An insight from tonight’s Bible study on Romans 4:
It’s not just that we can’t work our way to righteousness by perfect law-keeping. Moreover, the sort of relationship that comes by working is of a different kind from a relationship based on faith.
A servant works for wages, and the relationship depends on the work of the servant. A child is in a relationship prior to any behaviour on its part.
So although God does demand perfect law-keeping, He wants something even better than perfectly obedient servants: children who will allow Him to be their Father.
“And at the heart of [the] contrast [between Jesus and Moses as new vs. old] are the different functions assigned to obedience under the two mediators. ‘For the Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ’ (Jn. 1:17). From the perspective of the first Moses, the question, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’ is a perfectly valid question (Jn. 6:18; cf. Ex. 18:20, 36:1-7, etc.). But when the new Moses has come, the question cannot be posed in the same way. There is now one work which is to be done—to believe (Jn. 6:29) —which is unique among works in that its efficacy depends, not on its activity, but precisely on its passivity (Jn. 1:12, 3:14—17, etc.).”
Karl T. Cooper, ‘The Best Wine: John 2:1–11’, Westminster Theological Journal , 1997, p. 373
This morning, the teacher of the Sunday school at my congregation reported the following conversation she had with one of the children, a 6-year-old boy:
Teacher: Why do we read so many different stories about Jesus in Sunday school?
Boy: So that we get to know Jesus.
T: What do you mean?
B: Not just know about Jesus, but to get to know Him.
Couldn’t put it better myself!
How often do people — both Christians and non-Christians — criticise the notion that being a Christian is about holding certain facts about Jesus in your head, rather than, say, living a certain kind of life? And often they do it with considerable justification, when theologians, individual Christians, and whole churches reduce the Christian faith to the facts of the faith. To knowing about Jesus.
The key to being a child of God is not knowing about Jesus, but knowing Him. What in some circles is called a “personal relationship with Jesus”.
However, this relationship with Jesus is not distinct from facts about a person. No sensible person would go about human relationships that way. Can you imagine it? “I don’t know the slightest thing about my fiancée. For me that’s not important. What matters to me is to know her.” What sort of odds would a marriage based on that sort of foundation get from a bookie, I wonder.
No, the aim is to get to know Jesus. But we only get to know Him by finding out about Him. As we read and hear about Jesus speaking and acting, we get to know Him as He is. The dogmaticians have referred to these two facets of the faith fides qua and fides quae, the “faith which” is believed, and the “faith by which” one believes. The former informs and creates the latter, the latter receives what the former states.
As Martin Luther might have put it: Thank God that even a six-year-old child knows what the proper relationship between propositional truth and personal faith is!