As God’s forgiven people, how now shall we live? Less than five minutes ago, I spoke those words. We had just heard God’s word call us to confess our sins. We had confessed together to the Lord and then I spoke on behalf of God, rooted in God’s Word, that if you trust in Christ your sins are forgiven. Forgiveness is the core of the Christian faith and something we need every day and something we pray for together every Sunday we gather. It is this free forgiveness given by the grace of God through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross that has been the central theme of the book of Galatians as well. We never get past forgiveness or leave it behind. We are always coming back to it, always being called to trust more and more in the God’s grace and mercy.
But as God’s forgiven people, how now shall we live? Having received forgiveness, what should our lives look like? What kind of relationship with God should we have? What defines our character? How do we treat those around us? How do we live in response to this new freedom we have been given in the gospel?
It this question – how now shall we live? – that animates the second half of the book of Galatians. Pastor Olga started us off by opening up Galatians 5. This new life in Christ is a life of freedom. Freedom not to selfishly fulfill our own desires, but freedom for righteousness, freedom for holiness, freedom to serve others, to love our neighbor, and to honor God. This new life in Christ is a life of freedom in the Spirit, bearing the fruit of the Spirit in our everyday lives – patience, gentleness, kindness, self-control, and others.
But this morning, as we turn to Galatians chapter 6, we have a slightly different question. It is not the question of how to live with this new freedom or even what that freedom looks like – we saw that in chapter 5. The question is ‘how do we live together as people who know the freedom found in Christ, but struggle to live it out?’
How do we live as the body of Christ when each of us struggles in our walk with God? How do we live as the body of Christ when we stumble and stagger along this path of faith?
With this question in our hearts, let us listen to God’s word from Galatians chapter 6. But before we do, please take a moment to pray with me.
Father, may your Word be our rule, Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.
These are the very words of God from the book that we love:
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 the 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.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
How do we live as God’s people when each of us stumbles, struggles, and doubts in different ways?
As we wrestle with this question, I would like you to join me in looking at four verbs – four action words – that the Spirit gives us in Galatians 6 that might help us answer this question. Four verbs: Restore, Watch, Carry, Test.
Restore, Watch, Carry, Test.
Restore. We find this verb in verse 1: Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.
If someone is sinning – has strayed from the path – it is the call of mature Christians to help restore that person to the way of Christ. We are to seek to restore that person gently. The word ‘restore’ here is the word for what a doctor does in setting a broken bone. Something is broken and bent, painful and could have significant long-term consequences, so the doctor sets the bone. And he or she sets it so that the healing can begin. Restore. Other words for this type of work are accountability and discipline. The goal is healing, wholeness, and restoration. Correcting sinful behavior is something individual Christians can do for one another, but in our church the elders are specifically charged with the task of restoration.
But notice something with me: it says, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. The assumption is that this will happen, we will stumble into sin, and perhaps regularly. Even when we know the freedom found in Christ, our journey of faith is messy. It is filled with beautiful moments of obedience, love, and service, and ugly moments of selfishness, pride, and disobedience. The journey is often three steps forward and two steps back. It is, for many if not all of us, a winding road instead of a straight shot.
Part of the work of the Christian community is to encourage and correct one another in our walk with Christ. When I start to veer off to the right, I have brothers and sisters who say, “Don’t go down that road, you won’t like where it leads, turn back to Christ.”
When we see a brother or sister living in sin, walking down a path other than what Christ commands, it is an act of love to try and gently bring that person back onto the right path. Notice what it doesn’t say, though. Paul does not instruct us that if we see someone doing something wrong, we should stand by and do nothing because it is none of our business, we don’t want to be involved, and, after all, Jesus said, “Do not judge.” He also doesn’t instruct us to judge these people silently in our hearts and when they begin to see consequences for their actions, think, ‘serves them right.’ Nor are we to gossip about it over breakfast or coffee with our friends.
Instead, Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. In love, with gentleness, we are called to help one another walk in obedience to Christ. Luther applies this verse by saying, “run unto him, and reaching out your hand, raise him up again, comfort him with sweet words, and embrace him with motherly arms.”
That is restoration. It is the love of the father of the prodigal son who runs out to meet his child and embraces him. How do we live together when each of us struggles to walk in our faith? When one of us stumbles, we reach out a hand, raise her up, comfort her, and embrace her. Restore.
That is the first word we are given this morning: Restore.
The second is watch. It is also found in verse 1: 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.
Watch yourselves. The work of lovingly restoring each other to way of Christ is important work, but if we are not careful, we can fall into sin even as we try to help out our brother or sister.
Have any of you ever trying walking on ice? You sort of have to do an awkward shuffle. Have any of you ever fallen down walking on ice? Hurts, doesn’t it? One more question: Have any of you ever been with a friend when on of you fell and the other tried to help them and then ended up falling down themselves? Then you are both down on the ice, sore, cold, and hopefully laughing, but likely groaning.
The theologian Ralph Cudworth says that the Christian life is a bit like walking on ice. Those small slips and stumbles are the little sins and the great falls are great sins. We try to avoid even the smallest sins because those little slips can throw off our balance and lead us to tumble down with a lot more pain and consequences. But it is also like walking on ice, because when someone falls down, you don’t want to just leave them there, but it can be treacherous to try and help them up. If we don’t pay attention there could easily be two people down on the ice.
When out of love – not competition or spite – we are noticing the lives of our brother and sisters, we need to have a keen awareness of where our own feet are going. It can be easy for us – with good motives or bad – to be so focused on eveybody else that we don’t pay attention to ourselves, to our own walk with God and the places we are prone to stumble. But watch yourselves or you also may be tempted.
If like me, you have found these first two words challenging, then things are only going to get worse. Carry. Verse 2: Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
Carry each other’s burdens. Notice it doesn’t say that the strong should carry the weak’s burdens, the poor should carry the rich’s burdens, or that the young should carry the old’s burdens. Carry each other’s burdens. We are being told that each of us has burdens, has struggles, has painful places in our lives and we are not meant to carry them alone.
Carrying each other’s burdens means not only that I should try and help carry yours, but that I need to let you help carry mine.
Carrying each other’s burdens requires admitting that we have burdens, that we have troubles, and then sharing that with others and letting them help us.
This is hard. The humility and vulnerability required to let someone carry my burdens is not easy for me. I’m guessing that most of you, like me, were raised to take care of yourselves. In fact, independence was a sign of being mature, of being grown up. The goal is for children to eventually leave the house and being able to live without their parents constantly watching over them.
For all the good that comes from this parental strategy, it can lead us to try and bury our weakness and shoulder all our burdens alone. There is something about that ‘stiff upper lip’ midwest German and Dutch piety that fosters this. Or as I call it, I was raised in the ‘Suck it up and deal with it’ school of life. Anybody else?
But what that does is make it hard for us to share our burden and let others help us. It makes it hard to even admit we may need someone to help us in the first place. How often have you ever said, “Well, I don’t want to be a burden.” Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
God’s word is pretty clear that he didn’t free us from our bondage to sin and place us in this new people called the church so that we could go it alone. He didn’t place us in community with other believers so we could shoulder all our burdens by ourselves. Instead, we carry each other’s. I carry yours and you carry mine.
Two years ago, Pastor Olga and I travelled to Israel. One of the most difficult lessons we were taught there – difficult in here (heart) not here (head) – is connected to this verse. We were told that when we refuse to let someone help us with a genuine need, we rob them of the opportunity to serve Christ. When we refuse to let someone help us, we break the 8th commandment – ‘you shall not steal.’ Trying to go it alone, to suck it up and deal with it ourselves, is a form of theft from our brothers and sisters who love us.
This was and is a difficult lesson for Pastor Olga and I. On that trip were a group of 18 year old cross country runners, who were breathing easily as we huffed up the mountains. They took Galatians to heart and were regularly asking to give us a hand and carry our packs. At 25, Pastor Olga and I were at first humiliated to accept their help. I can get up a mountain. I’ll just dig deep and get it done. But then, Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. It turned out to be a humbling more than humiliating experience to receive help from others.
This is not only for carrying packs up mountains. Each of you had burdens on your hearts, pains you carry, and sins you struggle with. You don’t have to carry them alone. It is not a sign of strength to do it all yourself, but a sign of strength to walk with your brother or sister and carry each other’s burdens.
Restore. Watch. Carry.
And last, Test.
If up to this point, you were feeling glad that the person sitting a few pews away from you was here because they obviously need to get their act together or were disappointed so-and-so was not here because they really need to hear this sermon – if that has been you so far – welcome to your rude awakening.
Verse 3: 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.
Up until this point, we could be thinking that these words are for someone else. It is other people who are stumbling, other people who need correction, other people who have burdens and need to get real about them.
Each one should test their own actions. You are involved in these verses. I am too. We are called to test our own actions, not against what everyone else is doing around us, but against God’s standard. Only when we start with ourselves will we be ready with humility and compassion for others. John Calvin put it this way, “Whenever we have an occasion to criticize, let us remember to begin with ourselves and then, conscious of our own weakness, let us be restrained with others.”
In other words, wow we treat others is intimately connected with how we view ourselves.
Paul reveals that we often hide a spirit of competition in our hearts. When we look at our own actions, we evaluate them by comparing them to other people. If we are comparing ourselves with others, if that is the basis for how we view our actions, we will find compassion difficult. There is always someone doing something worse than we are. And there is always someone doing better. When a spirit of competition or comparison dwells in our hearts, then all the other verbs we heard this morning can come off as self-righteous or condescending.
Comparison leads in two directions, both of which are toxic for living together as sinners saved by grace. On the one hand, comparison can lead to blindness. We can think we are something when we are not, and deceive ourselves. There is the spirit of comparison that leads us to notice every speck in our neighbors eye and refuse to see the log in our own. We can make everything our neighbor does a big deal, but refuse to acknowledge what is happening in our own hearts. Comparison can make us blind.
On the other hand, comparison can lead us to despair. If the first person looks at everyone around them and gives themselves an A+ grade on life, the other person do the same and give themselves a D-. When we are constantly comparing ourselves with others, we can despair of ever making any progress in life and faith, especially in communities that easily hide our burdens. If I know how much I am struggling and everyone else at least appears to be doing fine, then I must really be terrible and weak as a Christians.
A spirit of comparison is toxic for life together as the Church. If we are to take all the verbs seriously – Restore, Watch, Carry, and Test, then we are called to test our actions not against the standard of the world around us – or even the church – but against God’s standard revealed in his Word.
When we do that, and see how woefully we fall short, we are led back where we started – to Jesus. To Jesus who died to set us free and whose perfect righteousness covers all our sins. In humility, we are led back to grace. Only when we have faced the truth about ourselves, both our brokenness and God’s overwhelming grace, are we ready to speak the truth to others.
As God’s forgiven people, how now shall we live? May we restore, watch, carry, and test that God’s grace and love may abound in us and for the sake of his kingdom.