What Really Counts

by Mike Ratliff

For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love. (Galatians 5:5-6 ESV)

This Christian walk is fraught with struggle against a deadly enemy. That enemy is the flesh. Our flesh is deceitful and has only one goal, which is, motivated by pride, to drive us to seek fulfillment through channels which will always result in the believer not walking in the Spirit, but according to it. It very clever and can even conjure up false humility that is really pride in disguise. It can justify all sorts of things that appear to be humble and Christlike, but which are merely screens and bluffs designed to disguise a life of self-gratification. In this walk it is vital that the believer come to terms with the fact that they will have to deal with this monster as long as he or she is in this life and that it is the victory over it which is the wonderful result of the mortification of sin. This humble pursuit is only possible for the believer as he or she learns to walk by faith motivated by God’s love working through them.

Yes, all believers are in a life-death struggle with their flesh and this will continue until their deaths or the return of Christ, whichever comes first. However, God did not leave us in this struggle alone. He gave us supernatural faith. We can build our confidence to walk and end well as we mediate on what God’s word tells us about our helper, the Holy Spirit, through whom we can walk in victory by the faith God gave us when we were Born Again. The genuine, Born Again believer is not only saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:1-10), but is able to walk in victory and freedom. The believer has been made free from the “weak and worthless elementary principles.”

But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? (Galatians 4:9 ESV)

Those enslaved to these principles are in bondage to sin, death, and Satan. These principles actually use the Law to increase transgression. Bondage to these things is slavery indeed and it only causes those trapped to become more and more enslaved to the trap of perfection of glorification. No one can keep the Law perfectly so the cycle of attempting to do so leads to slavery to these elementary principles. Those believers enslaved to this are always in anguish and self-condemnation because there is never a point in which they have added enough, by doing the Law, to make up for what they believe they lack in Christ.

The genuine believer is made free from this bondage. This freedom is ours by faith and, energized by the Holy Spirit, frees us to God glorifying service to both Him and our neighbor.

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14 ESV) 

Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:2 ESV)

What really counts in this Christian walk before the face of God, our coram Deo, is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). This faith is not temporally focused. It is not focused on legalistic religiosity. It is not focused on self-glory, self-aggrandizement, self-fulfillment, et cetera. No, instead, it is focused on what awaits in eternity with the Lord. This hope motivates love and self-sacrifice (James 2:14-26). Self-focus is the poison that distracts the believer and drains away this hope, which is exactly what our flesh is continually attempting to do. This is the battle. This is the war.

Now consider with me the “New Reformation” and its demand that believers stop focusing on the eternal and, instead, seek to “make the world a better place.” This is antithetical my brethren. It is getting the cart before the horse, if you will. It is the very thing we are counseled here in these passages to avoid. We cannot earn our good standing before God by “making the world a better place.” No, instead, we love those around us as the natural outpouring of the Spirit working through our faith to crucify our flesh and walk before the face of God in Christlike humility, doing to others as our Lord would do. This is what we are called to do with our focus being on laying up treasure in heaven, not here on earth. This is the evidence of genuine faith. Martin Luther stated, “He believes not truly if works of charity follow now his faith.” Our good works are to love the Lord our God with our whole heart, mind, and life; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This does not earn salvation, but proves its authenticity.

Consider and meditate upon the following passages my brethren.

Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the LORD, the God of hosts, will be with you, as you have said. Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the LORD, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15 ESV) 

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8 ESV) 

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. (Ephesians 5:1-2 ESV) 

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (1 John 2:1-11 ESV)

Therefore my brethren, these calls to walk in love and obedience to God are not to earn salvation, but to prove it, to build it, to strengthen it, to confirm it as we humbly walk before our Lord reflecting Christ’s light and glory into this dark, sin-sick, and deceived world. We cannot “make this world a better place,” but we can do as Christ did and be tools in God’s hands to draw others into the Kingdom, which is coming. Only God will “make this world a better place” when this age ends and so begins the age to come.

Soli Deo Gloria!

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