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.
5:6 / 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).
6. This declaration concerning the eager forward look of Spirit-imparted faith is true, For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love. As far as Christ Jesus is concerned—or, as one might say, in the sphere of Christian religion—being circumcised will be of no benefit toward salvation. But here as always Paul shows excellent balance by immediately adding, nor being uncircumcised. The circumcised person must not boast about the fact that his foreskin was removed, nor should the uncircumcised put on airs because he still has his. Cf. the similar statement in 1 Cor. 8:8 regarding food. What is important, however, is “faith working through love.” Compare Rom. 14:17, “For the rule of God does not consist in eating and drinking but in righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”
A controversy has long raged between Roman Catholic and Protestant interpreters with respect to the question whether Paul meant to say “faith wrought through love” or “faith working through love.” According to the first view, generally favored by Rome, love precedes faith. Our works of love or “charity” give substance to faith. In this way the danger of ascribing too great a value to works and of making works basic in the effectuation of our salvation, is great indeed. This theory, therefore, contradicts the very thesis which the apostle is trying to establish in this epistle, namely, that justification is by faith, apart from works. And as to which is first in order, whether a. love and the work it produces or b. faith, basically the priority should be given to faith. The works are fruits, not roots. Cf. Eph. 2:8–10; 1 Thess. 1:3; and see N.T.C. on 1 Tim. 1:5.
This having been said, it is well, nevertheless, to point out that just as in the natural sphere the young married woman who becomes the happy mother of a child, not only lavishes her love upon that child but is also herself reciprocally enriched, so also mother faith, having produced her child love, receives grace and glory from this child. Action begets reaction in this blessed circle of interrelationships. The endowments with which the Holy Spirit graces the believer overlap. None stands by itself. And is not this implied in Paul’s very statement that faith works through love? It works, becomes effective, proves its genuine character, by means of love and loving deeds. Indeed, by works faith is made perfect (James 2:22). Paul and James are in complete agreement!
Whether or not those are right who say that the Judaizers must have accused Paul of minimizing love, and that in this passage the apostle is answering this charge, we do not know. One fact, however, stands out clearly: the faith which Paul proclaims is always far richer than mere understanding. It is fruitful (5:22, 23; cf. John 16:2, 5, 8), not barren. It is warm, not cold. The man who wrote Gal. 5:6 also wrote 1 Cor. 13:2.
5:5–6. Contrary to the false approach described in vv. 2–4, Paul gave the proper approach. First, salvation does not require obedience to law; it is by the Spirit (cf. 3:2–3). It is not by works; it is by faith (cf. 2:16). Further, in Paul’s letters, first, righteousness is often a state of acceptance with God (e.g., Rm 3:22; 4:13; 10:5). Second, hope is often objective; that is, not a feeling but a thing hoped for (Ac 28:20; 2Co 3:12; Eph 1:18). Thus v. 5b can be rendered “we are waiting for the future hope that our present righteousness will grant us.” Furthermore, Christian living does not require obedience to law. Thus circumcision as part of conversion to Judaism does not matter. What matters is faith—ongoing trust in Christ—expressed though love. While the NT often views love as an attitude or motivation (Rm 5:7–8; 1Co 4:21; 13:3), here Paul has in mind the other side of love: godly action (1Jn 3:18). Joseph Fitzmyer, in his comments on 1Co 13:1–3, defines love as “a spontaneous inward affection of one person for another that manifests itself in an outgoing concern for the other and impels one to self-giving” (First Corinthians, The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries, [New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008], 489).
5:6 Legalism avails nothing. As far as a person who is in Christ Jesus (that is, a Christian) is concerned, circumcision does not make him any better, and uncircumcision does not make him any worse. What God looks for in the believer is faith working through love. Faith is complete dependence on God. Faith is not idle; it manifests itself in unselfish service to God and man. The motive of all such service is love. Thus faith works through love; it is prompted by love, not by law. This is a truth found many times in the Scriptures—that God is not interested in rituals, but in the reality of a godly life.
 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.
 MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1891–1892). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.