MILLIONS of people already claim to believe in Jesus. Hundreds of thousands more in all parts of the world will "receive Christ" this year — or rather, they will think that they have received Christ.
They will, as they say, "give their hearts to the Lord," and believe that they are at last saved.
And they will be wrong!
It may come as a shock, but the gospel that is commonly preached today is not the same message that Jesus brought nearly 2,000 years ago. He was not then — and he is not now — trying to convert the world. Neither is he trying to get people to "accept him," "believe in him" or "receive him" before it is too late.
This is a deceived world. Deceived people are sincere. They don't know they are deceived. If they did know, they would not be deceived! It is because many are deceived that we read of those who have a "zeal of God, but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2).
"Not According to Knowledge" That statement is as true today as it was when the apostle Paul wrote it more than 1,900 years ago. You'll see ample evidence of it just by looking at the religious book department of nearly any bookshop. Never before have so many Bible translations, Bible helps, Bible dictionaries, Bible atlases, concordances and commentaries been available. But the world is as confused as ever.
In the past several years new translations of the Scriptures have been published. They have been painstakingly executed by scholars with a thorough knowledge of the ancient languages.
The faithful Authorized King James Version, with its "thees" and "thous" and "verilys," had become a stumbling block for many who wanted to understand what the Bible said. These modern versions are rendered in modern English, with contemporary grammar and punctuation. They have corrected, in general, the few translation errors that crept into the older versions, and overall, they are useful tools for Bible study.
But although they have solved certain translation problems, they have unfortunately created some new ones. You need to know about one of them in particular.
It is not a case of the translators misunderstanding the original word, as sometimes happened in the Authorized Version. Rather, they seem to have misunderstood what was meant by what was written.
The Problem of Translation You see, translation — any translation — is to some extent an interpretation. Language is not just words — it is also thoughts. Translation is not just a case of swapping words — the translator's job is to convey the thoughts expressed by one language into another.
Bible translation is particularly complex. The structure of the ancient Hebrew and Greek languages is different from modern West European languages. It can therefore be difficult to render the exact thought and nuance of expression of the ancient Scriptures into modern languages. Generally, translators have done a conscientious job, and most modern versions are better than 99 percent accurate. But there are some places where modern theologians and scholars have not fully understood what the original writers were teaching.
They have therefore made a significant error in their rendering into modern English some verses in the epistles of Paul.
"In" or "Of"? When Paul discussed the subject of faith and its relationship to salvation, he frequently used the Greek expression "pistis Christou." In the Authorized Version, this was translated "faith of Christ." Most modern versions, however, change this to "faith in Christ."
Grammatically, it is an arguable point, since the original Greek does not use either of the prepositions in or of The grammatical sense is derived rather from the ending of the words themselves. However, in English, a preposition is needed. It should not surprise us that the translators of the modern versions preferred in to of It seemed to them to make more sense, since the focus of modern Christian belief is a gospel about Christ, accepting him and believing in him.
From that point of view, it was presumably felt that "pistis Christou" could adequately be rendered "faith in Christ." Consequently, the expression and thus the thought, "faith of Christ," does not appear in these modern versions, as it did in the older Authorized Version.
What difference does it make?
It makes all the difference in the world — the difference between being a real Christian, and thinking you are one.
Preposition Changes Meaning Remember that old expression" For the want of a nail the battle was lost"? It could also be said of these new translations, "For the want of a preposition, a life could be lost."
Perhaps we can demonstrate the difference it makes by this analogy. Suppose your wristwatch breaks. You take it to a reputable watchmaker, whom you know you can trust, and you ask him to repair it. You leave your watch with him, in complete confidence that he will return it to you in good working order.
You have, in other words, complete faith in that watchmaker. He has learned how to repair watches, and he will do it for you.
This, in effect, is how many people are taught to look to Jesus Christ. They trust in him, and believe that his love, his goodness, and his mercy and holiness will save them when the time comes. But that kind of faith — however sincere — is not enough to save you.
But supposing, when you took your broken watch to be repaired, this happened:
The watchmaker agrees that your watch is broken. But he says, "If I just repair this for you, you have learned nothing. I know how to repair watches, but it is important that you learn something about it, too. We will repair it together.
"I will do a part of the work, the part you cannot do by yourself, and I'll show you how to do what you must learn to do."
Now the situation is different. No longer do you just need faith in the watchmaker's skill — you are going to need some of his skill as well.
It is the same with faith in and of Christ. Of course, we must have faith in Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter, speaking to the crowds in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, urged them to believe that Jesus, whom they had crucified, was the Lord and Messiah (Acts 2:36).
Many believed Peter, and asked, "What shall we do?" (verse 37, Authorized Version). "Repent, and be baptized... in the name of Jesus Christ," replied Peter, "for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy [Spirit]."
So far so good. As a result of having faith in Christ, many today are told to be baptized for the remission of their sins. Then they think they are saved. But there is more to it than that.
After Baptism — What Then? Many scriptures show what you do after you have placed your faith in Jesus Christ and his sacrifice will determine whether you will be ultimately saved.
Let's now take a close look at some of these scriptures that have been mistranslated in the generally excellent new translations and see exactly what it was that the apostle Paul taught. Then you will understand why the phrase "faith of Christ" carries the right choice of preposition when rendering these verses into English.
First, Romans 3:22. This verse is breaking into the middle of a thought. We should go back two or three verses to pick up the thread of Paul's discussion. The church at Rome in Paul's day was a mixture of different ethnic groups, and there was a controversy among them.
The Jews thought that they were superior to others since they had had the law of God delivered to them. The non-Jews on their part were critical of the Jews for not keeping that law. Note that the discussion did not center around whether or not the law should be kept, but rather, how it could be kept.
Paul's epistle put everything in perspective. He showed that a Christian must quit sinning. Breaking God's law is sin (Rom. 3:20, and see also I John 3:4). Paul pointed out that all — Jews and gentiles — had broken the law. Nobody (except Jesus Christ) ever lived a life without sinning in some way. Therefore, no one could consider himself justified — guiltless and worthy of salvation — as a result of his conduct. Let's pick up the story in verse 21.
The New International Version explains it rather well. "But now a righteousness from God, apart from law [apart from human "righteousness"], has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify" (Rom. 3:21, New International Version throughout, except where noted).
In other words, there is a way to come up to God's standard of righteousness (the Ten Commandments) apart from the impossible task of trying to keep the law perfectly through your own strength or your own faith. How can you do it?
"This righteousness from God comes through faith in [should be translated of] Christ to all who believe" (verse 22).
Do you see what a difference the preposition makes?
Having repented of your past sins, you can't continue to sin. Paul makes that very clear in Romans 6:1-2, in any version or translation. You are to live a new life free of sin (Rom. 6:4). But how, if you can't keep the law by your own strength or your own faith? The answer is — you have to have an added faith. But from whom, and what kind of faith?
Since you can never be justified by your own unaided attempt to keep God's law or attain his righteousness, if you have believed in Jesus Christ you have a new way to become righteous. Instead of relying on your own strength, you can ask God for the help to become righteous (i.e., to obey the law). God has promised to develop in you the same faith that Jesus had — the faith of Jesus Christ!
This is an important point. If you look up the word faith in a dictionary, you will find it says something like this: "confidence, trust or belief in the promises or statements of another."
Everyone has some faith — although it varies from individual to individual. Some find it easy to believe — others, perhaps because of previous letdowns and betrayal, find it hard to put "confidence, trust or belief' in anyone or anything.
But even the most faithful are not faith — full enough by their own strength or their own faith to save themselves from sinning in the future. Look at Ephesians 2:8. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves.... " How then?
Continuing in Ephesians 2:8, "... it is the gift of God."
Here is then a level of faith that goes far beyond the "confidence, trust or belief' that your human mind must first exercise in having faith in Christ to forgive your guilty past.
This new, higher level of faith is the gift that God gives, through the Holy Spirit, which one receives through the laying on of hands after baptism.
Jesus had that kind of faith. And because he did he had total trust, confidence and belief in God. Thus he was able to live a life that was blameless. Jesus never sinned. He was often tempted, but he always resisted. He knew how to get the strength he needed to reinforce his own inadequate human strength.
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death..." (Heb. 5:7).
Jesus prayed to his Father in heaven for the strength to resist sin. And such was the relationship of trust, love and confidence between Jesus and his Father, that he always received that help. Jesus Christ and the Father had lived in harmony for an eternity before Jesus came to earth as the Son of God. He had no doubts that what his Father promised, he was able also to perform (see Romans 4:21).
Having faith in Christ, many today are told to be baptized for the remission of their sins. But there is more to it than that. That is the kind of faith that we must have if we are to receive our eternal reward. God expects us, if we are his sons and daughters, to live as Jesus did.
Jesus set the example. His life is the standard by which we must measure performance — not in some dreamy, sanctimonious way, but in the practical down-to-earth circumstances of daily life. A true Christian should ask, Is this the way Christ would react? Is this what he would have done? Am I following his example?
If not, your behavior must be changed to conform with Jesus' example as recorded in the Scriptures. You will need to ask God for the faith to do this — the same faith that he gave Jesus Christ to face and conquer problems.
With that faith, when temptation comes, you will have the strength to put aside your natural human impulses and make the same kind of decision that Jesus did in similar circumstances.
That's why Paul, in his epistle to the Galatians, wrote: "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 faith in [you guessed it — it should be of] the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal. 2:20, Revised Authorized Version). Once the right preposition is put in, these modern versions become clear.
Think back to the analogy of the watchmaker. Christ wants you to learn to do the things he did. He wants you to share in his skills. He wants you to know the same confidence and trust in God that he had.
He doesn't want you just to be grateful to him for doing it. He wants you to have the experience of overcoming sin, looking to God for the spiritual strength, just like he did.
Why You Need the Faith of Christ Look at Philippians 3:8-11. Here we find Paul explaining to the Philippians how grateful he is to be called as a part of God's Church.
He had to give up many things, including a position of power and prestige, in order to be an apostle. "... I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in [read of] Christ — the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead."
So Paul knew that his resurrection from the dead would be preceded by God building in him the same kind of faith that Christ had. He knew that only then would he know the "power of resurrection," as Jesus Christ has known it.
Paul was not saying that he was trying to earn his salvation by his own faith. That is what those who are deceived by a false gospel do when they rely only on their faith in Jesus. It is plainly evident throughout his writings that Paul knew he could never do that.
A Christian cannot gain salvation by his works through his own faith any more than he can by simply having faith in Christ. This is a vital point that so many who claim to be Christians do not understand.
Salvation is God's free gift, but he will not give it to those who cannot handle it properly (any more than you would give a bicycle to a child who refuses to obey the traffic signals).
Ministers today concentrate on getting people to "accept Christ," while they neglect to teach the need for receiving Jesus Christ's faith as a free gift to enable us to obey God.
Putting Faith to Work When Jesus Christ returns to this earth to enforce peace, the world is going to be in a terrible condition. But thankfully, the worst will be over. Jesus Christ will begin the task of guiding and teaching all mankind God's way of life and the way to eternal life.
There will be a lot of work ahead for those whom God has called in this present life to understand his purpose. They will be resurrected and made immortal when God intervenes in world affairs to reestablish his government over the whole earth. They will be working with Jesus Christ, doing what he does. They will be teaching, helping and encouraging others to overcome human weaknesses, that they also may be given eternal life.
Such teachers must be experienced — there will be no place for enthusiastic amateurs. The time to build that experience through the faith of Jesus imparted by the Holy Spirit is now.
That is why a Christian, whose hope is the resurrection from the dead, needs more than just his faith in Jesus. He must share in the life of Christ, living as he did, learning as he did. To do that successfully, he needs the faith of Jesus Christ.