“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” (v. 1)
- Galatians 6:1
Life in the Spirit defines Christianity, not devotion to the Mosaic law. Torah cannot save sinners; rather, it leads us to righteousness and life in Jesus who fulfilled the Torah (Gal. 3–4). Christians are not under the Law in the same way old covenant saints were but are free from sin’s bondage and curse, and the tutelage of circumcision and other rites. Moreover, new covenant liberty is freedom unto holiness, which is possible for all who walk by the Spirit (5:1–24).
Returning to Galatians today, we see in 5:25–6:10 that to follow the Holy Spirit is to seek the good of others. Spirit-led people mourn when believers sin and work to restore them (6:1). They show mercy to errant brothers and sisters in Christ, urging them to turn from sin and be reconciled to God and the brethren (Matt. 18:15–20; 2 Cor. 2:5–11). If harsh words are necessary, they are spoken gently (Gal. 6:1) to show sinners a desire for their repentance and cleansing. The church father Jerome says, “The Spirit-led person should correct a sinner gently and meekly. He must not be inflexible, angry or aggrieved in his desire to correct him. He should stir him up with the promise of salvation, promising remission and bringing forth the testimony of Christ” (ACCNT vol. 8, p. 88).
While seeking to restore sinners through gentle confrontation and encouragement, we must take care lest we be tempted (Gal. 6:1). Clearly, he means that we are capable of any transgression, and it is all too possible for the unwary person to commit the same error he is trying to correct (see also 1 Cor. 10:12–13).
Yet in keeping with his call for humility (Gal. 5:26), Paul’s exhortation that we watch ourselves is also a warning against self-righteousness. Too often we look down on others when they fall, but when led by the Holy Spirit, we never think that we deserve grace more than even the most notorious sinner. Augustine comments that “there is no surer test of the spiritual person than his treatment of another’s sin,” adding that spiritual people, as much as they can, seek to rescue and support sinners, not to punish or triumph over them (ACCNT vol. 8, p. 88). Above all, Jerome reminds us, we should “help the other with the same compassion that one would hope to receive from another” (p. 88).
Calvin writes, “Whenever we have occasion to pronounce censure, let us begin with ourselves, and, remembering our own weakness, let us be indulgent to others.” May we never forget the need to take the log out of our own eye as we address the speck in the other person, but let us never think that we must be perfect before we can be used to admonish and restore others. To whom must you utter gentle but firm words of rebuke and restoration this day?
Passages for Further Study
- 2 Samuel 11:1–12:15a
- Matthew 7:1–5
- James 5:19–20
- Jude 22–23