Faith: The Vital Connection by Kim Reisman

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Scripture Focus:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly exhibited as crucified! The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Having started with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh? Did you experience so much for nothing? – if it really was for nothing. Well then, does God supply you with the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law or by your believing what you heard?

Galatians 3:1-5 (NRSV)



During the first part of the year, we’ve looked at the cardinal virtues: wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. The word cardinal comes from the Latin cardinalis, meaning hinge. Early philosophers contended that all other virtues hinge on these four. For the Christian, there is another perspective. To these four were added the theological virtues: faith, hope, and love. These have been seen as the classic virtues and the seven tools of the moral life. This month we’ll take a general look at faith with the conviction that faith is the tap root of any tree that is going to produce fruit of the Spirit.

Paying attention to virtues, seeking to discipline ourselves in a good life, may appear to be an effort at salvation by works, which is foreign to Protestant Christianity. Paul addressed the issue in our passage for today. “You foolish Galatians!”

Why was Paul so upset with the Galatians? Fire was in his pen as he begins this third chapter of his letter to them. He had preached the gospel to them … the gospel he had experienced with saving power on the Damascus Road, and that had been clarified and refined in those years he spent in the desert as he sought to discern the fullness of what Christ had done for him and what he was being called to preach.

It had become clear, and now he was a slave to it: Jesus Christ, crucified for our sins, offering us forgiveness and salvation by the sheer gift of grace, God’s gift. “Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith.” (Romans 3:23-25) The Galatians had received that message, had experienced the joyous freedom that comes through the love and forgiveness which Christ had offered so extravagantly on the cross. But something had happened. After Paul left Galatia to continue his mission of sharing the good news to the world, Judaizers came in to sow seeds of confusion. Judaizers were early Christians who demanded that non-Jewish believers adopt Jewish customs as a criterion for salvation.

The Judaizers contended that pleasing God was a matter of doing what God said, and that meant primarily keeping the law and observing the rituals. If we do that, we will be holy and God will bless us, they said. This was the issue Paul was concerned with thr0ughout his ministry. He deals with it in almost all of his letters – the connection between faith and works.

If you don’t read Paul’s letters as a whole, you may find yourself asking, “Why did Paul preach so much against works? Didn’t he want people to do good and be good?” Of course he did! But for Paul, you can’t begin with works. That’s like putting the cart before the horse – it’s not the right order. The limitation of the law is that no one can ever fully keep it, so keeping the law and doing good works can never save us. That is why we begin with faith – faith in God who is righteous and whose righteousness is given to us through faith. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

People who are content to offer God their own good works, works which flow out of their own will and power, will never be able to fully please God. God is holy. Do we think we, in our own power can meet the standards of God’s holiness? God is pure love. Do we think that our attitudes and actions can measure up to that standard of unfettered love? Paul insists that we can never be good enough, ever holy enough, never loving enough to deserve God’s grace. But the good news is we don’t have to! God’s grace isn’t earned or deserved; it is given. We receive it by faith.

Paul doesn’t discount the meaning or necessity of good works. The Ephesians passage I quoted above continues with Paul’s balancing word, “For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10)

There is a vital connection between faith and works. Paul wants to make sure we don’t get the cart before the horse. We are saved by grace through faith, and we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works.”

As you pray and fast this month, reflect on our earlier discussions of wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. Have you sought to practice these virtues in an effort towards good works – to “keep the law?” I pray that as you reflect on the order of faith and good works, your understanding of salvation would be deepened through the recognition that God’s grace isn’t earned or deserved, it is a remarkable and tremendous gift.

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