August 5, 2018
Or, Faith Working through Love
Galatians 5, or at least the second half of it, is perhaps what Galatians is known for. In other eras of church history, say, the 16th Century Reformation, Galatians was more needed for sake of it’s teaching on justification by faith alone. Martin Luther loved it; his love was to such a degree that he called St. Paul’s epistle to the Galatians “my Katherine von Bora,” and that was after saying that Luther would give up almost everything to have her. In a day when the church taught salvation by faith, not alone, but along with other measurable, external deeds (such as circumcision, Sabbath keeping, Law keeping), Paul’s teaching hits the target.
There is a connection between law-keepers, or at least those who talk about keeping certain parts of the law, and those who don’t love one another. The freedom that comes by faith is a freedom that results in loving others. The slavery that comes by adhering to the law as the way to please God manifests itself in our attitude toward others. This is the connection between the first half of chapter 5 and the second half. I had not noticed it until this week.
We emphasize the Spirit over law, and we emphasize walking in the Spirit and the fruit of the Spirit. But spiritual productivity is relational. We are made to work and take dominion and get things done. We bear God’s image as we bear fruit in our labor. But, and this is important for the task-oriented among us, our life in God’s Spirit is one that brings corporate peace, not just internal, personal peace. We are not saved by faith and works, but we are not finished until faith is working through love. Without faith, there won’t be love, there is only law, and the law continues to point out that we can’t produce love on our own apart from the Spirit.
In chapter four Paul contrasted the free woman and the slave woman, Sarah and Hagar, and used them and their offspring to illustrate our nature as children of promise. We do not have what we have because we took it, we have what we have by God’s grace.
Therefore, we should not return to the practice of depending on ourselves. That is returning to slavery. For freedom Christ has set us free, which is both a “Duh” principle and a defining truth. Christ did not set us free so that we could choose to go back under the law, He set us free so that we could be different from the inside out.
The language is devastating. Look, I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, as in believing that that a ceremony will make God more happy with you, then Christ will be of no advantage to you. The works make Christ worthless, and if Christ is worthless, then there is no salvation.
Then Paul repeats a previous point, that it doesn’t work to single out just one all-pleasing work. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision, as in the man who asks circumcision into his heart, that he is obligated to keep the whole law. It’s more than all or nothing, it’s all or Christ. Christ is all, or we must keep all the law. We haven’t, and we can’t, keep all the law, and even the attempt rips us away from Christ. You are severed from Christ, who you would be justified by the law, you have fallen away from grace. This is not a comment about losing one’s salvation, but a spatial way of describing how near one can be and yet still miss by a mile.
It’s the flesh, the natural man, that wants the law. But through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
To say that circumcision doesn’t count for anything is fighting words, at least to many in Paul’s sights. It wasn’t like the Jews came up with the idea of circumcision on their own. And it wasn’t presented to them as an option either. God almost killed Moses for failing to circumcise his son, and Zipporah threw the cut at Moses’ feet. But when it comes to the hope of righteousness, we do not work for it we can only work from it. What counts is faith, what counts is being in Christ, what counts is love.
Yet believers are historically tempted to return to wrong running. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? That is, you were making the right sort of progress, you were working for the right reasons, but you’ve run into a leaven hurdle. This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. This strikes me because, in writing this letter to the Galatians, Paul expected that the Galatians should know better. Paul didn’t address the pastors/elders/overseers, but the Christians. The Christians should know who to listen to.
There was someone troubling them by guilting them into slavery, and Paul expected him to get penalty.
But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still be persecuted? He had an easy way out of (some of) his affliction. He just had to say what people wanted him to say. The kids and I were reading The Pilgrim’s Progress at breakfast, and Mr. Money-love was waxing to Mr. By-ends and Mr. Hold-the-world about how a minister is more religiously virtuous and “more fit for the ministerial function” to give up some of his principles for sake of pleasing the people.
But it wasn’t the truth, and it wasn’t freeing. The gospel that frees men, though, also offends men. In that case, the offense of the cross has been removed. What is offensive about Jesus is that there’s nothing left for me to add. That assumption, misguided as it is to assume that I would be willing to if I was even capable of adding my own virtue to gain God’s approval, is a powerful, enslaving concept.
I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! If the way to please God is through circumcision, why stop there? Go the whole way. This is sarcasm that cuts.
The flesh can’t fulfill the law, it doesn’t want to. We need to be made free from the law. And then we ask, What does that freedom look like?
You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. We’re building here. Faith works through love, and love serves one another. This is relational. And ironically, it is lawful.
I mentioned about 1 Corinthians 10:1-12 that if the whole OT could be summarized into one warning it would be: Don’t be complacent with God’s blessings. And here Paul summarizes the whole OT into one moral obligation. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Why is it that the law-lovers miss that? “You must keep the law!” But they don’t love, nor is that their message.
Using Bible language they judge their neighbor, their brothers. But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another. These are “church” people. The biting is over the Bible. The devouring and consuming is about how the “other” isn’t measuring up the standard (that we have determined is the standard).
The point of the law is not to give us something to judge others by, it’s to give us a way to judge if we are loving others.
This is the more well-known part for us.
The command could hardly be simpler, with the attendant results more clear, and yet we have critical challenges obeying.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. To walk is to be habituated to a certain path, and to do so by the Spirit is fueled and energized and strengthened by the Spirit. The alternative is not to not walk, but to walk by the flesh, and the flesh has it’s own desires, it’s own “lusts,” that want satisfaction. The Greek word for gratify is a form of telos, the end, the goal. Wants always have a completion point, and either the Spirit will drive our wants or we will. We must be ruthless even with little lusts; they seek an end.
I often say, you always do what you most want to do. That isn’t to say that there aren’t competing wants. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. This is a Christian battle. There is no sustained battle for a non-Christian because a non-Christian doesn’t have the Spirit. We do not have the devil and the angel on opposite shoulders, but we do have competing desires. Sanctification is the process of cultivating better wants by the Spirit.
When you have the law and the flesh, you have a mess. When you have the Spirit, you have freedom. If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Then the flesh. Now the works of the flesh are evident, as in, they reveal themselves in this way: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. That’s some list, and it’s not even exhaustive, there are other things. What they all have in common is the flesh, yes, but in particular is the flesh grabbing for itself. At best there is using others, at worst there is destroying others, in between is despising others. Even idolatry is a selfish worship because we choose the god, we don’t choose to submit to God.
I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. Those who have no other way to live show themselves that they are outside of God’s kingdom. Those who walk by the Spirit may struggle with some of these fleshy-works, but they will struggle, not succumb.
The contrast: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. It is possible that fruit could be a collective noun, as in, a singular noun that is made up of many parts. The fruit aisle at the store has more than one piece of fruit. And yet in context the emphasis is of a singular fruit that has nine aspects/characteristics/flavors to it. These are not separate roads, we are not choosing one, or multiple, or most. These are all parts of one road. Those who love by the Spirit will be self-controlled, and those who are gentle will be joyful, and the patient will have peace about it, and goodness goes with faithfulness.
With a twist, against such things there is no law. Of course there isn’t. These are what the Spirit causes to grow out of us.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. To say that we crucify is to say that we commit to see our fleshly lusts killed as Christ was killed. This is not a new law, or the first law, where we obey by killing so that we can obey. This is by faith, and by the Spirit, so we show who we belong to.
We run as we’ve begun. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. That’s how the NASB and older ESV translates it. The NIV and updated ESV say, let us “keep in step with the Spirit.” The Spirit causes us to be born again, and we learn how to walk and follow way of the Spirit. The life is supernatural, and it is a life that we are responsible to pursue. It is not mindless.
And the final verse of the chapter is an interesting way to tie it together. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. It goes back to verses 13-15, the paragraph before the works of the flesh and fruit of the Spirit. Don’t bite and devour, don’t provoke or envy. Instead, love.
There was division among at least Jews and Gentiles in the Galatian churches. Some of that division was caused by wrong views of the law, some of it was caused by wrong wants of the flesh. The worst is when the flesh gets ahold of the law in an attempt to justify itself while judging the others around. By the Spirit we get after the root of our own sin first, and then we get rooted in a different set of defining desires that lovingly serve one another.
How we view our relationship with the law WILL affect how we view our relationships with others. If we are judged, we will condemn. If we are justified, we will love.
Faith freely working through love, love giving for (rather than grabbing from) others, this is spiritual productivity.