Love— The Expression Of Faith
Key Verse 5:6
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
Here is what Paul said in verses 5 and 6. “For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. 6For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”
We talked about verse 5 last week. We started out by speaking about the fall of man. What we lost in the garden when we disobeyed God and fell into sin. We lost many things on that day. We lost our hearts to the world. We lost our position as children of God. We lost our innocence in trusting God with all things. We also lost our purpose for which we were created. We were created to “freely” serve God’s purpose in our lives. And I emphasize “freely”, for that is what God intended for us to do, to serve his purpose in our lives, freely. And We were doing that willingly and with intense joy, for what God intended in creating us was to glorify him and to enjoy him forever. But as the Bible teaches us we fell into sin and were cast out of the garden, and the consequences were great. We became slaves to sin! As slaves of sin, we were completely unable to do what we were created to do which is to serve God’s holy purpose in our lives. But God promised freedom for us— redemption— salvation from this incessant slavery to sin. And he did so in Christ Jesus. Jesus gave his life on the cross to deliver us from slavery to sin, and to give us freedom once again to live out our purpose of existence. That is what the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection did for us. The moment a person puts their faith in Jesus, believing what Jesus had done on the cross and through the resurrection for them, that person is born again by the work of the Holy Spirit. He or she is a free person, free for the first time in their lives of sin and ready to live a new life of freedom to serve God and to do in all joy.
The false teachers were saying that after you have received God’s gift of new life, you have to follow the law (especially the law of circumcision) so that you can grow and mature in that new life you were given, otherwise you cannot fulfill your purpose in God nor please him. What they were saying is that even if Justification is by faith and the work of the spirit, sanctification or inner purification must be done by your own works through your obedience to the law. And Paul was saying “No! it’s not what freedom is all about. Paul insisted in his teaching throughout the letter to the Galatians, that just as justification is by faith and the work of the Holy Spirit, so is sanctification also by faith and the work of the Holy Spirit. (3:1-6) Paul explained that there is absolute freedom from the law in the gospel of our Lord Jesus. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free, he said! (5:1)
He then said something remarkable in verse 5. “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” We talked about that as well. Christ set us free that we might serve God’s purpose in our lives in freedom and in joy, as a son gladly works together with his father to accomplish the work his father has entrusted him to do. Our destination is the kingdom of God. Until we are fully redeemed to the kingdom, our lives here on earth are a struggle with the sinful nature, as we also struggle to serve God’s purpose in our lives. And in the midst of these struggles, we do not lose hope. Rather we have a glorious hope that our absolute righteousness, as promised by God would be completely and fully realized on the day that the Lord return. Meanwhile, however, how do we maintain that hope of righteousness burning in our hearts? Paul says that we do so “by faith… through the Spirit”. That is how we live from day to day, from moment to moment. We live “by faith” and “through the Holy Spirit” who lives in us and works in us to give us victory upon victory in our sanctification and in fulfilling our purpose in our lives, which is to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Why is this of importance? Because verses 1 and 5 testify that faith and the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer are absolutely sufficient for that believer to receive God’s blessings in their fullness. In other words, when we live “by faith … through the Spirit” we are guaranteed God’s abundant blessings for this life and the one to come. On the other hand, those who work for that blessing or teach others to work for blessings have nullified Christ’s work and have forfeited God’s blessings in their lives.
And here is one of the most important verses in this epistle, verse 6: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” We will talk extensively about what this means. But first let us look at verses 7-12. They are a warning about the seriousness of opposing the gospel teaching.
Read verses 7 & 8. “You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth? 8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” It is clear here that whatever persuasion these false Christians did on the Galatian Christians was not a divine or godly sort of persuasion. There are many people who are extremely persuasive in their arguments. They may be well learned and well versed in the Bible, but it does not mean that their teaching is credible or godly. Their persuasions do not come from God. How do we know when a person’s persuasive abilities are from divine knowledge or origin or they are from the evil one? There are many ways to tell, especially in the Holy Spirit. Those who have the Holy Spirit and who walk by the Spirit cannot be easily persuaded to abandon their walk in the Spirit and to walk a different fleshly or worldly path. But our Lord Jesus himself taught us something very important in determining if a persuasion is of God or not. He said in John 7:18 “He who speaks on his own does so to gain honor for himself, but he who works for the honor of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him.” Clearly a person’s motive is laid bear in their persuasiveness. Some work to gain honor for themselves while others work to give the honor to God. In the case of these false Christians here is what Paul said in 6:12-14. “Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ…. they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Paul understood that their motive was wrong. They didn’t want to be persecuted for the cross of Christ and cared nothing for his the glory. They only cared to gain more converts to their cause that they may boast of them. Paul’s motive on the other hand, was pure, he wanted to boast in Christ Jesus, for Jesus alone is worthy of our boast. Do not be deceived by clever people with persuasive powers, even if they seem to know the Bible well. Do they love the cross of Jesus, and are they willing to be persecuted for it! One’s motive is very important in preaching the gospel. Our motive must be to glorify Jesus and to boast in his cross.
Another thing Jesus said that helps us in identifying if a persuasion is of God or not. Jesus said in John 8:32. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” The word of truth leads to freedom and not to slavery nor to burdens. Any persuasion that compels others to do work on behalf of their salvation is a persuasion that is not of divine knowledge but of the devil. The devil enslaves but the Lord sets free!
“You were running a good race. Who cut in on you to keep you from obeying the truth?” They were like runners in a marathon who took a wrong turn and began to head for the dangerous cliff. They were being persuaded to stop obeying the gospel truth and to turn their hearts from faith to works. There is a gospel truth that tells us that the “righteous will live by faith from first to last.” (Romans 1:17) So we must obey that truth from first to last and live “by faith …. Through the Spirit” so that the work of sanctification in our hearts and lives might take its proper course, as we live out our lives in the freedom of Christ, serving his purpose in our lives, and bearing the fruits of the Spirit.
Verse 9 says: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” That is one of the most important warnings the Scriptures can give us. Influence is a major problem in the church. Good influence generates good influence, but bad influence generates bad influence. When a genuine believer is deceived to give in to one compromise that does not agree with the gospel, there is room for many other compromises to come as well, because “a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” When a genuine believer is deceived that he must depend on himself in some areas of his Christian life, then the road he will follow is a treacherous road full of pitfalls, because the spiritual reality is that we are helpless in helping ourselves. If these Galatian Christians agreed to even one of the persuasions of these false Christians— for example if they agreed to be circumcised— then as Paul already said that Christ will be of no value to them at all. (2) This is not a small thing. It is a spiritual matter of life or death.
Verse 10 reads: “I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.” It seems that in spite of his harsh letter to them, Paul was confident that his Galatian Christians will turn back to the faith. He was confident in the Lord that the Good Lord who began a good work in them will carry it on to completion, (Philippians 1:6) and will not let them fall away from the faith. This too is our own confidence in the Lord, that He who began a good work in you and me will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Paul had written them about the gospel of our Lord Jesus. The gospel of our Lord Jesus is the most beautiful story ever told. In it, Jesus and his grace shine brighter than anything in this dark and miserable world. Who in their right mind would exchange Jesus and his grace for burdens imposed by legalism or formalism or religious bigotry! Only foolish people would exchange Jesus and his grace for something inferior. No one who sees with the eyes of his heart the glory of our Lord Jesus and who has tasted in their hearts his grace, would ever turn their faith to something else! Some of us know this by experience. Paul said: “The one who is throwing you into confusion, whoever that may be, will have to pay the penalty.” This is a very serious warning to those who distort the gospel! One day they will have to answer to the Living God who judges men’s hearts through Jesus Christ. (Romans 2:16; Hebrews 9:27) And the judgment for these people is eternal condemnation.
In verse 11 Paul says: “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.” There was a time when Paul circumcised Timothy and he did so for a good reason. (Acts 16:1-3) But this was not his routine. He preached the cross, for which he was being scandalized and persecuted. Why is the preaching of the cross persecuted? Because the cross makes it clear that we are sinners who need God’s one sided grace for redemption and salvation. The cross makes it clear that there is nothing in the world that I can boast in, neither works, nor skills, nor abilities, nor accomplishments, regardless of how noble they may be. The cross makes it clear that I am helpless if not for God’s intervention in my life. The cross shines over and above anything we human beings can do to earn God’s merit or acceptance. The cross paved the way for a sinner like me to escape form this perishing world, and to enter into God’s holy dwellings. The cross brought me forgiveness and mercy, and now I no longer live but Christ lives in me. That is the message of the cross. The message of the cross brings people to a crossroads in their lives. They either break down and surrender to God in repentance and faith and accept God’s one sided gift of grace, or they get extremely angry because the cross leaves no room for them to gain any glory for themselves in what they do. Paul asked a very good question, “If I am still preaching circumcision, why am I then persecuted for the cross?” Indeed, I should frequently ask myself this question: “Am I preaching the cross, or am I preaching good Christian behavior, conduct, ethics and activities?
In verse 12 he says: “As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!” That’s castration! Wow! What he means is for those who preach works, be it circumcision or baptism or any other activity that adds human merit while taking away from the glory of the cross, these might as well go all the way, and mutilate themselves. It will be to no avail. What a thing to say about them! But through that, Paul shows us the seriousness of adulterating the beautiful cross of Jesus and his gospel with pathetic human meritorious actions. Let us be clear about this— let us always be very clear about this! In our generation there are those who preach baptism for salvation. I suppose Paul would say to them to go all the way and drown themselves! it is to no avail.
Now, let us go back to verses 5 and 6. “But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” As we already said, Paul tells us in verse 5 that a day is coming when we will be made perfect in righteousness. In other words, we are not perfect now by a long shot, but we will be made perfect upon his return. Until then, the way we wait in that hope is not through the flesh by works, but “by faith… through the Spirit.” In other words, we wait out the hope by trusting that God himself will do it. He will perfect our righteousness and salvation. We do not work for it, neither by law nor by works, but we trust God will fulfill his promise to us. The question might come up here as to why— why must we wait by faith rather than by works? And the answer Paul gives us in verse 6. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” The reason we live by faith through the Spirit rather than by the works is because works have no power or standing in gaining us the blessings of God. In fact, the works of the flesh, as we have said a hundred times before, offend God because they nullify his one sided grace. God’s gift is God’s gift, but if we work for it, then it is no longer a gift. Therefore, if we want the blessings of God— all of them— we must honor God who gives us his gifts and blessings by faith through his Spirit and not through anything we do.
Romans 4:4-5 makes this truth perfectly clear. It says: “Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” In other words, if we work for our justification or for our blessings or for our salvation, we no longer deserve a gift, but we earn wages. And the wages we earn for our work cannot save us, because our works fall short of the glory of God. God does not want us to consider ourselves workers working for some benefits and wages. We are rather children, who can only receive gifts from our Father. Those who work for God as if they were paid employees find out soon enough that their labor is a burden, and the returns are insufficient and very frustrating. But those who know their position as sons, work together with God with confidence that what they receive from God are promises, gifts and blessings.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Paul makes it very clear that neither circumcision nor un-circumcision counts for anything. Whether circumcised or uncircumcised will earn anything with God. But one thing alone does count— and that is “faith expressing itself through love.” That is what really counts before God. Faith alone counts! It’s what is of real value to God. Faith which lends itself to the working of the Spirit in a child of God. And here’s the secret! That faith alone has the power to produce something else which counts as well— the expression of love— the production of love in one’s heart. Nothing can produce love except faith. Works produces nothing but hardship and burden, self glory and discontentment, frustration and feelings of inadequacy or feelings of superiority— but it certainly does not produce love in any measure. Only faith expresses itself in love. Only faith produces or works out love— the love that is the fruit of our union with God and with the brotherhood of all believers.
“The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” He is not saying that we are justified by faith and by the works of love. That is not what he is saying as some people might think. He is saying that faith has that kind of nature, or characteristic that produces love— just like a good tree produces good fruit. Now we can understand that faith is essential to the Christian. But what of love? How essential is love? Paul is saying that faith and love cannot but coexist together. In other words, Faith by nature produces love. And love is the way of the Christian life as much as faith is the way of the Christian life.
How can we define love? There may be countless ways to define Biblical love, whether it is love for God or love for the fellowship of believers, or love for the unsaved. When we study the Bible from our hearts to learn of the Lord, we cannot but come face to face with Jesus who is the embodiment of love itself. Jesus never abused anyone to promote himself, never received nor expected gratification from anyone, never depended on anyone to validate his own identity, nor to fill up a love demand of others, never ever used anyone to his own advantage. We can go on like this in every area of life, which Jesus never used his privilege to make use of anyone. Rather 1 Corinthians 13 gives us a glorious image of what love is. Love is patient and kind, it does not envy nor does it boast. It isn’t proud nor rude, and certainly not self seeking at all. it does not easily get angered, and most gloriously it never keeps any record of wrongs done to it. it rather protects, trusts, hopes and ever always love never fails. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) We love other people when we stop using them in any way to indulge our selfish desires and motives.
How can our faith then, express itself in such love? How does faith make us a person who loves like that? Faith works in our hearts to take away something, and to give something in return. Faith removes our “guilt” and “fears” and our “greed”. It does so because faith rests on Christ and what he has done for us and what he has given us in Himself. When my faith is in Christ Jesus, I have no guilt because I am no longer condemned. When my faith is in Christ I have no fear, because he is my shelter in all things. And when my faith is in Christ, I am no longer greedy for anything this world has to offer, because in him I have all the satisfaction and reward I will ever need in this life and in the next. That is what faith removes from my heart. But what does it offer in return? It offers what replaces these things in our hearts and lives— love! When our hearts are filled with guilt or fear or greed, we are unable to love, because we are concerned too much with our own selves. Guilt makes me wallow in self pity and depression until I hide in myself and ruin the blessed relationships that God has given to me in his grace. Fear makes me so concerned with my own welfare and well being that I cannot but ignore the child of God who so much needs my attention and my church which so much needs my influence. And greed makes me so callous; it deceives me to think that I ought to take care of my own needs before God’s commission to spend it all the gospel work— when the gospel work is the only worthy expenditure in this world.
But when my heart is free from guilt and fear and greed, there is nothing that keeps me from loving God and loving you. All my unloving ways I can attribute to my own failure to live by God’s promises— promises he delivered to my heart when I put my faith in him— promises that are true, yet in my sinful nature I resist for lack of faith and trust in God. That is what makes me unloving to God and to you. But when I am freed by the work of the Lord Jesus who set me free, then I am free to live out the purpose of my life, and free to love God and to love you without expectation. Love is a beautiful thing which is the true expression of faith. If I have no love or if I have lost my first love, then something has damaged or is corrupting my faith. Love is the expression of faith. That is the truth! Nothing in God and to God counts but “faith expressing itself in love.” Therefore, I cannot work for love, otherwise all my work and attempt at love, whether I am loving my wife, or my son, or my neighbor is futile. Instead, I can rest in faith in Jesus, and love will explode from within my heart to bless many. When my faith is in Christ, I can love; I can forgive the unforgivable, love the unlovable, serve the unworthy. More than that, when Christ rules my heart in faith, I no longer need to be told to love, but love naturally flows from within me; I can take the initiative to do the impossible, to serve others joyfully willingly unconditionally and without expectation! That is the teaching in this passage. Let us read verse 6 again. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un-circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.”