The word faith is special to the New Testament. Where it occurs in the Old Testament, it is most often about breaches of trust. The contrast between the Old and the New is the need, under the Mosaic Law to observe the rules of the Law in the right spirit. This they largely failed to do except when they had a righteous king, especially under David and Solomon.
In the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had turned the precepts of the Law into rituals to be observed. When Paul went out preaching he started his message in the local synagogue, if there was one. Most of the converted Jews accepted Christ as the Messiah, but were putting a lot of emphasis on keeping the Law, observing such things as circumcision. In countering this, as we see in Galatians, Paul challenges them; “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness” (5:4,5).
The Law keepers, who observed the practise of circumcision, knew nothing about “grace” – they ‘earned’ salvation through their observances. The next verse is Paul’s ‘punchline’ – “for in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love” (verse 6). This reminds us of the words in Isaiah, “If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all” (Isaiah 7:9). That is, about anything in life, you will be driven here and there by the winds of opinion, which is what happens.
Christ’s followers are ‘free’ from the need to observe the rituals of the Law. Paul tells them, “for you were called to freedom brothers” and then makes a vital point, “do not use that freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (verse 13). Let us all do that. Our Lord set the example. May our lives constantly demonstrate our “faith working through love”.
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