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The Only Thing That Counts: Faith Expressed in Love

Andy StanleyBy Andy Stanley

Editor’s Note: This post is taken from Andy Stanley’s (@AndyStanley) new book Irresistible: Reclaiming The New That Jesus Unleashed For The World (Zondervan, 2018), in which Andy answers such questions as: What did first century Christians know that we don’t?, What made their faith so compelling, resilient, and ultimately, irresistible?, and Why is today’s church so resistible? He shows how distortions of the gospel result in an anemic version of Christianity that undermines evangelistic effectiveness. And he challenges Christians to read the Bible differently.

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The basis for Christian behavior is the sacrificial love of Jesus. We love because God the Father through Christ the Son has loved us.

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh, rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13

There’s that way of love thing again. And again he tips his hat as to where he got this all-encompassing idea. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command:

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

Where do you think he got that? Jesus, of course. Taking his cue from Jesus, Paul ties everything back to loving God and loving others. For Paul, as was the case with Jesus, everything else is commentary and application.

This is extreme.

This is so extreme you may be tempted to pull out your personal copy of the Scriptures to see if I’m putting words in Paul’s mouth. Feel free. This is so rich; I’ll feed it to you line by line.

For in Christ Jesus . . .

That’s Paul’s shorthand for new covenant.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.

Circumcision was shorthand for old covenant. How much value does the old covenant have? Not any. How much value does the old covenant have now that the new one is here? None. But it’s his next statement that’s the show-stopper. You may have never noticed it before. This next statement would revolutionize the church if we took it as seriously as Paul did:

The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. Galatians 5:6

Seriously? “The only thing that counts”? The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love? Really? That’s it? Perhaps he meant, “one of the only things that counts.”

The defining characteristic of the new covenant is “faith expressing itself through love.” What circumcision was to the old covenant, faith expressing itself through love is to the new covenant. For ancient Jews, circumcision was the defining characteristic of someone in covenant with God. For those embracing the new covenant, the defining characteristic is faith expressing itself through love.

Big difference.

Circumcision was invisible to the public. A once and done. All male. Decided by parents. The mark of the new covenant is visible and public. It involves daily decisions. It’s not gender-specific. It’s an all-skate. And while it doesn’t require surgery, it’s painful. Love requires sacrifice, and sacrifice is always a bit painful.

Notice Paul doesn’t say that the only thing that matters is “faith.” That’s the version of Christianity I grew up with. The faith without love version fuels vertical morality. Faith that doesn’t feel obligated to express itself through love expresses itself through manufactured religious routines. Faith disconnected from love leads to legalism, an eye-to-the-sky, vertical morality that doesn’t concern itself with loving others.

Been there.

Stayed there way too long.

The mark of the new covenant is faith expressing itself, working itself out, through love. That’s an important distinction. It’s a distinction James, the half-brother of Jesus, would make as well. He would argue faith unaccompanied by works of love is “dead faith” (James 2:14-17). Useless faith.

So Paul, taking his cue from Jesus, embraced the new, irresistible, unifying, all-encompassing ethic of love. This is amazing in light of Paul’s personality and pedigree. As far as law keeping went, he was as good as they came. He claimed as much:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more . . . as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. Philippians 3:4-6

“Faultless.” Not too shabby. Not too many first-century Jews would claim such a thing. But Paul could. And yet once this best-in-class law keeper encountered Jesus, he walked away from the entire circumcised enterprise.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. Philippians 3:7

You’ve heard or read that before. Perhaps you’ve taught or preached it. But have you ever stopped to consider what was included in Paul’s whatever bucket? His whatever bucket wasn’t full of sin. It wasn’t full of secular accomplishments and pursuits. Paul wasn’t talking about sales awards or Super Bowl rings. When Paul writes, “But whatever were gains to me,” he’s referring to old covenant accomplishments and pursuits. His whatever bucket was categorized and organized around the Jewish Scriptures. Our Old Testament. Paul dismisses the primary relevance of the Scriptures he grew up with. They were once the gold standard. Once upon a time, his Scriptures guaranteed him divine approval based on the blood that ran through his veins. But compared to the value of the new covenant . . . compared to what God had done through Christ . . . Well, again, it’s better to let him tell you:

What’s more, I consider everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ Philippians 3:8

Compared to the value of knowing Christ, made possible through the new covenant, Paul considered the things that were once most valuable, unworthy of the recycle bin. He equates the value of his past pursuits to garbage. Perhaps the best translation of the term is filth. He wraps up with this:

. . . that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Philippians 3:9

What was of great worth to Paul as he approached Damascus that fateful afternoon was, within the course of a few hours, reduced to ashes and dust.

What was once of great value held no value once he regained his physical sight and his spiritual bearings.

With all that as a backdrop, we shouldn’t be surprised to discover Paul never leverages the old covenant as the basis for Christian behavior. He’d been there, done that, and was done with that. Perhaps we should be done with it as well. Earlier in this same letter, Paul draws upon the same formula we saw in Galatians.

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. Philippians 2:3-4

Why? Based on what?

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5

Sorry I asked. That’s a pretty high standard.

We are to look to the interests of others rather than our own because that’s what Jesus did for us. If you were to ask Paul a relationship question, he wouldn’t refer you to Genesis, Proverbs, or even Song of Solomon. He would look you square in the eye and say: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.

This was Paul’s contextualized version of Jesus’ new command. Every application was connected to Jesus’ new covenant command.

Less complicated.

More demanding.

No loopholes.

Paul applied this new covenant way of love command to everything imaginable—parenting, finances, conflict resolution, generosity, compassion, adversity.

New covenant participants are to submit to one another in view of what Christ has done for them. Paul doesn’t instruct believers to submit to one another out of reverence for one another. Let’s face it, most “one-anothers” don’t deserve to be submitted to. Paul takes us back to the dynamic Jesus introduced in the upper room. The phrase out of reverence for Christ suggests we are to submit to one another out of reverence for the fact that Christ submitted himself to each of us on the cross to pay our sin debt. His sacrifice is to serve as the inspiration and standard for our submission to one another. It’s that just as thing again.

According to Paul, the primary duty of church folks is to one-another one another. Here’s his list:

  • Submit to one another.
  • Forgive one another.
  • Encourage one another.
  • Restore one another.
  • Accept one another.
  • Care for one another.
  • Bear with one another.
  • Carry one another’s burdens.

If we were to ask Paul what faith expressing itself through love looks like, he might rattle off this list. And if you asked him where he got the list, he might suggest you add the phrase just as Christ after each item. This is the short list of all God through Christ has done for each of us. When we decide to love as Christ loved us, it will look a lot like the items on Paul’s list. He simply teased out specific applications of Jesus’ new command. His single command designed to serve as the overarching ethic for his ekklesia.

My command is this: Love one another as I have loved you. John 15:12

Imagine a world where people were skeptical of what we believed but envious of how well we treated one another. Imagine a world where unbelievers were anxious to hire, work for, work with, live next door to Christians because of how well we “one-another” one another and how well we “one-another” them as well.

Once upon a time it was so. Once upon a time the one-another culture of the church stood in sharp contrast to the “bite and devour” one-another culture of the pagan world. Within that context, pagans found the church to be somewhat irresistible. This was especially true for women, children, and the economically disadvantaged.

What was true then should be true today. Paul’s one-another list should epitomize the reputation of those who call themselves Christian.

When people outside the church think about folks inside the church, the items on Paul’s list should come to mind. We should be the best neighbors, employers, employees, friends, partners, and coaches in the community.

Everybody wants to be one-anothered. Everybody wants to feel included in a community characterized by one-another love. And while the gravitational pull of vertical morality is always toward individual spirituality, the driving force behind horizontal morality is one another. The one-another way, the way of Jesus, appeals to something that resides in the soul of every man, woman, and child. The one-another way appeals to our desire to be included, recognized, and loved.

So, what if we just did that?

What if we just one-anothered one another better?

Why not?

After all, Paul said, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” Galatians 5:6.

Irresistible is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.

Bio: Communicator, author, and pastor Andy Stanley founded Atlanta-based North Point Ministries (NPM) in 1995. Today, NPM consists of six churches in the Atlanta area and a network of more than 70 churches around the globe that collectively serve nearly 118,000 people weekly. As host of Your Move with Andy Stanley, which delivers over seven million messages each month through television and podcasts, and author of more than 20 books—including The New Rules for Love, Sex & Dating; How to Be Rich; Deep & Wide; Visioneering; and Next Generation Leader—he is considered one of the most influential pastors in America. Andy and his wife, Sandra, have three grown children and live near Atlanta.

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