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. In contrast with those who presumably might fall into the error against which the apostle issues his warning, Paul’s own position, the conviction of the Galatians who have remained loyal, and, in general, the firm persuasion of believers everywhere, is set forth in the following passage, in which the emphasis falls on the word which in the original heads the sentence, namely, “we” or, as we can also render it, “as to ourselves.” Says Paul: For, as to ourselves, it is through the Spirit, by faith, that we eagerly await the hoped for righteousness. The conjunction γάρ can best be interpreted in its more usual sense as indicating the cause or reason for the thought that was expressed in the preceding verse. What Paul is saying then amounts to something along this line, “Those who yield to the Judaizers have fallen away from grace because they refuse to give due credit to the work of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary, as to ourselves, we recognize that Spirit as the source of all our striving and of our ultimate victory.” That the word pneuma, which by itself can be rendered either spirit (6:1, 18) or Spirit (the Holy), must here be interpreted in the latter sense, as nearly always in Galatians, follows from all that Paul has been saying previously in this epistle and from all that he says elsewhere concerning the activity of the third person of the Trinity. Thus, the idea that it is through the Spirit that by faith we eagerly await the hoped-for righteousness is in line with the teaching that the law produces death (Rom. 7:10; 8:2), but the Spirit makes alive (Gal. 4:29; Rom. 8:3, 4, 10; cf. John 3:5); that the law creates fear and wretchedness (Rom. 8:15), but the Spirit brings about hope and assurance (Rom. 8:16; Eph. 1:13); that the law enslaves (Gal. 3:23; 4:24, 25), but the Spirit brings about freedom (Gal. 4:29–5:1). Considered from God’s side, therefore, salvation is the gift of the Spirit (2 Thess. 2:13; cf. Eph. 2:5, 8). Viewed from man’s side it is received by faith, but even this faith, both in its initiation and at every step of the way, is Spirit-given. And if faith is God-given, why should not hope be also? And why should not the thing hoped for, in this case: the hoped-for righteousness, be also assigned to the Holy Spirit, this all the more because the very presence of the Spirit in the hearts of believers is considered a pledge and first instalment of greater glories to come (Eph. 1:13, 14)?
These greater glories to come are definitely in the mind of the writer, for he says that “through the Spirit, by faith we eagerly await (cf. Rom. 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Cor. 1:7) the hoped-for righteousness.” To be sure, the verdict of acquittal has already been pronounced, so that even now the peace of God has smiled its way into our hearts (Rom. 5:1). But one day, namely, at Christ’s glorious return, our righteousness will be declared publicly. Cf. Matt. 25:31–40; Luke 18:1–8; 1 Thess. 3:13; 2 Thess. 1:10. To this day and to this blessing we, through the Spirit, by faith, eagerly look forward, not doubting that God will fulfil his promise.
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).
5:5. In contrast with legalists, true believers by faith (not works) eagerly await (apekdechometha; used seven times in the NT of the return of Christ: Rom. 8:19, 23, 25; 1 Cor. 1:7; Gal. 5:5; Phil. 3:20; Heb. 9:28) the consummation of their salvation (cf. Rom. 8:18–25). Then the righteousness for which we hope will be fully realized (cf. 1 Peter 1:3–4, 13). At the coming of Christ believers will be completely conformed to all the requirements of God’s will. The inward and forensic righteousness which began at justification will be transformed into an outward righteousness at glorification. God will then publicly acknowledge all believers’ full acceptability with Him.
 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.