For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Why is this the thing that “counts” in Christ Jesus, “faith working through love”? What does this mean, and what’s so special about it? Is there faith without love? Is there love without faith?
The New Testament’s continual answer (to these last two questions) seems to be “no.” There is something like faith that lacks love. There is something like love that lacks faith in Jesus Christ. However, faith as God designed it cannot not love. Love as God designed it finds its model, inspiration, and power in Jesus Christ’s love.
When we believe something, it will determine the way we speak and act, at least in particular situations. This is what Elaine Graham suggests in Transforming Practice: If an idea is not enacted and embodied through praxis (that it, idea-driven practice), then it is not actually normative and authentic for that community. Conversely, as she puts it:
What is normative and authentic for the Christian community is enacted and embodied in praxis.
-Elaine Graham, Transforming Practice, p.139
When we try to enact faith in the love of God–the love we see in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ–the fitting embodiment is love. In fact, this idea was prevalent in the Christian community long before “embodiment” became a buzzword in 20th c. thought:
Was not Abraham justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”…For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.
-James 2:21-23, 26
Faith working through love is like health. Health is not a test result; it’s what our bodies can actually do. Meanwhile, doing something doesn’t mean we’re healthy enough to do it, as we may well discover when trying to get out of bed the next morning.
Likewise, as those in Christ, what counts is the spiritual health of faith working through love. If we want to love, we need to develop the trust in, understanding of, and focus on the love of God through Jesus Christ that helps and enables us to love. If we do believe in the ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, that faith will change the way we use our actual bodies. If we really believe, then we will move our lips differently to make different words, we will move our limbs differently to perform different deeds, to love our neighbors as ourselves, as we now know and believe God has loved us.