The Law Alienates Christ - Page 2 (series: Lessons on Galatians)
by John Lowe
We are assured by the mighty word of Scripture that proper waiting will bring renewal: “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isa. 40.31). Isaiah seems to say that those who wait upon the Lord will soar above the emergencies of life. “They shall run and not be weary,” because they will be prepared for every extraordinary requirement. “They shall walk and not faint,” because they will be able to cope with the responsibilities of everyday life. Whether one is waiting on the Lord, or waiting upon the Lord, or waiting before the Lord there is the calm assurance which comes to the believer that “all is well with my soul.”
In this verse and the next the apostle presents the life of the believer in the sphere of grace. This enables us to compare the two ways of life. When you live by grace you depend upon the power of the Holy Spirit; but under the Law you must depend on yourself and your efforts. Faith is not dead, because it produces works (see James 2:14-26). But the efforts of the flesh can never accomplish what faith can accomplish through the Spirit. Now faith works through love—love for God and love for us. Unfortunately, the flesh does not manufacture love; too often it produces selfishness and conflict (Gal. 5:15 ). No wonder Paul pictures the life of a legalist as a fall!
When the believer walks by grace, depending on the Spirit of God, he lives in the sphere of God’s grace; and all his needs are provided. He experiences the riches of God’s grace. And he always has something to look forward to: one day Christ will return to make us like Himself—possessing perfect righteousness. The Law, however, gives no promise for perfect righteousness in the future. The Law prepared the way for the first coming of Christ (Gal. 3.23-4:7), but it cannot prepare the way for the second coming of Christ.
The legalist gets bogged down in insecurity, because he can never know when he has done enough to satisfy the standard of divine righteousness. On the other hand, those who are justified by faith, who have received the Holy Spirit as the pledge and sign of their acceptance by God, confidently await by faith their completion (the hope of righteousness) in glory (Rom. 8:10-11 ). The Holy Spirit creates faith, hope, and love and gives patience and strength to wait for the perfect righteousness that will come at the redemption of the body, and which will be confirmed by God’s verdict of acceptance on the Day of Judgment.
So, the believer who chooses legalism robs himself of spiritual liberty and spiritual wealth. He deliberately puts himself into bondage and bankruptcy. The Jewish convert could continue to observe the Jewish ceremonies or he could assert his liberty; the Gentile could observe them or disregard them, provided he did not depend upon them. No outward ceremonies, rituals, professions, or religious acts will bring the acceptance of God, unless they are accompanied by a sincere faith in Jesus Christ. True faith is a work of grace; it works by love of God, and of our brethren. But without faith working by love, all else is worthless, and compared with it other things are of little value.
In declaring that salvation brings liberty and freedom from the Law, an objection was anticipated. The question would be raised: If salvation is all of grace without works, then is there no place for works in the Christian life at all? There certainly is, as the fruit of salvation. WORKS are not the ROOTS or basis of salvation, but they are the inevitable, indisputable FRUIT. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy that there is a prize that every Christian should be WORKING to receive—the crown of righteousness (2 Tim. 4:8 ). If a person professing to be saved by grace continues to live the same sinful life, or makes grace an excuse for loose living and careless conduct, we have a right to question that person’s sincerity and genuineness. As surely as we are saved by grace, so surely must that grace be manifested by works. That thought is wonderfully expressed by Paul in the words of the next verse: “FAITH WHICH WORKETH BY LOVE.”
6 For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.
It would be quite possible for those who rejected the law as a way of salvation to think it was commendable in God’s sight not to be circumcised. That, says Paul, would make them just as legalistic as the Judaizers (1 Cor. 7.18-19 ). It makes no difference whether a man is circumcised or not. He is not saved because he is circumcised, nor is he condemned because he is not. The object of Christianity is to abolish these rites and ceremonies, and to introduce a
way of salvation that is equally applicable to all mankind (Galatians 3:28 ). As for salvation, faith was the one thing needed, and nothing added, subtracted, or substituted could make a man right with God. But this was to be an active faith, a faith “activated through love.” This makes love the instrument of faith, as if it was faith that generated the love of which Paul is speaking. But in verse 22 faith, together with love, is a product of the Spirit of Christ. According to Paul, the Spirit produces faith, hope, and love, and the greatest of them is love (1 Cor. 13:13). The most wonderful thing he can say about God is that the initiative of God’s grace creates the faith by which man responds to this love. “In Christ Jesus,” that is, in union with Christ as a member of His body the church, man’s faith is activated by God’s love to invest in the lives of others and reproduce itself in them.
“But faith which worketh by love” is faith that reveals its existence by love for God, and kindness to people. It is not a mere intellectual belief, but it is that which reaches the heart, and controls the affections. It is not a dead faith, but it is that which is active, and which is seen in Christian kindness and affection. It is not mere belief of the truth, or mere orthodoxy, but it is that which produces an attachment to others. A mere intellectual assent to the truth may leave the heart cold and unaffected; mere orthodoxy, however bold and self-confident, and "sound," may not be inconsistent with arguments, and strife, and divisions. The true faith is that which is seen in benevolence, in love for God, in love to all who bear the Christian name; in a readiness to do good to all mankind. This shows that the heart is affected by the faith that is alive and active; and this is the nature and design of all genuine religion.
“Faith without works is dead,” was the conclusion which James reached (Jas. 2:26); but James was not proposing substituting works for faith. Works are the evidence of whether the faith one professes is either alive or dead. A faith that sets a man right with God, must also make him right with men. When Christ through free grace grants him eternal life, he is in debt for all the rest of his life, and he feels that he must do something about his existence—this is his works which make him right with men.
“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us . . . that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” It’s true, we must suffer with Christ, if we would partake of His glory; but what is that? When such sufferings are compared with the coming glory, they sink into insignificance.2
“If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” If you bite in sudden anger, and devour in continued hatred, take heed, because mutual anger and hate must result in mutual destruction.3
“But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” The body is dead because of sin. Our bodies have died physically because death came into the world through sin. But the Spirit is life. Our spirit is made alive by union with Christ, and partaking of his righteousness. Though the body be doomed to death because of sin, it shall be given life for those who have God's Spirit dwelling in them. Even our mortal bodies shall be raised, not in corruption, but in incorruption (1Co 15:42-44).4
“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” The crown of righteousness is the reward which God, in his kindness, has promised to them who are faithful to the grace he has bestowed upon them.”5
“Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.” The circumcised Jews were to be content that they were circumcised; the uncircumcised Gentiles were to remain so when they became Christians.6
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.