21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Read the rest of today’s chapter here!)
Jesus as the ultimate fulfillment of Levitical law
I heard an interesting theory yesterday on the podcast Almost Heretical that I want to present to you here. I’ll paraphrase as best I can: Jesus, as the ultimate sacrificial lamb, was not a penal substitution for our sins. Or at least, that’s not the whole story. He did die to atone for us, but it was more of a preparatory rite than a righting of wrongs. In that way, he became the ultimate fulfillment of Levitical law.
You should really listen to Episodes 82 and 84 as Nate and Tim spend almost two hours talking about the details of this, but again, I’ll paraphrase: Blood was viewed as the ultimate spiritual cleanser and buffer agent. In Levitical law, it wasn’t so much that an animal had to die to appease an angry God, but that the sacrifice of the animal’s life was worth it to obtain the blood necessary for temple rituals. Without the blood, God was dangerous to his chosen people in a very real and physical way: coming into contact with the divine whilst unprepared could actually kill you. We see lots of examples of this in the Old Testament: seventy men are struck down for looking at the Ark of the Covenant in 1 Samuel 6:19; poor Uzzah is killed for reaching out to steady the Ark in 2 Samuel 6:7, and I wrote a whole blog post about Nadab and Abihu being killed when performing a ceremony with the wrong sort of fire.
Blood, then, was one of the most important chemical compounds, if you will, that allowed humans to safely come into contact with the divine. By anointing the whole world with his blood, Jesus made the whole world holy. By making the whole world holy, Jesus fulfilled all the preparatory rights of Levitical law, essentially giving us all priestly capabilities. God was not angry with us to the point of needing a human sacrifice, God yearned for us to be with Xyr so strongly that Xe sent Jesus to pave the way for all humanity to reach Xyr without an intercessory protocol.
Faith in Jesus Christ vs. Faith of Jesus Christ
In light of this, I want to point out the phrase in v. 22 “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” As I learned in Karen Armstrong’s excellent book, St Paul: The Apostle We Love to Hate, the phrase “faith in Jesus Christ,” was, until the twentieth century, more often translated as the “faith of Jesus Christ.” This is an important distinction: It transfers the responsibility of our salvation from a personal faith in Jesus to Jesus’ faith in God that God would make his death the start of a new order. And yet, it does not change Jesus claim in John 14:6 that “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” For indeed, his blood anointed the world, and made us all holy.
Logically, the next step could be to say that we live in a world where faith isn’t necessary. Think about it: if the whole world is holy and original sin no longer exists (if it ever existed at all), and our salvation has been achieved through Jesus’ faith rather than our own, then what do we need to being reading the Bible for? Going to church for? Following the ten commandments for? Couldn’t we literally do anything and it have no effect on our salvation?
This is the problematic thinking that Paul addresses in the first half of the chapter, particularly in vv. 5-8. There were those, such as the “spirituals,” pneumatikoi, or Gnostics (depending upon which source you read) around the time of Paul’s teaching that came almost exactly to the conclusion above: that anything goes. Some would eat food sacrificed at pagan temples. Many participated in prostitution. Most distressing to Paul, they lost the spirit of egalitarianism of the early Christian movement: lording spiritual supremacy over other believers and even suing other Christians in Roman court for personal gain.
The problem with this “anything goes” sort of thinking is that it causes us to quickly devolve into greedy, mean, base animals. That doesn’t mean anyone without faith is automatically a greedy, mean, base animal – many kind, wonderful people are agnostic or atheist. They may even be more spiritually evolved than me: Perhaps God actually wants a post-faith world for us where we automatically follow the Golden Rule and don’t need Xyr constant supervision, I truly don’t know. My analogy to justify Christianity, which I go into more fully in this blog post, is that this life is kind of like a semester of a college course. If you do well for the entire semester, you’re more likely to get an A. But if you’re struggling, you still have a chance to redeem yourself on the final exam. Christianity, for me, is like having a study guide. You can still pass the class without said study guide, but it may be harder to do so. Since that study guide is freely available for all of us, why not use it?
You Are Holy
What I want you to remember today is this: You are holy. God anointed you through the blood of Jesus. You literally have a direct connection to God now. Historically, the church has done a good job of obscuring this. Purity culture, misogyny, exclusion and suppression have taken the place of recognizing the divine spark in all of us. So, the next time someone tries to shame you for your weight, sexual orientation, beliefs, appearance, or status, try to remember that you are holy, and now that the faith of Jesus has given that to the world, no one can take it away from you.