The Work and Faith of Christ
The mission of our Lord Jesus Christ involved more than His coming to die on the Cross. As central, and as important as the Cross is to the salvation of His people, Christ’s mission required more than His sacrificial death. If that was the sole purpose in the coming of Jesus, why did He not descend from heaven on a cloud of glory, go straight to Jerusalem to be crucified, rise from the dead, and ascend into glory? Why did He come into the world as a baby, rather than a full-grown man like the first Adam? If His purpose was only to die as the perfect sacrifice for our sins, could not the baby Jesus have fulfilled that role? Wasn’t the baby Jesus fully human and divine? Would the atonement of the Christ child been any less efficacious than that of the adult Christ?
It is important that we understand the full scope of Christ’s mission. The Apostle Paul tells us that He came as the “last Adam” (I Cor. 15:45-49). Although there are apparent contrasts between the two Adams, there are also some important similarities. Both Adams were put to the test. Both were exposed to full assault of Satan. The first Adam failed the test, yielding to temptation, and disobeyed the Father. Jesus, the last Adam, triumphed over Satan by His faith and obedience to the Father.
It was critical for Jesus, our Mediator, to spend time on earth before His atoning death. Our salvation rests not only upon the death of Christ, but also upon His life (Rom. 5:10), past and present. At the Cross, Jesus took the curse of God on sin upon Himself. He paid the full penalty that we deserve. That took care of our guilt before God (Gal. 3:13). However, that only “wiped our slate clean.” It did nothing to solve our lack of righteousness or merit before God. For this reason, there is a two-fold imputation in our salvation. According to the Scripture, God not only imputes our guilt to Christ, He imputes His righteousness to us (II Cor. 5:21). The righteousness of Christ was His achievement, gained by His obedience to the law of God at every point during His earthly life. Throughout His earthly life Jesus fulfilled all righteousness (Matt. 3:15).
“To fulfill all righteousness” included more than Jesus going to the Cross. In theology, we distinguish between the passive obedience of Christ (suffering God’s wrath on the cross) and His active obedience (His perfect fulfillment of the law). Both are necessary for our salvation. Jesus did what no one had been able to do; He obeyed the law of God perfectly (Rom. 8:3). This explains why Jesus did not descend out of heaven, go to Jerusalem and submit Himself to crucifixion. There had to be a period of active obedience to satisfy the demands of God’s law. It is also important that we understand that Christ’s perfect obedience was a result of His perfect faith. In fact, His surrendering of His life on the Cross was a supreme act of faith, as He trusted the Father to raise Him up from the dead (Acts 2:30-32; 13:33-34).
When Paul says that the righteousness of God is revealed “from faith to faith” (Rom. 1:17) what is he referring to? I believe that Paul is speaking about the faith of Christ and our faith. As a man Jesus had perfect faith in the Father (Heb.2:13). He was given the Spirit without measure (John 3:34) which is why He had perfect faith. While we have only a measure of faith (Rom. 12:3), this was not true of Jesus. His faith is what lay behind His perfect obedience. He stood in our place not only in death, but also in life. He was our substitute. He believed perfectly on our behalf, which is why He was the only one who could fulfill the Law (Matt. 5:17). Our imperfect faith is covered by His righteousness – resulting from a perfect faith – which is put to our credit (Rom. 4:5) We are not required to produce a perfect faith to be saved, only faith in a perfect Savior.
The faith of Christ is of no value until it is ratified by our faith. Galatians 2:16 states: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ.” (The Greek phrase is pistis christou, which means the “faith of Christ,” contrary to translations that choose to render it as “faith in Christ.”) Paul uses the same phrase when he says in Galatians 2:20 that, “I live by the faith of the Son of God.” (The KJV translates it correctly.) Paul is showing that he continues to trust not his own faith but that of Jesus. This perfect faith of Christ continues to the present because Jesus intercedes for us at God’s right hand without doubt or unbelief. This is why Paul could make such a statement. He lived by the faith of Christ, demonstrated by His obedience during His earthly life, and His “intercessory faith” in heaven now. If Christ does not pray to the Father with a perfect faith, there is no hope for any of us. But Paul did not worry about Christ having less than perfect faith. He knew that Christ’s faith was sufficient and complete – his faith was in Jesus’ faith.