“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” – Galatians 5:6 (ESV).
“Neither moral exertion nor moral failure counts. Period.” – Tim Keller, Galatians For You
The apostle Paul wrote that the only thing that counts is “faith working through love.” Neither circumcision [representing legalism, which is a reliance on good works for salvation], nor uncircumcision [representing licentiousness, which is unrestrained immorality] count. Both legalism and license are equally bankrupt approaches to life. They are like two ditches that humanity falls into, rather than walking by faith in Christ on the road called LOVE.
Why is this the only “road” that counts? There are at least three reasons that faith in Christ, which energizes perfect love in us, is the only thing that truly counts.
Three reasons only faith in Christ counts:
First, only faith in Christ brings us into a right relationship with God. Neither legalism nor license count toward making us right with the Father. Neither our best performance, nor our worst performance counts for anything. Why? Because it isn’t about our performance at all. It’s about Christ’s. Our best work will bring us no closer to God, nor will our worst drive us any further from Him. We are already so separated from God that the only way to be made right with Him is through faith in Christ’s perfect work. Receiving Christ through faith, we need no longer struggle in our own self-effort. God accepts us as His own children because we have believed in Christ. We can rest in this new relationship with the Father.
Second, only faith in Christ gives us a new identity in God. Neither legalism nor license make for worthy identities. As Paul wrote earlier in Galatians, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Old identities are superseded by the new identity “in Christ Jesus.” This does not remove our former distinctiveness of culture, class and gender, but it does give a new and unifying identity of being “one” in Christ.
The believer who struggles with legalism must beware that it is not their identity of being a good Baptist or Catholic, Presbyterian or Pentecostal that counts. It is only being “in Christ” that counts.
And those who would misuse the liberty they have in Christ as a license for the flesh, must also beware (see Gal. 5:13). For identifying according to fleshly desires will lead to a selfishness that consumes both them and those around them. They must put off old identities and put on Christ.
Third, only faith in Christ energizes a new character in us from God. Neither legalism nor license are able to change our inner character. In fact, they both work to bring out the worst in us. For they are both based on self-effort and they are energized by the flesh, which is the old sinful nature.
The legalist cannot walk on the road of perfect love because legalism reveals a character of pride, judging others, and guilt at their own continual failure at law-keeping. Trying to follow the law only energizes their flesh to rebel further. Try telling a toddler “No.” You will quickly discover how the law triggers the rebellion of the flesh.
The licentious have given up on trying to follow the law. They may even deceive themselves into celebrating this as freedom. But what they are really doing is giving themselves over fully to their lusts, which enslaves them to the very sin they practice. If they continue in their sin, they will experience a hardening of the heart that is no longer receptive to the Spirit of God.
But the one who has placed their faith in Christ will receive the Holy Spirit, who will empower and direct the believer to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16) and bear the “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal. 5:22), which is primarily LOVE, along with the other eight godly character traits as well.
Faith in Christ, which works itself out in love, is the only thing that counts. It is the only thing that makes us right with the Father, gives us a new identity as children of God, and conforms us to the character of Christ. Legalism and license count for nothing. Christ’s love is the only thing that counts.