«Words taught by the Spirit”
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“Faith working through love”
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love” (Gal.5:6).
This is a very important verse of the Holy Scriptures! It has to do both with a fatal doctrinal error, in its first part, and with a precious guideline for the normal Christian life, in its second part. We will examine first this doctrinal error and then the guide to the normal Christian life:
A) “In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything”.
- In Christ Jesus, circumcision and uncircumcision have no value because they are just rituals! They have no impact on man’s heart and on his salvation! God is interested in what is in the heart of man. There is no difference whether a man is circumcised or not circumcised. Man is not saved because he is circumcised. He is not condemned because he is not circumcised. God can save them both alike. They are sinners alike, and can be saved in the same way, if they repent and put their trust in Him. Before God “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God (1Cor.7:19)! Also “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision avails any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature” (Gal.6:15).
- In addition, there are some other verses with a parallel message, equally important, but I judge necessary to just mention two biblical references: Col.3:1, Gal.3:28-29. God can save them all by His mercy and grace, on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice! All men are made of one blood! There are no ‘blue-blooded’ people! Furthermore, those who have been saved by His grace, they are all one in Christ Jesus and entitled to the same spiritual privileges. Every true believer is “a brother” belonging to His universal Church!
- Those who stick to circumcision are debtors to keep the whole law morally and ritually! However, all man’s efforts to keep the whole Law are vain, because the full application of the Law is impossible: “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal.2:16). And elsewhere, in his same epistle is written: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Gal.3:10).
- In addition, the Law leads to an unbearable spiritual bondage! No man can keep the whole Law. Only Jesus has kept it and accomplished it and that for our own account. The Galatians Christians made the mistake to accept the Judaizers’ teaching to ADD circumcision to their faith in order to make their salvation 100% sure! They believed that faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, who was delivered up because of our offenses and was raised because of our justification (Rom.4:25), was not enough and that if they added circumcision, then their salvation would be complete and assured. They thought that faith was in need of a “crutch” in order to make their salvation 100% sure… (There are certain other doctrinal “crutches”, but we are not going to deal with them within the context of this short study). What a fatal error! Paul told them in very strong terms: That they were “removed from Christ”, Who had called them into His grace and have been transferred to another gospel… to a perverted gospel: they were bewitched; they have become an anathema. They have stopped obeying the truth;
- That they were “foolish”, because while they had begun with the Spirit, they wanted to continue with the flesh.
- That they had become “accursed”, because man cannot be justified by the works of the law, but by the faith in Jesus Christ! If they insisted in their error, then they should continue in all things which are written in the book of the Law to do them. They were debtors to do the whole Law. They turn back again to the weak and beggarly elements, where they desired again to be in bondage!
- That they were estranged from Christ; Christ was dead in vain for them;
- That they had “fallen away or out from God’s grace”! What is going to be the end of those who have fallen away or out of God’s grace? Stop, think!
Conclusion: Man should stand fast in the liberty of Christ’s grace and not be entangled with the yoke of the Law. No “crutches” needed! The essentials are:
Repent and believe! “The just shall live by faith”.
Nowadays, but also since ancient times:
Those who rely on their good works AS A PREREQUISITE, (such as social and benevolent activities and so forth), in order to be considered worthy to be saved, do not fully understand, as they ought, the letter and the liveliness of the tidings that “[…] For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (you have been saved – GR) (Eph.2:8-9). Our Lord Jesus Christ made clear what is, in reality, our “work” and our “good works” during one of the discussions He had with the people: “Then they said to Him, «What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus responded and said to them, «This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent”” (Joh.6:28-29). Notice the difference: Works and work! Of course, our faith, “if it has not works, is dead, being alone”, the apostle James says (Jas.2:17).
We will, therefore, continue this study with certain other elements which clarify what is, and what is not the true “faith working through love”! It is true, absolutely true, that our Lord Jesus Christ has rendered our salvation, through his sacrifice on the cross at Calvary, extremely easy: You do not need to kill yourself doing the works of the Law, or to distribute all you have in order to “buy” your salvation. You can be saved in the twinkling of an eye, just like one of the evildoers did on the cross: He humbled himself and said: “And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man has done nothing amiss. And he said to Jesus, Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom » (Luke 23:41-42).
So, we gather that a man can be saved while dying on a cross, while dying on his bed; while he is in prison; while walking on the street; while washing the dishes in the kitchen; while in a war combat, while reading la Bible! TRUE, provided, he humbles himself, admits his sinfulness and turns his eyes upon Jesus Christ for his forgiveness and salvation! Let me, however, put two “imaginary”, but extremely important questions to my reader:
- IF the evildoer who received his salvation from Jesus Himself, I repeat, if he, all ‘by chance’ was released before his death, and returned to his evil deeds, would he ever enjoy the salvation which was offered to him by Jesus Christ?
- IF the Omniscient Jesus Christ knew that that evildoer’s repentance was not sincere, would He ever make him that wonderful promise that he would be with Him in the Paradise that same day?
My reader knows the answer! The fact that his repentance and confession and his self-judgment/condemnation were sincere, he was doubly rewarded: First, his spiritual eyes were opened and “saw” Who Jesus was, and second he received eternal salvation. If the evildoer’s repentance and confession were not sincere, Jesus would have never accepted to forgive this sinful man and be the first to enter the Gates of Paradise!!! The key: Humility and repentance!
B) “But faith working through love”!
1. It is possible to have faith but not working through love!
It suffices to remind ourselves a couple of passages of the Bible, which prove immediately and unequivocally that it is possible to have faith which is not interwoven with love and which is, therefore, unable to work through love:
- “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I HAVE ALL FAITH, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing” (1Cor.13:1-3);
- “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe and tremble!” (Jas.2:19);
- “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Mt.7:21-23).
So, any sort of faith is not good and valid! The faith that proves to be right, pure, and genuine is the one which produces good works, as James says in 2:22. Intellectual belief of the truth or faith without good works, or mere orthodoxy that leaves the heart unaffected to do good works is of no use! The only faith that counts is the one which functions by love for God and for one’s neighbor. The faith which is interwoven with love produces spontaneously good works! What the Lord asks from those who have been saved through sincere repentance and unfeigned faith, is to serve each other in love. True love makes sacrifices! (We will come back at this point). He who loves God is interested not only in other people’s salvation but also in covering their true needs from all points of view at his own expenses, as much as he can, in order to render them autonomous. And all this because all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal.5:14).
The true saving faith is interwoven with repentance, with uprightness, with obedience, with faithfulness and above all with love for God and for his neighbor. This is true living faith in a living Savior. Genuine faith is a profound conviction; it is confidence in God’s love and providence! The believer, with such a spirit, resists unto blood, striving against sin; that faith serves God and man. It endures in the midst of all kinds of adversities and attacks of the Devil and men!
The apostle John says in His first epistle: “But whoever has this world’s good, and sees his brother have need, and shuts up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwells the love of God in him? My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth (1John 3:17-18). These verses are so eloquent! They are not in need of explanations! Love’s good works give glory to God because, in reality, they are done in God’s name and for our conscience’s sake! Let me repeat: Faith is not a mere intellectual belief! It reaches the heart, and controls the affections. It is not a dead faith. It is not a mere belief of the truth, or mere orthodoxy, or a mere intellectual assent to the truth which leaves the heart (the will) cold and unaffected! Orthodoxy, however bold, and self-confident, and “sound,” has nothing to do with contentions, strifes and divisions. The true faith is readiness to do good to all mankind. Paul wrote to his brothers in Thessalonica “Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father” (1Thess.1:3).
Nowadays, the salvation by faith has been OVERSIMPLIFIED: When a spiritual leader, for example, gives a call to his audience in order to encourage those who would like to be saved, then if one or two or more lift their hands, the spiritual leader either prays over them or asks them to repeat the sinner’s prayer. This attitude is commendable! In his monthly reports he writes that so many people accepted Jesus-Christ! This may be true or may not be true! Nobody knows man’s heart! If there was a radical change in his life and abandoned his sinful life, being now a born of God believer, then everything is OK! There are, however, many who act so, but have never really been touched by God’s Word. They have responded emotionally! There was no true decision! Faith saves, provided it is followed by a holy life:
- “Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord” (Heb.12:14 and 1Thess.4:7).
- “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Mat.5:8)
There are many who sincerely believe who Jesus Christ is and what He has done for them, but their life is empty of good works and of true and profound love for the truth! They believe, but they are not faithful! There are lukewarm believers, or believers who say “Lord, Lord, but are workers of iniquity”, or believers who in reality are enemies of the cross by their bad life, or believers whose life is suffocated by the worries and anxieties of this life, or believers who accepted the invitation but did not conform! Believers who are turning back to their own “vomit”, believers who walk disorderly, believers in whom there is “a wicked heart of unbelief”, believers whose names will be blotted out of the book of life, believers who have been beguiled… by the serpent…, believers who preach “Another Gospel”, believers who profess that they know God, but their works are abominable, believers who preach the Gospel out of jealousy and of vain glory, believers who work for filthy lucre and lord over God’s heritage…, believers who behave like the “foolish virgins”, believers who are wicked and lazy and others who have already sinned and have not repented! All these cases and some others are “pathological” cases…
Now, let us examine a bit more this wonderful and so important phrase:
“Faith working through love”
2. Good works are required
The normal Christian life has nothing to do with such “pathological” situations! It suffices to read the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew, chapters 5-7, or Matthew 25:34-40 and the reader will understand what Jesus Christ requires of His followers! To corroborate my assertion, I am listing below some Bible verses, among which the most important is this:
“BRING FORTH THEREFORE FRUITS MEET FOR REPENTANCE” (Mat.3:8).
The main fruit, the main work of faith is Repentance! Also, love for the truth, uprightness and good works. All these are the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the true believer!
In other words and better expressed:
Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity braggs not itself, is not puffed up, does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil; Rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Charity never fails: […] And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity” (1Cor.13:4-13).
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not be desirous of vain glory, provoking one another, envying one another” (Gal.5:22-26).
And now, here are some others proofs:
- “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works” (2Tim.3:17; Eph.2:10; Tit.2:14; 1Tim.6:18; Col.1:10; Tit.2:7).
- “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad” (2Cor.5:10)
And the clue:
“What does it profit, my brothers, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say to them, Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled; notwithstanding, you give them not those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit? Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone. […] But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar? » (Jas.2:14-21).
Conclusion: DEAD FAITH… DOES NOT SAVE!!! It is written: “And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfection” (Col.3:14)
3. We will be judged according to our works…
I wrote that our good works are required! Why are they required? Because we will be judged according to our works as fruit of the life of FAITH and of the NEW NATURE that God has given to all those who belong to Him! The good works are in reality the measure of evaluation of our faith. Here is the proof:
Many years ago as I was reading Paul’s epistle to the Romans I was stunned when I came across the following verses: “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law to themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom.2:14-15).
Continuing he says: “Therefore if the uncircumcision keeps the righteousness of the law, shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision? And shall not uncircumcision which is by nature, if it fulfill the law, judge you, who by the letter and circumcision do transgress the law? ” (Rom.2:26-27). Theses verses were as well as the above mentioned ones (Jas.2:14-20) corroborated by the following one: “But in every nation he that fears him, and works righteousness, is accepted with him” (Acts 10:35) gave me the assurance that we will be judged according to the works produced by faith working through love!
We know, on the basis of the Bible, how God our Father is going to judge all those who assert that they are Christians, but I do know how exactly our Father, but also the Creator of all men, will judge the world! I am sure, that irrespective of the things I do not understand, the Bible tells the truth because it is divinely inspired! (2Tim.3:16). It is written, and what is written cannot be annulled, that God “Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life: But to them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, Tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man that does evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that works good, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God” (Rom.2:6-11).
The following verses confirm what has already been stated:
In the Old Testament:
“I the LORD search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jer.17:10; Jer.32:19; Ps.62:12)
In the New Testament:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he has done, whether it be good or bad” (2Cor.5:10, Rom.2:6, Mat.16:27, 1Cor.3:8, Rev.2:23, 20:12, 22:12).
Conclusion: Good works prove who we are and the genuineness of our faith! Love binds all virtues together. Love is the bond of perfection (Col.3:14)!
He who dwells in love, dwells in God and God dwells in him! (1John 4:16)