Sermon: ARE YOU SPIRITUAL?
Text: Galatians 5.24-6.5
NOTE: This sermon was done while still in seminary or soon thereafter so everything is noted in brackets and I even have my comments before the Scripture reading planned out. I have preached more than one version of this sermon with differing lengths. This is the only version I could find on my hard drive.
Please turn with me to Galatians 5.24-6.5. I come to you today assuming that we all want to be Spiritual. As I read this passage I want you to ask yourself “What does it mean to be ‘Spiritual’ according to the Apostle Paul?” Do we think of Spirituality in the same way that Paul does?
Hear the Word of the Lord:
[read text: Gal 5.24-6.5]
Let us pray for God’s illumination of His Word:
A few months ago I was talking to a good friend who also happened to be a ruling elder in a presbyterian Church. He told me of a new member who had recently become Reformed through the work of a radio ministry. As a result, he had been forced to leave the Bible school he had been attending, and they even refused to release his transcripts. Because of his Reformed convictions about the Gospel, this young man found that the time and tuition money he had spent stolen from him in the name of Jesus.
Obviously, this young man won a sympathetic hearing in a Presbyterian Church. He was received as a new member. But something happened. It seems that the young man found his new Church was not reformed enough, according to what he had learned from this radio ministry. Eventually, he dropped out of the church saying that, unless every sermon first preached on the Law and then on the Gospel, in that kind of rote manner, he could not attend any more worship services. In the name of the Gospel, as he had been taught about it especially from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he could no longer be part of the Church–or for that matter, any other Church.
That sort of mindset and behavior is not what the Apostle Paul is presenting to the Galatians in his defense of the Gospel. On the contrary, Paul’s overwhelming concern for the Gospel is precisely because of the importance of the Church and church unity. The Judaizers, who Paul writes against in this letter, were teaching that everyone who wants to be identified as a full Christian had to first be circumcised. Uncircumcised Christians, Gentile converts who had merely been baptized, were second class citizens. This attack on Church unity, Paul considers a denial of the Gospel.
The theme of Church unity recurs continually: In the beginning of chapter 3, Paul points out that the Galatians had all received the same Holy Spirit whether or not they were circumcised. At the beginning of chapter 4 he reiterates this point saying that we have all received the same Spirit of God’s Son Jesus.
Paul’s discussion contrasting the deeds of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit continues this same theme. The Spirit should unite us. If we bite and devour one another, if we are involved in strife and factions, then we are carrying out the desires of the flesh. But the Holy Spirit gives each of us the opportunity to develop traits that are conducive to Church unity.
This brings us to Paul’s introduction of our text this morning:
Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit, let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.
In this transition, the Apostle Paul is relating what he is about to say, with everything that has been said before in his letter.
IF WE LIVE BY THE SPIRIT WE MUST LIVE IN UNITY IN THE CHURCH.
Now, Paul covers two major ways in which we must live in unity. In vv. 6 through 10, he says that we demonstrate unity in the Church by paying our teachers. But today I am going to concentrate on vv. 1 through 5. In our passage this morning, the Apostle Paul says that:
WE LIVE IN UNITY IN THE CHURCH BY FORGIVING ONE ANOTHER.
[read text: Gal 6.1]
Now lets ask some questions about what Paul is saying:
Who gets restored?
Notice here that Paul isn’t talking about someone who does something wrong, and then is convicted of his sin and confesses it. No; Paul explicitly refers to a case in which someone is caught in the act. That person, caught red-handed “in any trespass,” is to be restored.
How is one restored?
“In a spirit of gentleness.” In an age of permissiveness, we often get frustrated that no one will get tough with sin. The Apostle Paul, living in a world even more pagan than ours, and watching apostasy all around him, had more reason than we do to be frustrated. Nevertheless, he exhorts us to restore sinners gently.
It is even more challenging when we consider
Who does the gentle restoring?
Paul is emphatic: “You who are Spiritual”–who are filled with the Spirit, who live by the Spirit–are the ones who do the restoring.
Do we typically associate Spirituality with the gentle restoration of sinners? Do we measure Spirituality by how it produces unity in this way or in any way? I have been in circles, and indeed I must confess have willingly participated in such groups, where Spirituality meant having a whole list of things by which to judge other Christians. It is all too easy to see gentleness not as a sign of Spirituality but of weakness. The Apostle Paul turns such thinking on it’s head. Those given to challenging others and boasting in their own standing are the ones who are walking according to the flesh. Those ready to gently restore are the ones walking according to the Spirit.
How does Paul warn those who would gently restore?
Paul tells us to look out lest we be tempted into sin ourselves while we are dealing with someone else.
I have to admit, when I hear someone emphasizing unity, and gentleness, and the restoration of sinners, I wonder if they’re really taking sin seriously. The Apostle Paul here more or less trashes this stereotype. He is very concerned about sin–so concerned that he warns us to watch ourselves when we attempt to restore others. Paul takes sin very seriously, but he still demands from us gentle restoration, despite the risk of temptation.
Church unity means living in unity with other sinners. Without a willingness to gently restore, that unity will not last. But furthermore, Church unity with other sinners means we can expect to suffer from the sins of others.
WE LIVE IN UNITY BY BEARING THE SINS OF OTHERS
We see this in the next verse:
[read text: Gal 6.2]
Burden bearing ties in perfectly with Paul’s reference to “you who are Spiritual.” Back when Moses told God that he could not bear the burden of the people’s sinful complaining, God answered Moses in Numbers 11 by giving the Spirit to seventy elders so that they could help him in bearing the burden of the people. We have been given the Spirit to bear the burdens of others. If we are spiritual, we will bear one another’s burdens.
But what are these burdens?
They are not simply the generic needs that other people have. The context would dictate that Paul is talking about the burdens we must bear in restoring sinners gently. We bear the burdens of other people’s sins.
When we talk about restoring sinners in the Church, lets remember we’re talking about people close to us. It is very difficult for me to sin without sinning against my wife and/or against my children. How could it be otherwise? That’s how it is in the Church. When we talk about restoring someone who is caught in a sin, we are almost invariably talking about someone who has hurt us.
This is grim stuff, but it gives us the most glorious opportunity we as mere mortals could ever be given. It allows us a chance to fulfill what the Apostle Paul calls “the law of Christ.” Consider the first duty God gave to Ezekiel after He had filled Ezekiel with His Spirit in Ezekiel 3.24. In Ezekiel 4.4, God says:
As for you, lie down on your left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel on it; you shall bear their iniquity for the number of days that you lie on it. For I have assigned you a number of days corresponding to the years of their iniquity, three hundred and ninety days; thus you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Israel.
What Ezekiel is doing is described for us in priestly and sacrificial language. It is the language used in Leviticus 10.16 to describe the sin offering that “bears away the guilt of the congregation.” It is the same langurage used of the scapegoat in Leviticus 16.22 and the priesthood in Numbers 18.1. It is unmistakable sacrificial and priestly language.
You see, here in Galatians 6.2 we have the essence of the priesthood of all believers, that we bear the sins of others and thus “fulfill the law of Christ”–not some “new law” which Jesus verbally gave, but rather a principle which He Himself embodies as the Word made flesh.
If we want to show that we believe the Gospel, and to display the unity of the Church which the Gospel demands, then we must be willing to serve others by suffering as a result of their sins. That’s what it means to bear one another burdens. That’s what it means to fulfill the law of Christ.
But what if we don’t want to gently restore people who are caught sinning?
Paul spends the next three verses dissecting the motives involved in living after the flesh–in refusing to bear one another’s burdens.
WE LIVE IN UNITY BY BEING HUMBLED BY OUR OWN SINFULNESS
[read text: Gal 6.3-5]
This is a trustworthy statement, and deserving of full acceptance, that King Jesus came into the world to save sinners. Jesus made himself nothing even though He really was something, and–miracle of miracles!–he did it for our sakes, who really are nothing. Even though He was worthy of all honor and glory and power, he was willing to lay aside those titles and humble Himself in order to restore us while we were caught in every trespass. He even had to suffer and resist temptation because of His willingness to bear our burdens in a spirit of gentleness.
Consider then how vile it is, for someone, who catches a brother or sister sinning, to despise him, or to deal harshly with him. The difference between the most sanctified Christian in history and the worst Christian offender, is not even worth mentioning in comparison to the vast gulf that exists between Jesus and that sanctified Christian. So how dare we think we are something when we are nothing? We are deceiving ourselves and breaking the unity of the Church in boasting by comparing ourselves to other people.
If we are humbled by our own sinfulness, we are more likely to live in unity with fellow Christians. What we need to do is evaluate ourselves without reference to the sins and failings of others. That’s what Paul means when he says that each one shall bear his own load.
Let’s remember, that the most basic sin, the original temptation, was to be like God. That’s what the serpent offered Eve. Ironically, by sinning, Adam and Eve became less like God. Now, those who are in Jesus are sanctified, which any Reformed text in theology will tell you, means being “renewed in God’s image.”
But here lies even greater irony. When we think of what God is like, we think of glory and power. That, after all, is what tempted Adam and Eve to sin–they wanted glory and power and knowledge for themselves. But think of what the Apostle Paul says just a few verses later in Galatians 6.14. He doesn’t say, “May it never be that I should boast except in the omnipotence of God;” Or: “May it never be that I should boast except in the glory of the Lord.” No: “May it never be that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” We are made after the image of God, but Jesus is the image of God. The Gospel reveals to us that the image of God is cruciform!
So when you are snubbed. When you get your feelings hurt because a brother or sister was thoughtless. Or even more when you are dreadfully betrayed. When you suffer from the sin of another saint in any way, What is God doing to you? Answer: He is renewing you in His image as He has revealed Himself in the Gospel. When you suffer you are imitating God as he has come to us in Jesus. You are becoming as much like God as it is possible to be in this world. God on the cross.
And if you think you are too good for that–that you are better than that–then you are spitting in the face of the highest honor and the greatest privilege you could ever be given. “If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing he deceives himself.”
If we are Spiritual, we will pursue unity with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Would anything else be worthy of the message of reconciliation or the Gospel of peace? What other manner of life could possibly be consistent with justification by faith in Jesus rather than by any work we have done or any status we have attained. What other lifestyle could a person pursue who has been united to Jesus by the Spirit, and united with all other believers as one?
Isn’t this what it is all about? What marriage can possibly survive if the husband and wife are comparing themselves to one another and boasting about themselves in contrast to the other? What family will survive if each member is unwilling to bear the burdens of the other family members? How long will two people remain friends, if they are unwilling to forgive one another?
If we refuse to gently restore people caught in sin, because we think of ourselves as really Spiritual, as something when we are nothing, then we are merely doing the deeds of the flesh. Instead of being boastful, we are supposed to show a spirit of gentleness. Instead of challenging one another, we are supposed to restore one another. Instead of envying one another, we are supposed to bear one another’ burdens. If we are truly Spiritual, that is how we will live.
Let us pray.
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