses Jesus as lord and believes that the one God raised him from the dead. Once again, this ‘faith’ is for Paul much closer to ‘the Messiah’s “faithfulness” to the divine Israel-purpose’ than the split between ‘faith’ and ‘faithfulness’ in western theology (and modern English usage) would indicate. The actual content of both is, after all, the death (and resurrection) of the Messiah himself.
For Paul, the community is defined by the Jesus-shaped Messiah-faith which has been produced by the spirit, at work through the gospel. This is the primary thing Paul wants to say in Galatians: that all those who have this ‘faith’ belong in the same, single community, eating at the same, single table.
Revelation 14:12 (NIV):
This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.
- Losing faith
- Searching for faith
- Why the gospel calls for faith (Rom 1:17)
- How Jesus lived by faith (Hab 2:4)
Seeking to understand Jesus in the terms he chose to describe himself: son of man (his identity), and kingdom of God (his mission). Riverview Church, Perth, Western Australia
View all posts by Allen Browne