“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:6, NIV
Christ has set us free from slavery to law as a means of earning righteousness before God. The way to be “right with God” is revealed in the gospel: by faith. In the Galatian church, it was very difficult for some to 'let go' of laws that were not only means of “being righteous” but also markers of identity as the “people of God” (such as circumcision). Thus, to seek to be justified by law is to “fall from grace” (Galatians 5:4). Paul goes on to say that, “By faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope.” (Galatians 5:5).
For some, in the Galatian context, circumcision was “everything.” It was thought impossible to truly be a person of God and not adhere rigorously to the law, practice, and identity regarding circumcision. Yet, on this very important issue, Paul says, that neither circumcision nor un-circumcision means anything! “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Such an assertion would have been an offense to some Jewish Christians. But it is precisely that offense Paul says is characteristic of the cross! “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.”
The faith of which Paul speaks is not an empty faith, a simple “belief,” or a mere “mental assent” to the existence of God, Jesus, the Spirit, and the gospel. Faith actively trusts God and responds in obedience. Paul's emphasizes that this “obedience” to faith is love. We don't continue on in indulging the sinful nature, but instead, we love others as a response to the gospel. Such love is what counts!
The question before us is this: where do we “fall from grace”? Where do we “invent” for ourselves “another gospel”? Where do we rely on something else other than “faith expressing itself through love” as being the essential life response to the gospel? Is it a habit, a theological system of thought, a particular view point or conviction about a religious practice, an ordinance, a ritual, a way we “should be,” or anything else that stands in the way of the gospel being all sufficient for our salvation? There is certainly nothing wrong with any of these things in and of themselves. Yet, when elevated too high, they (like circumcision) can “become” another gospel, something which we begin to “rely” on to be the “essential” point of salvation. In so doing, we fall from grace.
What counts? Faith expressing itself in love.