When you wonder at your small faith {OR How grammar can change your life}

These two weeks have been full of gifts. Gifts of being drawn closer. Experiencing God’s love in new ways. Gifts that, some days, fill me with joy so deep I think I might burst. But the next moment, I find myself struggling again, fearful. I wonder at my small faith. Having come face to face with such love, how can I still hesitate to give Him everything?


In one of those recent small-faith moments, it was a wonderful bit of grammar (yes, I know. . .) that set me free from condemning myself and called me back to worship the God of grace. In the midst of my small faith I find myself still loved. Held. Called closer.


They’re named genitives. They describe. Often they answer the question “Whose?” or “What kind?” And they’re all over the place, these genitives. The tricky bit is that in Greek it’s often impossible to tell whether the genitive is describing the subject or the object. Is it “our faith in Christ” or “Christ’s faith?”


How is a person justified? By our faith (something we have to do, which, then, makes it a work) or by Christ living and dying the perfectly faithful human life, a life marked by complete trust in His Father? We, in our independent, do-it-yourself culture, translate the verse: “we know that a person is not justified by observing the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:16) But it could equally well be read, “we know that a person is not justified by observing the law but by the faith/faithfulness of Jesus Christ.” (The little Greek word pistis may be translated either “faith” or “faithfulness”)


Likewise, the NRSV translates Ephesians 3:12, “. . . Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.” But an equally acceptable translation reads:  “. . . in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through Christ’s faith.”


And since “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me,” doesn’t it make more sense that “the life which I now live in the body I live by the faith of the Son of God” rather than living by faith in the Son of God? Since it’s now Christ who lives in me, mustn’t it be true that faith that exists in me has to be his? (Gal 2:20)


As Julie Canlis notes, “We always assume faith is our work in response to Christ. But could it be that Christ had faith on our behalf and we tap into that to receive these benefits because our faith will never be perfect?”


Perhaps it’s something of both. We live by our (small) faith in the (perfect) faith/faithfulness of Christ.


If my faith isn’t merely my own, when my faith is tiny, His is enough. Could this be why “faith as small as a mustard seed” is sufficient to move mountains? All I need is enough faith to turn back to him, to fall into his faithful arms. And even that small faith is his gift. (Ephesians 2:8-9) When my faith fails entirely, His faith remains sufficient to carry me through and draw me back to himself. “If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself.” (2 Timothy 2:13)


We live by faith, it is true. As we grow in Christ, we become people of greater faith, (and love and gentleness and hope.) We do not, in ourselves, become stronger. We become more open to Him, more one with Him. His life becomes more fully ours. Just as Jesus gives us His joy and His peace and causes God’s own love to grow within us, so too He gives us His faith. For faith, too, is a fruit of the Spirit. It is something Jesus Himself lives in us, not something we build by our own effort.


So if you find your faith small, don’t panic. Just turn your heart back to the One who longs to give you His. Ask him to do what only He can do: share His faith with you. He longs to live out in us His perfect faith, helping us know the Father whom he trusts completely. (John 17:26)


(If you’re gripped by the grammar, you might want to check out the following verses as well:

Romans 3:21-26 “But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, . . . the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ (or “through the faith of Christ Jesus”) for all who believe. For . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. . . it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus (or “the one of the faith of Jesus”) Julie Canlis points out that this is exactly the same language in Rom 4:16 where Paul is talking about the promise coming “to those who are of the faith of Abraham” (not faith in Abraham!)


Galatians 3:22 “. . . so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (NASB)  The word here translated “by” is the little Greek word “ek.” It means “out of” or “forth from,” and often indicates the source from which something flows. So could it be “. . . that the promise which flows out of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe?”


Philippians 3:9 “. . . not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ (Or  “. . . one that comes through the faithfulness of Christ. . .”), the righteousness from God based on faith.”  (Whose faith?)

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