By Rich Lusk
The gospels strongly imply Jesus lived by faith in the promise of his heavenly Father. How else can his prayer life understood? How else could he have wrestled through the Gethsemane experience? How else could he have committed himself into his Father’s care at death? How could Jesus have presented himself as the one others should follow and emulate if he was trying to earn God’s blessing rather than receiving it by faith?
Hebrews explicitly presents as Jesus a man of faith:
[T]he incarnate Son is himself the man of faith par excellence, and this seems to be the primary sense intended by the by the Greek original of the expression, which reads literally, “the pioneer and perfecter of faith” [Heb. 12:2], faith, that is, absolutely and without qualification. His whole earthly life is the very embodiment of trust in God (Heb. 2:13). It is marked from start to finish by total dependence on the Father and complete attunement to his will (10:7-10). His faith expresses itself, necessarily, in prayer (5:7; Jn. 17; Mk. 1:35, etc.) and is completely victorious as, surmounting all temptations and afflictions, he is made perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10; 4:15), thus becoming “the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him” (5:8f.). In looking to Jesus, then, we are looking to him who is the supreme exponent of faith, the one who, beyond all others, not only set out the course of faith but also pursued it without wavering to the end. He, accordingly, is uniquely qualified to be the supplier and sustainer of the faith of his followers .
Mark Horne confirms this reading of Hebrews 12:2, noting that Paul has put Jesus at the end of a long list of heroes who persevered by faith before receiving what the Father had graciously promised them:
Jesus’ consciousness was centered on trusting his Father, not earning merits. Otherwise, all the exhortations to endure suffering and follow the example of Jesus would not be exhortations to have faith, but exhortations to earn God’s favor. This is unthinkable. Jesus trusted God to save him and so should we.
Consider Hebrews 11.1-12.3. The author of Hebrews gives his readers a long list of examples of Old Testament people who exercised faith and thus inherited salvation. The culmination of this list of “heroes of the faith” is Jesus himself. Yes, Jesus is unique as the author of Hebrews goes to great lengths to explain. But the uniqueness of Christ’s work in our place and as our representative does not contradict the fact that he is the ultimate example of one who trusted God and thus inherited glory and deliverance from death. The author of Hebrews feels no tension between these two truths .
Recently, many theologians have suggested that the Pauline phrase pistis Christou (found in, e.g., Rom. 3:22; Gal. 2:16, 20; 3:22; Phil. 3:9) is a subjective genitive, referring to Christ’s own faith. This makes good sense: If the First Adam was called to me a man of faith, then certainly the Second Adam was as well. Jesus fulfilled the original Adamic covenant, meaning he must have lived a life of perfect faithfulness. In other words, Jesus lived out his vocation with perfect trust in the Father, continually receiving his promises by faith. He lived a life of pure covenant fidelity, thereby becoming God’s faithful covenant partner as the Last Adam.
Thus, Jesus’ faithfulness is the covenant bridge between God and his people. Jesus embodied, on one side, God’s faithfulness or righteousness. Through him, God made good on his ancient covenant promises to forgive sin and create a new humanity. At the same time, Jesus embodied faithfulness for us as our covenant head and representative. In him, God regards us as righteous, that is, as covenant keepers. The covenant moves from God’s faithfulness to Christ’s faithfulness to our faithfulness in Christ (cf. Rom. 1:16-17). God has kept the faith by providing Jesus; Jesus has kept the faith by undergoing the cross and being raised up again; and now we keep the faith by abiding in him, so that we ourselves come to embody the righteousness of God in the world (cf. 2 Cor. 5:21) .
The best known proponent of the subjective genitive view of pistis Christou is undoubtedly Richard Hays, whose outstanding monograph, The Faith of Jesus Christ: An Investigation of the Narrative Substructure of Gal. 3:1-4:11 provides secure exegetical footing for this view. We will not rehash Hays’ extensive argumentation, but a few quotations will help show the significance of his work:
Is it really so odd to think Paul might attribute soteriological significance to Jesus’ faith? It is universally acknowledged that Paul speaks at least twice in his letters of Jesus’ obedience and attributes to this obedience saving significance. This is said most unmistakably in Rom. 5:19 . . . Christ’s obedience is here presented (in juxtaposition to Adam’s disobedience) as a representative action, vicariously effective on behalf of “the many”: the destiny of the many is enacted in the one. A clearer articulation of representative-christology could hardly be demanded . . . [O]bedience and faith belong in the strongest possible relation to one another, as the expression “the obedience of faith” indicates (Rom. 1:5). If Paul can speak so compellingly in Rom. 5:19 of the soteriological consequences of Christ’s “obedience,” there is no a priori reason to deny that Paul could intend the expression pistis Christou to refer to Christ’s soteriological faith(fullness) . . .
Jesus’ faithful endurance and obedience even to an undeserved death on the cross (cf. Phil. 2:8) has saving significance for all humanity; this is the “righteous act” of obedience by which “the many” are constituted righteous, i.e., set in right relation to God (Rom. 5:18-19). The unfaithfulness of fallen humanity is counteracted and overcome by the representative faithfulness of Christ . . .
The faith(fullness) of Jesus was manifested in his death on the cross, which, as a representative action of human faith, brought about redemption and which at the same time manifested the faithfulness of God .
By virtue of our union with Christ, we come to share in his faithfulness. His faithfulness is the precondition of our faithfulness; only in him can we keep covenant with the Lord. The circular story proceeds from God’s faithfulness in providing Christ, to Christ’s faithfulness on our behalf, finally finding completion in our faithfulness to God through Christ.
But everything hinges on pistis Christou. We are caught up, as it were, into Christ’s faith-filled response of love and obedience to the Father. Thus, everything is found in union with Christ – even the gift of faith itself. His faith becomes the source, ground, and exemplar of our faith. His covenant keeping is ours – both representatively and organically.
Paul says in Gal. 2:16 that we are justified by Christ’s faith. That is to say, Jesus lived the perfect life of covenant fidelity that the original covenant with Adam required. That perfect faithfulness is regarded as our own by virtue of our faith in Christ. Note this is not the same as saying we’re justified by faithfulness, as if faith were turned into a new work. Rather, the point is that by faith, we come to share in Jesus’ perfect status as the Faithful Adam, and therefore are made right with the Father. Faith alone justifies because faith alone unites us to the Faithful One. Good works (that is, a life of faithfulness) grow out of this faith-union with Christ.
Thus, we can also say we are not only justified by Christ’s faith; we are also sanctified by Christ’s faith. Christ lives in us. Therefore, Paul can claim that he lives his life by the faithfulness of the Son of God (cf. Gal. 2:20). Christ’s life of faith – a life of self-giving love and sacrificial service – becomes the pattern of life for all who participate in Christ’s faithfulness. This is what it means to live by his faith. This is our story.
1. Phillip E. Hughes A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews 522-3.
2. From http://www.hornes.org/theologia/content/mark_horne/covenant_of_works.htm .
3. See N. T. Wright, “On Becoming the Righteousness of God: 2 Corinthians 5:21,” 200ff, in Pauline Theology vol. 2, edited by David Hay. I’m not necessarily endorsing every aspect of Wright’s exegesis.
4. 166, 173, 174. I have taken the liberty of putting some of Hays’ Greek Bible references into English translation.