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“Faith Working through Love”

Galatians 5:1-15
Bob DeGray
April 29, 2018

Key Sentence

Freedom is expressed in faith working through love.


I. Principle 1: Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1)
II. Rant 1: Law is not grace (Galatians 5:2-5)
III. Principle 2: Faith works through love (Galatians 5:6)
IV. Rant 2: Don’t listen to the ones troubling you (Galatians 5:7-12)
V. Principle 3: Through love serve one another (Galatians 5:13-15)


On January 28, 1986 President Ronald Reagan gave a speech which ended with these words “and slipped the surly bonds of earth to touch the face of God.” Many of you will immediately recall the occasion of that speech. Some of you won’t.

That day, January 28, 1986, I was at work, at Exxon in Baytown. A mechanical engineer, I spent my time designing and analyzing the vessels, the containers that petrochemical companies use to restrain the explosive power of their products. I was also a resident of Clear Lake with an astronaut for a next-door neighbor, and a fan of the space program. I’d attended two shuttle launches. So that day at work there was a commotion, and we ended up in a conference room with a television. Over and over we saw the 73 second flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger which ended in the horrible explosion and rain of pieces into the ocean. As I watched in shock, trying to analyze what I was seeing, I said to a buddy “It’s a seal failure. Something allowed that flame to jet out sideways.” And it was. An O-ring, essentially a rubber gasket, too cold to respond as designed allowed flame to escape, leading to the explosive disaster.

That is exactly what Paul fears in Galatia. The Galatians have forsaken freedom in Christ for the Old Testament law, convinced that it will get them where they want to go. But just as the ‘escaping the surly bonds of earth,’ only happens when the power of the rocket is channeled through the nozzles, so freedom in Christ only happens when our lives are channeled by faith into love. Freedom, Paul will say, is expressed in faith and works through love. The alternative is horrible for God’s people and even as Paul expresses the truth in three positive principles, he also rants against the alternate viewpoint and those who hold it.

The rants are interesting here. Very emotional and strong. But if you were alive on January 28th, 1986 you may still feel that strong emotion. I was changed by that moment. Every launch I watched after that I inevitably, involuntarily held my breath for the 73 seconds. I only watched went to one more live launch, Jim Dutton’s. If you were with me that day you know how keyed up I was, how tense, how unable to stand still. I had just enough knowledge to know some of the thousands of things that could go wrong, just enough intimacy to care, and just enough distance to not be able to offset caring with involvement.

That’s where Paul was with the Galatians, and it shows as he hands them these positive principles and then cries out for them to take it seriously. The first principal in Galatians 5:1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

As I said last week, this verse is both culmination and transition. It’s already the eighth time Paul’s used the word ‘free’ and he emphasizes it by using it twice. It culminates his big idea that the law enslaves while grace and faith free us. I made up a story when we started this series that still seems to me to capture what we’ve studied to this point, and what this verse says. It went like this:

Once upon a time there was a community on the dying edge of a great desert. They’d been told by travelers of a great green land flowing with water, ripe for harvest, on the far side. So they tried, time after time, to cross the desert. Some walked, but they’d either never return or stagger back sun-burned and dying. Some tried with horses and wagons, even camels, but the desert was too vast. Others built vehicles, first steam powered, then petroleum, but their contraptions would run out of fuel or fail on the rough terrain. Yet people were consumed with the vision and competed to see who could go the extra mile.

One day a huge flying vehicle with wings and a pointed nose came and landed just into the desert. Those who disembarked said that the king of the oasis land had sent the airplane to bring across those who wanted the blessings of that land, without cost. The people of this small community piled onto the plane eagerly, enjoying its comforts as it carried them high above unimaginable miles of burning deadly desert, far vaster then they had thought, and landed them smoothly in a paradise more wonderful than they could have imagined.

Then a funny thing happened. Many who had worked the hardest to cross the desert on their own were seen staring back into the wasteland. They began to gather materials and build their vehicles and to again set out, only this time in the other direction. Some just wanted the challenge. Others said paradise should be the reward for crossing, not a free gift. Some again set out into the waste, while others tried to convince the whole community to reverse the trip.

That’s what Paul has warned against, pride that says “I can do this myself. I can keep the law to find favor with God.” He says “we know a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of law no one will be justified.” But the Galatians have been tempted by “false brothers . . . who slipped in to spy out our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might bring us into slavery.”

Paul’s principle in Galatians 5:1, after all that he has said is simple: you’ve been set free to be free. His plea is equally simple: don’t step back into slavery by counting on law, or moralism to save or to keep you saved. But this is not an emotionless discussion for Paul. His first rant begins to show us, again, how strongly he feels, that law can never take the place of grace.

Verses 2-5: Look: I, Paul, say that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. 5For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

“Mark my words,” Paul says, “If you allow yourselves to be circumcised, the result will be that Jesus Christ will profit you nothing. Circumcision was, of course, the particular form of legalism promoted in Galatia. As Boice says “It is not that circumcision in itself is that important. In fact, Paul himself had once had Timothy circumcised; just four verses farther on he will declare that "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value." What Paul is condemning is a theology that makes circumcision, or any works, necessary for salvation and seeks to make conformity to an external standards as the mark of spirituality.

Verse 3 adds that to choose circumcision, legalism, means taking on the burden of the whole law. Eventually every commandment would be a salvation issue, as it was for the Pharisees. So, verse 4 “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” If you are justified, made right with God, by keeping the law then there is no place in your life for grace, and no place in your life for Christ. It is, ‘either-or.’ Some, though, have taken “fallen away from grace,” as saying that if a Christian sins, he or she loses their salvation. That’s more than Paul meant. In fact Boice says “There is a sense in which to sin is to fall into grace, if one is repents.” But to fall from grace in this context is the natural result of choosing legalism. To move toward law is to move away from grace as the source of righteousness.

In verse 5 Paul backs away from the rant. He changes to ‘we’ language as he turns toward the next positive freedom principle. “For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.” This verse is just packed with wonderful words. First, this waiting for righteousness is ‘through the Spirit,’ who will be the key actor in these chapters. It is the Spirit who indwells us, who enables us to wait in hope for the completion of God’s work. Yet we also wait by faith. We do not attempt by our works to make ourselves righteous. We are eager for the full realization of salvation, full righteousness, but we do not expect to get there by more and better works. We wait in hope.

Notice that righteousness is progressive . We are declared righteous by God through faith. We grow in righteousness in this life. But righteousness is completed in the day of Jesus’ return and our resurrection. Paul says in Philippians that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This is what we hope for. It is certain, though far from fully achieved.

All this leads to the central, key principle of freedom. Verse 6: For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. Paul just said our hope is in God’s gift of righteousness, by faith. As a result, in Christ Jesus, Circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing. This could sound surprising, because he also said that if you get circumcised you’ve fallen away from grace. But the idea is that grace and faith go together on one side. They’re what count in the quest toward righteousness. Circumcision, law keeping, moralism, being good enough, doing your best, are all on the other side and count for nothing in achieving righteousness.

Yet this faith, Paul says, is working through love. Galatians is turning a corner. We’re not quite there yet, we’ve got one more rant to go, but now we can see around the bend to the way faith influences our lives. It works itself out, in love: love for God, love for others. The New International Version says “faith expresses itself in love.” The Greek word translated work is ‘energeo.’ You can hear the word ‘energy’ in there. This is energy that is effectual, energy that accomplishes something. Faith accomplishes something through love.

Up to now Paul’s readers might have thought his Christianity didn’t mean anything in terms of life change, didn’t lead to lived-out righteousness. The Judaizers may have said “all this faith in Christ is well and good, but only obedience to the law will prove to you and others that your life has changed.” Paul says “no, faith accomplishes something, and it show it through love.” In fact we could combine the first and second principles and say that freedom expresses itself through love. The law is mechanical, righteousness accomplished by checklist. But the truth Paul is hammering into us is that faith is what counts, that righteousness is accomplished by God’s grace poured out on us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then, having been declared righteous, this same faith expresses righteousness through energized love for God and others.

I love the autobiographical novel “Rocket Boys” by Homer Hickam. The movie version, “October Sky,” was good. But the book was better. It’s a growing up book, coming of age at the dawn of the space race in the West Virginia town of Coalwood. Chapter 1 says “Until I began to build and launch rockets, I didn’t know my hometown was at war with itself over its children and my parents were locked in a kind of bloodless combat over how my brother and I would live our lives. I didn’t know that if a girl broke your heart, another girl could mend it the same night. And I didn’t know that the enthalpy decrease in a converging passage could be transformed into jet kinetic energy if a divergent passage was added. The other boys discovered their own truths when we built our rockets, but those were mine.” It's that last one that fascinates. He’s talking about nozzle design, its importance to rocket engines.

This is a high school kid in a coal town with no prospects or expectations, where most of the kids struggle to achieve basic algebra. But ignited by Sputnik and a dream, Homer Hickam and his friends built rockets. Their first successful rocket, Auk I, had a maximum altitude of six feet. Their last, Auk 31 reached 31,000 feet. The difference lay in size, fuel and nozzle design. Their first fuel was black powder, familiar in a coal town, but best for spectacular explosions. Their next was “rocket candy,” which I’ve made, a combination of saltpeter and sugar. The last was zinc and sulfur, with even more chemical energy.

But chemical energy is only good for explosions unless channeled through a nozzle. So also faith has to be channeled by the nozzle of love to change lives. So Homer Hickam went to work designing a perfect DeLaval nozzle, the basic nozzle of rocketry, the perfect channel for the energy of fuel to be transformed into the motion of a rocket. But he had to do something no one in Coalwood had ever done. He had to learn integral calculus, to teach himself integral calculus. He did. The last, best nozzle was machined in the shops of Coalwood and touched by Wehner Von Braun at the National Science Fair where Homer Hickam took first prize. That’s the nozzle that channeled the energy of zinc and sulfur into 31,000 feet of altitude. The same principal applies to us. Faith must express itself through love. Love is the perfect DeLaval nozzle through which faith energizes love of God and love of others. It is so much more effective than works, just as Auk 31 was so much more effective than Auk 1.

Paul is convinced of this, and he’s going to complete the picture with a turn toward the Holy Spirit who is true fuel of our love. But he’s got one more rant, verses 7-12 You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? 8This persuasion is not from him who calls you. 9A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! I am, in general, not an angry person, at least in the sense of yelling or screaming. But I do get mad at times. When my kids were kids they could sense these relatively rare moments and developed a simple two word warning for each other “Daddy’s mad.” I keep thinking that in these verses, “Paul’s mad.” He’s angry at these false teachers who are leading his little children astray. In fact he personalizes this to one teacher, though we don’t know if he had an individual in mind.

He begins with a sports image, which was pretty common for him. Life is a race, demanding endurance and training. He often sees himself as the competitor. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

At other times, as here, he applies it to the life of his converts. The Galatians had begun the race well. Theirs had not been merely an intellectual assent to certain truths, mere orthodoxy divorced from Christian life and character. Nor was theirs the life of Christianity without doctrine. Instead they “obeyed the truth.” They had both head and heart religion. In spite of this good beginning, however, something had obviously gone wrong. Someone had hindered them. The verb is a military term that refers primarily to setting up an obstacle or breaking up a road. The Galatians have been tripped up in their race.

Paul blames this on the Judaizers. Verse 8: “This persuasion is not from him who calls you.” The one who called the Galatians is obviously God, but salvation by works is not God’s idea, but proceeds from someone or something hostile to God's grace. Like yeast in bread dough, verse 9, such teaching spreads rapidly. It grows, affects everything it touches. This is the reason for Paul's alarm at the state of affairs in the Galatian churches. But, verse 10, God will not permit evil to triumph. Paul is confident his readers will take his concerns to heart and that these false teachers will bear the penalty for their teaching.

In verses 11 and 12 Paul lets more emotion show through. “But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?” Paul is probably being sarcastic. Everyone knows he doesn’t preach circumcision. He’s saying “I don’t have to put up with this, I could say ‘go ahead, be circumcised,’ and I’d be done with this hassle.” But that would remove the offense, the scandal, of the cross. The Greek word ‘skandalon’ means a “snare” or “a rock that makes you fall.” Different word, but the same image as in verse 7. The natural mind trips over the cross, offended by it. People naturally think that salvation is by some kind of works, by being good enough. The cross proclaims our complete ruin in sin. Nothing we can do can save us. It shows our radical need for grace.

The second of Paul's remarks is even stronger. He wishes that they would not stop with circumcision in their zeal, but rather would go all the way to castration. This is not just self-mutilation, but it would make them completely unqualified to participate in Jewish ritual. Maybe then they’d see their need for Christ, the grace of the scandal of the cross. To us Paul's expression sounds extreme. Less so in his day. But he’s motivated by his urgent concern for the gospel of grace and for God's truth. As Stott says, “If we were as concerned for God's church and God's Word as Paul was, we too would wish that false teachers might cease from the land”

So his first principle is that Jesus has set us free from slavery, his second point is that in this freedom we live by faith that expresses itself in love. Love is the nozzle that expresses faith, and the Holy Spirit within us, effectively.

The third principle is “love results in serving one another.” Verse 13 You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. 14For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 15But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.

These verses are so important, so truth-laden that I won’t try to fully expound or apply them here at the end of a sermon. I’ve decided to come back to verse 13 next week and link this section to the next section where the same truth is seen as the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Briefly, verse 13 loops back to verse 1. Compare them: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh.” In verse 1 Paul links freedom to a warning about falling again into slavery. Here the warning is not to allow this freedom to become, literally, a beachhead for the armies of indulgence to gain a foothold in our lives.

Paul uses the word ‘flesh’ here for the third or fourth time. The New International Version translates this as ‘the sinful nature.’ It is everything in people that is fallen, worldly, done in the world’s way, the world’s wisdom or the world’s power. We’ll see next week that Paul normally opposes the word flesh with the word Spirit. He doesn’t get quite that far in these verses, but links back to the second principle, that of faith working through love. He says the opposite of indulging the flesh is serving one another in love. It’s ironic that having urged the Galatians not to become slaves to law, Paul should now encourage them to become slaves of one another. That’s what the verb translated "serve" means, though this slavery is not at all like the first.

Verse 14 shows that Paul is not entirely opposed to law, when understood as a law of love: the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus and Peter and Paul all summarize the law this way. Paul is suggesting that this neighbor-love is the freedom we’ve been called to in Christ. It’s a law of freedom. And this love, he’ll tell us, is not from ourselves but is the first and summarizing fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. Verse 15 completes this section with the astute observation that if, instead of living out the law of love, you bite and devour one another, eventually you will be consumed. This ‘Christian cannibalism’ is too common in our churches, and sadly happens even among us in this church. It starts with just a little nibble of criticism and disapproval, but it grows into a full-scale feasting on the faults and errors of others and ends with people are chewed up and spit out of the body. It’s not hard to imagine the same thing happening in Galatia as they debated between the way of the Judaizers and the way of Paul.

So, what have we seen? Three principles that follow one from the other. First, by faith Christ has set us free from slavery to the law and to moralism. Second, we live out that freedom when faith expresses itself in love. And third, the love which most expresses freedom is to serve one another, to voluntarily become slaves to each other. We’ll see next week that this can only be done through the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.

But the thing that struck me the most, and that I hope you’ll go away with, is this idea that love is the nozzle. If your faith is expressed in legalism you’re probably going to end up with an explosion, like the Challenger disaster. But if your faith expresses itself in love, then, like the carefully designed nozzles in Homer Hickam’s rockets, your Christian life will soar. But what is the fuel? Not black powder, not rocket candy, not zincoshine. Come back next week and meet the hero of these chapters, God the Holy Spirit.