excluded from righteousness
For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. (5:5–6)
A fourth consequence of trusting in works is to be excluded from the righteousness for which the believer has hope, to forsake the true life of blessing God desires for His children.
The Judaizers’ hope of righteousness was based on adding imperfect and worthless works of law in a vain attempt to complete the perfect and priceless work of Christ, which they assumed to be incomplete and imperfect. We, that is, true believers, Paul says, through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness that is based on God’s grace.
Believers already possess the imputed righteousness of justification, but the yet-incomplete righteousness of total sanctification and glorification still awaits them. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us.… The creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:18, 21). In this life, believers are still waiting for the completed and perfected righteousness that is yet to come.
Paul here mentions three characteristics of the godly life, the life that continues to live by the grace through which salvation was received. First of all, it is a life lived through the Spirit rather than the flesh. Second, it is a life lived by faith rather than works. And third, it is a life lived in patient waiting and hope rather than in the anxious uncertainty of bondage to the law.
Nothing that is either done or not done in the flesh, not even religious ceremony, makes any difference in one’s relationship to God. In Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything. The outward is totally unimportant and worthless, except as it genuinely reflects inner righteousness.
Life in the Spirit is not static and inactive, but it is faith working through love, not the flesh working through self-effort. Believers are “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:10). But their working is the product of their faith, not a substitute for it. They do not work for righteousness but out of righteousness, through the motivating power of love. In so doing they “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might” (Col. 1:10–11).
Love needs neither the prescriptions nor the proscriptions of the law, because its very nature is to fulfill the law’s demands. As Paul declares a few verses later, “the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Gal. 5:14; cf. Rom. 13:8). A person does not, for instance, steal from or lie to someone he truly loves. He certainly does not kill someone he loves. The person who lives by faith works under the internal compulsion of love and does not need the outward compulsion of law.
The story is told of an aspiring artist who was commissioned to do a large sculpture for a famous museum. At last he had the opportunity to create the masterpiece he had long dreamed of. After laboring over the work for many years, he saw it grow not only in shape but in beauty. But when it was finished he discovered to his horror that it was much too large to be taken out a window or door and that the cost for tearing down part of the building in order to remove it was prohibitive. His masterpiece was forever a captive to the room in which it was created.
That is the fate of all human religion. Nothing a person does to earn God’s favor can leave the room of this earth where his self-made works are created.
5–6 Paul’s argument shifts subtly here in vv. 5–6. These two verses must be understood together, as they function at this point of the letter as a tightly packed theological statement that positively recapitulates the whole of Paul’s argument, and “each term and construction of the sentence is significant” (Burton, 279). Paul writes here of the Spirit, implicitly contrasting life in the Spirit with enslavement to law observance. In this way Paul refocuses attention where he began his supportive discussion (3:1–5) of the letter’s propositio (2:15–21) and looks immediately forward to his discussion of life in the Spirit (5:13–18). He writes also about faith, which implicitly recaptures for the Galatians his use of Abraham as the exemplar of justification through faith in the person and promise of God (3:6–18). He states that Christians “eagerly await … the righteousness for which we hope,” which often functions as background to Paul’s thought as an expression of the value of present Christian experience (as, e.g., in Ro 2:5–16; 1 Th 5:8). And he states that, in Christ, there is no soteriological significance to being circumcised or uncircumcised (cf. 3:28), which is the burden of all that Paul has written to this point. All of this is then followed up with and subsumed in the statement that what does matter for believers in Christ is “faith expressing itself through love.”
These verses are intended by Paul as a reminder to the Galatians that “Christ has set [them] free” (v. 1) from slavery to the law. But freedom in Christ does not leave one without a moral compass, as the Judaizers seemingly maintained; there is no necessity for the yoke of the law to guide one’s moral life. Instead, Paul insists here that the operative dynamic for the follower of Jesus is the ethic of love, worked out in one’s life by the Spirit as he enables righteous behavior. This is the proper expression of one’s faith in Christ.
5:5 / Paul distinguishes the path the Galatians are considering from the one they are on. As believers they live in hope of righteousness, a hope that is theirs by faith … through the Spirit. Paul brings together several strands of his argument: the Spirit, which is the evidence that the promise made to Abraham is given to Gentiles (3:14), is the means by which righteousness is given; righteousness is given to those of faith (2:16; 3:6–9), who are those who have received the Spirit (3:2). But, perhaps in recognition of the Galatians’ legitimate and realistic recognition that they do not yet display the traits of righteous people, Paul also nuances his case. He speaks of the righteousness for which we hope, in contrast to his earlier statement that believers are justified through the faith of Christ (2:16). In this he possibly demonstrates respect for the Galatians’ concern that their faith in Christ has not yet made them righteous. After all, the Galatian Christians would not have been attracted to law observance unless they had felt some deficiency in their Christian lives. In response Paul declares that his converts can expect righteousness only through his gospel, which is why they and he may now wait eagerly. The outcome is assured for those “in Christ.”
The phrase “the righteousness for which we hope” can be taken to mean either hope that has righteousness as its object or hope that righteousness produces. Commentators are divided over this matter, depending on whether or not they want to harmonize this phrase with statements in the letter that present righteousness as a present state for believers. For those who think Paul is consistent on this issue the second option is chosen (so Matera, Galatians, p. 182). The first option is the choice of those who think that since righteousness refers both to behavior and standing before God, there is an “already—not yet” aspect to Paul’s view of righteousness for believers (e.g., Burton, Galatians, p. 278). It is also possible that even in those places where Paul is usually interpreted as saying that righteousness is a present reality (2:16 and 3:21), he may be speaking of righteousness as a dynamic state that has begun and will continue to grow. Paul’s subsequent advice about the character of living by the Spirit (5:16) would suggest that he understands righteousness as the new reality into which believers have been transferred and by which they now are being shaped.
5:6 / In Christ … neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The shape of the believer’s life is defined by being in Christ, which is what Paul affirmed earlier in 3:28. The power the believer has is the power of faith, which is effective through love. Paul sets in semantic parallelism being “in Christ” and “faith working through love.” This is another way of saying that it is the faith of Christ that justifies (2:16; see Introduction). As believers share in Christ’s faith, so they share in his love (cf. 2:20). Believers put on Christ (3:27) and so become as Christ, the one who is the epitome of faith working through love.
The phrase “faith expressing itself through love” can also be translated “faith made effective through love,” depending on whether the Greek verb “expressing” (energoumenē) is read as a middle or a passive; “made effective” is the middle form. Since Paul has used this word with the middle sense in Galatians 2:8 and 3:5, it is likely that here it also has that meaning. The verse would then mean that faith comes to expression by means of love. This points to what Paul has said elsewhere: Christ is the one who loves (2:20), and believers in Christ become as Christ (3:27) through participating in the faith of Christ (2:16). For Galatian believers concerned about righteousness and willing to turn to the law as a guarantee this statement hits the mark. Paul states that faith is not abstract but a way of life that is made effective, visibly and daily, through love. Paul has in view the love of Christ in which believers participate through being “in Christ.” This love will be manifest in love of neighbor (5:13).
5:4–6. The third negative consequence of returning to the law is that it removes a person from the sphere of grace. While the legalist is insecure because he cannot know if he has done enough to merit salvation, the believer is secure because he has placed his faith in Christ and will eagerly await righteousness.
When Paul says we eagerly await … the righteousness for which we hope, he is referring to one of two possibilities. On the one hand he may be referring to the righteousness that grows in us slowly, day by day, as we live by faith in him. On the other hand, he may be referring to the day when our righteousness will suddenly be complete, the day when Jesus returns (Rom. 8:8–25; Col. 1:5; 2 Tim. 4:8). Both ideas are true and are taught elsewhere in Scripture. Our salvation is past, present, and future. We have been saved by Jesus’ work on the cross in the past; we are saved day by day as the Spirit works within us to bring about daily righteousness, and we will be saved when we see Jesus and receive our glorified body, freed from sin to serve him in unsullied righteousness. What truly matters is the fruit of grace which is faith expressing itself through love (Eph. 2:10; Jas. 2:14–18). To fall from grace is to fall from love. (Falling from grace is discussed more fully in “Deeper Discoveries.”)
 Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 621–622). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.