Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Cross and the Faith of Jesus: Implications for the Cleansing of the Sanctuary—Part Two

by Lyndi Shwartz

This article is Part 2. Part 1 was in the January/February 2009 issue, also available here.


In 1965, John Lennon wrote a song entitled, “Help.” The words are as follows:

When I was younger, so much younger than today

I never needed anybody’s help in any way

But now I’m older and I’m not so self-assured

Now I’ve found I’ve changed my mind I opened up the door

Help me if you can, I’m feeling down

And I do appreciate you being round

Help me get my feet back on the ground

Won’t you please please help me!

Said Lennon regarding that song in a 1980 interview at the Dakota building and not knowing he was about to be gunned down: “That was the cry of my heart and no one came with an answer.” Please help me, is the cry of humanity, consciously or unconsciously—to be released from the presence and power of sin. The gospel of Jesus Christ, beginning from His birth to His ascension where He now ministers for us in the heavenly sanctuary, is the only thing powerful enough to “purge our consciences from dead works to serve the living God.”

But how does the gospel accomplish that? The answer is the faith of Jesus Christ. Ellen White, reflecting on the Minneapolis General Conference session, has much to say about faith in the 1888 materials.

The faith of Jesus has been overlooked and treated in a careless manner. It has not occupied the prominent position in which it was revealed to John. . . .[i] The third angel’s message is the proclamation of the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. The commandments of God have been proclaimed, but the faith of Jesus Christ has not been proclaimed by Seventh day Adventists as of equal importance. . . .[ii] The message that was given to the people in these meetings presented in clear lines not alone the commandments of God—a part of the third angel’s message—but the faith of Jesus, which comprehends more than is generally supposed. . . . If we proclaim the commandments of God and leave the other half scarcely touched, the message is marred in our hands. . . .[iii] The soul-saving message, the third angel’s message, is the message to be given to the world. The commandments of God and faith of Jesus are both important . . . and must be given with equal force and power. . . . We must talk it, we must live it, we must pray it, and educate the people to bring this part of the message into their home life.[iv]

The final quote is the sum of why this topic is so tied to the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. “Let Jesus be our theme. Let us with pen and voice present, not only the commandments of God, but the faith of Jesus. This will promote real piety as nothing else can.”[v]

The faith-of-Jesus concept has two aspects: 1) faith, and 2) faithfulness. To address this fully and understand its implications for the Day of Atonement, we need to focus attention on Paul’s “gospel,” because at the heart of “what Paul preached” was the story of Jesus Christ. The gospel story is foundational for the explicitly theological portions of Paul’s writings. However, before delving into Paul’s gospel, let us establish some definitions. The faithfulness of Jesus Christ refers first of all to His gracious self-renouncing, self-emptying, sacrificial love which “seeketh not her own,” that compelled Him to die the death of the cross. He “humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross,” as described in part 1 of this article. His mission from the time He left heaven after the “counsel of peace” to His resurrection was one of faithfulness and faith. Jesus Christ is the one Person Who embodies radical obedience by remaining faithful to God to the painful end.

It is also faith. Although His entire life of obedience was lived by faith, nothing is more helpful than the final scenes from His life where Ellen White says, “He could not see the Father’s reconciling face. . . . He could not see through the portals of the tomb. Hope did not present to Him His coming forth from the grave a conqueror, or tell Him of the Father’s acceptance of the sacrifice.”[vi] And then to highlight the point, she says, “He had relied upon the evidence of His Father’s acceptance heretofore given Him. By faith He rested in Him [God]. . . . By faith Christ was victor.”[vii] Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”[viii]

Paul’s concern in his “gospel” is that we understand the implications of the gospel story. Richard B. Hays writes, “Jesus actualized and exemplified faith in such a way that He is the Creator of a new domain or power field characterized by faith.”[ix] Paul in Hebrews 12:2 says we are to look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of faith. The text does not say “of our faith” as in many English translations. Galatians 2:20 aptly says that as a result of Jesus’ faithfulness, the life that we now live, having been crucified with Christ, we live “by the faith of the Son of God” who loved us and gave Himself for us! We are taken up into His faithfulness, and that faithfulness shapes us into people after the divine similitude.

We think differently: “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5). Hebrews 12:3 says we are to “consider Him,” “give thought to Him,” “compare your experience with His,” (Berkeley), “Take your standard from Him” (Knox). He continues to tell us in verse 4 that among the things to consider, Christ had to strive against sin, resisting to bloodshed. Thus He died by faith, surrendering His will to the will of the Father.

In Romans 1:18-3:20, Paul depicts for us a stark contrast between the faithfulness and righteousness of God and humankind’s (Gentile and Jew alike) ungodliness and unrighteousness. He asks a question in chapter 3:3, which he answers in a dense passage in verses 21-26. And the question is: will the faithlessness of humankind nullify the faithfulness of God? As we look at the answer in verses 21 and 22, there are exegetical difficulties as presented in most English translations. The difficulty lies in the objective genitive reading as opposed to the subjective genitive: “But now the righteousness of God apart from law is revealed . . . even the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ to all and on all who believe.” This translation would lead us to believe that God’s righteousness is revealed by our faith in Jesus Christ. This reading, however, leaves the phrase “for all who believe” as redundant and the choice of the verb “is revealed,” puzzling. The emphasis of the passage is God’s action in putting forth Jesus, who was faithful to God to the painful end, consisting in Himself, through His resurrection a new humanity whom God has “predestined to be conformed to the image of His son” (Romans 8:29).

The passage should then read “even the righteousness of God which is through the faith of Jesus Christ.” Our faith, “for all who believe” is the appropriate response to a blessing already given in Christ, and it is also the mode of participation in the pattern lived out in Jesus Christ. “The gospel story is not just the story of a super-hero who once upon a time defeated the cosmic villains of law, sin, and death, and thus discharged us from all responsibility,” Hays writes, “It is also the enactment of a life-pattern into which we are drawn.”[x]

Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 that the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are cosmic events in which we are included vicariously: “For the love of Christ constrains us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.” Paul represents redemption in Christ as a radical restructuring of human nature. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor 5:17). “Consequently,” Hays offers, “the faith of Jesus should be understood as a concentric expression, which begins, always, from the faith of Christ Himself, but which includes necessarily, the answering faith of believers, who claim that faith as their own.”[xi]

Hence, Paul says in Galatians 2:20, and I use the subjective genitive reading, “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh, I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The objective genitive reading of Paul has hampered our ability to grasp hold of the “power field” characterized by Christ’s faith. Revelation 14:12 says, “Here are those who keep the commandments of God and keep the faith of Jesus.” This passage occurs at the time of the third angel’s message, during the time of the Pre-advent Judgment, and the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. With a proper subjective genitive reading of Paul’s “gospel,” we see that the faith of Jesus is the only faith that allows the righteousness of Christ to be fully manifested in our sinful flesh. Victory in the Day of Atonement, the cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, is based on experiencing the transforming power of the faith of Jesus, which is manifest in radical obedience and remaining faithful to God to the end. These who have the faith of Jesus as their own will follow the Lamb wherever He goes, including the Most Holy Place.

Four summary points regarding the faith of Jesus and the cleansing of the Sanctuary:

1. Christ’s death has constituted in Himself a new faithful humanity.

2. Paul represents redemption in Christ as a radical restructuring of human nature—our attentions and our affections.

3. The faith of Jesus is a concentric expression that spreads from Jesus’ faith and includes necessarily the answering faith of the believer.

4. We participate in the patterning faith enacted by the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us.

A.T. Jones, in The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, says,

And this faith of Jesus by which in the place of the lost, He hoped in God and trusted God for salvation from sin and power to keep from sinning—this victory of His it is that has brought to every man in the world divine faith. . . . That faith which He exercised and by which He obtained the victory over the world, the flesh, and the devil—that faith is His free gift to every lost man in the world. And thus this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith and this is the faith of which He is the Author and Finisher. This is the faith of Jesus that is given to men. This is the faith of Jesus that must be received by men in order for them to be saved. This is the faith of Jesus which now in this time of the Third Angel’s Message, must be received and kept. . . This is the faith of Jesus referred to in the closing words of the Third Angel’s Message: Here are they that keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.[xii]

The world is crying out for help. Will we give them an answer?

[i] Ellen G. White, The Ellen G. White 1888 Materials (Washington, D.C.: Ellen G. White Estate, 1987), 212. Emphasis added, unless otherwise indicated.

[ii] Ibid., 217.

[iii] Ibid., 367.

[iv] Ibid., 430.

[v] Ibid., 728.

[vi] Idem., The Desire of Ages (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1940), 753.

[vii] Ibid., 756.

[viii] All texts are from the New King James Version unless otherwise specified.

[ix] Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2002), xxxi.

[x] Ibid., 211-212.

[xi] Ibid., xxxii.

[xii] A.T. Jones, The Consecrated Way to Christian Perfection, (Dodge City, Minn.: Upward Way, 1988), 26.

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