Principle: Is the gospel outward rules or inward reality that changes us?
Central question: How do we live?
In our last article on chapter 5 we considered the principle of the indwelling Spirit of God who is the dynamic of the Christian walk. But is the Spirit just some inner urge that mystically directs us into what feels right for us? Is the gospel void of commandments just because it doesn’t justify by law?
Following this up, chapter 6 reveals the practical side of the gospel with its desired practices. While not justifying by law the gospel does empower and direct one in paths that now please the Lord.
Chapter 6 gives us four major categories of Christian practices:
6. 1-5 Practices toward our fellow brothers;
6. 6 Practices toward those who teach us;
6. 7-11 Practices toward all (from the principles of sowing);
6. 12-18 Practices toward God.
Practices to our fellow brothers, 6. 1-5
vv. 1-2. Here we are introduced to ’the law of Christ’, not the law of Moses. The law of Christ is not another long list of rituals with the only difference being they aren’t Jewish but now Christian. The law of Christ is an attitude of love, see also John 13. 34; Gal. 5. 6, 14; Rom. 13. 8-10; Jas. 2. 8; 1 John 2. 8-10. It will see a brother overtaken in a fault and seek to restore him, not stone him. It does not approach as an ‘authority’ but as a ‘fellow brother’ capable of coming short also. The law of Christ involves an attitude of love not because I have to but because I want to.
v. 3. ‘For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself’. That which hinders us from being involved with our brother and his need for help is wrong thinking about ourselves. A high esteem of self will lead one to focus on self and our feelings and needs rather than another’s. To realize we are nothing in ourselves will lead us to help those who feel they are nothing also. Christian behaviour is linked to what we think of ourselves. A right understanding of the gospel of grace puts self in its true perspective.
vv. 4-5. Rather than forming an opinion of self by comparing ourselves to a failing brother, we are to ‘prove our own work’ … to make sure we are doing right before God. Then we can truly rejoice in the reality of what we are when we bear our own burden or responsibility.
Practices toward those who teach us, 6. 6
v 6. Not only are we to react to others’ burdens but we are to initiate action. We are to ‘communicate (share) in all good things’ especially to those who have taught us spiritual things. It is a reasonable exchange; giving up temporal things and receiving the eternally spiritual, see also 1 Tim. 5; 2 Cor. 9. The instruction doesn’t say how much or how often, just that there is the attitude of love and liberty in doing it.
Practices toward all (from principles of sowing), 6. 7-11
vv 7-9. ‘For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap’. This is true whether in the physical, spiritual or moral realm. In verse 6 we had the sowing of our material means; ‘communicate unto him’, in verse 8 we have the sowing of the spiritual; ‘He that soweth to the Spirit’, and in verses 9 and 10 we have the sowing of the moral; ‘well doing’ and to ‘do good’.
The principle is that sowing always results in reaping. As sure as day follows night, reaping follows sowing. To reap a good crop involves three fundamentals: a.) one must sow in the field; b.) one must sow plentifully; c.) one must sow what he wants to receive back again. To sow the things of the flesh will always produce a crop of corruption; things that perish, decay and pass away, (not the penalty of sin but the consequences). To sow to the Spirit always reaps things that endure; i.e, ‘life everlasting’. Just as poison ivy spores produce poison and cherry seeds produce cherries so the flesh will always produce things that corrupt and the Spirit always yields life. It is not the reaper who decides the crop but the sower. One cannot change or escape this law so ‘be not deceived’.
To faint in our endurance of sowing good and bearing others’ burdens is to forget the law of sowing. Here, we learn that reaping comes in ‘due season’. Reaping is never instant. Time must go by for the sowing to turn to reaping.
v. 10. Our Christian practices of doing good are not to be limited to our burdened brother and those who teach us but extend to all mankind. However, when it comes to a priority of time and resources the ‘household of faith’ should be first. Notice, the house or family of God is characterized by faith.
v. 11. Paul seems to be reminding them of his spiritual sowing and doing good to the household of faith by writing such a large letter of spiritual truth and instruction ‘with mine own hand’. Especially since he seemed to have eye trouble, 4. 15, and therefore this would be quite a feat. And what a good work this has been to the household of faith for almost two thousand years now and the reaping of blessing to millions of souls is still being harvested.
Practices toward God 6. 12-18
vv. 12-13. In contrast to true good works, we have mentioned here religious rituals such as circumcision. Religious rules and rituals mask men’s helpless and sinful nature. Religious rules make ‘a fair shew in the flesh’ drawing the attention to the outward body, not the inward heart. Rituals and men’s rules give one a reason to ‘glory in your flesh’, that is human ability, and implies that human effort has the potential to achieve salvation or piety by the performing of them.
However, the cross exposes human flesh for what it truly is. For it was religion with all its rituals and rules that demanded the crucifixion of the Son of God. Thus to proclaim Christ crucified – ‘the cross of Christ’ – as man’s only hope for acceptance before God flies in the face of religion with its confidence in man’s ability. To preach Christ crucified will inevitably invite opposition from carnal religion – thus many will not preach it.
v. 14. The only place the gospel leaves one to glory is in ‘the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. The cross exposes the world’s way as foolish in approaching and being accepted with God, 1 Cor. 2. 5-8. For the world crucified the Son of God – so much for confidence in worldly wisdom and religion. Thus ‘Christ crucified’ has brought an end to the world’s way and has disconnected the believer from a union with it.
vv. 15-16. One who is ‘in Christ Jesus’ is a new creation. The gospel is not Judaism with the Messiah added but a whole new way of relating to God. It is where neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has merit but rather the One with whom you are in union. Being ‘in Christ Jesus’ is the rule of the Christian life, not outward rituals. To ‘walk according to this rule’ is to know the peace and mercy of God. And those who are such manifest themselves as the true Israel of God – not by Moses – but by Abraham’s Seed which is Christ.
vv. 17-18. Paul, the Lord’s chosen apostle, signs off, not by adding a new outward ritual for the body in order to achieve salvation, but by reminding them that his body already bore ‘the marks of the Lord Jesus’ – the scars of persecution from carnal religion for maintaining that the cross of Christ alone is God’s means of saving men. Not circumcision nor any other outward ritual, religious clothing or style can ever be the authentic mark of true Christianity but rather the persecution that arises on account of the cross of Christ. Paul thus leaves the believer’s spirit with the unmerited favour of ‘the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ’. It is grace, not law, that is the authentic characteristic of the original and true gospel and to this we add our ‘Amen’.
This article concludes the series of studies in the Galatian epistle.