"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself in love." (Gal. 5:6)
Christians often get into debates about how we should live, what we should do, or what is the "best" approach. Like the Galatians, we get so concerned about ourselves and what is taking place within the church or group where we belong, that we forget about the larger call of God on our lives. We develop a self-focused approach to the Christian life and self-focused is always God-opposed. The essence of the Chrisitan life is living for others.
Paul makes a very clear statement here in Galatians. What we do externally, those "religious" activities that we become so focused on, do not matter. What does matter? One thing - faith in God. Trusting Him to come through on what He has promised. Not working harder to improve ourselves - the self-help that we commonly revert to is opposed to the gospel. Faith compels us to lay down our efforts to achieve righteousness and trust in God. God will provide the righteousness we seek through the Spirit. Paul says the only thing that matters is to lay down our efforts and trust God's promises.
He also makes very clear what it looks like to live a life of faith in God. Faith is trusting God to come through on the promises He made. When we trust Him to provide all that we need, we can stop our frantic efforts to provide those things for ourselves. When we take our eyes off ourselves, we are free to love others. Love is laying down our lives for the good of others. It involves trusting God to provide those things that we are consciously ceasing to work for.
We all work very hard to make sure that our needs are met, our rights are protected, our position is secured, and our desires fulfilled. Then, when that is accomplished, we use what is left to help others experience those same things. As long as I have all I want, then I will help someone in need. As believers, we work very hard to make sure we "get ours," then we are available to help others "get theirs." The only problem is, we are never able to get everything we want, so we have little to offer others.
Our efforts cannot gain what we want. Paul understood this, so he calls us to forget about working for "ours." Instead, we place all that we need and desire in God's hands. We trust Him to provide for us. Then, we are free to give ourselves to helping others with the things that they need. This is called love. Jesus understood and taught this as well. He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). We lay down our lives when we stop working for our own good and start working for the good of others.
How does this look? One example is found in a marriage. It looks like the husband who gives up his efforts to protect all of his hobbies, time, and stuff. Instead, he trusts God to provide for his needs and seeks to use his time and efforts to provide the things his wife and kids need. At the same time, the wife is sacrificing her needs to work to meet her husband's. The result is a family where everyone's needs are met. The rub is this - what if my spouse doesn't reciprocate my effort? That's where this becomes an act of faith. Someone has to go first and trust God.
Why would we do this? Paul says that the results are clear. Verses 19-21 describe the self-focused live. When we focus on ourselves and work to gain what we desire, these are the results. As you read this list, notice how often the activity is driven by a selfish focus. We have sex with whoever we want because it makes us happy - who cares who else is hurt. We hate others because things didn't go our way and explode in rage to express it. We splinter into groups, partnering those who agree with our perspective so that we get what we want, regardless of what is best for the whole. This lifestyle does not look very appealing when the veil is removed and we get a clear look at the results. And yet that is how we so often live, wondering why we are struggling.
Paul says the answer is to lay down our lives. Crucify the life that is focused on itself on the cross. Choose to put it to death by faith. In its place, live a life of faith, focused on others. What are the results? When we are freed from providing for ourselves, we experience the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control that the Spirit offers. We are patient because its ok that things aren't going our way at the moment, God will provide. We have peace because we don't have to fight for ourselves, God is on our side. The results of this life are clearly more appealing.
The Spirit has given us life. Let's continue to live by the Spirit.