Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks they are something when they are not, they deceive themselves. Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves alone, without comparing themselves to someone else, for each one should carry their own load. Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with their instructor.
Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God. (New International Version)
It’s all about grace. God’s grace. Not rules. Not a list of principles to live by. Not judgment. Not punishment or penance. Grace – amazing, wonderful, scandalous grace.
The Law of Christ is to help each other in our troubles, no matter what.
Overwhelming physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual burdens can become even more heavy through failing to live up to someone’s or some group’s unwritten list of rules. “Keep a stiff upper lip.” “Everything is possible for those who love God.” “Stay positive.” “Just have faith and trust God.” Or someone’s silence…. These and hundred other phrases communicate to people with crushing spiritual and emotional loads that they will have to carry them alone.
The letter to the Galatian believers spells out what is to truly characterize Christian interactions, and what it means to walk in the Spirit. Believers in Jesus are to emulate the behavior of Christ, the ultimate burden-bearer, who came to restore sinners, not condemn them. We have a responsibility to rescue, renew, and revitalize persons who have lost their way. We are our brother’s and our sister’s keeper.
Someone caught in the crosshairs of a bad decision, or ensnared by making a wrong step, who is now in over their heads, needs help. In such a case, we are to restore, not punish. The person’s wound needs spiritual cauterizing. The broken spirit needs to be set back into place to heal properly.
The tone and the attitude which we do this important work of restoring people is through gentleness (meekness). We are to have a mindset and a heart stance which understands there is no moral superiority with me. I could easily be that person in need of restoration.
With a gentle spirit, we discern no one is above falling into the same trouble. We, too, are ethically and morally vulnerable. So, the church has a corporate responsibility to bear one another’s burdens.
There are other people who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in over their heads, too. Their physical struggles, mental health challenges, the emotional weight of hard circumstances, and their broken spirits require others to help shoulder the load so that the weighted-down person is not crushed.
Burden-bearing is the work of everyone and not a select few. You and I are to take responsibility for our own backpack of stuff – our own actions and attitudes. A mature spiritual community of people are able to distinguish those loads which individuals must bear for themselves, and those burdens where help is sorely needed. We are accountable to carry our own backpack. And we are also accountable before Christ to share our load with others when it becomes too heavy to carry.
If we choose not to allow others to assist us when we need it, then we will reap what we sow – we’ll feel the full weight and consequences of our silence. The planting and harvesting metaphor isn’t just for those who have engaged in wrongdoing. It is also for those who don’t put any seeds in the ground to begin with. They shouldn’t expect a harvest, at all.
Grace lived out in real experiences knows when to get under a load and help carry it. And grace also knows when to be kind to self and share the heavy burden with others who can help shoulder it for a bit. This is a Christianity which relies on the enablement of the Spirit, made possible by Christ, who carried our crushing weight of guilt and shame for us.
Motives matter. The interior life of a person is important. Life is neither a mere getting things done nor doing what is needed on the exterior. A house may be beautiful and orderly on the outside, with careful landscaping, a manicured lawn, and attractive appearance – yet on the inside it might be disorderly, full of relational discord, and completely discombobulated.
The exterior life of a person is also important. But it’s only half the person. And, unlike God who sees the heart, we aren’t always privy to what’s going on inside someone. Folks who are enamored with outward displays of spirituality and righteousness tend to be compulsive about maintaining appearances – for both themselves, and everyone else.
Policing outward forms of righteousness through clear identifiable means is really nothing more than old fashioned judging of one another. It’s antithetical to grace. And it smacks of the snooty superiority of Star-Bellied Sneetches.
Rather than a star on the belly, in the Apostle Paul’s day it was circumcision. Those who had it were “in” and those without it were “out.” Never mind the interior life. A hard outward boundary of righteousness was established by false teachers who made the Christian life easy by simply holding to readily observable forms, like circumcision.
It wasn’t that circumcision was a bad thing. The issue was making it a necessary part of the Christian life. Not circumcised? Not a Christian, insisted the false teachers. In other words, one had to become Jewish before becoming a Christian. I can picture the Apostle Paul doing a face palm, saying, “Oy vey.”
For the Christian, one must be vigilant not to exaggerate baptism. On the one hand, I would argue far too many believers underestimate the significance and importance of baptism. Flippantly making it a personal choice, as if the individual is in complete control of one’s own salvation, is not only wrongheaded – it’s downright blasphemous.
Yet, on the other hand, a preoccupation with getting a person, especially a child, baptized, as if the world might end if it doesn’t happen, betrays the same problem as Paul faced with circumcision in the first century.
The proper approach, it seems to me, is to embrace the full spectrum of Christianity – both outward and inward – the whole person. And Paul addresses this by anticipating a question of the Galatian congregation: What, then, is of central importance?
The answer is: a new creation. To be transformed by the power of the Spirit is what really counts. The grace of God in Christ, applied to a person, brings a change to inner motives and attitudes, as well as outer behavior through loving actions.
We must always keep in mind that the sign points to the substance. It would be weird if I were traveling to Milwaukee on I-94 and pulled over on the interstate next to the sign marking the city is ahead, crawl all over it, and say, “I’m here!”
The overall thrust of Paul’s letter to the Galatians is that they were debasing the true worship of God into an outward show, honoring Christ with their lips but not holding him in their hearts through carrying one another’s burdens.
Christianity is fundamentally not about what we do for God but what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. It is divine grace which saves people. We belong to God. Just as we neither chose our own parents nor the time when we were born, so also, before we chose God, God chose us. We don’t “born again” ourselves; God does the rebirthing.
Since salvation is solely the work of God in us, there is zero reason to boast about the circumstances of our new birth and becoming a new creation in Christ. We didn’t save ourselves. It would be like getting a COVID-19 vaccine and then bragging about how we personally stopped the pandemic.
Instead, we are to bear the spiritual marks of Christ’s crucifixion on our inner selves. No one is saved because they deserve it but simply because they need saving. That’s what grace truly is – and that’s how we are to live toward one another.
Merciful God, you are our Burden-Bearer. Awaken our hearts to remember your love. Open our eyes to see your grace. Stir up hope in those who are overwhelmed with sorrow and fear. Teach them to place their burdens at your feet as an offering — a sacrifice well-pleasing to you. Teach us all to allow others to help us in our time of need, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit are one God, now and forever. Amen.