Why "Saving Faith" Means "Saving Face"

Why "Saving Faith" Means "Saving Face" April 30, 2013

Should Christians want to “save face”?

This post clarifies a part of my previous post that might sound confusing the first time one hears it. Last time, I looked at John 5:18, 22–23. I said,

“Saving faith is saving face. In particular, I’m referring to God’s face. The goal of our faith is seeking God’s glory by honoring Christ. Paradoxically, there is a way in which we are supposed to seek honor. How then do we purse face in a way that is godly?”

In essence, I want us to consider what it means to have “saving faith,” the kind of faith required for salvation. If we have “saving faith,” we will seek to “save face.” Whose face? I refer both to God’s face and our face.

11097070475_09fc7ee1ed_o_dSaving God’s Face

Ultimately, being a Christian means seeking and delighting in God’s glory and honor. This is simply another way of saying that we are people who seek to give God face. This is the essence of Christian faith. We are people who boast in Christ, not ourselves, our families, jobs, country, etc.

This would seem to contradict the second aspect of saving faith––seeking to save our face. In fact, the second is linked to the first.

This is the goal of our salvation––that we would see Christ’s glory. Think about Christ’s own prayer in John 17:24,

“Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.”

Above all, God seeks to glorify his name. Accordingly, it is entirely appropriate to say that Jesus died to save God’s face. In this sense, no one was more faithful than Christ.

Saving Our Face

From one perspective, one could say that sin fundamentally means seeking our own face. However, the problem is not that we seek honor and glory. Rather, the problem is how or in what do we seek face.

I’ll explain by making two comparisons.

1. Recall Paul’s Jewish opponents.

Their problem was not that they were trying to obey the Law. After all, God commanded them to keep the Law. The problem was how they tried to keep the Law. They used he Law both to exclude Gentiles and as a means of boasting in themselves. Think back how often the theme of boasting emerges in Romans (especially in chapters 2, 3, 5).

2. Consider what John Piper has termed “Christian Hedonism.”

His basic idea is that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. As Piper explains in both Desiring God and Future Grace, we absolutely are supposed to pursue our gain and our joy. Jesus often used reward to motivate people to follow him (e.g. Sermon on the Mount).

When 1 Cor 13 says that love is not self-seeking, Paul’s meaning is that loving people do not seek gain to the exclusion of others. Instead, we are supposed to find our joy in the joy of others. Ultimately, our greatest joy consists in seeking and savoring Christ.

How does this apply to our lives?

The applications of this point are countless. I’ll offer a brief thought or two. Add your own in the comments.

Everyone seeks face (i.e. honor, glory, praise, respect). The only question is what kind of face.

As I’ve said before on the blog and in my book, we gain and lose face in two ways. It is either achieved (based on individual actions) or ascribed (based on one’s relationships or position in a group). Westerners emphasize the first. Easterners tend to stress the latter.

When we seek face based on ourselves (or ethnicity, title, etc.), we begin to feel a sense of fear that we might lose it. We feel the pressure to protect it—which means doing more, maintaining appearances, or perhaps excluding outsiders. This is C. S. Lewis’ point when he spoke of the “inner ring.” It is the excluding of others that inherently gives an “inner ring” its value). For many people, they only feel important or valuable if someone else is excluded. This makes them feel “special.”

On the other hand, if our face comes from Christ, then it cannot be lost.

His honor is perfect and unceasing. When we identify with him, we share both in his shame (humanly speaking) as well as his glory. We certainly ought to seek glory, but only that glory which comes from God through Christ.

The unbeliever seeks face apart from Christ. This brings fear and insecurity. The one who has faith in Christ pursues a kind of face that is not “achieved” by himself or his community; instead, the believer is ascribed honor by the Father. In short, God regards the Christian as having face.

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  • Brent

    Jackson, I am new to your blog. I found it through an article linked from ZG Briefs and have been browsing for the past hour or so. I am a missionary in China and found your writings about shame/honor in the gospel especially helpful. I have not considered sharing the gospel in China in terms of face before, but it seems very appropriate and helpful. I look forward to reading your book. I’m thankful for your emphasis on the glory of God and also helping us to understand that the Christian life is not a fight to renounce our own face but rather to seek it from God (as well as seeking God’s face at the same time). I know in the past I’ve told my Chinese friends that wanting face is sinful and prideful, but after reading some of your stuff I see that that is not necessarily true.

    Have you read C.S. Lewis’ “The Weight of Glory”? If I remember right his point is very similar to yours. The “weight of glory” that is to be revealed to us is the approval of God — hearing him say “Well done, good and faithful servant” — that is to say, God giving us face. In thinking through this, I am reminded of the motivation given us by Jesus: “If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.” (Jn. 12:26)

    I think your writings will have a large impact on how I share the gospel with Chinese people in the future. Grateful for your, brother! Keep up the good work!


    • Thank you for your encouraging words. I know others have had similar experiences and sentiments as you have shared. I find that people understand what these ideas mean much faster (I.e. the meaning of sin, etc.). I think we just success based on engagement. Are people understanding and engaging with us in conversation? I find people do that.

      Yes, CS Lewis hits these themes. Piper even more so. I wanted to integrate the glory theme with various other themes.

      Thanks again for commenting. Let me know if you ever have suggestions on future blog posts.

      • Brent

        I have a question that may or may not make a good blog post but would be very helpful to me — and I suspect to many others working in China. You recently posted a blog titled “10 Troubling Tendencies in Chinese Evangelism.” Could you recommend some Chinese pastors whose sermons are available online whose preaching runs counter to these tendencies? In other words, could you recommend some of your favorite Chinese pastors? I have spent a long time trying to find good Chinese sermons online, but most of them seem to fall into these errors that you highlight. Even if you could just recommend some reformed Chinese preachers I would love that. I don’t know why I’m having so much trouble finding them. Thank you!

        • Frankly, I’m not sure they exist, those who are on the Internet and avoid all the tendencies. Even American pastors struggle with these,…at a functional level. Though affirming otherwise, the emphasis laid on certain themes creates a de facto affirmation of one extreme over another. Of course, few would overtly agree with these tendencies, but in practice, it is hard to distinguish.

          • Brent

            Could you at least recommend some reformed Chinese pastors whose sermons are available online? The only one I’ve been able to find is 唐崇荣. Thank you!