I’m in the midst of re-reading Paul’s authentic letters (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, Philippians, Philemon, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, and maybe Colossians).
I was reading along in his letter to the Galatians, and realized that every time the phrase “faith in Jesus Christ” was used it was followed by one of those little letters, indicating that there was a note below about the translation. As it turns out that phrase could just as well be translated “faith of Jesus Christ”. Well, that’s a bit of game changer, wouldn’t you say? When “of” is chosen rather than “in” a whole new meaning arises.
“We know that a person is justified, not by the works of the law but through faith of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:15).
“And we have come to believe in Jesus Christ, so that we might be justified by faith of Jesus Christ (2:16).
“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I know live in the flesh I live by faith of the Son of God…”(vs.20).
Paul is distinguishing between his experience of living by the law as a Pharisee and life after encountering the risen Jesus. For him it was the difference between being so filled with love that one’s actions organically reflect that love—life in Christ—versus keeping the commandment in obedience to an external authority—the Law. The transformation was so complete for Paul that he experienced the dissolution of his personal self, and the emergence of Christ Consciousness—“It is no longer I, but Christ who dwells in me”. This indwelling was not about believing in Jesus, but rather appropriating the faith of Jesus.
From a traditional or conventional belief system, faith is identical with belief (a topic for another blog). And all you need to do is to believe in Jesus to be saved—believe that he is the only Son of God, that God sent him to atone for your sins, that you are forgiven, etc. The advantage here is that you don’t really have to do much of anything. This was how grace was defined. It’s not what we do, but rather belief in Jesus that saves us. In fairness, many of my evangelical friends these days are de-emphasizing belief. Whereas once initiation and participation in the church emphasized belief-behavior-belonging,in that order, my emergent Christian friends tell me that their focus has shifted to belong-behave-belief. In my experience, however, what you are taught to believe hasn’t changed all that much.
But if we are made whole by adopting the faith of Jesus, this is going to require some work—the work of allowing the Heart and Mind of the Christ to reorient our lives around possibilities for the future, rather than being locked into repeating the past. When Jesus used the word “faith”, he wasn’t talking about faith in God. That was a given. He was talking about faith as agency. Faith the size of a mustard seed can remove mountains, heal the sick, and bring an an oppressive Empire down. When the disciples ask him to “increase our faith”, I don’t think that they were asking him to help them believe more profoundly in God’s capacity to act unilaterally to make a difference. Rather, they were asking Jesus to increase whatever it was inside of him that could make things happen for the better. They were amazed at his agency, his capacity to imagine and then enact an alternative future. For Jesus, all things were possible through faith. This is what was lighting Paul up as well. He was absolutely convinced that the church could change the world, if the world would adopt the heart and mind of the Christ. And he gave his life to the realization of that vision.
To have the faith of Jesus requires interior work—wilderness work—beginning with removing the obstacles that get in the way of our own power. From a very early age, I formed many unconscious assumptions about my capacity to shape my life. Much of my life energy was spent unconsciously validating my perceived limitations. Therapy has helped me to surface these unconscious assumptions, and thereby move me from the place of victim (life is something that happens to me) to a place of radical responsibility and agency (I am creating my life in every moment). There is nobody and nothing conspiring against me. The future that is emerging through me and through us is either self-generated (small self) or Self-generated (Cosmic/Christ Self). The former re-enacts and validates old scripts. The latter sees the future as a field of unlimited possibility in which to run and play.
To have the faith of Jesus is to enjoy a single-minded intention to bring forth a future that is aligned with the Heart and Mind of Reality. It is to allow nothing to take us off the path of this single-minded intention. The line of the Lord’s Prayer that reads “lead me not into temptation” is not a great translation. (God doesn’t do that). As Aramaic scholar Neil Douglas-Klodtz points out, a better interpretation is “help me to not stray from the path”. Help me, when fear and opposition (within and without) arise to remain aligned and centered in my deep intention.
This isn’t easy. Lately, I’ve had these frightening, visceral “bouts of doubt” around the value of what I’m doing with my life. Does the world really need to hear from me about this stuff? Who cares what you think? Why do assume this is even interesting, let alone meaningful? As I witness this voice, come and then go, it actually makes no rational sense. You can understand why the ancient monastics felt that they were being attacked by demons the closer they came to the Heart of the divine.
To have the faith of Jesus ultimately means that it’s not actually about Jesus—and I’m pretty sure Jesus would be ok with this. Jesus was always pointing away from himself, and back toward the heart of the disciples and those he encountered, who had difficulty owning their own power. This is why, after many healings, Jesus would say “Your faith has made you well”. The early church may have interpreted this as faith in Jesus, or faith in God, but I’ convinced that what Jesus meant was that they had participated in their own healing. Their belief that illness wouldn’t have the last word in their life, (that a future not defined by disease was possible), played an active role in their regeneration. Science has repeatedly confirmed this.
What a difference a tiny word can make! It takes us from passive belief to active responsibility. I’m saying that we’re evolving toward spiritual maturity, wherein we are able to participate in the shaping of the future by living from the same quality of faith-as-agency that Jesus enjoyed.
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