The Fork in the Road: A Different Gospel, Part 5 (Gal 6)

(Gal 6:1-2 ESV)  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. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Does “law of Christ” mean the “rulebook of Christ”? No. It means submitting to the Spirit’s work in us to become people who express their faith through love. And people who love will gently restore those who slip and bear one another’s burdens. (Context matters.)

Chapter 6 isn’t filled with additional, new laws so much as instructions regarding how to love. And these instructions would be be true and binding had Galatians never been written, because we’d know to carry each other’s burdens, for example, just by knowing that we’re supposed to love our neighbors.

Some authors want to argue that “law of Christ” means we’re still under law, just a different law from the Law of Moses. Denny Smith argues,

There were instruments of music used in Old Testament worship.  Why was it okay to use them?  Because there was word from God approving such under the law of Moses (read the Psalms).  Why is it wrong to use them today?  Because there is no word from God approving such under the law of Christ under which we live today.

But if that’s true, then how do we fulfill the law? Well, Paul says we fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. He doesn’t say “sing a cappella and so fulfill the law of Christ”! You see, he’d just said in chapter 5 that love compels us to serve one another. He’s just giving us an example of how to do exactly that.

(Gal 6:7-10 ESV) 7 Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. 10 So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

To “sow to the flesh” is to resist the Spirit and act contrary to faith and love. To “sow to the Spirit” is to plant the kind of seeds the produce the fruit of the Spirit. It’s being disciplined to think, feel, and act in faith and love at all times, so that we cooperate with the Spirit’s transforming work in us.

V. 10 is the culmination of the book — the last verse Paul dictated. We “do good to everyone” because it’s what the Spirit wants us to do, because loving people act this way. You see, the church is to be marked by the good it does more than its pattern of worship, because love is most clearly shown by what we do for each other and for others. And the true gospel is marked by faith expressing itself through love — not through sermons on the pure doctrine of love, but through acts of love.

Paul then adds an additional note —

(Gal 6:12-14 ESV) 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. 14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

Focus for a moment on v. 13. Paul argues from the inconsistency of the Judaizing teachers. They insist that Gentile males be circumcised, but not that they keep the whole law. For that matter, the teachers themselves don’t keep the whole law. Rather, they want to pick out certain elements of the Law as “boundary markers” to show that the Gentiles are separated from the world just as the Jews are.

This is a point lost on most of us but emphasized recently by N. T. Wright and others. The First Century Jews weren’t really about a works salvation — not as they saw it. Rather, they considered the “marks” of Judaism essential, so that circumcision, honoring Jewish holidays, and the food laws became “marks” separating the Jews from Gentiles. They understood that God saves by faith, but they concluded that these distinctive markers of Judaism were essential to be a part of the covenant community and so saved.

Thus, Paul says, they “boast” in these marks. After all, there was often considerable sacrifice involved in displaying their differences this way. Many a Jew had accepted martyrdom rather than give up the distinctive marks of Judaism. Wright explains,

The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16. Why is there now ‘no condemnation’ [per Rom 8:1]? Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit.

Now, if you think carefully about this, you see that it tells us that the marks of the church, and the law of Christ, and the law of the Spirit in Rom 8:2, and the fruit of the Spirit, and “faith expressing itself through love” are all much the same thing. And it’s not complicated.

When the modern Churches of Christ define themselves by such things as their acts of worship — using these as boundary markers — they are guilty of the very same thing. There are, of course, actual boundary markers — but Paul has already told us what they are — faith in Jesus, love for our neighbors, and the presence of the Spirit.

Paul concludes by saying it like this —

(Gal 6:15 ESV) 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

We last met “counts” in 5:6 — “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Now Paul says that a “new creation” is what counts. What’s going on?

“New creation” refers to a second Genesis 1, to God once again making mankind in his image, but this time doing it by living in his people through his Spirit. It’s the same thought as —

(Rom 12:1 ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

We are to “be transformed” (passive voice!) by a renewed mind — clearly a reference back to Paul’s description of the work of the Spirit in chapter 8.

You see, you entirely miss the point of “new creation” if you don’t accept the obvious — that this is a miracle performed by God in us to change us into his image. If it’s just God issuing commands and our obeying them as well as we can on our own, well, God tried that under the Law of Moses. It didn’t work out.

(2Co 3:18) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

The solution isn’t different laws but hearts transformed by God — restoring us to God’s image as we were always meant to be.

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12 Responses

  1. Jay,

    Genesis 2:7 – Now the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

    John 20:21-22 – Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with thet He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit'”

    Both creations involve the breath (spirit) of God and fellowship with God. In Eden, God walked with man. In the new creation, God lives in man.

    Good post!

    Jerry committedtotruth.wordpress.com/

  2. This is an excellent post and points out what is perhaps the fatal flaw of traditional coc teaching and practice.

    If we miss the work of God in us to transform us from the inside out we have missed the purpose of God’s redemption. Baptism is not a formal opportunity to begin keeping a new set of laws to please God. Baptism is death to the abilities and resources of human flesh and a resurrection to a new person energized by the Spirit with a supernatural ability to love as God loves, say no to sin, and to represent the Kingdom on earth well.

    Many churches are only a cast of actors who are by sheer determination trying to play a role and the critic they can’t convince is God. God’s church is a community of those who have died to self and are alive in Christ and who by “nature” want to please God and love everyone in tangible ways.

    The dead give-away is boasting. Boasting is excluded in authentic Christianity. What do you boast about? The church, proper music, correct baptism, weekly communion, etc.? Or is your boasting only about Christ and what He has accomplished for helpless and hopeless sinners?

    Royce

  3. Great post Jay. I love it when you post on substantive theology.

    Royce wrote: “God’s church is a community of those who have died to self…..”

    In my observation God’s church is a community of those who are DYING to self. Or maybe it’s just me who struggles to die to self.

  4. ” If it’s just God issuing commands and our obeying them as well as we can on our own, well, God tried that under the Law of Moses. It didn’t work out.
    The solution isn’t different laws but hearts transformed by God — restoring us to God’s image as we were always meant to be.”

    Jay can you point to which laws were recalled, or was it just some laws, that were done away with. How about these “Thou shalt not steal, lie, kill, commit adultery — are these included.

    Mat 5:17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

    How was Jesus to do this?

  5. I’m sure many who read this can remember churches handing out tracts and pamphlets that had the words of Isa 1:18, “Come, let us reason together.” Of course, there is nothing about reason in a message that says, “If you accept the list and proof texts in this tract you are my brother or sister; if not, then you are not.”

    Reasoning is, as strange as this may sound to some, is not prevalent in a head religion. To reason well is to listen well to another; to accept the mind and heart of the other; to understand that the other, as all people, is a creation of his or her experiences, a creation we call soul; and that these things together allow the other to see God as well as we. Heads that keep a list cannot fathom this kind of depth in another.

    Reasoning does not mean agreement in all things, nor a surrender of all things. What it does mean is that I see a person in front of me, a child of God, who will either be redeemed by seeing it for the first time; grow by understanding it better than he or she did this morning; or convince me that it is me that needs to open my eyes and ears to hear the heavenly Father better than I did before I sat down.

  6. I beg your pardon for any grammer or sentence structure mistakes in my posts. I’m usually writing them quickly during the last few minutes of my lunch break. This blog is great reading while I eat.

  7. 1. He who knows and knows he knows is wise…follow him
    2. He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep…awake him
    3. He who know not and knows he knows not is simple…teach him
    4. He who knows not and knows not that he knows not is a fool…shun him

    The wise and the fool see themselves the same. The only difference is the wise has Truth; the fool is in darkness.
    The Apostle Paul had an obligation to bring the gospel to both. We have to choose which one are we. The Bible makes many comparisons to the wise and the fool. Only the Truth can rescue the fool because the Truth is light.

  8. How wise it is to realize that apostolic doctrine is NOT based on law. The law of Christ is also called the law of freedom, which is contrary to a law of commandments and prohibitions. You write, “To “sow to the flesh” is to resist the Spirit and act contrary to faith and love. To “sow to the Spirit” is to plant the kind of seeds the produce the fruit of the Spirit. It’s being disciplined to think, feel, and act in faith and love at all times, so that we cooperate with the Spirit’s transforming work in us.”

    And you seem to fail to realize that the contrast is between flesh and the human spirit. Our spirits are taught by reading and hearing God’s Word. Our fleshly nature calls for us to be selfish and to do whatever the flesh wants us to do. We also are inhabited by a spiritual nature, which seeks for us to be unselfish and courteous and kind. Paul describes this dual nature in writing to Galatian Christians.

    We do well to ask God to help us be spiritual rather than fleshly. But the decisions must be made within our own hearts. God does NOT make us be kind and loving and generous and godly. He invites us to be so. We choose. When we are reborn of water and the spirit, He gifts us with His Spirit indwelling us to help us. Still WE choose.

  9. Jerry,

    That’s it exactly. Thanks.

  10. Laymond,

    You persist in thinking in legal terms, and it’s a hopeless discussion until you think Spirit-ually.

    In the meantime, recognize that Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets — he brought them to full realization. And the law and the prophets speak extensively about the Spirit as well as Jesus. Tomorrow I start on series on the Spirit and will quickly into the OT passages about the Spirit.

  11. John,

    I’ve never been desert before …

    I think it’s kind of a nice thing to be.

    Good thoughts. “Reason” indeed has to be about the heart as well as the mind, as God made us with both.

  12. Ray wrote here,

    And you seem to fail to realize that the contrast is between flesh and the human spirit. Our spirits are taught by reading and hearing God’s Word.

    Ray has written elsewhere,

    Every apostolic contrast between flesh and spirit is referring to the human spirit. How tragic it is that translators capitalize spirit in such cases.

    “Spirit” is capitalized for a reason. Consider these translations —

    (Gal 3:2-6 ESV) 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the [human] Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the [human] Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain–if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the [human] Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith– 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

    (Galatians 3:14 ESV) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised [human] Spirit through faith.

    (Galatians 4:6 ESV) And because you are sons, God has sent the [human] Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

    (Galatians 4:29 ESV) But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now.

    (Galatians 5:5 ESV) For through the [human] Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

    (Galatians 5:16 ESV) But I say, walk by the [human] Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

    (Galatians 5:17 ESV) For the desires of the flesh are against the [human] Spirit, and the desires of the [human] Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

    (Galatians 5:18 ESV) But if you are led by the [human] Spirit, you are not under the law.

    (Galatians 5:22 ESV) But the fruit of the [human] Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,

    (Galatians 5:25 ESV) If we live by the [human] Spirit, let us also walk by the [human] Spirit.

    (Galatians 6:1 ESV) 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.

    (Galatians 6:8 ESV) For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the [human] Spirit will from the [human] Spirit reap eternal life.

    Ray, your interpretation is quite impossible. It’s just not what Paul is saying.

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