The Book of Galatians finds the Apostle Paul boldly calling out the evils of legalism. Those who would promote such poison are “stupid” (see Galatians 3:1), and will “bear the penalty” (Gal. 5:10) for their perversion of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Paul also makes it plain that avoiding legalism does not give us a license to sin. “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13). Legalism and licence are two extremes to be avoided, and Paul is clear that the way to avoid these is to pursue the polestar of love by means of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. “But I say,” writes Paul, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16). To help us understand what it might practically look like to walk in the Spirit, Paul offers four common and necessary antecdotes.
Healing. Galatians 6:1 invites the follower of Christ to a unique and powerful responsibility. “If anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” At least two observations should be made about this invitation. First, restoring the sinner flies right in the face of brazen legalism. Legalism is when we measure someones’s spiritual well-being not against the work of Christ but against our own self-effort and self-expectation. Sinful moments or patterns bring perverse delight to the legalistic person because then he or she has something tangible against which to compare his or her own life. It is exceedingly insightful of Paul to begin with this detail as he lays out antecdotes for walking in the Spirit. Seeking to bring healing into the life of the erring brother or sister, as opposed to writing them off or kicking them to the curb, must no doubt be the opposite of what the Judaizers were recommending to the Galatian Christians. The other observation is simply this: Paul integrates the fruit of the Spirit into his admonition. Have a “spirit of gentleness” when dealing with the erring man or woman (see Gal. 5:23) whose sin comes because of either legalism or license. I love the practicality! [Consider these select thoughts on judgment and hypocrisy]
Humility. It is clear, according to the Apostle Paul, that great humility must be found within one’s own being. This humility, of course, would be the antithesis of the legalistic or licentious spirit. Note Paul’s words: “Keep watch on yourslef, lest you too be tempted. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor” (Gal. 6:1, 3-4). Sensitive obedience to God’s Spirit, thoroughly washing one’s own soul with the water of the Word of God, genuine repentance of sin and praise for God’s redeeming work, and a devotion to other-centeredness, all contribute toward a life of humility that seeks to lift others up. Too many believers today are very quick to look at the speck in another’s eye without first considering the cracked log in their own (see Matthew 7:3).
Honor. Respect for spiritual authority is not only appropriate but required; particularly for those responsible for the teaching of the Word. Paul pens, “One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches” (Gal. 6:6). Evidently the Judaizer’s influence among the Galatians had created a real crisis of leadership within the Christian community, causing the believers to question and/or overtly disrespect those leaders who did stand soundly on Truth. Perhaps even Paul’s reputation had taken a beating, and this had created an atmosphere of contempt or cynicism that was detrimental to the cause of Christ. Paul wants the reader to understand that God does not not like it when people dishonor spiritual leaders. “Do not be deceived,” he writes, “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Not only will the mature believer have a gracious spirit toward the erring brother or sister, and a humble view of himself, but he or she will seek to honor and respect spiritual authority and particularly those authorities that have the burden of teaching the Scriptures. While this does say a lot about the role of the teacher, it really is a bigger statement about the power of the Word of God and what it represents in our lives.
Help. People who walk in the Spirit will want to see sinning friends find freedom and hope. They will take good care of their spiritual welfare. They will respect and honor the Word and those who proclaim it. And, lastly, they will have an attitude seeking to bring about the best for others, particularly for fellow believers. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and espcially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Caring for the needs of those around us, seeking what builds them up, desiring God’s best for their lives, even if they are messy and broken and different, speaks volumes about the manner in which grace has transformed our own lives. To echo what Paul stated in Galatians 5:14, “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'”
These four things give a snapshot of what it looks like to walk in the Spirit. To bear one another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2) is proof positive that God’s Spirit is at work within us and that we are yielding to that work. It also is a radical departure from the self-absorbed life of legalism or license.
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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding summary is from the message “You Who Are Spiritual,” part of the sermon series “Galatians: No Other Gospel,” presented on the weekend of July 1, 2012, at Bethel Church.