"The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love." (Galatians 5:6, NIV)
When Paul rejects the idea of being saved by "works" in Galatians, he isn't referring to deeds of kindness and compassion. Rather, he means that certain Jewish teachers believed that salvation depended on doing "works of the law," that is to say, observing rituals such as circumcision and religious feast days.
On the contrary, Paul says, salvation depends on faith in the work of Christ on the cross, not on the human observance of religious rituals. Freedom in Christ means freedom from rituals. We don't need to light candles or recite memorized prayers or kneel before statues, only trust the saving blood of Jesus.
Yet, freedom in Christ entails responsibility. What counts is not faith expressed through ritual behavior but faith expressed through love for others. If "works of the law" and "works of the flesh" are to be avoided, by the same token "works of the Spirit" are to be embraced. To live a life pleasing to God, we must serve one another.
Paul says our responsibility can be easily summed up: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
Righteousness comes through Christ, but it finds expression not in rites but in right living.
O God of love and compassion, help us to be like You in life so that we may be with You in death. We pray in faith through Jesus. Amen.
- JOHN H. WILLIAMS, Abilene, Texas