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Faith working through Love
In Galatians 5 Paul is addressing the false belief that works of the law will justify someone before God.
A little background here is that there were Jewish Christians under the belief that in order to be justified before God that one would have to be Jewish before they could receive the Jewish Messiah Jesus.
In order to become Jewish one of the things the men are required to do is become circumcised (Exodus 12:48).
Throughout the letter to the Galatians Paul is arguing that believers are justified by faith and not following the law (Galatians 3:11).
He makes this point repeatedly and even calls the Galatians foolish for wanting to resubmit themselves and others to Jewish ceremonial laws (Galatians 3:1-3), more specifically circumcision.
Paul is then building up to the truth that he expresses in Galatians 5:6 “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision accomplishes anything; what matters is faith working through love.”
“What matters is faith working...”
There are a couple of observations to make here.
First it is faith that is doing the work.
This is contrasted with works of the law.
We cannot earn our way into God’s grace; that is legalism.
On the other hand genuine faith works (James 2:14-26).
The statement here indicates that “faith is working itself” that is to say that faith is both acting and acted upon by itself.
This can be hard for English speakers since we do not generally have middle voice verbs.
With English we hear faith is “being something” (passive voice) or “doing something” (active voice).
In middle voice Faith is acting for it’s own benefit.
Consider this statement “My Faith sustains me.”
In this statement I am both the actor and the recipient of faith.
It turns out that this is pretty important.
We often hear debates go back and forth as to whether faith is a meritorious work in the legalistic sense.
In this passage with “faith working” in the middle voice the one with faith (the circumcised and the uncircumcised) is both the actor and the receiver of faith.
The implication is that there is a synergistic statement about how faith works.
On top of that then we see that “…through love” is the medium in which faith works.
Faith is doing the work and the fruit of that work is love (Galatians 5:22).
Love then is the highest expression of faith (and premier fruit of the Spirit).
This is consistent with teaching throughout the scripture most noticeably in 1 Corinthians 13.
To clarify it is not expressions of love that make up faith.
It is faith working that produces works of love.
This harmonizes Paul and James.
So often we fall into the idea that Paul and James are hard to harmonize.
However this phrase perfectly harmonizes both Ephesians 2:8-9 “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast.”
and James 2:14 “What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but does not have works?
Can such faith save him?”
James ultimately is looking at the loving works that faith produces.
While Paul is looking at faith that is saving.
In Galatians 5:6 we see both of these concepts harmonized together.
I do not think it is a mistake to see that love is the marker of this kind of faith.
God has made it clear in the Bible that love is the mark of genuine faith.
Time and again this theme is repeated.
Faith and love cannot be divorced.
Belief without love is not saving faith.
Love without faith is dead works religion.
Both are present.
“Faith is working.”
How do we experience its working?
May God Richly Bless You
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