Grace Extending


How the New Testament's Seismic Shift Confirms the 'Godness' of Jesus

Think for a minute about some of the Old Testament's most beautiful passages on faith:

And [Abram] believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness. (Genesis 15:6)

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. [4] Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD.” (Jeremiah 17:7)

Now notice what all these verses have in common: “the LORD” (in Hebrew, Yahweh) is the object of faith. Over and over again in the Hebrew Scriptures, God's people are called to trust Yahweh. This is clear to even the most casual reader of the Old Testament.

So when a reader arrives at the New Testament, he or she would expect to find this same emphasis, for the same God is the author of both testaments. And in one sense, this is exactly what we find. But we also find a radical difference. To be clear, this difference has nothing to do with a de-emphasis of faith, for the Greek verb pisteuo (faith, trust, believe) is used almost 250 times. Moreover, it's clear that, wonderfully, we are in fact “saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8); and that “the righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17) No. There is no de-emphasis of faith in the New Testament. The difference has to do with the object of one's faith.

Remarkably, out of almost 250 instances of “trust” or “believe” (Greek, pisteuo) only 15 of these refer to “God” as the object of one's faith (John 5:24; 12:44; 14:1; Acts 16:34; 27:25; Romans 4:3, 5, 17, 24; Galatians 3:6; Titus 3:8; Hebrews 11:6; James 2:23; I John 5:10, and possibly II Timothy 1:12)(NOTE: many of these passages make it clear that “God” or “Him” is referring to “the Father”). For 4 of these 15 verses, the object of faith specified is not surprising, since they are simply quotations from the Old Testament (cf. Romans 4:3). But that leaves only 11 verses in the entire New Testament in which the verb “trust/believe” is clearly tied to “God”. That's stunning given what we find in the Old Testament.

So what about the other 235 (or so) instances of this verb? What do they tell us about the object of one's faith? Well, right away we could place about 50 of these occurrences in the “miscellaneous” column. Examples of such usage would include Matthew21:22, “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith," or I Corinthians 13:7, “Love... believes all things...”. Furthermore, around 10 or so instances of this word are connected to believing God's word (e.g., Mary believing God's message to her (Luke1:45), or the Jewish leaders not believing God's word through Moses (John 5:45-47)).

But that still leaves around 175 occurrences of the verb pisteuo. What do these verses reveal? They reveal that the overwhelming majority of places in the New Testament where the verb for “trust/believe” is used all point us to Jesus Christ as the object of faith. It may be helpful to break that number down a bit. About 15 of those 175 instances describe faith in Jesus as a miracle-worker. For example, “...blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?'” (i.e., heal their blindness)(Matthew 9:28). Another 35 uses of the verb refer to faith in the gospel message, the Good News about Jesus (cf. Acts 4:4). That leaves almost 125 instances in which Jesus Christ himself is explicitly the object of one's faith. Think about a few powerful examples:

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live...” (John 11:25)

...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake... (Philippians 1:29)

I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13)

So does this shift from trusting in Yahweh (in the Old Testament) to trusting in Jesus (in the New Testament) mean that somehow the object of our faith has ultimately changed? No. How can this be? Because Jesus is God, God in human flesh. Not “a god”, but the God, for there is only one God, and only One in whom we should trust.

Does faith in the Son somehow nullify faith in the Father. Absolutely not. As Jesus encouraged us, "Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1) Faith in the Son is faith in the Father who sent him. Trusting in Jesus results in a newness of life that makes it possible to trust in Yahweh “with all your heart” (Proverbs 3:5). The 'faith emphasis' (or focus) of the New Testament doesn't direct us away from the God of the Old Testament. It fulfills it. But in doing so, it confirms that Jesus must be God, for only God is worthy of being the object of our saving and sanctifying faith.

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