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Small group discussion guide
Discussion groups might wish to prepare their own topics, request topics from the group, use the following suggested topics, or mix and match all three.
1. Why do you think translators “alter” the Greek prepositions in verses such as Galatians 2:20?
2. Please share your thoughts on the statement, “Salvation is entirely of God and not of us.”
3. What is your perception of Christ as our response to God?
4. How do you understand belief as being required of us, but that it is also a gift of grace?
5. What do you think of the assertion that Jesus is the representative human for each of us?
6. Please give us your impressions of our “dying and rising” in Christ.
7. How do you see, “To receive God’s forgiveness means that we must share it with others”?
8. Forgiveness was described as a “gift of God,” “real grace,” and “healing.” Please comment.
A few simple guidelines for leading a discussion: 1) Encourage open discussion. 2) Ask questions relevant to the topic. 3) Listen attentively. 4) Encourage divergent views. 5) Encourage everyone to participate. 6) Summarize and paraphrase. 7) Minimize teaching and preaching.
The faith of Christ
Mike Morrison: David, it’s a pleasure to have you here.
David Torrance: It’s a privilege to be invited.
MM: You’ve been a parish minister for many years, and you’ve seen God’s grace being given to people in the parish, and you see how people respond to that with faith. And I’d like to ask you a little bit about what faith is?
DT: Faith is very important. I hesitate to use the word, a theological term – faith is really bipolar. Are we justified by Christ’s faith or by my faith? Clearly we’re not justified, I’m not justified by my faith. My faith can go up and down and sometimes be sometimes be almost nonexistent, sadly. I’m justified by Christ’s faith, the faith of Christ. My faith is very important, but my faith is really a response to the faith of Christ. The primary thing is Christ’s faith. I find that a very important thing.
When we look at the New Testament, Galatians 2:20, I am crucified with Christ, but the life that I now live I live by the faith of Jesus Christ…of the Son of God. I don’t know of any modern translation of Scripture that uses that translation. Every modern translation of Scripture that I know of says “faith in Christ.” That means to me that the translators have altered the Greek to make faith in Christ. If it’s faith in Christ in Greek, you’d have a preposition, de, and then the dative, de Cristo, in Christ. But the Greek is not that at all. It’s the genitive: of Christ. So…the life I live, I live by the faith of the Son of God.
That comes out many times in the New Testament. In Romans 3, Paul has been talking about the righteousness of God apart from the law, which is by the faith of Jesus Christ. Modern translations say faith in Jesus Christ. But am I justified by my faith in Christ? Never. I’m justified by Christ’s faith. My faith is a response to that. So if you say “the faith of Christ,” that’s the Authorized Version, we’re laying the whole weight of our salvation upon Jesus Christ.
If you think back to the Old Testament, the great lesson of the Old Testament, which Israel found so hard to learn, was that salvation is entirely an act of God. God delivered Israel out of Egypt. They couldn’t deliver themselves out of Egypt. That was entirely an act of God.
Such is human sin that very shortly after that, Moses went up on the Mt. Sinai, he was away for 40 days…they prevailed on Aaron to make them a golden calf. We have these words, “Here are the gods which brought you out of Egypt.” That golden calf, you might say, they were paying lip service to the fact that their deliverance was an act of God, but it was an act of their own human ingenuity and strength. That’s a great sin — that by their own strength they could deliver themselves. The great lesson they had to learn was no, they’d been saved entirely by an act of God.
When God gave his word that was revealed through Moses, he gave them the laws of worship. All those laws of worship which accompanied the word were to teach Israel they could only worship God in God’s way, and therefore these laws of worship are given quite meticulously. The tent, in every detail, the furniture of the building, every detail of worship, in the sacrifices and the great feasts were given to them. They could not worship in their own way, they had to worship only in God’s way because each of these forms of worship and sacrifices are symbolic, representing God breaking through to make atonement for the people.
They are given circumcision. They were a sinful people, and yet a reminder that despite their sin, God, the Holy God, had entered into a covenant of grace binding them to himself. That circumcision, that perpetual reminder that they were sinful, a perpetual reminder that despite their sin God had bound himself to them in a bond of love, and it was a symbol anticipating the day when God would, himself, come and break through himself, be cut off, circumcised for his people.
The great lesson all through the Old Testament was: salvation is entirely of God, and not of us. That’s the great lesson that’s picked up in the New Testament, fulfilled in Jesus Christ, encapsulated, if you like, in that phrase, “The life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God.”
Take the two parables in Luke 15 — the parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin. If we ask ourselves who suffers by the loss…there’s no indication the sheep was the least bothered by being lost, and certainly the coin wasn’t bothered because it couldn’t feel a thing. It was the owner who felt the loss. It was the owner who suffered. It was the owner who took the initiative, who came in search of the lost, and who searched and went on searching until he finds, and then rejoices.
We have in those two parables, you might say, a gathering up of the whole story of the gospel. It is encapsulated in those two parables. Here is God who feels the loss of this world, of humankind who are lost to God — not lost in the geographical sense, but lost in the sense that men and women are no longer living in fellowship with God. God feels that loss. He suffers. God takes initiative. God comes and he searches and searches and searches, and that search takes him to the cross and to the resurrection, and God rejoices. So those two parables, to me, set up the whole story of the gospel.
Equally, it shows that the gospel is totally different from every other religion in the world. Every other religion in the world is concerned with man, and with man seeking to obey certain rules and certain regulations in order to achieve salvation. It’s a man — what man can do, how man can work out his salvation. The gospel is entirely different. It’s a joyful announcement that God has come in Jesus Christ. God has searched, in the cross and resurrection, here God finds and restores and God rejoices. That’s a glorious thing.
So that little phrase in Galatians 2:20 rounds out several…I could pick out quite a number of passages in the New Testament. We are saved by Christ, by Christ’s faithfulness. And yet we’ve got to respond, we’ve got to receive. And that is a wholehearted receiving. It’s a wholehearted surrender.
MM: And that’s our faith that comes in?
DT: That’s our faith, but our faith is a response to his faith. Jesus’ faith is prior.
MM: But if we are saved by his faith, don’t we have to do anything, or has he done it all for us?
DT: He’s done it all for us. Absolutely everything. There’s nothing left for us to do but simply to accept in thanks. If you could come and give me a present, a gift, what can I do? I can answer, “No, I don’t want that” and turn away, or I could say, “Thank you” and simply accept. God comes to us and he offers himself to us, he offers his forgiveness, his gift of life. All we can do is accept it or reject it. As we say thank you, that’s our acceptance.
MM: Doesn’t the New Testament say that we should have faith in Christ?
DT: Yes indeed. We are called to believe. But what does that mean? Faith isn’t something that we produce out of ourselves out of our own resources. It’s a response to his faith, and it’s the gift of God.
MM: So I can’t take credit for it.
DT: Paul says that “by grace are you saved through faith, and not in yourselves, it is a gift in God so that no one can boast.” I don’t believe that as a church, and again I take this personally as a minister, that we have really clearly got that across in our preaching and proclamation. Far too often we present what Christ has done, we say Christ has died for you, forgiven you, now it’s over to you to accept. You pray, you repent, you read the Bible, you pray, and so on. And we’re laying a burden on man to do something. Salvation in that context is partly what God does and partly what we do. We cooperate — and that is totally wrong. No, we can do nothing at all except accept it in thanksgiving.
MM: If Jesus has done it all for us, would we say that he has prayed for us? Has he done our response for us?
DT: Everything for us. Absolutely everything. Many evangelicals limit Christ’s salvation to the death of Christ. They say that Christ died for us and that is something apart from us and because of his death, we can be forgiven and receive salvation. As my brother James used to say, that if you’re sick a doctor can come, he can diagnose your problem, this is your illness, write out a prescription, give it to you, go away. You take that medicine, you get well. Far too often, that’s the kind of gospel that we preach. Christ has died, Christ has risen, and there you are, you get on with it.
MM: Like the forgiveness is some commodity that’s handed over to us.
DT: It’s not like that. Christ has done absolutely everything — he’s given himself, and his very life for us. That’s what we’re asked to receive. We can’t separate the work of Christ, the death of Christ on the cross, for the whole ministry or for the resurrection, but sadly, many Christians do. And in a great deal of preaching we often do.
The life of Christ
MM: It just occurred to me that the Gospels have a lot more information in them than just a story of the death of Christ — they’ve got a lot about his life as well. What are those stories there for us? What are they showing us about Jesus’ life for us?
DT: We can’t separate the person of Christ from his teaching and from his work. The whole thing belongs together. Calvin used to use a phrase that we’re not presented with a naked Christ. He comes to us clothed in his life and his death and resurrection. It’s all important. He lived out his life for us, and we’re asked to receive him in all his fullness.
Put it this way — that when God became man, we’re faced with an incredible miracle where God broke into this world. It’s a staggering fact that he came right down to our level in Jesus Christ, and he took our flesh and blood. He remained God and at one and the same time, he became man. Not only an individual man, which he was, but a representative man, where he identified himself with each one of us — with you, with me, with all of us.
And in identifying himself with us, you might like to say he did two things — that he took our sinful life with all its faults, with all its failings, with all its sins and all its sicknesses, and he brought on the condemnation, died, and took it all away. But at one and the same time, in becoming man, he sanctified our human life and he turned our human life around, living out a life of perfect obedience or righteousness. In the resurrection, he gives us himself, he gives us that new life, his life and our life. It’s a total thing. We are totally letting go of our old life with a total receiving of this new life. There’s no half measures. Paul says, “Be clothed with Christ in his righteousness.”
MM: And it’s not just his life before the crucifixion and resurrection but his life afterwards as well.
DT: He rose as man, and he ascended as man, and he reigns as man, and he’s our high priest as man, and that’s very important. The whole of our life, it is not I, but Christ. In every situation, in every area of life, we’ve got to learn to live that out in such a way that in every situation, it’s not I but Christ.
New life in Christ
MM: Once we realize that and we respond to that, how does life change for us? What difference is it going to make in our life? Can we just live a rotten life until we die and just before we die then say oh yes, I’d like to sign onto the program?
DT: Three times in the epistle to the Romans, Paul is answering questions obviously that were put to him — can I sin that grace may abound? He goes on and says this type of question you raise. He says no, that’s impossible. To receive Christ means that we’ve shared in his death — death to our own life, death to all our sins, that we might share in the resurrection. We can only enter the kingdom of God through death and resurrection, and that’s a total thing. It’s a death to our old way of life, it’s a death to our sin.
If we have received Christ, sadly, we’ll go on sinning, but death is no longer the power that reigns over us. We can’t go on sinning. John brings that out in his epistles, “We can’t go on sinning and yet believe in Christ,” in other words, we don’t really, in a deeper sense, believe in Christ. We’re not really followers of Christ.
MM: Is that what the Bible is talking about when it uses the word salvation — that it’s not just a ticket into heaven but it’s this entire package of taking on Christ, of dying, of rising — is all that encapsulated?
DT: Yes. It’s a receiving of a totally new life in Christ. We receive Christ once and for all, and we go on and on receiving Christ as a continuous process. It is a total thing. Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters. You can only serve one or the other.” If we seek to receive Christ as our Lord, he is the one we serve. There’s no half measures. As I said, sadly, we will go on sinning. As long as we are here on this earth, none of us are perfect, we go on sinning. But the Lord is our Lord and king. He is dominant. So he picks us up, cleanses us, renews us — day by day we start afresh.
MM: Some days I just don’t feel very fresh or new. It just feels like the old person is still there. How do these go side by side?
DT: Well, that’s true. But we don’t go by our feelings. We go by what is real. When Christ gave himself to us, he gives himself to us. That’s something very real. We’ve got to keep looking away from ourselves to Christ. If I look inward upon myself, it’s only darkness. There’s no certainty. We’re full of doubt. It’s when I look away to Christ and say yes, he is life, he is light, he is salvation, there is joy, there is assurance. Life is a constantly looking unto Christ. It has to be. As long as we look onto Christ we are able to share in the victory of the cross and the resurrection. As we look onto Christ we are able to manifest something of the real life and the power of the Holy Spirit.
MM: You talked about the resurrection of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in us. Is that the way in which we are sharing in the resurrection of Jesus now?
DT: Yes, it’s through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit, you might say, is Jesus’ other self, although the Holy Spirit is distinct from Jesus, and yet the Holy Spirit is Jesus’ other person. The Holy Spirit comes to live within us, to reign over us. That’s Christ living in us. As the Holy Spirit comes, he seals within us the finished work of Christ, the new life of Christ, so that Christ is there, and Paul says, “It’s not I who live, it’s Christ who lives within me.” He lives within…by God, the Holy Spirit.
MM: When you say that the forgiveness that we give others, it is really the forgiveness of Jesus working through us.
DT: Absolutely. It has to be. If we’re not forgiving other people, then there’s a blockage. The Holy Spirit isn’t able, isn’t working, isn’t flowing through us. He demands it, to receive that love and forgiveness that we show Christ’s forgiveness one to another and forgive one another.
I remember that question of forgiveness. I was chaplain to a fairly large hospital in my last parish, and they had a certain wing when people had a nervous breakdown …and I would go in and chat to them all. I went in this day, into the sitting room, and doctors and nurses used to sit together with patients. There was a woman, maybe about mid-30s, sitting on a couch looking at family photographs. I sat down and she showed me her photographs — son and daughter about 12 and 14.
I kept wondering why she was in the hospital, and I looked at these photographs, and I said, “You love them.” She said, “Oh, very much so,” absolutely she loved her son and daughter. She showed me a photograph of her husband, and I looked at them and gently said, “You love your husband.” She said, “Oh, very much. He’s a marvelous man and it’s a great privilege to be married to him.”
When we were finished, I looked at her, and I said, “Why are you here in hospital?” She said, “I don’t want to live.” I said, “You don’t want to live? You’ve just shown me the family photographs, your son and daughter and husband, you tell me you love them.” She said, “Yes, I certainly do. I have a marvelous husband.” “Why don’t you want to live?” She said, “I have no idea, but I’m terrified to be alone. If I’m alone, I’m going to do something violent, and that’s why I’m here in hospital.”
I asked her the question which I often ask as a minister, “Have you had a happy childhood?” She said, “No, not at all.” She told me one of these sad, very dreadful stories, that her parents were both alcoholic and separated when she was 5. Her mother had married an alcoholic who physically and sexually abused her. Out came this terrible, ghastly story, so I felt pain as this woman told me this story. I said, “I’m terribly sorry.”
I said, “Could you ever forgive your parents?” She said, “No, never.” And I said, “Have you ever thought that there is a relationship between the fact that you can’t forgive your parents and you don’t want to live?” She said, “No, I’ve never thought. No one has ever suggested it and no doctor has ever suggested it.” I said, “Well, I’m suggesting there’s a very real relationship.” I said, “You’ve been sinned against. I’m pained by your story, you’ve suffered, you’ve been wronged, and what can I say? I’m horrified and sad. But God has forgiven us everything, and we deserve nothing. But to receive God’s forgiveness, it does mean that we have to share God’s forgiveness with other people and forgive them.”
Now I said, “You can’t forgive them. You’ve been sinned against, you’ve been hurt dreadfully. All you can do is to ask God to give you a gift which you haven’t got, and none of us have, but a gift to forgive these parents of yours.” So we talked away — she was a nominal member of the church, not in my parish but in another parish. At the end of the day I said, “Would you like to pray?” She said yes. So I prayed with her, committed her to the Lord, and this sad story, and asked God to give her the gift that she might forgive her parents. The result was quite dramatic, and the hospital discharged her within the week. To forgive is healing. It allows the Holy Spirit to flow through us, giving us life, the very life of Christ. That’s the important thing.
MM: And the forgiveness doesn’t mean that the initial act was somehow okay.
DT: No — it was an evil thing, a ghastly thing for the parents – their whole behavior, the treatment of this daughter, for her to be sexually abused. It was wrong, totally wrong. But from her point of view, it was a real grace to be able to give in that situation. That’s what God demands.
MM: The gift wasn’t so much for her parents as it was for her.
DT: It had a profound effect on her, in healing. But she had to forgive her parents. Hopefully, that will bring a sense of healing to them where they might be able to turn to God.
MM: It would have an effect on them as well. It’s been a pleasure talking with you. Our time has come to an end.
DT: Thank you.