Galatians is one of the Apostle Paul’s earliest writings. Even in those early days of the ecclesial world there was a need for him to combat some seriously wrong thinking. He admonishes them with some rather stern words, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth?” (3:1). We don’t have to read too far to work out what the problem was. Some in the ecclesia were teaching that to be saved a believer had to keep the Law, while the fundamental principle of the gospel is faith. We can sum up the contention then as this: salvation – by law or by faith? We should note that by ‘works’ Paul is really referring to the “works of the law” (eg 3:2,5).

It is not our intention to go through the argument in any detail for we don’t perhaps need to be convinced of the argument; rather we would benefit from being reminded of the principles. We can find a summary of the whole argument in chapter 2 verse 16 where the apostle clearly states that, “by the works of the law shall no (man) be justified … but by the faith of Jesus Christ.” It is faith that is central to our salvation. God is righteous: we are sinners. The only way of salvation is through faith and in the saving work of our Lord Jesus and the love and mercy of our heavenly Father.

Galatians is a book all about faith. The word “faith” (and its cognates, “believe” or “believed”) is used 24 times in Galatians and 16 of these are in chapter 3. The simple exercise of highlighting the references in chapter 3 helps us appreciate the weight of Paul’s argument. We also find some simple but powerful statements: for example, “The just shall live by faith” (2:16; 3:11), and “ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (3:26). These statements highlight the importance and power of faith.

The apostle then draws on the example of Abraham, the father of the faithful, and tells us that because Abraham had faith in God he was counted righteous.

Don’t we want to be counted righteous? Is that not our aim in life? To be thought of as worthy to be granted a place in God’s Kingdom, to serve Him perfectly? We are sinners in need of salvation. Though very much mindful of our unrighteousness, we want to be counted righteous and faith is at the core of that for us as much as it was for Abraham. The Gentiles are to be made righteous through faith (v8) and the Law was given to lead Israel to Christ so they might be made righteous by faith in him (v24).

The dimensions of faith

By contrast we are told that without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6). Faith is at the core of our spiritual life. Faith is at the beginning and end of every believer’s journey and is something that we all must develop and strengthen as we mature in the Truth.

Faith is not only the domain of the worthies of old. We don’t look at Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, David, Daniel and others and think that ‘they were very faithful, weren’t they – but I can’t be like them!’ Sometimes we think like that, that they were different from us, were from a different time period and that we can never be like that in this modern age. Certainly they were indeed very faithful and, as Hebrews tells us, they “obtained a good report” (11:2). They were commended for trusting in a God they could not see; and in spite of all their troubles, all through their disappointments and frustrations, they looked confidently at what could not be seen with the naked eye – the Kingdom of God and their Messiah who was yet to come.

The truth is, it is no different for us. Our circumstances may be different but faith is fundamental.

We would be aware of the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1, “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” We are sure of what we hope for, certain of things we do not see. Vine’s Expository Dictionary helps us to understand the different dimensions of faith. It considers three elements:

Firstly, faith is “a firm conviction, producing a full acknowledgement of God’s revelation or truth”. We understand the truth of this. Any believer has, at some point, come to the understanding that God exists and that His written Word, the Bible, is to be believed.

Secondly, faith is a “personal surrender” to God. Again, a baptised believer who accepted point one has also come to a realisation that accepting God’s will over their own is the only basis of salvation and so was baptised.

The third element is a “conduct inspired by such surrender”. It is the motivating power of our life. Being “sure of what we hope for”, “certain of things we do not see”, should motivate the way we live.

It is the third element of faith described above that we all struggle with from time to time. We have already looked at the words “the just shall live by faith” (3:11). Ultimately we shall be given eternal life on the basis of our faith. But we could also use that phrase to motivate us in our day to day lives. The just shall not just have faith – but live by faith. Faith is not static, nor a mere conceptual understanding of the Truth but faith is a motivational force in our lives.

Elsewhere the apostle expands on these thoughts. He tells us that faith is about emptying ourselves of our fleshly way of thinking and living; for example, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

We, too, have been crucified with Christ in our baptisms and resurrected to a new life. Paul is not saying that we as a personality cease to exist, but we are now living a life in which Christ is seen in our lives. In our ‘old’ life ‘I’ was very much at the centre of our life. Now it is no longer ‘I’ that motivates us, but Christ in us; and as we live in this world, surrounded by the cares and anxieties of life, the frustrations, the trials and the temptations, we bring a new mind-set to bear – the mind-set of the “new man”.

Faith leading to action

The Apostle James also picks up on similar thoughts in chapter 2 of his epistle (see verses 14,17,20). A casual reading may indicate a contradiction. Paul says it is faith not works that is important, whilst James seems to be emphasizing works – “faith without works is dead”.

There is no contradiction here; rather James is extending our understanding of the motivating power of faith. Paul was saying that works (keeping the Law – ritualistic legalism) will not save us but that we must live by faith. James contrasts a faith that is real and a faith that is false, barren and dead.

James says that living a life of faith will be displayed in our day to day actions. Living by faith will mean that we will develop our characters. Living by faith will mean that we will show love to others (examples given here in verses 15–16). Living by faith will mean that we will spread the gospel message to others.

When we consider the faithful brothers and sisters in Hebrews 11 we are impressed by the fact that their faith led them to action. They all did things which demonstrated their faith:

Abel offered … Enoch walked … Abraham went out … Moses forsook.

James asks us to show our faith without our works (2:18). This is impossible. Faith will be shown in action. “I will show you my faith by my works”, he concludes. Faith then is seen in how we respond to different situations that arise in our everyday lives. It is not only the big things, the life threatening situations, different crises that come upon us, but also everyday common-place situations, where faith must be displayed.

Faith is not static. Our faith needs to be developed and God will test us and give us opportunity to show our faith. As Brother Dennis Gillett wrote: “it is one thing to declare that a rope is strong; it is another thing to rest your weight upon it” (The Genius of Discipleship, page 20). When we face trial and when we face temptation, how will we respond? Will we give up trusting in God? Will we give in to temptation? Or will we overcome and endure?

When we reflect upon our own lives, we know that sometimes we have been strong when facing trials and temptations and other times we have given in. At times we react differently to the same temptation. What has been the difference? While there are many influences and interactions in our lives that impact on the way we respond to different situations, the closer we are to God through reading and meditating on His Word and prayer, the better equipped we are to overcome temptation and endure trial. When we let those things slip, the weaker we will be.

So the Apostle Paul clarifies that we are not saved by the works of the Law but by faith. Faith will be seen in our lives every day; as James said, “faith without works is dead”. However, we are not saved by our own actions; they cannot make us righteous. As the Apostle Paul reminds us, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph 2: 8). There is a wonderful interaction between grace and faith. It is only by God’s grace that we will be saved but that grace will only be shown to those of faith. “Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace”, the apostle writes in Romans 4:16.

“O ye of little faith”

If we are honest we would all admit to showing a lack of faith on various occasions. We are not the only ones to do so. On at least three occasions the Lord mildly rebuked his disciples for being of “little faith”.

In Matthew 16:8 – when the disciples had no bread, “O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread?”

In Matthew 14:31 – when Peter was walking on the water and then began to sink when he saw the waves and wind around him, “O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”

In Matthew 8:26 – when the disciples were in the ship in the midst of the storm, “Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith?”

There are other examples. Abraham, when in Egypt, told Abimelech that Sarah was his sister as he feared for his life. The anger of God was kindled against Moses when he expressed his doubts about appearing before his brethren and Pharaoh.

We can identify with these circumstances. Do we worry excessively about the cares of this life?

Do we have doubts from time to time? Are we fearful of events surrounding our lives?

These examples are not given to bring others down but to help us understand that from time to time our faith may fail even as the most faithful of old had lapses in faith. It is very comforting therefore to know that our heavenly Father has provided for our lapses in the provision of His Son and that even those who had lapses of faith are still recorded as “having obtained a good report”.

We are aware of our own failings, for “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God, but we are “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom 3:23–24). Grace is God’s free gift, faith is our responsibility.

So let us be found in Christ, not ‘displaying’ or trying to earn our own righteousness. “Through the faith of Christ” let us attain unto “the righteousness which is of God – by faith” (Phil 3:9).