Review: The Gospel
It’s been a while since we were able to study Paul’s letter to the Galatians together. So, let me remind you of what Paul has been doing in this letter.
He’s been defending the one true gospel message which he himself received directly from the Lord whenever he met the Risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. And the one true gospel message which he received from the Lord is that sinners are justified — that is, sinners are pardoned and accepted by God — by trusting in Christ, who gave himself for our sins in order to rescue us from this present evil age. And he did this according to the will of God the Father. So, it was the Father’s will that his one and only Son should lay down his life on the cross, so that whoever believes in him will not be condemned, but will receive the free gift of eternal life in the new heavens and earth.
And Paul had to defend the one true gospel message because there were false teachers in Galatia who were saying that faith in Christ is not enough. They were saying that faith in Christ will not save. They were saying that in order to receive eternal life, you need to do what the law requires. You need to keep the law. In particular, you need to be circumcised, because that’s what the law requires.
So, the false teachers were saying that faith in Christ is not enough. Instead you have to do what the law says in order to receive eternal life. And so, in his letter, Paul makes clear that what the false teachers were saying was wrong, because no one will be justified by keeping the law, because the law cannot save. Instead the law is like a prison, because it imprisons us as sinners who deserve to be condemned. And the law is like a supervisor, with the authority to rebuke us for our shortcomings and failures. The law is like a legal guardian who treats us as slaves and who orders us about, but who will not lift a finger to help us to do what the law requires. No one will be justified — pardoned and accepted by God — by keeping the law, because the law cannot save, it only condemns. In fact, one of the reasons God gave us the law was to show us that we’re sinners who need a Saviour. The law says to us: ‘Do this.’ But since we haven’t done what the law requires, it only condemns us as law-breakers. And so, it drives us to Christ the Saviour, who laid down his life as the ransom to free us from condemnation; and who shed his blood to wash and cleanse us of our guilt. And whoever believes in him, whoever trusts in him, is pardoned and accepted by God.
Review: The Holy Spirit
And whoever believes in the Lord Jesus receives the Holy Spirit. And the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer has been another feature of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Back in chapter 3 he asked his readers: ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard?’ And, of course, the answer is that they received the Holy Spirit by believing what they heard about Jesus Christ.
And then, later in chapter 3, Paul explained that Christ redeemed us — or he freed us from our sin and misery — in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus. And Paul makes clear that when God promised to bless Abraham and all who share his faith, he was referring to the way God blesses us by giving the Holy Spirit to all who believe.
And then, in chapter 4, Paul explains that God sent his Son to redeem us — or to free us from our sin and misery — so that we might be adopted into God’s family. And God sent his Spirit into our hearts so that we might know God as our Heavenly Father.
And then, of course, in Galatians 5, Paul writes about the fruit of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works in believers to renew us in God’s image and to enable us to live the life of heaven now. Instead of living in conformity to the present evil age which is destined to perish, the Holy Spirit renews us inwardly and produces his fruit in our lives, so that while we go on living in this present evil age, we’ll live as those who belong in the heavenly age to come. God gives us his Spirit to enable believers to do what the law requires, which is to love one another, for this is God’s will for us.
And so, instead of relying on yourself and the good things you do in order to receive eternal life, you’re to rely on Christ the Saviour who laid down his life to free you from condemnation and to give you eternal life in the new heavens and earth. You’re to rely on Christ alone, trusting in him as the only Saviour. And whoever trusts in Christ, receives the Holy Spirit to help you to walk in the ways of the Lord and to do his will here on earth as it’s done in heaven above.
Living a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now means we’ll love one another. Some Christians think that being filled with the Spirit means we’ll be able to do extra-ordinary things, remarkable things. They say we’ll speak in tongues and prophesy and perform all kinds of miracles. They say that this is what people did in New Testament times and it’s what we’ll do today too if we’re filled with the Spirit.
On the other hand, some Christians think that being filled with the Spirit means we’ll leave home and cross the world to serve the Lord overseas. That’s what Paul and the other apostles did and it’s what we’ll do today too if we’re filled with the Spirit. And who knows? Perhaps the Lord will call someone to do precisely that.
But for most of us, living a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now is very down-to-earth and ordinary. It’s about loving one another in our daily lives. It’s about displaying the fruit of the Spirit and being full of love and patience and kindness and goodness towards one another. And in today’s verses, Paul continues to show that living a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now is about how we treat one another. And really, he gives us four instructions here.
And the first of the four instructions is in verse 1 where he addresses his readers in this way:
Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.
When we hear the word ‘caught’, it’s hard not to have an image in our mind of someone being found out. You know, someone is caught red-handed. doing something he should not be doing. In the gospels, there’s the story of the woman who was caught in adultery. However, the Greek word Paul uses in this verse means ‘surprised’. And Paul probably means that the person who has sinned has been surprised by his sin. You know, he’s ended up doing something he did not ever imagine doing. So, this is not something the believer deliberately set out to do, but he was overtaken by temptation; and perhaps on a different day he would have acted differently, but on this particular occasion, he gave in it and stumbled into sin. Although by faith we belong to the age to come, we still live in the present evil age, and we’re still sinners, and we still fall short of doing the Lord’s will. So, we’re to imagine someone who has been taken by surprise and has found himself sinning against the Lord.
What should we do when this happens? How should we treat our brother or sister in the Lord who has been overwhelmed by sin? Well, Paul says ‘you who are spiritual should restore him gently’. The word for ‘restore’ is used in other contexts for repairing a wall or for mending nets. So, just as we might mend a broken net, instead of destroying it, so we’re to do what we can to mend or help the one who has fallen into sin. Or, as I was saying to the children, we’re to reach down and help him up.
So, help him to put right what has gone wrong, so that he acknowledges his guilt and seeks the Lord’s forgiveness and turns from his sin in repentance. And Paul says we’re to do it gently. Think of the lamb-like gentleness of the Lord Jesus, who was very gentle and kind to the people he encountered. Unlike the Pharisees, who were quick to condemn people, the Lord Jesus was very patient and was willing to help everyone who came to him, confessing their need. Think of how kind he was with the woman at the well who had made a mess of her life, because he offered her eternal life. And when the people scolded the woman who anointed him with oil, the Lord told them to leave her alone. And when the Pharisees were rough and unkind to the man born blind, hurling their insults at him, saying he was steeped in sin at birth, the Lord went and found the man and spoke to him about faith. Or think of the lamb-like gentleness of the Lord Jesus towards you: how he has been patient with you and has been prepared to pardon you though you have sinned against him every day of your life. Think of the lamb-like gentleness of the Lord Jesus. That’s how you’re to be with your fellow believers, and especially when a fellow believer is overtaken by sin and stumbles into it. Instead of despising your fellow believer, instead of condemning him, you’re to help him gently.
And who is to restore the fallen believer? Paul refers to ‘you who are spiritual’. And by that expression, he’s referring to every believer, because everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus has received the Holy Spirit. So, he’s not referring to a special group of super-saints, but he’s referring to ordinary believers. He’s referring to you, if you’re a believer. You have received the Spirit, who enables you to live a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now. And living a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now means being gentle with one another and restoring gently a fellow believer who has stumbled into sin.
And watch yourself, says Paul at the end of verse 1. Why do you need to watch yourself? Well, if your fellow believer was surprised by sin, it can happen to you too. When we hear of the sins of others, we like to think — don’t we? — that we would never do what that person did. We would never make the mistake they made. We would not fall as they fell. But we’re all sinners; and sin can surprise us all. So, we mustn’t think we’ve above it or beyond it. Instead we must be on guard against it. And we must be ready to restore gently our fellow believer who is overcome by it.
So, living a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now means gently restoring a fellow believer who is surprised by sin. The second of Paul’s four instructions is that living a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now means carrying one another’s burdens. Do you see that in verse 2?
I remember hearing a preacher make the point that if someone came into church with a broken leg, we’d all go out of our way to be patient and kind to that person. We’d want to ensure she’s comfortable. We’d open the door for her and make space for her. We’d offer to carry her bag and get her anything she needed. When someone has a broken leg like that, we go out of our way to be helpful and kind. And what we need to keep in mind is that everyone is broken. We’re broken inside, because we’re all part of this fallen, broken world.
Or, to use the image Paul uses, we’re all carrying a load. You can’t see it, but everyone has a load, a burden, to carry. When Paul refers to our burdens, he’s referring to our weaknesses: our trials and troubles, our pains and sorrows, all the things that make life hard and difficult for us. We all have burdens to carry, something that makes life hard and something that gets us down. You’re maybe even thinking of your own burden right now.
Living the Spirit-filled life means helping one another with our weaknesses and with the burdens we carry. And so, instead of being unkind to each other, we’re to be sympathetic towards one another and we’re to help each other. And by helping one another in this way, we’ll fulfil the law of Christ. That’s what Paul says at the end of verse 2; and by the law of Christ, Paul is probably referring to that new command which the Lord Jesus gave to his disciples when he told them to love one another just as he loved them. Because of the greatness of his love for us, the Lord Jesus bore the burden of our sin and guilt on the cross. He took away our guilt and he suffered in our place. And we’re to love one another like that in our daily lives, helping each one to bear our burdens and to endure the sorrows of this troubled life.
Of course, what we often do — because we’re sinners who fall short of loving one another as we should — is we add to one another’s burdens. We cause our fellow believer more sorrow and more trouble and more worry because of the things we do and say to one another. Instead of displaying the fruit of the Spirit and being patient and kind and good and faithful and gentle with one another, we display the works of the flesh are are full of hatred and discord and jealousy and fits of rage and self ambition and dissensions and so on. And so, we need to confess our guilt and pray for the help of the Holy Spirit to live the Spirit-filled and heavenly life now, so that we’ll carry each other’s burdens and help one another with the troubles and trials of this life.
The third of Paul’s four instructions is in verse 3 where he warns us about deceiving ourselves. We deceive ourselves whenever we think we’re something, when in fact we’re nothing. We might think we’re special, but really we’re not. We might think we’re important, but we’re not.
Now, the NIV leaves out the word ‘for’ at the beginning of verse 3. So, Paul really says that we’re to carry one another’s burdens, for if anyone thinks he’s something, when he’s nothing, he deceives himself. The implication is that those who think they’re something — those who are proud and who are full of their own importance — are unwilling to help others. Because they’re proud, they believe that helping others is beneath them. They’re unwilling to help others, because they believe that would be demeaning. But there’s no reason for us to be proud, because we’re only sinners who have rebelled against the God who made us. There’s no reason for us to be proud, because we’re only sinners who are saved because of God’s kindness and not because of any good in us. There’s no reason for us to be proud, because whatever good things we have done, we’ve done because the Lord has helped us. There’s no reason for any of us to be proud and to be filled with our own importance.
And the person who is living the Spirit-filled and heavenly life now is not proud, but is full of love and kindness and goodness. And so, those who are filled with the Spirit will be humble and helpful. In fact, those who are filled with the Spirit will become like Christ, because he humbled himself and came to earth as one of us, even though he was the Eternal Son of God, who ruled and reigned in heaven above. And he humbled himself and came to earth because he loved us and wanted to help us by delivering us from our sin and misery and giving us eternal life. And he gives his Spirit to all who believe in him so that we will be humble like him and willing to help each other.
Verses 4 and 5
Living a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now will mean we’ll gently restore our fellow believers who have fallen into sin; and we’ll carry one another’s burdens; and we’ll be humble and helpful like Christ our Saviour. And the fourth of Paul’s four instructions is that instead of judging our fellow believers, we’ll test our own actions.
The word for ‘test’ is used in other contexts for testing the quality of gold. So, just as someone might examine a piece of gold to determine its quality, so you’re to examine your own actions to determine whether what you’re doing is good and right and praiseworthy.
Of course, what we tend to do because we’re sinners is that we keep our eye on other people and on what they’re doing. We test what they’re doing and we pass judgment on this person and on that person and on the things they have done. When friends get together, they talk about what this other person did. Can you believe what he did? Let me tell you what she said? We talk about the faults of others and we say there’s no excuse for what this person did. However, we excuse our own mistakes, don’t we? When we do something wrong, there’s a reason for it. Or we did it inadvertently and by mistake. We excuse ourselves; but we condemn others. That’s what we tend to do, isn’t it?
But that’s not the way it should be, because those who live the Spirit-filled and heavenly life now will test their own actions. So, they’ll examine their own deeds to determine whether they’re good and right and praiseworthy. And instead of comparing ourselves to the sins of others, we’ll concentrate on our own sins and the things that need to change in our own life.
And right at the end of the passage, Paul says that we must carry our own load. Now, he’s not contradicting what he said earlier about carrying each other’s burdens. We’re to help one another. That was the point of verse 2. However, when Paul says in verse 5 that we must carry our own load, he means each person is responsible before God for what they have done with their life and how they have served the Lord. You have your duty before God, which he has called to you fulfil. And I have my duty before God, which he has called me to fulfil. And just it’s not my responsibility to examine you to see how well you’re doing, it’s not your responsibility to examine me to see how well I’m doing. No, you’re responsible to the Lord for yourself and I’m responsible to the Lord for myself; and you and I will both answer to him.
And since that’s the case, each one of us must confess our sins before the Lord and ask for his forgiveness for the ways we have fallen short. And the good news of the gospel is that God will pardon everyone who trusts in his Son, because the Lord Jesus gave up his life to free us from condemnation and by his blood, all who believe are washed and cleansed and forgiven.
And each one of us must ask the Lord to renew us more and more by his Spirit, so that we’re able more and more to live a Spirit-filled and heavenly life now. And as he renews us by his Spirit, we’ll learn to restore one another gently; and we’ll help one another with our weaknesses; and we’ll be humble and helpful; and we’ll test our own actions, without condemning one another.