Galatians 5:1-6 (why not have a listen to the talk on Galatians see talks page)
Here are two balanced points to hold together in our understanding:
- Faith does not need the addition of works to save a person: The Judaizers were saying to the Galatian believers, ‘You need Christ plus circumcision to be saved.’ Paul’s reply was adamant: ‘No, you need Christ only.’ Paul’s message was about ‘’grace’’ (4) and ‘’faith’’ (5). A person becomes a Christian because of God’s grace (His undeserved favour) and through faith. God doesn’t ask you to be circumcised to belong to Him, or to do anything else, but to trust in Christ alone. It really is that simple. Paul saw that their pre-Christian lives under the Jewish law had been one of carrying a heavy burden – ‘’a yoke of slavery’’ (1). Having been set free by Christ from trying to earn God’s favour, he urged them not to return to ‘the land of bondage.’ Keith Green recorded an album some years ago which was entitled, ‘So you wanna go back to Egypt?’ That was Paul’s question!
- Faith without works is dead (as the apostle James would say, verse 6): You don’t need to add any good works to faith in order to become a follower of Christ, but, (and here’s the subtle, nuanced balance we need to maintain) as a person of true faith you will manifest this in good deeds (Ephesians 2:10). You’re not trusting in the good deeds to get you saved; but as a saved person you will do good deeds. Faith in Jesus will be accompanied by the fruit of Jesus’ own character reproduced within. We will see more of this shortly. Faith will express itself ‘’through love’’ (6; see Romans 5:5 and James 2:14, 17). People of faith in Jesus have a growing love for God and for others, by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Old Testament law is fulfilled in them. It is written on their hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). They are not trying to keep the law in order to get right with God, but they do keep it as the overflow of God’s life within them.
The point has been well made that to fall ‘’away from grace’’ (4) does not mean to lose your salvation. It means to move out of the sphere of grace and operate in the realm of law. It is to substitute regulations for a living relationship with Christ. Beware of any teaching that bases your acceptance with God on any kind of religious performance.
As the hymn-writer said: ‘’Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to thy cross I cling.’’
Prayer: Lord, I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that what I do can make me more acceptable to you. Today I am reminded that my acceptance with you is all because of you. It is based on faith in the finished work of Christ, and even that faith is your gift. Thank you for your amazing grace! But I also ask that you will keep me from falling into the trap of thinking that it doesn’t matter how I live because you accept me. I recognise that it does, and that by the power of the Holy Spirit I will go on being changed. I want to fully co-operate with you in this work of transformation.