Saint Paul’s letter to the Romans is supposed to have established the contrast between justification (and therefore, salvation) by faith and justification through works of the law. We know Paul rejects the idea of justification through obedience to the law, which for Paul was obedience to Jewish tradition. These traditions included the mandatory circumcision of males in the community, which becomes, in Paul’s epistles, an endless topic of discussion. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he rejects the idea that gentiles should be circumcised. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Galatians 6:16
Paul is generally regarded as the author of Galatians. The letter is short, personal and seemingly consistent with Paul’s theology in other letters. However, Galatians continues a brief departure from Paul’s typical theology of justification through faith. In the letter to the Galatians, Paul indirectly links salvation with good works.
In Galatians 6, Paul speaks not of the difference between faith and works but of the difference between works of the flesh and works of the spirit. Works of the flesh lead to “corruption.” Works of the spirit lead to “eternal life.” As if to drive home the point, Paul speaks of human conduct as directly influencing salvation: Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. Gal 6:7
As Luther and Calvin pointed out, we cannot “purchase” salvation through works. All good works are accomplished through Christ anyway, so they cannot be said to be merited to begin with. But Paul’s comments that distinguish between “works of the flesh” and “works of the spirit” is a stark reminder that the Apostle of Christ himself does not argue in favor of justification through faith alone. Even if justification is forensic, faith must make itself known through actions of charity and expressions of hope.
Here is the entire passage of Galatians 6: 1-10, for the interested:
Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. 3 For if any one thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. 5 For each man will have to bear his own load. 6 Let him who is taught the word share all good things with him who teaches. 7 Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.