Friends we come to the last of our sermon series in the book of Galatians. This is the 10th of 10. This is the New Testament letter where the Apostle Paul is angry with slave traders. Not the physical slave traders who put people in chains, but the spiritual slave traders who trick people into leaving the road of grace and joy, and falling into the ditch or the prison of works.
Two-thirds of the letter is Paul’s protest to the Galatians. Why would you leave the road of peace, grace, and joy, and fall into the ditch of performance? Two-thirds of the letter. This is his frustration.
Somebody comes along to your church and they tell you that there are some rules to keep which will secure your salvation and people fall for it. The Apostle Paul says I explained to you as clearly as possible that Christ has secured your salvation. And now, here you are listening to these heretics. The old prayer book says that Christ’s death was a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice in which we rejoice. And the more you think about it, the more you do rejoice.
Now, there’s another ditch on the other side of the road, another prison, and that is the ditch of license. I looked up my thesaurus, the word license, and these are some of the alternatives, laxity, slackness, anarchy, licentiousness, insubordination, nihilism. This is the kind of idea, why not have the best of both worlds? We’ve got salvation, why not get sin? It occurs to all of us.
The Apostle calls this in chapter 5:13, indulging the sinful nature. Now, both of these ditches are going to continue for every believer at each side of the road of grace until we get to glory. There’s never going to be a day on the road of grace where there is not the temptation and the danger of falling into the ditch of law or the ditch of license. But they are killers, they may be exciting. If you fall into the ditch of law, you often have this sense of one-upmanship and success. If you fall into the sin of license, you often have this euphoric sense of sin, but they’re killers in the end.
The reason they’re killers is that the ditch of law keeping moves your trust from Christ to self. That’s fatal. You can’t save yourself, you won’t save yourself. The ditch of license moves your obedience from Christ to self. It moves your service from Christ to self, and that’s fatal. Once you take on your lordship for yourself, that’s fatal.
How does a person avoid the ditch of law-keeping? Paul’s answer in Galatians, use God’s son and His wonderful work on the cross. And the more you think about what he did on the cross, the more freeing it is.
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How does a person avoid the ditch of license? Paul’s answer is God’s Spirit. The more you seek His help to change and to strengthen you the freer you will be. So, the gift of His son, the gift of His spirit, and I think, friends, and I know some of you well, and you know me well, I think a lot of our misery and our ineffectiveness would be avoided if we would take God’s provisions of His son and His spirit seriously. His son to free us from hopelessness and His spirit to free us from foolishness.
We’re going to see a little more of what the Holy Spirit does in the believer and through the believer. Chapter 6 of Galatians, there was a couple here this morning, I think, they’d never been to church before. And they said to me afterwards, it was so good to have the Bible passage explained. I don’t know whether they’re believers and I told them, “That’s one of the things we try to do at this church.
We don’t think the preacher is any more intelligent than anyone else in the congregation nor does he have a right to stand up and say what he thinks. We’re really trying to get what’s in the Scripture.”
So, the first of three points is what I’m calling spiritual teamwork, verses 1-5. “Brothers, if someone’s caught in a sin, you who is spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted to carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
Now, what is this about in the context of Galatians? This is not just a dictionary that we’re reading, it’s a logical letter. And Paul is still dealing with license. He’s dealing with the tendency that people have to drift into sinful gratification. And friends, we will fall and fail. That’s why Scripture says, “I write this so you won’t sin, but if anyone does sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” When, however, the sin becomes a pattern, and a person is beginning to settle down with the sin, thinking of moving in, having the sin move in, we who care about other believers need to take some action.
You’ll notice that this is church teamwork. The pastor may do something, but every believer is urged also to do something. That’s why it says in verse 1, “Brothers,” it doesn’t say pastors, but brothers. And verse 1, “You who are spiritual.” Now, you who are spiritual, you may immediately think, “Oh, that’s not me. I’m not very spiritual.”
The Apostle Paul is not talking here about being superior spiritual. He’s talking about being changed spiritually. He’s not asking you to go and find the special spiritual team. He’s asking you to be the team. You who have the privilege of the Holy Spirit.
Imagine it comes to your attention that someone in our church has become caught in a bad habit. Maybe you just observe that their timetable or their priorities are killing their faith. Maybe you pick up from their speech that their Christian faith is declining. Maybe they have set up an idol. Even the wonderful family has become to them god, and the family dictates everything. Perhaps it’s an obvious sin. And maybe in a discussion, you’ve discovered that they’ve run into some kind of foolishness, sadness, stupidity.
Paul’s exhortation here is that we not be too quick to jump on them. We are not to be too slow to do something, we need to think carefully about how we might restore them, how we might help them back. The word restore is literally to reset a bone. And we, therefore, as Paul says in verse 1, need to be very meek, gentle about this, and we need to be humble. We’re not above sinful behaviour ourselves. But in verse 2, we must bear one another burdens. This is spiritual teamwork. The interesting thing is that as you do this, the law of Christ is fulfilled. See the little dig at the Galatians? “You Galatians heretics think that when you’ve ticked the ritual box of circumcision, you’ve fulfilled the law of Christ, or you’ve fulfilled and kept God happy.”
It’s the transforming heart, it’s the transforming work of God’s Spirit in the heart, causing the believer to have a new love for God and a new love for God’s people, which is going to be the fulfilling of the law of Christ. So, we’re not proud law keepers saying, “These are the boxes we’ve ticked, how great we are.” We are humble servants. And you see verse 3, “No one should think they are above this.”
I hope there’s nobody who says to themselves, “I’m too busy for this. I’m too important for this.” Verse 4, “And don’t compare yourself with other people.” That will be a trap if you’re going help someone because, verse 5, “We have our own responsibility before God.” We have a backpack to carry. Interesting little play here you see, your friend has a burden, a load that is basically crushing them and you get an opportunity to help. You, however, and I have a backpack, a responsibility to be in this spiritual team of caring for God’s people. So, when it comes to people with burdens, we need spiritual teamwork. When it comes to our own responsibility, we must one day answer to Christ.
I tell you why this is so interesting in case you’ve just drifted off. I was sitting listening to a sermon once, and I realised that my brain had gone off to something, Bali, I think, I can’t remember. I’d never been to Bali, but my brain had gone a long way in the middle of a sermon. And it’s just possible that there’s one or two who could fall into the same trap. In case you have drifted away, why this is so interesting is because nothing works out a legalist, like when someone else falls into trouble.
The Apostle Paul is dealing with legalists. What do you do when you see or hear that somebody has fallen or failed? What does the legalist do? Well, the legalist, he says, “Did you hear about so and so?” Terrible. We would never do that. At least we think that even if we don’t say it. And there’s no meekness, there’s no humility, there’s no gentleness, there’s no identification. There’s too much superiority.
Winston Churchill said of a very proud man once who was walking through the House of Commons, “There but for the grace of God goes God.” And you and I need to be very careful that we don’t act like God without the grace of God. The spiritual man or woman who knows themselves to be a sinner, who knows the greatness of Jesus the Savior is able to thoughtfully, and prayerfully, humbly, gently, and lovingly, get alongside somebody and think, how would I help them back into healthy walking on the path of grace and faithfulness?
Here are some lessons for us today.
First, many are doing this in this congregation, very wonderfully. Some people pray, some make phone calls, write notes, end meals. Praise God for the spiritual teamwork that goes on in this church family. It is wonderful. However, if you haven’t considered this, you should take it on board.
Have you ever followed up somebody who’s been away for a long time? Have you ever thought, “I haven’t seen somebody for a long time,” and made the call? Would you help a Christian who was getting into a bad pattern? Do you need somebody to tell you to do it? Because it’s here in Galatians 6. Have you ever called somebody or written to somebody just because you want to encourage or strengthen them pastorally? Don’t leave this to the professionals. If we are professionals who are pastoral clergy, we will fail at this. Don’t leave it to the professionals. If you have the Spirit of God and you know the grace of Christ do this.
When Martin Luther was facing the great ecclesiastical court, facing the Catholic Church for his views of salvation by faith through Christ, and he went to the famous Diet of Worms in 1521. The court was on in the afternoon. What would you do if you were facing this incredible court with the danger of being excommunicated, which of course would have been a great deal to Martin Luther? What would you do in the morning if the court case was in the afternoon?
Martin Luther when pastoral visiting. He went to visit a man who’d asked him to visit him who was dying. It made such a big impact on him that he walked into the court with a big smile on his face, great sense of proportion. And you know as well as I do that getting out of your own little box and going off and taking an interest in somebody else often does more to refresh your Christian life than anything else.
One of the jungle doctor stories I remember was called, “Boohoo the Hippopotamus,” and these jungle doctor stories were tiny little jungle doctor stories, animal stories, which had very profound lessons. And one of them was of a hippopotamus who walked around absolutely preoccupied and depressed until he saw some little deer drowning in a lake and jumped in and saved and was entirely revolutionised by the opportunity to do something outside himself.
Think carefully about this. And for those of you who are in some spiritual trap, do thank God for the people who seek to help you. Give thanks for those people, even if it’s humbling, who sort of get involved and try to work out whether you’re okay. We’re not independent. Christianity is not independence. Independence is not Christianity.
Here in these first five verses is an excellent answer to license, and a great sign of new life, and a great work of God’s Spirit. It’s getting people out of the ditch. What a privilege.
The second section, verses 6 to 10, spiritual agriculture. Verse 6, “Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor.” One of my favourite verses. Verse 7, “Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked a man reaps what he sows.”
Again, this is not just unrelated mumbo jumbo. He has just said in verse 5, that people must carry their own responsibility. It’s possible that he thinks of the pastor who’s set aside by the congregation to prepare and teach prayerfully, and he doesn’t want the message “carry your own load” to mean, “Pastor, fund yourself,” which would defeat the whole idea of being set aside for pastoral ministry. And so, he says a word about the pastor. So, these verses which go on to talk about sowing, I’m sure they’ve got a ministry aspect because he comes back to ministry in verse 9 and 10, when he says, “Don’t become weary in doing good. At the proper time, we will reap a harvest and therefore, as we have opportunity; let’s do good to all people.” So, the whole section, 6 to 10, is about spiritual agriculture.
What we invest in as a church is gonna have consequences. The things that we invest our time and our money in as a St. Thomas will have consequences. If we give ourselves as a church to stuff which is fundamentally frivolous and temporal, there’ll be nothing much to show for it. If we invest in sinful priorities as a church, if our time and our money get wasted, if we merely indulge ourselves, then the harvest, as Paul says, will be destruction.
If, however, we invest as a church in spiritual priorities with our time and money, the harvest is eternal, eternally wonderful. That’s why we as a church try to support gospel projects. We get lots and lots of requests as a church. That’s why we support the Russell’s in Nepal, because even though he’s an engineer, and she’s a doctor, their number one priority is to see people saved, gospel-driven, so that there is a harvest for eternity.
Agriculture is slow. You sow, a seed sits in the ground, you don’t see anything. You attempted to dig in and see if there’s been any change. You just don’t get success immediately with spiritual agriculture. So, there was a ministry aspect, but there’s definitely a personal aspect to it. I hope you’ll sit up and take notice of this because it’s very, very profound.
Every Christian has, in their heart, spirit and sinful nature. There are two fields for us to sow in. We know this well. Who will we please? Will it be Christ? Will it be self? Who will have their way? Will it be Christ or will it be self? And all the thinking and all the doing sow somewhere. And what we sow brings a harvest. And the great naivety is to wake up on this particular Sunday and say to yourself, “Gee, the harvest of my spiritual experience is discouragement, and emptiness, and darkness. What could be the cause?”
Friends, just look back to the sowing of the last days. What have you been sowing in? Because that’s what will come up as harvest. Nobody sows weeds and then hopes they’ll be corn. No one who sows sin is going to find themselves filled with joy and peace. So, we need to take seriously this principle of sowing for a harvest because what we sow inevitably comes up.
The good news of that is that we can have a genuine contribution to our condition by sowing to the Spirit. It will bear the fruit. God is not mocked, He will keep the laws of agriculture going. So, friends, we’re not victims of our personalities, we’re not victims of our upbringings. There’s an authentic sense in which we can contribute to our experience, we can shape our character by our conduct. If you and I will concentrate even in the next day or two of sowing to the Spirit, you will see the fruit and the harvest. Slow, but sure. This is God’s great provision.
A Spiritual Litmus Test
There are two spiritual things, spiritual teamwork, spiritual agriculture. And the third and the last thing is verses 11 to 18, a spiritual litmus test. The litmus test is very simply whether your Christianity is all outward or inward.
If I may quote to you from the great Winston Churchill, he made a scathing comment once about Clement Attlee. He was looking out the window with a friend, he saw an empty taxi pull up. He said to his friend, “An empty taxi has just pulled up.” And then Mr. Attlee got out. And Churchill said, “It was still empty when he was inside.” Now, it was a scathing comment, really, because what he’s saying is that there was nothing there.
As you come to these last verses of Galatians 6, the Apostle Paul is about to show the emptiness of his opposition, the heretics. He is pointing out that they have no Spirit, they have no Holy Spirit, they have no life, they have no eternal life, they have no transformation. The Apostle Paul often does this as he’s got opposition. He will cleverly pull the mask away and show what’s really going on.
If you read 2 Corinthians, you’ll see that the Corinthians, many of them had given up on the Apostle Paul because he wasn’t impressive, he wasn’t successful, and he was trying to explain that he was faithful and was working for eternity.
In the end in chapter 6, he pulls the curtain away, and he says, “You know the problem with this opposition? They’re actually lovers of the world. That’s the reason that they expect me to be like the world, but I’m not like the world.” And here in Galatians, the Apostle pulls the mask away. In verse 11, he says, “See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand.” Some people think this is the apostle talking about his bad eyesight.
“My eyes were so bad,” he says earlier in the letter, “You would have given me your own eyes.” But I think it’s much more likely as he comes to the end of the letter, he’s saying, “I’m writing this in big capitals. I’m about to say something very significant. You need to get this. Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised.”
He gives three marks of these heretics. The first is that they, verse 12, are interested in the look and not the heart. It’s all superficial. It’s all surface. They’re trying to make a good impression; literally, they want a good face. The second mark of the heretics, verse 12, they don’t want to be persecuted. They know that if they talk of the cross of Christ, they will get opposition. When you explain the cross to people if you ever get the opportunity to explain the cross to somebody, it is the message of God’s great love, but it’s also the message of our great sin. We really need to explain to someone, I don’t know if you realise this, but things are so bad with your sin that this cost Christ. Your need is so great only He could help you.
So, the cross is teaching two things, the depth of our need and the greatness of His provision.
John Stott says, “The cross seems to say, I Jesus am here because of you. It’s your sin I’m bearing, it’s your curse I’m suffering, it’s your debt I’m paying, it’s your death I’m dying.” No wonder people steer clear of the cross. It would be much easier to talk about something else, wouldn’t it?
The opposition to Christianity is real. I was told this week by one of the academics at the University of New South Wales that less and less Christians are doing the social work courses because the hostility to Christianity in the social work courses at the universities is so intense, there are very few who will go in and face it. And then I was looking in the window of a bookshop this week and I saw a book which was subtitled, “Where to turn when God is trying to destroy you.”
You can only talk like that, can’t you? When you take the Bible, turn it completely upside down. The Bible plainly says, “The devil seeks to destroy. I, say, Jesus has come that you may have life and have it to the full.” And the community in which we live says, “No he’ll destroy you.” The hostility is very real and especially if you talk about the cross.
The third mark of the false teachers in verse 13, is that they want to boast about their scalps, their converts, how many people they can persuade to go through with the ritual. The apostle Paul, by contrast, says in verse 14, he boasts in the cross. He doesn’t boast in what he does, he boasts in what Christ did. He’s got one hero called Jesus Christ. He’s got one lover called Jesus Christ. And because the work of Christ on the cross has brought him such blessing, and such privilege, and so many riches, he says in verse 14, the world is not my treasure anymore. He actually can look at all the stuff that the world offers, and he says, you know, it just doesn’t measure up.
The world doesn’t control him anymore. And if dear friends, you find yourself getting bored with the cross, you need to do some reading in some of the great books on the cross. Leon Morris, John Stott, Jim Packer, read their books on the cross, realise the depths of the love of God for you at the cross. If you come here today thinking to yourself I couldn’t be loved by God, the cross is proof. Have you come here today with lots of sin of the past week thinking, I couldn’t possibly be a real believer. The cross is proof. Have you come here thinking the past couldn’t be looked after, and the present isn’t gonna be looked after, and the future won’t be looked after, the cross says it’s all looked after. It’s most wonderful, timeless, depthless.
The final words of the letter of Galatians are, “Therefore,” verse 15, “circumcision, uncircumcision, irrelevant.” Hymns, choruses, irrelevant. Ties in church, no ties in church, irrelevant. What counts, verse 15, is a new creation. Have you been reborn? Are you born again? That’s what counts. That’s the only thing that’ll last. Verse 16 and 17, “Shalom and mercy to those who get this.” What a powerful thing to say to people who love the Jewish heritage. Your shalom says the apostle will come through Christ, the mercy will come through Christ. In verse 17, the real wins say the Apostle Paul, they’re not ritual. The real wins that are the sign that I’m a new person. See this scar on my forehead? Says the Apostle Paul, that’s the stoning. See these whip marks on my back? Says the Apostle Paul, that’s the flogging. Those are the marks which I am thankful for because they indicate that I have been made Christ’s. A new life receiving new opposition. Those are the marks that count, says the Apostle Paul. Not the marks of dead ritual.
What’s the last word he gives them in verse 18? It’s the word grace. That’s how he began, that’s how he finishes.
The final tone of the letter before the amen, brothers. He doesn’t write this because he dislikes them, he writes this because he loves them. He wants as many people to be on the road of Christ as possible, and he wants to see them avoid the ditch of legalism and the ditch of license.
Let’s pray. As I pray this morning, I’m going to just simply ask three questions and give you five seconds to respond in prayer to the Lord.
- On the matter of spiritual teamwork, who have you shown spiritual, practical concern for, lately, and who might you show it to this week?
- On the matter of spiritual agriculture, what is the harvest today of your condition following the priorities of recent days, and what will harvest be like on the last day?
- And on the spiritual litmus test, how is your excitement level diminishing for temporary and even personal things, and increasing for lasting and cross-related things?
Father, we thank you for the work of Christ for us and we thank you for the work of the Spirit in us. We pray that you would help us to live in the light of these great gifts in Jesus name. Amen.