Posts tagged ‘Subjective Genitive’

Sermon Extra – The Heart of the Gospel

“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22).

More magnificent words have nary been written. Paul’s words in these verses constitute the heart and soul of the gospel. Because Paul’s words are so foundational to everything we believe, teach, and confess as Christians, I thought for this week’s “Extra,” I would simply take some time to briefly unpack some key phrases, specifically in verse 22.

From God…

This phrase describes the source of righteousness. A Christian’s righteousness is not of his own making or doing. Rather, it is “from God.” A Christian knows that, apart from God, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10), “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Thus, in order for someone to be declared “righteous,” that righteousness must come from somewhere else, or, more accurately, from someone else. Paul declares that this “someone else” is God.

Through faith…

This phrase describes the application of righteousness, that is, how God’s righteousness gets from God to us. Some people try to apply God’s righteousness to themselves by ascending to God via nebulous mysticism or good works or deep knowledge. But Paul’s answer of how God’s righteousness gets applied to us involves no steep ascent to the Divine through various contortions of the soul, body, or mind. Rather, the way that God’s righteousness gets applied to us is through faith. And for Paul, faith is simple trust – trust that God is indeed righteous and trust that God indeed wants to share His righteousness with us as a completely free gift, apart from any merit or worthiness on our parts.

In Christ…

This phrase describes the object of righteousness. The object of righteousness – the One to whom we look to see God’s righteousness on display – is Jesus Christ. He is the epitome and the embodiment of God’s righteousness. Indeed, He is God’s righteousness come to earth. Thus, if we do not trust in Christ, we cannot receive God’s righteousness. Much debate has swirled around this phrase as it appears in Greek: dia pisteos Iesou Christou. Grammatically, this phrase can be translated in one of two different ways. One the one hand, it can be translated as above: “through faith in Jesus Christ.” This takes the phrase Iesou Christou as an objective genitive. In other words, Jesus Christ is the object of our faith. But this phrase can also be translated as a subjective genitive: “through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” Here, Jesus becomes the subject of the faith. Although grammatically, the former is probably to be preferred, theologically, both are important. For we must have faith in Christ for God’s righteousness to be applied to us. But God’s righteousness cannot be applied to us through Christ unless Christ is righteous, that is, faithful (cf. Hebrews 3:6)! Thus, we have faith in the faithful Christ.

To all who believe…

This phrase describes the destination of righteousness. That is, God desires that His righteousness find its destination in every person. It is important to understand that God’s righteousness is undiscriminating. He does not desire to give it to one person while desiring to withhold it from another. Thus, anyone can receive God’s righteousness, no matter how wicked, debase, or depraved they might be. No one need remain outside the grasp of God’s righteousness. This is why we share the gospel of God’s righteousness.

This, then, is the gospel: that God gives to us His righteousness through faith because of the faithfulness of Jesus to anyone who believes that His righteousness is for them. This is the gospel that the Christian church has stewarded for some 2,000 years. And who knows? We may be stewarding it for some 2,000 more. By God’s grace, may we steward it well. For it is the most precious treasure to humankind. For it is the message of our forgiveness, life, and salvation. And there can be no greater treasure than that.

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August 16, 2010 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

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