Be On Guard!-For Others and Yourself

Further Thoughts on Galatians 6:1

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” (Galatians 6:1, ESV)

(Galatians 6:1, ESV)

Having explained what the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit look like in Galatians 5, the Apostle Paul continued his letter in the direction of the practical outworking of Christians who are overtaken by the works of the flesh and those spiritually mature Christians who should help carry their burdens and restore them in love.

This idea of a Christian being “caught in any transgression” speaks of the danger of “falling into sin.” In other words, it is not a premeditated act of open rebellion against the Lord, but may have come about by a carelessness and lack of watching ones own life carefully. This word “caught” is used of a Roman military legion being overrun by a Jewish military force.

There are times when we know we are walking into trouble, and then there are those times when we get swept up into it, never intending to do so. The Bible describes the open and brash sinner as a scoffer and a mocker, while the person caught up in sin as foolish and sometimes naive. While there is danger in both, the Christian who find himself or herself in sin would hopefully be the one who slowly wandered into it because they were careless.

So, what is the responsibility of those who are walking in the Spirit? The “spiritual” person in Galatians 6:1 is not a reference to “the mature in Christ” only. Going back to the previous chapter, a spiritual Christian is one who is walking in step with the Holy Spirit (5:25), made manifest in the fruit of the Spirit (5:22-23). Since every Christian has the Holy Spirit living in him or her (Rom 8:9; 2Tim 1:14), we are all “spiritual” and are not to submit to the fleshly desires that can still present a problem to the Christian. But the reality is that we may all act in a fleshly way at times.

The goal of all of this care is for restoring our brother or sister to a right relationship with Christ. Yesterday’s post addressed the truth that for far too many Christians, the attitude is one of self-preservation and personal faith that has no room for confrontation or personal accountability. Bearing one another’s burdens is itself a burden. So many avoid it.

In comments regarding the parable of the Lost Sheep (Matt. 18:12-14), James Montgomery Boice shows how to seek after the lost, wandering sheep is to be like Christ:

“What were the disciples thinking about when Jesus told them about the lost sheep? They had been arguing about which of them should be greatest in the kingdom of heaven. With that in the immediate background, presumably they were thinking of themselves as among the ninety-nine who were still on the hillside and were wondering which of the ninety-nine would be the “top sheep.” As long as they were thinking of such things, they would never be concerned for the one who was lost, and they would never do anything to help find him or her. Who will be greatest? We should be beginning to understand the answer to that question by now. The greatest believer is the one who is most like the Shepherd, who gave himself for us. Like little children? Yes. But like the Shepherd too. We are never more like God than when we exert ourselves to help others, and if God rejoices over the one we help to bring home, he is probably rejoicing over what we are doing too.”[1]

James Montgomery Boice

But, unlike Jesus, there are dangers for us. We are still sheep. We all struggle with temptation and a desire to wander ourselves. And so, Paul added the warning to “keep watch for yourself, lest you too be tempted.” The temptation might be the same sin that caused the other brother or sister to fall, but that is not necessary. It might be another sin altogether. And even more possible, is the temptation to think of yourself as being more godly than the one who was taken by sin. We must remember our Lord’s words in Matt 7:1-5.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”  

(Matthew 7:1–5, ESV)

So how can we put all of this together? Bear one another’s burdens, seek after those who have gone astray, don’t be too proud and watch out for yourself so that you don’t get taken down by sin yourself? It all seems so complicated! Perhaps a simple scenario will help illustrate the idea.

Imagine the Christian life like a tribal people who need to use the river for bathing. Lining the banks of the river are man-eating crocodiles. Each person takes his turn watching out for the others, and sounds a warning when the crocodiles come close. When they attack, everyone is called to pull the victim away from the killer reptile. But we need to watch out! It will soon enough be our turn to bathe in the waters and the gator may get us just as easily. Would you want the others to watch out, or would you be foolish enough to think that you are smart enough and fast enough and alert enough to avoid the danger without any other to help you?

We need each other. That is why we were given the Church. Tomorrow is the Lord’s Day. May we have this mindset as we enter into the House of Prayer and worship our great God.

[1] James Montgomery Boice, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2001), 389.

The Sin of Standing Back and Watching When Help Is Needed

Retired NYPD detective beaten unconscious by Manhattan homeless man

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

(Galatians 6:1-2, 7–10, ESV)

Yesterday I watched a news story of a retired NYPD cop who was beaten by a homeless man. You can see the security video clip here. The violence on our streets on a daily basis has a way of numbing us to these things because similar things happen so often now. But what caught my attention in this story is also something that frequently occurs in almost every altercation today–the bystanders who do nothing to step in to help, but stay at a safe distance to protect themselves.

My intention isn’t to debate the dangers of acting in such situations. I know that we need to take into consideration all sorts of additional issues, such as legal threats, murderous hatered, the possibility of a weapon, our own strength and ability, the mental state of the aggressor, etc.

But this attitude of self-perseveration serves as an excellent illustration–a mirror. I want us as Christians to think about how we behave in regard to stepping in and offering help to those who are our brothers and sisters in Christ when there is a chance that we might get berated, burned, verbally beaten, or worse. In Galatians 6:1-2 the Word of God calls us to bear one another’s burdens, and particularly this requires us to deal with those who are caught in any transgression. But who likes confrontation? As a matter of fact, so many Christians have a distaste for it, that biblical church discipline is a rare thing to find practiced in most evangelical churches today.

But as Paul later wrote in verse 7, God is not mocked, and when we fail to sow seeds of righteousness and lovingly deal with one another’s sins and burdens, we will find that our churches will reaping a harvest of destruction, abuse, open sin, rebellion, back-biting, gossip, and more. In other words, it will lack genuine, Christlike love.

In fact, we aren’t very different from the bystanders who watch as someone is attacked on the streets and we are reluctant to step in. We might call 911 (which in the church would be a call to the pastor), but then we want to slink away and go on about our business. After all, we reason, it’s not our problem. We have enough to handle. Isn’t that why we pay the pastor?

My brothers and sisters, please do not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. This is a Christian responsibility, not simply a pastoral duty. And many deep-seated habitual sins are not simply dealt with by a quick prayer and a Bible verse. They take time, patience, love, and continued attention.

A church full of loving disciples who are looking out for one another, caring for one another, sharpening each other, and walking through temptation and sinful heart issues with each other will not only find that this lifestyle is hard work, but they will also find that if they don’t give up too quickly, that their church will soon begin to thrive as they reap a harvest of souls that are being conformed to the image of their Savior.

Enslaved to the Law

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

(Galatians 5:1, ESV)

There are some forms of salvation that say that God will only accept you if you perform some rite or ritual. Others make claims for the need to seek the favor of God through first becoming a “good person” and “cleaning up your act.” And then there are some misguided Christians who equate morality with Christianity, and preach a message of self-improvement and works righteousness in order to stay right with God–not in relationship with him, but in regards to your salvation’s security.

But the Bible warns against the dangers of this teaching because it is not the true gospel. There is nothing that man can do to prepare his heart for acceptance by God, and there is nothing that he can do after his salvation to keep him in the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39). Salvation is received and it is maintained as an unmerited gift of the grace of God. Full stop.

Anyone who is ever saved from the judgment of God is saved by the blood of Christ, whose death was on their behalf. The unregenerate sinner who simply places their faith alone in Christ’s death on their behalf will be saved. The only thing the sinner brings to the equation is their sin. Everything else they have ever done is stained by their unrighteousness and the effect of sin. Paul says this plainly in Galatians 2:16: “yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16, ESV)

The pernicious lie that often wants to creep into the mind and heart of the Christian is that although we might have been saved by faith alone, we must somehow continue in righteous deeds in order to “keep” our salvation. In other words, saved by faith, but kept by good deeds. Again, Paul sheds light on the truth and thus unshackles us from this lie. He even pokes fun at the Galatians for this illogical idea when he wrote in Galatians 3: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2–3, ESV)

The danger is that we would somehow think that the Law is a means to gain favor with God, thereby securing our salvation. Think about that statement: securing your salvation. Didn’t Jesus already do that? How much Bible reading, evangelism, church attendance, praying, giving, or righteous living do you think you need to do in order to secure your own salvation? The idea is madness! Jesus saved us. Not Jesus began to save us, but we need to finish the job. Jesus saved you, Christian. And he has secured your salvation by his righteousness…for eternity.

Don’t put back on the shackles of legalism and the demands of the law. You couldn’t be good enough before you met Christ, and you still can’t be good enough. Jesus is a sufficient Savior and the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. You can take that truth all the way to heaven.