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Galatians 5:6

This is a short study on the meaning of the "faith which worketh by love" in Galatians 5:6.

"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." (Galatians 5:6)

This verse is commonly understood to be referring to our faith which works because of our love towards God - that is how it is expressed in many commentaries. Here are some examples:

"faith which worketh by love - Faith that evinces its existence by love to God" (Barnes' Notes on the Bible on Galatians 5:6)
"not any sort of faith, but that which is operative, is attended with good works; and which works itself by love to God," (Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible on Galatians 5:6)
"True faith is a working grace; it works by love to God, and to our brethren." (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary on Galatians 5:6)
"Love for God and man is the spirit that prompts the "works" that accompany faith." (SDA Bible Commentary on Galatians 5:6)

Those commentaries are all saying something like that we have or exercise faith because we love God. It is our love for God that motivates our faith. This is putting the love before the faith in sequence of time. We love God, however we come to be able to do that, and when we have learned to love God we then begin to have or to exercise faith.

There is a problem with this understanding. The Bible nowhere says that God gives us love. However, it does say that He gives each person a measure of faith.

"... God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith." (Rom 12:3)

He has given us faith; in fact, He has given it to every person. However, we have to choose whether or not to exercise it. It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes. When facing death, people will often chose to or at least try to exercise this faith.

But does He also give us love for Him? Until we are reborn we are actually at enmity with God as represented by "the carnal mind."

"Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." (Rom 8:7)

That is how we start out; our default condition, due to what we inherit from our parents.

"Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psa 51:5)

The "in sin" here is referring not to a sinful act of the mother but to the condition - really the sinful nature - of the child received from the mother - and father - who also have sinful natures. We can only inherit from our parents what they have to pass on to us. There is no point in our existence before the second birth that we don't have an unregenerate, sinful, self-seeking nature.

"The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." (Psa 58:3)
"Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one." (Job 14:4)

Think about it - a new-born is 100% selfish. And selfishness is the opposite of love. We are either self-seeking or other seeking. The Bible tells us how we come to love God.

"We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

Love develops as a response; a reaction to being loved. A child only learns to love even its own mother who is tenderly nurturing it over time as a response to the love and care it receives. We are certainly designed with the capacity to love but it must be exercised through our decisions. So, since we start out with at least a small measure of faith and at enmity to God, it would seem that faith must come before love. Here is the verse in question again:

"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." (Galatians 5:6)

When we look at some original words we will find that the word translated, in the King James Version, as "worketh" is from the original word "energeo" (Strong's G1754) which is obviously similar to English words like energy and energize. That word is most often translated as "work" but it takes energy (or motive force) to do work. In physics, work and energy are closely related.

The common understanding of "faith which worketh by love" understands both the faith and the love to be ours. But what if the love is actually referring to God's love? The verse would then be saying that our faith (which we always had at least a small measure of) works or is given energy or is energized or motivated by (our understanding of and reaction to) God's love.

When we chose to exercise our measure of faith small as it might be, we change our attitude toward God. We begin to trust Him even if only a little at first. As we learn of Him and learn what He has done for us our hearts are warmed and we begin to love the One with Whom we were formerly at enmity. We learn that He loved us even while we were sinners:

"But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8)

We come to understand the magnitude of the gift that was given to earn our trust:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)

As we come to appreciate this more we are inevitably drawn to Him:

"And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me." (John 12:32)

We are also told that:

"We love him, because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)

So what motivates us to love Him is our growing appreciation of His love for us. We love Him because He first loved us.

That, I believe, is the Biblical and correct meaning of the "faith which worketh by love" in Galatians 5:6. The trick for us is to try to grasp the extent and magnitude of that love and that it is directed not just to the world but to us personally.

Here is my paraphrase and amplification of Galatians 5:6 -

For when we are in right relationship with Jesus Christ
the state of circumcision or uncircumcision
counts for nothing towards our salvation
but what is important is our faith/trust in Him
which is energized/motivated by our understanding/appreciation
of His love towards us.
"For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love." (Galatians 5:6)

Not that obedience isn't important but the gospel is first of all good news - what God has done. When we learn to love Him we will naturally be inclined to listen to and act on His good advice - what we need to do.

Why is this distinction between whether "love" in Galatians 5:6 is referring to my love for God or God's love for me significant? Why is it important to you and me? We tend to be very self-centered. We don't readily love others naturally except in response to their display of love toward us. Thankfully, we can learn to become loving but what really causes that to happen is an understanding and appreciation of the love of others. The Bible tells us that it is the love of God that starts it all.  

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The Greek has multiple words for forgiveness? God forgives (charizomai) whether we ask or not. Receiving forgiveness (apheimi) is by our choice.
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