Introduction / Setting the Context:
Turn in you Bibles to Galatians 5:25. But before I even start, let me pray.
Jumping right in at the end of a book makes me and should make you grateful for Scott’s determination to preach through a single book verse-by-verse, front to back. We know the context of a passage before we even show up to the sermon. Here however, it will be important to go back and set the scene so that we can properly understand and be affected by the Word of God.
On Paul’s first missionary journey, Paul & Barnabas passed through modern day Turkey including Galatia preaching the Gospel. They taught Christ crucified (Gal 3:1). They taught that God came to earth in bodily form. The One promised in the Old Testament came to save mankind from their own sins. Jesus came and died and then was raised from the dead. Jesus had to come because otherwise there would be no way for sinful mankind to come to God. Jesus came, fulfilled the law, paid the punishment for our sins, and gives his righteousness to those who come to Him in faith. They came through Galatia proclaiming to both Jews and Gentiles (those who aren’t Jews) that God was the God of all, not Jews only, and that salvation was for all, not Jews only.
The Jews had placed their hope for salvation in the law, in their heritage as descendents of Abraham. Paul’s message was “The law can’t save you (Gal 3:11); The true children of Abraham are the one’s who have faith like he had, not the one’s who have his DNA (Gal 3:7).’ To give up on being able to be justified – to be right with God – by following rules meant that the Jews would have to admit that just like the gentiles they were sinners. That was something they simply would not do. They spent their whole life working to be good enough, now Paul was saying none of that could get them to God, that they were on equal playing field with the Gentiles. They had believed their whole life that because they Jews they were God’s people. Paul taught that it is those of faith who belong to God. They all were in need of grace. In response to this message, they stoned Paul, thinking they had killed him (Acts 14:19).
So a church was founded in Galatia of people who believed the good news of grace, but shortly (1:6) after Paul and Barnabas had left a Jewish sect snuck into the church. These guys taught that Jesus was the Messiah, that Jesus was important and probably even necessary, BUT (and this is a critical but) you need to follow the law too. Particularly they were teaching that you needed Jesus AND circumcision.
That is the occasion of this letter. This little change on the gospel is tantamount to saying that Jesus’ death wasn’t sufficient. If Jesus’ death couldn’t get you 100% justified (right with God) then Jesus’ death was for no purpose Paul argues in Galatians chapter 2.
I want to stop and ponder for a second what happened at the cross. At the cross, God the Son bore the entire wrath of God that Father that was earned by us in our rebellion against God. That wrath would have kept believers in Hell for eternity; that wrath is what is in store for every member of humanity if you do not trust Christ to bear it for you. There at the cross God poured out wrath upon His Son to punish my sin. Jesus paid it all there. If your hope is 100% in that payment for your sins, when any accusation may be raised against you in the throne room of God, and there are many sins for which you owe death, Jesus will point to those holes in his wrists, in his feet, in his side and cry out: “Paid! I paid that one. He can’t out-sin my grace, and there is certainly nothing else that he needs to earn it. I have paid the price! That sinner is righteous!”
In that same transaction, where our sins were given to Christ, the Bible teaches that Christ’s righteousness, without which nobody could be with God, was given to us. Christ was made sin and punished to death; we were made righteous and given life, eternal life. We have been given the gift of being able to be with God in heaven forever on the basis of Christ’s death alone.
The knowledge of the cross, Paul says, is sufficient to guard you, me, and the Galatians from legalism. Remember this as throughout the rest of this message. The sins of legalism that plagued the Galatians and the sins of legalism that plague you and me are solved when we remember the cross.
Then Paul asks the Galatians a question about their conversion. Paul is asking the Galatians to recall their conversion when they were first told of the cross, when they were first saved.
3:2, “Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith.”
The instant that Christ’s righteousness is applied to you and your sin is taken away, God gives you the Holy Spirit. Did they follow any law to receive the Spirit? No. They heard, their hearts rejoiced in faith, and they received the Spirit. Justification (salvation) was by faith alone, once and for all.
Then Paul goes on and asks another question,
3:3 “Having begun by the Spirit are you now being perfected by the flesh.”
Just like the answer to the first question, the answer is “No”. We are saved by the Spirit and it is the Spirit, not following some law, that causes us to be sanctified (made more like Christ) in this life. It’s all grace! No law! Grace! Our faith: Grace! Our salvation: Grace! Our sanctification: Grace! No more law, God bought us out from under the law, Paul teaches and made us part of his family, a family of grace.
In love, God did the unthinkable. God took his enemies and made them his children. God did this so that we could live freely to please Him, being led by His Spirit. All of God’s children are equal before him; no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free. We don’t relate to God as the lawgiver and judge, we relate to Him through the Spirit as our Father.
Paul then goes on in Chapter 5 to point out that if you have the Spirit, your life will look very different from those who don’t have the Spirit. You will be free. Not free to sin, but free to live a life led by the Spirit. When you get the Spirit, it is no longer you and your desires that rule. An evidence of the Spirit in you, proof that this salvation has been applied to you, is that you start to bear the fruits of the Spirit: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Look what God does, he saves you from the slavery of following the law and then changes into what you never could have become by trying to follow the law.
That is a quick summary of Galatians 1:1-5:24. We now understand enough of the context I think to appreciate the importance of what Paul says starting in 5:25.
“If we live by the Spirit”—If our source of life is from Spirit. If we say we believe the Gospel and believe our life comes from him—“Let us walk by the Spirit”—Let’s act like it.
Consider this reality: Everybody who God saves is a sinner. Then God in his sovereignty and his wisdom puts all us sinners together into a church. So the first place that our living by the Spirit must manifest itself is among the family of God, the family of sinners saved by grace. Sinners without the Spirit, when they are together, they will be known by their envy, by their dissensions, by the pride. Christians, when they’re together by the Spirit, they will be known by their love. So Paul moves on in verse 26 to discuss one of the most obvious places where this change of heart will manifest itself: The church.
The way that we act and interact with each other in the church, in the family of grace, testifies about what we believe about the cross.
The way that we act and interact with each other in the church, in the family of grace, testifies to the Spirit’s presence or absence among those in the church.
So after proclaiming, “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit,” Paul immediately and naturally turns his attention to how a true cross-centered, Spirit-led believer must interact with others in the family of grace. So let’s unpack these verses together and be changed as God would see fit into the kind of church that he wants us to be:
Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
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. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.
There is an assumption in these commands, an assumption that I can’t spend a lot of time on here. The assumption of these and all the commands in New Testament to the church is that we are together living as a family of grace. Church is not an event, not a meeting on Sunday that you attend. All of these commands, as you will see, require that we are together, that we spend time together, that we know each other, that we serve together, and that we love each other like family. That’s why small groups are so important. If you are not in a small group, please don’t leave without talking to one of the elders or with me about how to make sure that happens. If you are in a small group, use what this passage to analyze the way that you interact with that group and with others in this family of grace.
In the Family of grace, cross-centered, Spirit-led believers will:
- Cultivate humility.
Verse 26: Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another
Paul’s command here is “Let’s not become conceiting”. How is conceit manifested while living with others? Provoking one another of envying one another. Something very important is revealed here that is going to be a guiding principle as we look at the rest of the verses: How we live with others is determined by our opinion of ourselves. Or alternately, How we live with other reveals our opinion of ourselves. And let me make a very important statement, what we think about ourselves reveals what we think about the Gospel. What we think about ourselves reveals what we think about God and our worth compared to Him.
The word that Paul uses that is translated here, “conceited” or “boastful” is used only here in the New Testament. John Stott says of this word, “It denotes somebody who has an opinion of himself which is empty, vain or false”. Paul is saying, “Don’t put a lot of stock in your own self-worth.”
In the community of law, where legalism reigns, if we were all living together thinking that our relative goodness is what made us right before God, if I lived better than you, I’d have reason to boast. “I’m closer to God I believe.” Therefore, I would want to prove my righteousness as greater than your righteousness. That is the connotation of the Greek word translated, “provoking” or “challenging”. It is a word used to challenge somebody to a duel. I challenge you to a battle of righteousnesses.
Remember the Pharisee’s. They would point out to the people, there’s a line of difference between us. They would make sure that everybody knew just how righteous they were, and every time that somebody failed, they would make sure to point it out because it proved just how much more righteous they were than the one who fill.. A brother’s sin was something to be rejoiced about in the community of law.
Likewise in the community of law, not the family of grace, if you saw somebody doing better it was an event for envy or jealousy. And when that person of whom I’m jealous slips and falls, when sin is found in their life, I rejoice in the community of law, because that means I just moved up the ladder of righteousness.
O how inconsistent with the gospel this is! In the family of grace, if somebody is doing well, we praise God. If they fall into sin, we restore them gently and humbly. In the family of grace we recognize that we are all sinners, none of our righteousness is our own, it is all Christ! Pride, boasting, challenging, and envy are totally inconsistent with the gospel. Paul says in Romans 3:27 that for those saved by grace boasting is excluded! Later on in Galatians Paul says, “Far be it for me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Do you see that Paul is saying that if there is dissension within the church the problem is that we are reverting back to the law. If a brother sins and we do anything but go to that brother immediately to restore him then the problem is that we are not walking by the Spirit, we are not living out the gospel.
If you ever find yourself comparing your goodness to another Christians, if you ever find yourself envious of another believer’s righteousness, if you ever find yourself rejoicing in somebody’s fall, brothers, if you ever believe that there is a sin that somebody has committed for which they cannot or should not be restored – a sin in a class all its own that is more grievous than the sins you’ve committed or might commit, a sin that precludes repentance and restoration – you are evidencing that you are not living according to the Spirit in the family of grace, but you are living by the Spirit as if you were in the community of law. That is legalism; legalism is acting as if forgiveness from God and righteousness before God come through obedience to God.
Let’s heed Paul’s command here and cultivate humility together by looking at just how horrendous an offense an insult against God we commit when we do this. C.J. Mahaney is especially helpful on this point:
Legalism is essentially self-atonement for the purpose of self-glorification and ultimately for self-worship. It is the pinnacle of pride for me to assume that by my good works I could ever morally obligate God to forgive me, justify me, or accept me.
That's how serious legalism is. The implications are staggering, because legalism claims in essence that the death of Jesus on the cross was either unnecessary or insufficient. It says to God, in effect, "Your plan didn't work. The cross wasn't enough and I need to ad my good works to it to be saved."
Let me add, that it is the pinnacle of pride to act like your good works make you better before God or that your good works flow any other source than God’s grace. So let’s recognize the horrible sinfulness of legalism manifested in pride and cultivate humility together by
2. gently restoring sinning brothers and sisters.
Without skipping a beat, Paul identifies that if you are cultivating humility by not thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to think by remembering the cross, you will have no other option than to restore a brother when he sins.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.”
Brothers & sisters, Paul says reminding them of their position as children of God. If we are believers, we have been adopted as children of God; this is the family of grace Paul lovingly reminds the Galatians that they are all children of God, reminding them of the grace of the gospel.
If somebody among them is found in sin: perhaps their legalism has just been exposed. Paul just gave a list of the deeds of the flesh that would be fresh in his mind as he speaks of sin here: Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these (Gal 5:19-21). These Paul says are fruits of the flesh. And if in one of the brothers, who are supposed to be walking the Spirit, one of these fruits of the flesh (sin) pops up and catches hold of him promises to destroy him, then we are to run to that one as quick as we can and restore him.
In the community of law, if there is sin it is to be suppressed by the sinner and paraded by the righteous. “I can’t let you see that I failed.” The one who wasn’t caught in that sin would challengingly say, like the Pharisees, “See, see the difference between you and me. I’m righteous. You’re not, this proves it.”
This can’t be in the family of grace. If you have been surprised by sin, caught by sin, run to your small group and share it. Don’t hide it. This is the family of grace.
In the community of law sin is a scandal. Shocking because the assumption is that people are decent and respectable.
But in the family of grace this is different. Sin is found and acknowledged. Its not surprising. In a community overshadowed by the cross sin is expected. Every member is a confessed sinner. Forgiven, and yet sinful.1
Not that sin is ignored or that it should become the status quo defining characteristic in the believers life - no chapter 5 specifically says otherwise. However, if we function as a legalistic, graceless community we will wrongly expect that the standard answer to "How are you doing?" is "fine." We will self-rightously and harshly rebuke those who are not "fine" rather than "restoring them in a spirit of gentleness looking to [ourselves]...bearing one another's burdens." We will also be likely to give the "fine" answer, arrogantly and hypocritically minimizing our own sin and magnifying others'.
In the community of law, sin is a scandal. In the family of grace, sin is universal, expected, diminishing, paid-for, covered-over, confessed, and repented-of.
Sin is present in our body. When we are saved we make a declaration that we are sinners in need of a Savior. God’s Spirit comes to us and we forsake that old life, but there is still a remnant of the flesh in us, constantly at work, an enemy within, looking for an opportunity to take down a believer.
When a believer is caught in sin, if we believe the gospel we will have no possible choice but to restore that brother. The word used her for restore is used elsewhere to refer to the setting of a broken bone. And Paul tells us to do it gently. Gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit.
The brother who was purchased by Christ has been caught, now it is up to the family of grace to restore that brother. The sinning one certainly has requirements; he must acknowledge the sin, he must repent of the sin. But notice that those things are not even mentioned here. The danger that Paul sees in these verses are not for the sinning one but for the ones that are still walking by the Spirit. The spiritual are in danger.
“You who are spiritual” is not referring to some super class of spiritual Christians whose job it is to restore sinners. That is referring to you and to me. It is referring to a believer who is walking by the Spirit, it is the baseline status of all believers. If you are saved, you have the Spirit, so if you live by the Spirit let us walk by the Spirit. This is the goal and should be the status quo for all believers in our church. Not perfection, but having a life marked by the fruits of the Spirit and not the fruits of the flesh.
As you look at this verse, you are there, where are you? Are you the brother in sin or are you the spiritual brother? Identify yourself. You are one or the other. You are either in need of restoration or you are needing to be restoring.
Brothers and sisters, this must be the mark of our church. If you have found yourself to be overtaken by sin, run to your small group, run to the body and confess it, “I need to be restored. I am in sin. I haven’t out sinned God’s grace, I know I can’t do that. But God saved me and gave me the Spirit so that I would glorify God by being led by the Spirit. Praise God he’s given me this church because I need you spiritual ones to help me, to point me to the cross, to help bear this burden this weight of sin, repentance, and restoration”
If by the mercy of God you are not the one in need of restoration in a particular area at this particular time, you are the spiritual one. Gently consider each person in your small group. Is there sin that you are aware of in their lives? Has a brother confessed a sin? Do you know of another’s sin? Praise God that His Spirit is in you; he has given You His Spirit for such a time as this.
You must restore that brother gently. You must go to him or her and gently point out the sin and the seriousness of it. And you now must walk along side with him through that sin and its consequences to restoration.
What is your response when you find out someone is in sin? Do you gossip? Do you share it as a prayer request? Do you pretend like it didn’t happen, like its not that big of a deal? Do you think, “That’s his problem?” Do you feel a little bit of pride? Maybe you pray like the Pharisee in Luke 18: “God thank you that I am not like [these] other men.” If these are your responses you have fallen prey to legalism. You have lost sight of the gospel that declares that we are all sinners, that we are in a family of grace. Repent of that sin, confess it to others, and as a church body let’s pursue restoration whenever any sin is found as a declaration to God, to each other, and to the world that we are all sinners saved by grace. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.
There are no sins here that are excluded. You must restore a brother from anything and everything. If you judge a sin to be too great, to prohibit restoration. If you think that the brother should have to feel the consequences of the sin for just a little longer. If you don’t believe that that brother is truly repentant. If you think that too many people were hurt by the sin. In the family of grace we have no choice but to gently walk with that brother through restoration. The fleshly must be restored to the status of “spiritual” in the family of grace and it is all of our responsibility and privilege to do that.
This verse applies even in the case of church discipline, where the sinning brother refuses to repent, refuses to acknowledge the sin. Even when we have to put a sinning brother out of the church, the goal of that is not punishment but restoration. We must restore from the smallest of sins to the largest of sins gently, looking to ourselves.
So as we restore, 3 In the family of grace, cross-centered, spirit-led believers must shepherd our vulnerable hearts from sin.
Paul says, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
I have two ways to shepherd your heart as you walk with a brother through the process of restoration to “spirituality,” to “walking by the Spirit.”
- Declare yourself chief of sinners. You can see the dark depths of the sinfulness in your heart. I know of more sin in my heart than I know of even in Osama Bin Laden or Adolf Hitler. I know of more sin in my own heart than in the guy in my small group caught in pornography or the person in the church who just had an affair revealed. I know of more sin in my heart than I know in the disqualified pastor or in the guy who seems to get angry all the time. Probe the depths of your heart and praise God that he would save a sinner like you whose heart is full of wickedness, of lust, of hate, of pride. And praise God for the evidences of grace in your life that show that the Spirit is in you and that you are forgiven.
- Recognize your vulnerability. That same sin which overtook your brother is able to overtake you. You and I are vulnerable to sin, but by God’s grace have a church to restore us from it.
- Recognize that you are just as needy for grace as the one being restored.
- Restore today, so that you can be restored tomorrow, if sin catches you.
- Ask others to point out sin in your life. Request this. Long to have your hidden sin exposed so that you can be restored., so that God can get the glory for his grace to you. Restoration from sin is not a shameful thing, it is a joyous thing. Praise God that when sin is discovered it is not the end. In the community of law, to be found a sinner is a hopeless a joyless occasion. In the family of grace, to have sin discovered gives us the chance to praise God for his graciousness despite that sin, to give God glory as the church restores us, and to be restored to from fleshliness to true spirituality (walking by the Spirit) so that we can do the same for others to God’s glory.
O, how much pain, bitterness, division, unforgiveness, gossip, and sinfulness could be avoided if our gut reaction when we see sin in others was to restore gently, keeping watch on ourselves.
And finally, when you go to the brother in sin, you go to bear his or her burdens.
4. In the family of grace, cross-centered, Spirit-led believers must bear one another’s burdens.
6:2 “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”
When a brother is caught in sin, do you know what so many in the church do? They go to that brother and say, “You know, that pornography that you are looking at / that pride / that anxiety / that lying / that love for money / that selfishness / that anger is a sin and I can show you the verses to prove it. The Bible says you need to stop doing that. If you don’t stop doing it, that is unrepentant sin, an evidence that you may not even be a true believer. So if you don’t stop that, I’m sorry but I’m not going to be able to hang out with you anymore.” That has happened in this body. That must not happen in this body. Praise God that as I look out at our body this is not a mark of this body. The cross precludes it.
To load up the sinner by pointing out how their sin has broken the law and how they need to bring their life into conformity with the law without walking side by side with them through it is Phariseeism. That happens in the community of law, not in the family of grace. Here’s what Jesus said to the way that the legalistic lawyers dealt with the sinning brother:
“Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.” (Luke 11:46)
Jesus, on the other hand says, “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest…For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Instead go to the sinning brother declaring, “You know that sin? I see it, it is horrible and it wants to destroy you. It is utterly inconsistent with the life of a Christian. You need to repent. Praise God that Jesus took away the burden of our sin and guilt when he died on the cross. But I know that it’s hard, you have worries, temptations, doubts, and sorrows. This temptation will still be there tomorrow, and the consequences of the sin may be long-lasting, maybe even lasting your entire lifetime. But praise God that he makes our burdens light by giving us this Church, this family of grace. I will walk with you under this burden. As two sinners together, we will keep our eyes firmly on the cross where our sins were paid for. I will point you to Christ to see that his righteousness is yours. I will point out evidences of God’s grace in your life that show that you have the Spirit. I will cover up your sin; I won’t gossip about it. Maybe now you are a single mom, I’m going to help you as you raise the baby. Maybe you lost your job, by God’s grace I still have mine; let me help you. Maybe there is just such sorrow that you can’t seem to bear up under it, I’ll be here to cry with you. Maybe you can’t shake the temptation that seems too much for you, I will do whatever is necessary to help you through repentance. This, brother, is the family of grace. I am saved by grace, you are saved by grace. By grace I am what I am and you are what you are. By grace God gave us this church. By grace God gave us life.”
We will declare to ourselves and to the sinning brother the words of the song we are about to sing,
“Grace, paid for my sins and brought me to life.
Grace, clothes me in power to do what is right.”
Look around you and see all of the people who God has so graciously saved. Praise God for his grace and make a declaration a statement to God that you have you hope only in him.
At East Valley Bible Church Tempe, as a result of God’s grace at the cross and His Spirit in us, let there be
1. No conceited challenging among us, only increasing humility
2. No gossip or condemnation when there is sin, only gentle restoration
3. Lots of shepherding of vulnerable hearts away from sin
4. And let’s look for burdens and bear them, especially those that are hard.
If you are still hoping that you are good enough, if your any of your hope is on your religiousness, your spirituality, your good works to get you to God to save you from the wrath that God has against your sin. You are still in the community of law. Look at what God did, he paid the price for your sins, all of them, and offers his righteousness as a free gift of grace so that you do not have to bear your own load. Give up. Put your hope in Christ and join the family of grace.
Praise God for his graciousness. Let’s all sing together, in light of this message, Grace Unending.