What Really Counts

“You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace (v. 4).  

- Galatians 5:5–6

One modern commentator has suggested that Paul’s exposition of Christian freedom in Galatians 5–6 is intended, in part, to address his original readers’ concern that though they had believed in Jesus, they had not yet become righteous in practice. Whether or not this is the case, the apostle’s teaching in 5:5 certainly has something to say about the struggle we all face in the outworking of our salvation. Though we have already been counted righteous in God’s sight in our justification (2:15–16), what we have positionally before the Father is not yet our full experience in practice. We still struggle with the flesh and will give in to sin on occasion until our deaths or the return of Christ, whichever comes first. But Paul gives us the confidence that we will in fact on that final day be resurrected incorruptible, free from sin (5:5). Even now we are eagerly awaiting the hope of our glorification (1 John 3:2).

“Through the Spirit” we wait for this goal “by faith” (5:5), the same faith that lays hold of Jesus, who frees us from the “weak and worthless elementary principles” (4:9) — sin, death, and Satan — that used the Law to increase transgression. We do not long for the perfection of glorification as those whose standing is defined by the Mosaic law, for this would not give us the freedom from bondage to evil we need to begin practicing holiness in this life. Not that trying to keep the Law should never be the Christian’s goal; we only go astray when we (falsely) think that we lack something in Christ and then try to make up for it by doing the Law. What Augustine says about circumcision applies to anything prescribed in the Torah, namely, that it “is no impediment to the one who does not believe that his salvation lies in it” (Epistle to the Galatians 41, [IB.5.1–3]).

The freedom that is ours by faith and energized by the Holy Spirit is nothing less than freedom for service to God and neighbor (5:14; 6:2). Thus, Paul notes that what really counts is “faith working through love” (5:6). Faith that is truly set on the hope of final glorification does not produce idle Christians; rather, authentic faith motivates love and self-sacrifice (James 2:14–26). As Martin Luther writes, “He believes not truly if works of charity follow not his faith.”

Coram Deo

“It is not our doctrine that the faith which justifies is alone; we maintain that it is invariably accompanied by good works; only we contend that faith alone is sufficient for justification” (John Calvin). If works of love are not present in our lives, then neither is saving faith. What acts of love toward others are a regular part of your life? Can anyone tell by your love that you are a disciple of Jesus (John 13:35)?

Passages for Further Study

Amos 5:14–15
Micah 6:8
Ephesians 5:2
1 John 2:1–11

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.