|Series Theme: Meditations in Galatians|
Meditation No. 23
Meditation Title: Faith expressing Itself
Gal 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
Paul has just been speaking about a ‘yoke of slavery' (5:1), clearly referring to their desire to have believers circumcised (5:2), but says if you do that you show you are relying on the Law and therefore you need to obey the whole Law, not just parts of it if you want to be justified by following God's rules (5:3), and concludes, “You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (5:4). That's where we finished with the previous meditation. Now in the light of what follows, I want to emphasise the first word, “You”. He is referring to the believers in Galatia who have given way to the Jewish believers' demands to conform to the dictates of Judaism. By having done this, he is saying, you've moved away from Christ and away from grace. You have no need for Christ in the self-effort religion of trying to keep the Law and there is certainly no grace involved, it is all hard effort.
Now we have commented previously on how Paul uses contrasts again and again, so watch what follows: “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (5:5) Let's start by putting the emphasis on the word, “we”. You have done that, we are doing something quite different. You are living on the basis of works, we are living on the basis of faith. You are waiting to achieve righteousness by somehow perhaps eventually managing to keep all the dictates of the Law (who are you kidding!!!), but we are simply waiting to receive righteousness that comes as the Holy Spirit guides and leads us into the thing God wants us to be doing on a daily basis. This, please note, is all about practical righteousness. This is not so much about the ‘imputed' righteousness that theologians sometimes talk about, that state of righteousness in God's eyes that He attributes to you on the basis of Christ's work on your behalf; this is about actual lived-out righteousness.
This is very important to understand. For the Galatians, righteousness came according to the way they conformed to the Law. For Christians, imputed righteousness comes simply by believing that Jesus died for you, and practical righteousness comes as we respond to the Holy Spirit's leading. Righteousness, or right living, according to God's standards or God's will, doesn't come by us trying to conform to the Law – where we frequently fail – but by simply being led by the Spirit, and thus each act that is a response to the Spirit, is in fact, an act of righteousness, although most of the time we are not even thinking about it like that; we just do what comes naturally as He leads us. That's another difference from the Galatian approach, because when you are trying to conform to the Law, you are constantly thinking about it, to see if you are measuring up to, or conforming to, the particular law.
When Paul speaks in verse 5 about “the righteousness for which we hope,” he is just showing that this is a righteousness that God brings and is not something we can bring ourselves. If we brought it, then he would speak of “the righteousness that we do have and will have.” There would be an air of definiteness to it, but when it is reliant upon Christ bringing it to us through his Spirit, it is a hope or anticipation, because it is up to him to bring it to us. It doesn't make it less certain, it just takes the sureness of it away from us and puts it on him.
It is only then that we come to our verse for today, which almost comes as a conclusion to this argument: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (5:6). Look, he says, the truth is that it's nothing whatsoever to do with whether you have been circumcised or not. There were Jews who were circumcised who became Christians. Fine! There were Gentiles who became believers and who weren't circumcised. Fine again! The experience or otherwise of circumcision was irrelevant in respect of becoming a Christian.
The crucial issue is faith. Now faith is simply responding to God. Faith comes through hearing (Rom 10:17 ) and so faith is responding to what we hear from God. We have heard the Gospel when it was preached to us. When we respond to it and say, “I believe it! It's for me!” we are saved. It came to us as an expression of God's love and we respond to it as an act of love, and the life we then live out is one filled with and based upon love. Faith is the way we respond to God. Love is the motivating or energising force that changes us and leads us and enables us. Our faith flows through love. We hear these words of love coming from God, we sense something of the wonder of His love for us, and we respond (faith). As John was to put it later, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 Jn 5:19). So, no rules, but Spirit inspired and led love. Got it?