”For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor un circumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6).
”We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1Thessalonians 1:3).
I. Abounding in Hope
Jesus brought hope to the Gentiles, taking people who had no hope of salvation because they were outside the covenants of promise with Israel and redeeming them, giving them a secure, everlasting hope of abundant life in the presence of God. In so doing, Christ also confirmed hope for the Jews, fulfilling the Lord’s promises to make the family of Abraham the source of blessing for the world because He, as Abraham’s seed, provides for the salvation of people from every tribe and tongue (Rom. 15:8-12; see Gal. 3:15-29; Eph. 2:11-22). This theme of hope is prevalent in Romans 15:8-12, as Paul establishes this teaching and then quotes extensively from the Old Testament to support his instruction. We find even more reasons to rest in the hope of salvation when we read these Prophecies from Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Isaiah, and their fulfillment in Christ through His ministry to bring Gentiles into the kingdom of God. Jesus accomplished what was Prophesied centuries beforehand, so we can trust the Lord who revealed to the Prophets what was to come regarding the work of His Son. We can trust that He is able to save as He has promised.
This theme of hope prompts Paul to move once more into a prayer-exhortation in this passage. He asks “the God of hope” - the Creator who is the source and guarantor of the hope of redemption - to fill us with “joy and peace in believing.” The twin virtues of joy and peace accompany true faith in Christ. Of course, because of our remaining sin, there will be times when we do not feel joyful or peaceful. At such times, we must remember that the reality of the peace and joy that we enjoy in Christ does not depend on our subjective experience. If we are in Christ by faith alone, then we are at peace with God and not under His wrath, and the joy of salvation, even when temporarily obscured, is not destroyed. Heaven rejoices that we have come home, and the objective joy of kingdom citizenship sustains us in the night until we find joy again in the morning (Ps. 30:1-5; Luke 15:7; Rom. 5:1).
God’s kingdom consists in “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17), which are ultimately grounded in the hope of final redemption that Jesus purchased for us. Faith in Christ and the hope He has secured leads to the joy and peace that this hope enables, and dwelling on this hope increases the joy and peace it provides. One of the famous theologians of the 20th century, John Murray, wrote in his commentary Romans, “Joy and peace are conditioned by hope…they are produced by faith and they promote hope.”
In Scripture, hope is not a reference to uncertainty or a lack of confidence in what the future will bring; rather, hope is another word for confident anticipation, and it has both objective and subjective aspects. Objectively, we have a hope that exists outside ourselves - Christ will surely return to reign visibly over all (1 Cor. 15:12–58). This fact is even more incontrovertible than the fact that the earth revolves around the sun. Subjectively, hope is the inward confidence we have that we will participate in the benefits of the objective, future reality (Rom. 8:25). The Holy Spirit’s work involves giving us this subjective hope (v. 16), and Paul prays for this in Ephesians 1:18-20, he adds that he is praying for the Lord to give them knowledge of the “hope” to which He has called believers, in addition to knowledge of the divine character.
II. What Faith Is and Is Not
“I believe; I believe. It’s silly, but I believe.” These are the common words spoken by many known and influential people. This is to provide just one example of how faith is commonly portrayed in our culture as a blind leap in the dark - believing for no reason at all.
Such a view of faith, however, is completely out of step with what the Bible teaches. Faith, according to the Bible, is not irrational or “silly.” It is not a blind commitment or an arbitrary feeling of closeness to God. These things are not faith, any more than it is faith for a man to pick a person out of a crowd, sight unseen, and ask that person to perform open-heart surgery on him. That is not faith by any standard; it is silliness, plain and simple.
What, then, is faith? Historically, Christianity has answered that question by distinguishing three main elements that together comprise saving faith. Generally speaking, three Latin words have been used to identify these three elements: notitia, or “knowledge”; assensus, or “assent”; and fiducia, or “trust.”
The first element of saving faith is notitia, or knowledge, which points to the fact that genuine faith must believe something. In other words, it must have an intellectual content. It cannot be empty or blind but must be based upon the knowledge of certain fundamental truths. We see this throughout the Bible in passages that are distinguished by the phrase “believe that,” followed by a doctrinal proposition of some kind. Good examples include Romans 10:9, which states that “if you … believe … that God raised [Jesus] from the dead, you will be saved,” and John 20:31, which reads, “these [things] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” In each case, we see that there is a doctrinal content to faith. Faith means believing certain propositions; in the examples cited above, the propositions are “that God raised Jesus from the dead” and “that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.”
The second element of saving faith is assensus, or assent. This refers to the intellectual conviction that the knowledge one possesses is factually true and personally beneficial. It is not enough simply to know certain things. We must also believe that those things are true and actually meet our needs. We see this element of faith portrayed in Scripture passages such as John 5:46–47; 8:31–38, 45–46; 10:37–38; 14:11.
The third element of saving faith is fiducia, or trust. It is by far the most important of the three elements we have mentioned. Without this element, faith is merely an intellectual enterprise—much like the “faith” of demons, who know the truth about Jesus but refuse to trust Him because they hate what they know to be true (James 2:19; Matt. 8:29). This element consists in a personal trust in Christ as He is offered in the gospel and a complete reliance upon Him for salvation. It is seen in passages that talk about believing “in,” “upon,” or “into” Jesus (for example, John 3:15–16; Rom. 9:33; 10:11) and in passages that speak of “leaning” or “resting” upon Jesus (Ps. 71:5–6; Prov. 3:5–6), “looking” to Him (John 6:40; Heb. 12:1–2), and “committing” oneself to Him (2 Tim. 1:12; Matt. 11:28; Ps. 37:5).
The Three Elements Illustrated
Consider the following illustration. Imagine that three people are dropped without food or water into the middle of a very large field full of land mines. Suppose that one of the individuals blindly chooses a pathway through the field and then heads off in that direction without another thought. This is not an example of faith but is more like the silliness we alluded to earlier. Genuine faith is not blind; it is based upon knowledge.
But suppose that a helicopter appears above the remaining two men and, from the helicopter, an interested party announces the way through the minefield. One of the men takes this interested party at his word and sets off at once through the field. Even this is not an example of faith. Yes, the man’s actions are based on knowledge (the interested party’s testimony) and assent (the man regards the testimony as true and beneficial in meeting his needs). But his action still is blind because it is based on insufficient knowledge (that is, the uncertain testimony of a complete stranger). It also lacks the most important element of faith, personal trust in the one speaking.
Suppose, however, that the remaining two men ask the interested party certain questions in order to discern how he came to know the way through the field, why he wants to help them, and how positive he is that he can safely guide them through the land mines. Suppose they also ask for references from the interested party to see whether he knows anyone they know or are related to. Suppose they even try to test his instructions by throwing objects in the direction he suggests to see if it appears to be free of mines. In doing these things, the two remaining men are gathering enough knowledge to decide whether they can trust the individual in the helicopter. This trust (fiducia), which is built upon both knowledge (notitia) and assent to that knowledge (assensus), is what genuine faith is all about. Such faith is not at all “silly” but wholly reasonable.
Faith Demonstrated in Work
When all three elements of faith are present, they will necessarily manifest themselves in good works. If we consider the above illustration, we can see that the remaining two men demonstrate the genuineness of their faith (or the lack thereof) by what they do. If they choose to stay where they are and refuse to follow the instructions of the man in the helicopter, or if they set off in their own direction, they will show that they do not really believe. But if they genuinely trust the man in the helicopter, they will set off in the direction that he advocates. They will follow his instructions (John 14:15). Their actions will demonstrate the genuineness of their faith. When notitia, assensus, and fiducia are present together, true faith exists. And when true faith exists, good works will necessarily follow. The good works are not part of faith; they flow from faith. It is faith alone that receives God’s gift of justification, but the faith that justifies will never be alone; it will always manifest itself in good works.
Types of Love
There are four types of love (in Greek words): agape, phileo, storge, and eros. Eros is for passionate love and it does not appear in the biblical text. Storge is the love and affection that naturally occurs between parents and children, can exist between siblings, and exists between husbands and wives in a good marriage. Romans 12:10 is a very important verse, directing us to be very loving and kind to each other.
Agape refers to the love of God, one of the kinds of love we are to have for people, is agape. Agape is the very nature of God, for God is love (1 John 4:7-12, 16b). People today are accustomed to thinking of love as a feeling, but that is not necessarily the case with agape love. Agape is love because of what it does, not because of how it feels.
God so “loved” (agape) that He gave His Son. It did not feel good to God to do that, but it was the loving thing to do. Christ so loved (agape) that he gave his life. He did not want to die, but he loved, so he did what God required. A mother who loves a sick baby will stay up all night long caring for it, which is not something she wants to do, but is a true act of agape love.
Agape love is an exercise of the will, a deliberate choice. This is why God can command us to love our enemies (Matt. 5:44; Exod. 23:1-5). It is not about to “have a good feeling” for our enemies, but to act in a loving way toward them. Agape love is related to obedience and commitment, and not necessarily feeling and emotion. The way to know that we love (agape) God is that we keep His commandments. Jesus said, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me…” (John 14:21a). There are Christians who say they love God, but their lifestyle is contrary to the will of God. These people mistake their feeling of affection for God for true agape love. Jesus made this clear: “He who does not love me will not obey my teaching…” (John 14:24a).
Love is the distinctive character of the Christian life in relation to other Christians and to all humanity. There is often a cost to genuine love. For instance, asking someone to leave your Christian fellowship because he persists in deliberate sin is loving, but never easy (1 Cor. 5:1-5). That is not to say the agape love cannot have feelings attached to it, and the ideal situation occurs when the loving thing to do also is what we want to do. Christians are to be known for their love.
Phileo means “to have a special interest in someone or something, frequently with focus on close association; have affection for, like, consider someone a friend.” Phileo refers to a strong liking or a strong friendship because in modern culture we say we “love” things that we strongly like: “I love ice cream,” “I love my car,” “I love the way your hair looks,” etc. Phileo implies a strong emotional connection, and thus is used of the “love,” or deep friendship, between friends. You can agape your enemies, but you cannot phileo them.
The difference between agape and phileo becomes very clear in John 21:15-17, after being raised from the dead, Jesus asked peter three times “Do you love me?” The reason why Jesus asked Peter the same question three times is that there was a difference in the usage of the word “love”. Jesus used agape and Peter used phileo. In other words, for Jesus the question was “are you willing to do things for my sake that you do not want to do?” i.e., Jesus was asking Peter if he loved him with the love of God, a love that may require sacrifice. After all, Jesus had just gone through unspeakable torture for Peter’s sake (and for our sake) because of his agape love. In contrast, Peter avoided possible torture by denying Jesus.
Genuine Christian life is characterized by obedient to the voice of God and rich fellowship with other Christians by exercising three of the four kinds of love: agape, phileo and storge. We need agape love because some of the things that God requires of us are not easy, but need to be done. We need to have phileo love because we need true friends to stand with us, people who are emotionally connected to us and with whom we can share our deepest thoughts and feelings. Lastly, we Christians need to have storge love between us, a deep family affection that comforts us and helps us feel connected to all our spiritual family.
God is love
Whoever knows love knows God because God is love. “Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love” 1 John 4:7-8. Love is the greatest of the three that remain (hope, faith and love) 1 Cor 13:13. Love is the greatest commandment. When a lawyer asked Jesus “which is the greatest commandment?” Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." Matt 22:37-40. Since Christianity is a relationship with God and neighbor, the common factor in both relationships is love. The means and mode of operations in both relationships is love.
Love is the foundation upon which all the gifts of God operate for God’s will and purposes. If I am a servant of God whom God blessed with anyone of His gifts like preaching the Word of God with a difference or mighty deliverance or miraculous healing or superbly interpreting the divine will and purpose but do not have God’s love in me while serving God with these gifts, I am a useless nobody. 1Cor 13:1-3 says “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of Prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” We were called to be free and we should not use our freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love (Galatians 5:13).
If God’s love is in me, I am expected to go as far as loving my enemies, doing good to those who hate me, blessing those who curse me and praying for those who mistreat me (luke 6:27-28). Luke 6:32-36 also reads as “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”
What is love? What characterizes it?
1 Cor 13:4-8 says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are Prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
How do we know that God lives in us & we also live in Him? If no one has ever seen God, then how do we love God? Who really loves God? Answers to these kinds of questions are found in 1John 4: 7-21 which is read as ... love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the Day of Judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And He has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Love is expressed in action and in truth and anyone who does not love remains in death.
1 John 3:13-24 reads as “Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love each other. Anyone who does not love remains in death. Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.
This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask; because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them.”
Now, “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge — that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:17-19).