“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6)
You have probably heard that ”faith works through love”. This expression is found in Galatians 5:6, and it is often taught like this: “For your faith to work you need to walk in love toward God and other people. If your faith hasn’t been working lately, the reason why is probably that you haven’t walked in love well enough”.
Maybe you are standing before a problem that has yet not been solved, although you have tried everything. Or maybe you have been praying for someone who didn’t get healed, although you expected it. The message we often hear in those situations is that we need to put in more efforts to love God and other people if we want to see our desired results.
We go out from our church services trying to do our best to love others, believing that our efforts to love will make our faith work. Unfortunately, this will seldom lead to any lasting change, and after a while we will be back to where we started, thinking again that we need to love God and others more for our faith to work and be effective. If this is how we approach it, we turn love into a work of the Law, and thereby nullify faith since “the law is not of faith” (Gal 3:12). Teaching that “faith works through love” this way totally goes against the real meaning and the context in which Paul said it.
“Faith working through love” is a statement from Paul in a context of telling the Galatians to get rid of the Old Covenant performance mentality from their Christian lives. The Galatians had been deceived into believing that salvation was by grace but seeing God’s power manifested depended on how well they had kept the Law. They were tricked into believing that God worked in their lives in relation to how well they performed, how spiritual they were, or how well they measured up to a certain religious standard. Paul therefore wrote the letter to the Galatians to correct them. He basically said:
“You foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you? Did you receive the Spirit by keeping the law, or by hearing and believing the Gospel? You started in the Spirit by trusting in the finished work of Jesus and God’s grace alone. Are you now going to end up in the flesh trusting your own efforts and performance?” (see Gal. 3:1-3).
What then does “faith working through love” really mean? The answer is very simple. The Gospel is always simple, but religion tries to make things complicated. The word for love in the original Greek text is agape. Agape means God’s kind of love – as opposed to our human kind of love. In other words: our faith works through God’s love for us – not our love for Him. When we understand how much He loves us; the width, length, depth, and height; we will be filled with all the fullness of God. He will then be able to do more than we can ask for or think according to the power that works in us (see Eph. 3:18-20)!
Faith works when we realize how much we are loved by God: that His love is unconditional, that it is not based on our performance, that it is constant, that it is totally independent of what circumstances we are currently facing.
What is the antidote when our faith doesn’t seem to work? Simply to immerse ourselves in the love of God. The more we understand it, behold it, think about it, and thank God for it, the more faith works effortlessly and naturally in our lives.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love [agape] of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written: “For Your sake we are killed all day long; We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.” 37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love [agape] of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:31-39)
The fact that God loves us with an unconditional love does not mean that the Christian life is always “a bed of roses”. But no matter what we go through, nothing can separate us from God’s agape love in Christ Jesus.
A famous preacher once said: “When we see God’s grace, He sees our faith”. When we focus on God’s unconditional love for us, our faith works effortlessly as a natural bi product.