I was baptized in the baptistery of the Vista Church of Christ on May 13, 1978. That was almost 30 years ago! Being the obsessive compulsive type, I plunged into discipleship the way I plunge into most things: whole-heartedly.

         One of the first commentary sets that I remember reading was produced by the late James Burton Coffman. (Firm Foundation Publishing House was the original publisher; I believe ACU Press later took over the production of his commentaries).

          Each time the Greek text contains the phrase, “the faith of Christ” or “the faith of Jesus,” Burton Coffman points it out and discusses it. For example, Romans 3:22 has this:

Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe… (KJV).

Most major English translations render this peculiar phrase, “faith in Jesus Christ.” In other words, it is our faith in Jesus that is being discussed not the faith of Jesus Christ, which a literal reading of the Greek text seems to require. Coffman disagreed with this in his commentaries on Romans and Galatians. He argues that it is the faith or the faithfulness of Jesus Christ that is being discussed.

         I remember being impressed by this early in my Christian walk. Through the years I have dabbled in trying to come to terms with this curious phrase. Here is a piece I wrote several years ago.

       We are made righteous (i.e., given God’s righteousness, justified) by faith-that doctrinal truth is clearly evident from even a cursory reading of the New Testament’s teaching. What is not so clearly evident is the answer to the question, “by whose faith are we made righteous?”

       Most of the evangelical world insists that it is the believer’s faith that forms the grounds for, is the basis of and the foundation upon which the sinner is made righteous. Perhaps this is why most of the evangelical world is left wondering what to do with the rite of baptism. What function does it serve in the conversion process? Are we made members of the local congregation by our baptism? Is baptism merely an outward confirmation of a sinner already having been made righteous by faith? Is baptism even necessary?

       An alternate reading of Galatians 2:16 and Romans 3:22 offers a different perspective. In keeping more strictly with the original Greek, the King James Version of the Bible has that a sinner is made righteous by the faith of Christ Jesus! It is His perfect obedience to the Father that furnishes the grounds for, forms the basis of and sets up the foundation upon which God can impute perfect righteousness into the sinner. This fabulous gift of God’s grace occurs at the precise moment in which the sinner repents and is “baptized into Christ.”

       A subtle distinction and yet a powerful difference. My redemption, my justification, my receiving God’s righteousness is not founded upon my feeble faith but upon the perfect faith and obedience of Christ Jesus. My faith and obedience to Him in baptism transfers my sickly self into Him and imputes His glorious righteousness into me! Under this analysis, baptism is not only important it is essential in order to complete the transference.

       If this view is correct, it sure explains why the New Testament argues so vehemently that human beings are justified by faith—by Christ’s faith and obedience that is. And, it sure explains why every person in the New Testament (after Pentecost) was baptized “into Christ” immediately after hearing and believing the Good News. They wanted out of sin and into Christ! What about you?

          It turns out that there is a pretty large body of shcolarly literature on this fascinating issue. I have developed a pretty extensive folder full of articles discussing this issue. There is also a full-length book (Richard B. Hays, The Faith of Jesus Christ: The Narrative Substructure of Galatians 3:1-4:11 (Eerdman’s, 2001)) available that discusses the issue. If you are interested in digging into this provocative discussion, let me know. I can send you my growing Bibliography.

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