By Brooke Holt
“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For 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. You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is.” (Galatians 5:1-10)
For the first four chapters of Galatians, Paul defended his apostleship and established the main point of his letter—people are not made right by following the law but by faith in Jesus Christ. These last two chapters of the letter continue to address that primary point and an underlying question: if the law (and all the external markings such as circumcision) does not set God’s people apart, what does? With typical Pauline zeal and passion, Paul goes to the heart of the issue: “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (verse 6 NIV). Instead of looking to circumcision as the marking of a Christian, Paul says we are to look for love.
Paul would have the Galatian Christians use this test of love to determine the heart and faith of the teachers who had come among them. Did love for God and love for the Galatians truly motivate them? Was it loving to impose the practice of circumcision upon grown men or to impose any other requirements the Mosaic law demanded? If Christ died to set them free from these obligations, what was the draw to returning to slavery?
Paul asserts these Judaizers demonstrated no love, just selfish ambition. He reminded his readers of the way of Christ—the way of love. Jesus loved all the way to the end. Jesus even loved those who rejected and crucified him. It was a divine love, a divine love that now lived within these Galatians through the Holy Spirit. As God’s beloved people, they were to love as Christ did. That meant not just loving their friends, family, and church members. That meant to love one’s enemies, forgive those who hurt them, and continue pursuing relationships through God’s grace.
Faith would not be seen by the mark of circumcision, but faith would be manifested in the way God’s people love him and each other.
What does that look like today? In a world polarized by far too many things, have Christians forgotten this teaching that Christian faith is demonstrated as God’s people love one another? Do we excuse ourselves from this teaching because the issues are just so extreme in the church today, or do we ask the Holy Spirit to create in us hearts to love God and his people?
Today is the day to ask yourself if you are expressing your faith by the way you love. We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
In our six-week small group Bible study on the book of 1 John, you are invited to live and celebrate true life in Christ. Throughout his first letter, John wrestles with the assurance of salvation. How do we know that we are genuine Christians, and how can we recognize authentic faith in others? The Apostle John taught that you can enjoy full assurance through believing in the incarnate Son of God, walking in the light of obedience, and loving God and his children. Embark on this study with us today!
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