Faith Expresses Itself in Love
“in Christ Jesus there is no validity in either circumcision or uncircumcision; it is a matter of faith, faith which expresses itself in love.” (Gal 5: 6 – Phillips)
It has been the error of men throughout the ages to think that favor can be found with God by doing dead works. Dead works are works that involve external activity that has no impact on, or connection to, the internal thoughts or feelings or nature of a man. Dead works are religious rituals or the traditions of men.
In biblical days, during the time that Jesus was living, examples of dead works were the washing of hands and utensils before eating, observing feast days, eating only certain foods that were considered “clean” or “holy”, and many other religious rituals. Some of these dead works were carried down through the ages. My former religion, that I was raised in, had many dead works, things such as a mandatory fasting from meat on Fridays or prayers that were recited over and over, for example, saying the “Our Father” prayer multiple times.
Jesus, in His earthly ministry, confronted the proponents of dead works many times according to the Scriptural record. For instance, in Matt. 15:
“Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, ‘Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.’ He answered and said to them, ‘Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? (He gives an example)…….thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying, ” These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me, and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.”‘
In Matt. 15, Jesus then goes on to explain more clearly to His disciples the error of dead external works.
“When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand. Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” ….”Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies. These are the things which defile a man, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man.”
It is the condition of the heart that is important and that cannot be overlooked. This is the error, to ignore the need for an internal change and focus on the external, dead activities. Today there are Christians who attend church a few times a week, listen to the sermons, and are active in church functions, go to seminars and gatherings with other Christians, yet they still have evil in their hearts such as jealousy, envy, strife, contention, lust, selfishness, etc., and there are still conflicts in Christian churches, divisions and fighting. The problem is that the Christians are involved in the external dead works, but are not focused on the things that change the internal heart and mind.
Dead works do not produce love. Dead works only give a false sense of security and a means to cover guilt. Dead external activity that is mistakenly thought to make us acceptable to God and to put us in His favor is a very serious error. These actions can actually feed our carnal nature such as our pride or selfishness. They can make us haughty and self-righteous, the very opposite of love.
Let’s be very clear about this. God is looking for an internal change in us. This internal change is what finds favor with God. More specifically, this internal change that God is looking for is the result of a true and living faith, a faith that manifests itself by acts of love. Now, we need to be careful here about definitions. When I say love, I am talking about the Biblical definition of love: patience, kindness, long suffering, not being self centered. True faith will respond in love even in the most difficult circumstances. Faith is tested by God when we are asked to love in these difficult times. We are asked to love our enemy. We are asked to turn the other cheek. We are asked to not be jealous or envious when circumstances would promote such feelings. This is the love that God is looking for that is the result of a true and living faith.
True Christians need to be focused on the things that change us on the inside, the things that cause us to walk in love. The ability to walk in love is not a matter of our wills. We cannot just “will” to be loving people. This doesn’t work and is not a Biblical truth. We can only walk in love if we become spiritual. Here, again, we need to be careful about definitions. Becoming spiritual in the Biblical sense is the result of a true and living faith. It is the result of a faith that changes our heart, and changes our way of thinking – a faith that transforms our minds and makes us new creations. This is a deep and serious change that occurs when we experience a true Christian conversion that is the result of true, deep, living, faith.
The letter to the Galatians in the Bible was written by Paul to combat against people who were attempting to convince the Christians in Galatia to revert back to a system of dead works to find favor with God. Paul knew that if the Galatians were to focus on these dead works, these external activities, that they would be ignoring the important areas of faith and spirituality. He knew that following these external activities would become a bondage. These external rules and traditions become a burden. They increase more and more because the leaders who put them in place are using them to feed their own carnal motives. The leaders don’t follow the regulations themselves, but require their followers to do so, thus enslaving them with a burden that they themselves can’t carry. He knew that true faith is liberating; that true faith produces the spiritual fruit of love, joy, peace, kindness, faithfulness, longsuffering, gentleness, and self-control.
Paul, in his discourse to the Galatians, also reveals and reinforces the principles of faith, that is, by faith we become spiritual and this spirituality will result in love. This is the internal change that we as Christians need to be most interested in. Paul reaches these conclusion in chapters 5 and 6 of Galatians. It is worth reading the entire letter, but at least you should read through chapters 5 and 6 with these ideas in mind.
Paul begins chapter 5 with a statement that the system of external dead works means nothing, but what is important is faith that produces love: (Gal. 5:5-6)
“For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.”
(note that circumcision represented the system of dead works that Paul was exposing as error)
He then established the fact that love is the ultimate goal (Gal. 5:14):
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'”
He then established the fact that walking in the Spirit is the means of overcoming the flesh, which is the main hindrance to love, therefore, walking in the Spirit is the key to the internal change needed to exercise Biblical love (Gal 5:16-17):
“I say then walk in the Spirit and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.”
(note that Paul continues in the next few verses to give examples of the resulting works of the flesh and contrasts them with the fruit of the Spirit)
At the end of Galatians chapter 6, Paul contrasts his own faith with the lack of faith, or the carnal motives, of those compelling the Galatians to revert back to dead work, giving us an idea of a true faith that leads to spirituality (Gal. 6:12-15):
“As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law (traditions), but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. For in Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.”
True faith involves dying to this world and results in this world dying to us. This is the faith that gives us the ability to love because it eliminates the flesh. This is the faith that causes us to have a different world view, and changes the way that we think. This is the faith that makes us a new creation, changing us on the inside.
My hope is that we all would experience this faith. We need to examine ourselves with regards to this as Paul exhorts us at the end of his letter to the Corinthians (2 Cor. 13:5):
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves that Jesus is in you? – unless indeed you are disqualified.”
Good intentions are not enough. We must make sure that we have entered into this kind of faith that transforms us, and sow to the spirit so that we can reap the fruit of the spirit. We must examine ourselves to make sure that we have not set our confidence in external dead works, but have focused our hearts on spiritual things, most importantly, the promises of the Spirit made available to us through Christ Jesus. We must walk in the light of these promises to become spiritual.
I leave you with Paul’s exhortation to the Galatians about sowing to the spirit and not the flesh:
“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.”