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Grace In Action
Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ. For if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself. But let every man prove his own work, and then shall he have rejoicing in himself alone, and not in another. For every man shall bear his own burden. Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting. And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith. (vv. 1-10)
We are now to consider a number of special admonitions having to do with the manifestation of grace, in our attitude toward our brethren generally and toward the world outside, for where grace is active in the soul there will always be kindly consideration of others. Where a spirit of censoriousness prevails, or where malice and bitterness fill the heart, one may be certain that, for the time being at least, the one who manifests such a disposition has lost the sense of his debtorship to the grace of God.
In the first instance, we have the case of a brother who has failed, though not willfully. The Spirit of God says, “Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault.” He did not set out with intention to sin. He was not endeavoring to stifle his conscience, but sudden temptation proved too much for him, as for instance, in the case of the apostle Peter, who really loved the Lord, but when challenged as to being one of His disciples was so filled with fear that he denied the One he had declared he would never forsake. It is important to distinguish between willful, deliberate sin, when one has put away a good conscience and definitely embarked upon a course of evil, and sudden and unexpected failure because of overwhelming temptation taking one off his guard. How many fall under such circumstances! Perhaps it is the power of appetite or of fleshly passion. It may be a question of a quick temper or unjudged pride and vanity. One goes on unconscious of danger, finds himself in circumstances for which he was not prepared, and before he realizes what is transpiring, he has sinned against the One who loves him most. It is easy for others who do not understand the hidden springs of action to blame such a one very severely, particularly if his fault is of such a character as to reflect discredit upon the testimony of the Lord. The easiest way in such a case is to insist on immediate excision, excommunicating the wrongdoer from all church privileges. But here a better way is unfolded to us. Paul writes, “Ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” It is no evidence of spirituality to give way to harsh judgment, but rather to manifest compassion for the one who has failed and to seek to bring him back to fellowship with God. It is only in the spirit of meekness that this can be done. A hard, critical spirit will drive the failing one deeper into sin and make it more difficult to recover him at last. But a loving, tender word, accompanied by gracious effort to recover, will often result in saving him from further declension.
If we remember what we ourselves are and how easily we too may fall, we will not be over-stern in dealing with others. It is not that we are called upon to excuse sin. That must be dealt with faithfully, for we are told in the law, “Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.” But we are to point out the way of deliverance; considering our own need of divine help continually in order that we may be kept from sin, we will know better how to deal with those who in the hour of temptation have missed their path.
Then we have a precious word as to that mutual concern for others which should ever characterize believers: “Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” The law of Christ is the law of love, and love seeks to help others in their distress and share the load with them. If anyone thinks himself superior to such service and stands upon his dignity, he is but manifesting his own littleness, for “if a man think himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself.”
Each one should recognize his own individual responsibility to God, and therefore he is to be careful that his own work is in accordance with God’s revealed mind, as indicated in His Word. As he thus walks obediently he will know that joy which comes from fellowship with God and will not depend on others for his happiness. It is a recognized principle of Scripture that each man must bear his own responsibility, and this is the meaning of verse 5, where the word burden suggests something quite different to its use in verse 2.
Verse 6 lays down a principle of wide application: “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” If God has used another to instruct and help me in the way of life, I, on my part, should be glad to do what I can to be of help and assistance to him. It is not simply that preachers entirely given to the work of the Lord should be sustained by the gracious gifts of those to whom they minister, though that is involved in it, but it is a constant giving and receiving in all walks of life. He who seeks only to be benefited by others and is not concerned about sharing with them, will have a Dead Sea kind of a life. It is said that nothing can live in that body of water because it has no outlet, and though millions of tons of fresh water pour into it every week, evaporation and mineral deposits make it so bitter and acrid that it cannot sustain life. He who is more concerned about giving to others than about receiving for himself will be constantly fresh and happy in his own experience and will enjoy all the more the good things ministered to him.
It is a remarkable fact that it is in this connection, what we might call the principle of “giving and receiving,” that the Holy Spirit directs our attention most solemnly to the kindred law of “sowing and reaping.” It never pays to be forgetful of the future. He who acts for the present moment only is like one who is indifferent to the coming harvest, and so either thinks to save by sparse sowing, or else recklessly strews obnoxious seeds in his field, sowing wild oats, as people say, and yet hopes to reap a far different kind of harvest. We reap as we sow. This is insisted on again and again in Scripture. Here we are told, “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” Elsewhere our Lord has laid down the same principle. He asks, “Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?” (Matthew 7:16). And He declares that “every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bring forth evil fruit” (Matthew 7:17). Israel sowed the wind, the prophet exclaimed, and he predicted they would reap the whirlwind (Hosea 8:7). Men who sow wickedness reap the same, asserted Eliphaz (Job 4:8). This is so self-evident that it needs no emphasis. Yet how easily we forget it, and how readily we hope that in some strange, unnatural transformation our sinful folly will be so overruled as to produce the peaceable fruits of righteousness. But whether it be in the case of the unsaved worldling, or the failing Christian, the inexorable law will be fulfilled-we reap what we sow. How important then that we walk carefully before God, not permitting ourselves any license which is unbecoming in one who professes to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. “For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting” (v. 8). It is not that we earn everlasting life by our behavior; we receive it as a gift when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:36). But we now have eternal life in dying bodies, and in a scene of contrariety, where everything about us is opposed to that new and divinely-implanted nature which we were given in regeneration. Soon, at our Lord’s return, we shall enter into life in all its fullness, and then, at the judgment seat of Christ, we shall reap according to our sowing. They who live for God now will receive rich reward in that day. And they who yield now to the impulses of the flesh and are occupied with things that do not glorify God will suffer loss.
How timely then the admonition: “Let us not be weary in well doing,” coupled with the sure promise, “for in due season we shall reap if we faint not.” We are so apt, having begun in the Spirit, to seek to finish in the flesh, as in the case of these Galatians. But only that which is of the Spirit will be rewarded in the day of manifestation. That which is of the flesh-even though seemingly religious-will only produce corruption and bring disappointment at last.
In closing this section the apostle reverts to the general principle of verse 6, now extending it to include all men everywhere. The spiritual man is one who sees things from God’s standpoint, therefore he cannot be insular, self-centered, of indifferent to the needy souls all about him. “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” Thus we will imitate Him whose life was laid out in doing good, both to the unthankful and the godless, and to the little flock who waited for the consolation of Israel. As we seek, by the power of the indwelling Spirit, to maintain the same attitude toward our fellow men, whether sinners or saints, we fulfill the righteousness of that law which says, “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” We do not need to put ourselves under the law to do this. We only need to recognize our relationship to the glorified Christ, who is the Head of that new creation to which, by grace, we belong.
Are we ever on the watch for such opportunities to manifest the goodness of God to those with whom we come in contact, and thus magnify the Lord, whose we are and whom we serve? Having been so wondrously dealt with ourselves, how can we do other than seek to exemplify in our dealings with others the mercy and loving-kindness which has been shown toward us?
This is indeed to live on a higher plane than law. It is the liberty of grace, which the Holy Spirit gives to all who recognize the Lordship of Christ.
Glorying In The Cross
Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen. (vv. 11-18)
There is something about verse 11 that I think lets us right into the heart of the apostle Paul. He was some distance away from Galatia when word came to him that Judaizing teachers had come in among the different assemblies, and were teaching the believers that unless they were circumcised and kept the law they could not be saved. He saw that this meant to step down from the truth of grace altogether. The believer does not obey in order to be saved, but because he is saved. He delights to glorify the One who has redeemed him, and his obedience springs from a heart filled with gratitude to that One who gave His life for him. He does not try to make himself fit or to keep himself fit for heaven. The apostle was so much disturbed by what he heard that he sat right down and penned this letter. It glows with the white heat of his burning zeal for the gospel of God. As we have already remarked, it was not a usual thing for men to write their own letters in those days. Letter-writing was a distinct occupation, as it is still in the different cities of the East, and if a man had a good deal to do he would engage one of these professional letter-writers just as here and now a man who has much correspondence engages a stenographer. He would not attempt to handle it all himself. And so ordinarily the apostle dictated his letters to various persons. They wrote them out, and he signed them and sent them on. But in this case apparently he had no amanuensis close at hand, and he was so stirred in his spirit that he felt he could not lose a moment in getting a letter off, and so sat right down and wrote it himself. He refers to this in verse 11, “Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand.” It is not really a large letter. Compared with the epistle to the Romans this is a very short one. It is not more than one-third the length of 1 Corinthians, and only about one-half the length of 2 Corinthians. Compared with other writings in the New Testament it is brief indeed, but we get help here if we consult a more critical translation. It should read, “You see with what large characters I have written unto you with mine own hand.” And that indicates not only that he was not used to letter-writing, but we gather besides that he had some kind of affliction with his eyes, and was not able to see well. You remember the time he was on trial in Jerusalem, and the high priest commanded him to be smitten on the mouth, and indignantly he shouted out, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall” (Acts 23:3), and somebody said, “Do you speak evil of God’s high priest?” At once he apologized and said, “I did not know that he was the high priest.” He ought to have known, for there Ananias stood, doubtless in his priestly robes, but if Paul were at the other end of the room with poor eyesight he might not have recognized the man. And then there are other Scripture passages that give similar suggestions. He had already said in this letter, “I bear you record, that, if it had been possible, ye would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (Galatians 4:15). They would not have wanted to do that unless his sight were poor. So I take it that possibly this was the affliction which he had to endure for many years, and therefore when he sat down to write he was like a half-blind person writing in big sprawling letters. And realizing that he was not sending a neat manuscript such as an amanuensis would have prepared, he apologized for it by saying, “You see with what large characters I have written unto you with mine own hand.” I think that manuscript with its large letters ought to have touched the hearts of those Galatians, and should have made them realize how truly he loved them, how concerned he was about them, that he could not wait to write them in the ordinary way, but must send off this epistle as quickly as it could be produced.
Then he concludes with these words, “As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised.” If it could have been possible to keep the Christians within the fold of Judaism and make of them one more Jewish sect, they would have been saved from a great deal of persecution they had to suffer. And so the apostle says, “These emissaries from Jerusalem going about among you have not your good at heart, but they want to make a fair show in the flesh; they want to show a great many adherents to what they teach, but do not take the place of separation to the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. I could go with them and make a fair show in the flesh, too, and would not have to suffer persecution for the cross of Christ.” That cross was not only the place where the Lord Jesus suffered for our sins but is the symbol of separation. It told out the world’s hatred of the Son of God, and Paul had identified himself with the One whom the world spurned, and therefore he gloried in that cross.
When people take legal ground and tell you that salvation is by human effort, they themselves never live up to their own profession. You may have heard some say, “I do not think people have to be saved by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ; I think if everybody does the best they can, that is all that can be expected.” Did you ever see a man who did the best he could do? Have you always done the best you knew? You know you have failed over and over again, even in those things that you knew to be right, things you did not do that you should have done, and things you did that you knew you should not have done. Therefore, to talk about being saved by doing the best you can is absurd. No man has ever done his best, except, of course, our holy, spotless Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Somebody says, “It is gospel enough for me to follow the Sermon on the Mount.” That is saying a good deal. Did you ever see a man who did that, or have you done it? Test yourself by it. Read Matthew 5-7, and just test yourself honestly; check yourself, and see how far you fall short of the precious precepts of this wonderful address given by the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no question but that you and I ought to live up to it. It indicates the type of life that should characterize every believer. But if you have not lived up to the Sermon on the Mount, either as a matter of attaining or maintaining salvation, at once you put yourself out of court. You have not lived it out, and I am afraid you never will, and therefore you can be very thankful indeed that God is saving poor sinners by grace. Someone else says, “I believe if we keep the law God gave at Sinai (it is holy, just, and good, the apostle himself tells us), it is all that God or man could require of us.” So far as actual living is concerned, I suppose it is; but again I put the question, Have you kept it? Do you know of any one who has ever kept it? Let us keep in mind the words, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). So on this ground there is no hope for any of us. “If we fail,” some say, “God has provided the sacraments.” But those who talk in that way are never certain that they are keeping the sacraments correctly. How do you know that you are keeping them perfectly? You may fail in purity of purpose as you take the Lord’s Supper or in baptism. Even they who count on being saved through self-effort do not keep the law perfectly. We all fail, and therefore we need to recognize the fact that salvation is only through the free, matchless grace of God.
They would like to have you follow on in their ways in order that they might glory in your flesh, says the apostle. Men like to get a following, they like to have people join with them in any particular stand they take. It ministers to the pride of the natural heart to be able to head up a large group.
In opposition to all this human effort Paul sets the cross of our blessed Savior: “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” When he said these words he was not thinking just of the wooden instrument on which Jesus died, and he certainly was not thinking of a cross on a steeple of a church, or on an altar of a church, nor yet of a cross dangling from a chain at the waist or throat, or worn as an ornament. When he wrote of “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” he was thinking of all that is involved in the crucifixion of the blessed Savior on that tree. The cross of Christ is the measure of man’s hatred to God. Think of it! God sent His Son into the world! Millions of people talk about it at the Christmas season, and the merchants today are encouraging people to observe His birth so that they may sell more goods. You will find that even a Jewish merchant will wish you a merry Christmas if you purchase something from him. But remember this, the world has already told us what it thinks of Christ. It may celebrate His birth by gifts one to another, they may put on glorious concerts and have great festivals in the name of the Christ born in Bethlehem, but this world has shown what it thinks of Jesus by hurrying Him to a Roman cross. When Pilate asked, “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” they cried out with one accord, “Let him be crucified” (Matthew 27:22), and that is the Christ they profess to worship today, the Christ they have crucified. They will even celebrate Christmas in the taverns of our cities, celebrate the birth of Christ by drinking and carousing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, and they will call that keeping the birth of Jesus. But the Christ of Bethlehem is the Christ of the cross, and the world has given its sentence concerning Him. They said, “We will not have this man to reign over us.” “Well,” the apostle says, “I glory in siding with the Man whom the world rejected.” When he says, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” it is just another way of saying, “My boast, my joy, my delight is in the One whom the world has crucified.”
Then the cross of Christ was the place where God has told out His love in utmost fullness. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). When man did his worst, God did His best. When man said, “Away with him, crucify him!” God accepted Him as the substitute for sinners, and the judgment that our sins deserved fell on Him. God made His soul an offering for our sin. And so when Paul says, “I glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus,” he means, I glory in the love that gave Jesus to die for me, a sinner.
But he has shown that Christ’s death is my death and I am to take my place with Him, recognizing His death as mine. In 2:20 we read, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” When Paul says, “I glory in the cross of Christ,” he means this then: I accept the cross of Christ as my cross; I accept His death as my death; I take my place with Him as one who has died to the world, to sin, and to self, and henceforth I am not under law but under grace. Law crucified my Savior. He met its claims upon that cross, and now, having satisfied all its demands, I am delivered from its authority and am free to walk before God in grace, seeking to glorify Him in a life of happy obedience because I love the One who died there to put away my sin. All this, and much more, is involved in the expression, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom,” he says, “the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.”
Christian, have you taken that stand? Do you realize that Christ’s cross means absolute separation from the world that rejected Him? That is what we confess in our baptism; that is what Christian baptism means. I have heard of many a believer who pondered a long time before taking the step of being buried in baptism because he was afraid he would not be able to live out what was set forth in this beautiful ordinance, and, of course, apart from Christ we could not. But what is involved? A recognition that I have died with Him, that I have been buried with Him, and that this is an end of me as a man after the flesh. Therefore, I have been raised with Christ to walk in newness of life.
I remember some brethren who were talking about a Christian’s relationship to oath-bound secret societies. (This Book tells me concerning the Lord Jesus that He said, “In secret have I said nothing” [John 18:20], therefore I know that He never was inside of an oath-bound secret order, and He has called upon me to be a follower of Him.) One of these brethren said to the other, “You belong to such-and-such an order.”
“Oh, no,” he said, “I do not.”
“Why, you do; I was there the night you were initiated, and once a member of that you are a member until death.”
“Exactly; I quite admit what you say, but I buried the lodge member in Lake Ontario.”
He meant that in his baptism the old order came to an end.
I have heard of a dear young woman once a thorough worldling, but at last she was brought to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Her friends came on her birthday one evening to give her a surprise party and wanted to take her with them to a place of ungodly worldly amusement. She said, “It is good of you to think of me, but I could not go with you; I never go to those places.”
“Nonsense,” they said, “you have often gone with us.”
“But,” she said, “I have buried the girl that used to go to those places. ‘Not I, but Christ liveth in me.’”
Christian baptism should speak of separation from the world that crucified the Lord Jesus Christ. Look at Israel. They had been slaves to Pharaoh, and there is old Pharaoh on the other side of the sea, shouting, “You come back here and serve me; put your necks under the yoke of bondage again.” And I think I hear them say, “Good-bye, Pharaoh; the Red Sea rolls between us; we have been crucified to Egypt and Egypt to us.” That is it, “I [have been] crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me.” And so the world is crucified to me and I to the world. Let me say a word of warning here. Many a Christian has judged the vile, filthy, corrupt, polluted things of the world who has never judged the brilliant, cultured, esthetic world. But the brilliant, cultured world is just as vile in the sight of God as the corrupt, disgusting, filthy world that many walked with, in days before they were converted. You can get out of fellowship with God by association with the cultured world, as truly as by going down into the world’s base and ungodly places of vulgar amusement.
Oh, Christian, keep close to the footsteps of the flock of Christ, and do not let them meet you in any other field. Here is real circumcision. Circumcision was an ordinance that signified the death of the flesh. “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature,” or, literally, “a new creation.” And that is the whole thing. You and I through the cross have passed out of the old creation, if saved, and are now in the new creation of which Christ is the glorified Head. See to it that in your associations, in your pleasure, in your amusement, in your religious life, you keep in that sphere where Christ is owned as Head and Lord.
And then he adds, “And as many as walk according to this rule”-what rule? He has not laid down any rule. Yes, he has said we are a new creation. That is the way to test everything that may be put before me. Is it of the new creation or is it of the old? If it is of the old, it has nothing for me. I belong to the new and am to walk according to this rule. “As many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy,” for they will always need mercy. They will never attain perfection in this life, but God never forgets His own. Sometimes we may drift so far that we forget Him, we may even feel as though our hearts are utterly dead toward Him, as though He has forsaken us, but remember what He says, “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5). There is a double negative in the original, it is, “I will never, never leave thee, nor forsake thee.” It is unthinkable that the blessed Lord should ever give up one who has put his trust in Jesus, and so He always deals with us in mercy, restoring our souls when we fail.
Then the apostle uses a very peculiar expression, “And upon the Israel of God.” Who does he mean by “the Israel of God”? I do not think he is referring to the church as such, for he has just referred to that when speaking of the new creation. I think he recognizes as the true Israel those of God’s earthly people who really accept the testimony of God and who own their sin and trust the Savior whom God has provided. “They are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Romans 9:6). That a man happens to be born of the seed of Abraham does not make him a son of Abraham. Because a man happens to be born of Israel this does not make him an Israelite. He must have the faith of Abraham to be blessed with faithful Abraham, and he must receive the Savior who came through Israel if he is going to be a true Israelite.
Now that these Judaizers have made so much of a distinguishing mark upon the body through an ordinance and have said that a man that did not bear that mark was unclean and unfit for Christian fellowship, Paul says, I have a better mark than anything you may talk about. “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” What did he mean by that? His very body had been wounded many times for Jesus’ sake, when those cruel stones fell on him at Lystra, when beaten with stripes his body was branded; but he glories in these things and says, “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Someone has said, “When we get home to heaven God is not going to look us over for medals but for scars.” I wonder whether we have received any scars for Jesus’ sake. Many of them are not physical scars, they are scars of the heart, but it is a great thing to have the brand-marks of the Lord Jesus.
And now Paul closes this epistle without any salutations. Most of his letters contain a great many salutations to various people, but here he does not send any special message to any of them because, you see, they were playing fast and loose with the things of God, and he would not, after giving them this stern message, placate them by sending cordial salutations to the brethren in Christ as though nothing had happened to hinder fellowship. So he merely says, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.” God grant that every one of us may enjoy that grace!
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on Galatians 6". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent