Love for God’s law as the rule of obedience and gratitude does not produce legalists. Nor does it produce a self-righteous spirit toward our fellow Christians who fall into sin. We know that all our attempts at law-keeping—our righteousnesses—are as filthy rags. We know that we are either justified by faith alone without the works of the law, or we stand utterly condemned! The whole book of Galatians drives that home to us. Being justified by faith alone, we have a new way of living!
In Galatians 6:1-5, the apostle Paul is applying justification by faith alone into the life of the church. Justification by faith alone is more than a truth—it is a reality and a way of life. It underpins and animates everything about our Christian life. Paul is going to show us how it responds to a brother who is overtaken in a fault.
A fellow believer has stumbled and fallen. How will we deal with him? Will we approach him in a ‘spirit’ of self-righteousness and pride? No, justification by faith alone will not allow that. Abeliever has been overtaken in a sin! That brother needs to be restored to Christ, in order to hear from Him the declaration of God’s forgiveness in his consciousness. Christ has placed us with that brother, to help him—to bear his burden.
The Burdened Soul Discovered
“Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one….” Only a saint who has fallen into sin can be restored. That restoration will always be through genuine conversion—repentance and faith that bring us on our knees to God for forgiveness and grace. That is part of our life—always. For we are all, at best, sinning saints. Justified believers are so very weak and imperfect. We are new creatures in Christ, yet we have but a small beginning of new obedience and so much remaining corruption. We can be, and often are, overtaken in a fault. That is the sort of people God justifies through faith alone! We ought never to forget that.
A fault is literally a sin. It is sin as a transgression and falling away from obedience to what we know God requires in His revealed will. We knew what was right, but we didn’t do it. The sorts of sins Paul has in mind are described in Galatians 5:19-21. He calls them “works of the flesh.” Some are very black and disgusting—but justified Christians can fall into them. A brother or sister is overtaken in a fault.
What is it to be overtaken? As the latter part of the verse indicates, Paul is not referring to a premeditated and habitual walk in the flesh. Nor is he referring to one who has apostatized from the faith and given himself over to sin. Rather, a Christian has been overtaken by and has succumbed to temptation. Temptation has caught him unprepared and vulnerable; it has come upon him powerfully and he has been enticed, ensnared. The sad result is that he is now in this fault, and the consequences of it. And that brings a heavy burden upon him (v. 2).
The formerly hidden sin has been uncovered, or discovered. This too has overtaken such sinners. As the Spirit assures us: “Be sure your sins will find you out” (Num. 32:23). They stand now exposed, found out, discovered. It is known by others—by their Christian friends. They cannot but feel the shame of having let God, themselves, and everyone who is dear to them down. What a mess they have made! Their burden is greatly increased!
If their sin is such that it is a public scandal, they will need to submit to the appropriate censure of church discipline. That was the case with the saint in Corinth who was overtaken in incest, and had to be rebuked and disciplined before he would repent and return to Christ for pardon. The person who is overtaken in a fault will therefore have to deal with the consequences of his sin—in whatever form it comes.
But there is a heavier burden yet. This burden is spiritual—it is within the soul. There are the spiritual consequences that bear down on their spirit. This is “the burden“—everything else, difficult as it is, is not to be compared. This burden is sorrow of heart over sin—it is the experience of brokenhearted ruination. It is the sense that life has been shattered—we have come apart at the seams. It seems that everything that is good and precious is irrevocably lost—I did it in my foolishness and it cannot be undone. This burden, when it comes fully upon us, can strike a wound deep inside us, somewhere deeper than the level of our conscious thoughts. A wound is struck in our heart of hearts from where everything that we feel and think arises. That wound weeps and grieves! It can hold us awake to weep in the night. It can generate night terrors that make us fear going to bed! It greets us in the morning when we awake, like a cloud of sadness we cannot shake. It can put us in, and hold us in, the place of mourning. While this burden lies heavy on the soul, there can be no peace or rest. “There is no soundness in my flesh because of thine anger; neither is there any rest in my bones because of my sin. For mine iniquities are gone over mine head: as an heavy burden they are too heavy for me” (Ps. 38:3-4).
How we should flee from sin! And how careful we should be with our brethren! There is a danger that the believer would be crushed (II Cor. 2:7). “So that contrariwise ye ought to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up by over much sorrow.”
What a blessed thing, to have healed helpers—Christians who have experienced something of this same burden and been delivered from it—to be our burden-bearers, friends who will come alongside and graciously restore us. That wordrestore means, “to put back together again.” That describes true spiritual healing. We need help to bring our burden to Jesus Christ, who will put our bones back into joint and cleanse and close up our wounds. He is the great physician of our souls. Christians who fall into sin say they feel like they have been hit by a train! Indeed, they have. We don’t need self-righteous people to come and beat us with the club of the law. We need humble saints to gather us into our Savior’s grace. We need fellow Christians who understand and can restore such as we—put us back together again. We need people who can minister the Balm of Gilead—that healing power of Christ’s righteousness!
The Burden-Bearer’s Spiritual Preparation
“You who are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness….” Notice that Paul addresses himself to those “who are spiritual.”
There is no hope of finding a burden-bearer in a fleshly church member (Gal. 5:26). The flesh is quick to elevate itself at the expense of the erring brother. It secretly rejoices over his demise, and even in offering help will be destructive. When others are brought low, fleshly church members use the bowed spirit and broken heart as a step ladder. They stand above, they feel no pity. They come with truths, but they leave the definite impression that they are really saying: “You are caught out, you deserve whatever you get…and may you get all that you deserve!” There is no help to be found in such a person! God save us from suchfriends, for the tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.
The self-righteous church member is no burden-bearer either. The legalist deceives himself that he is something when he is nothing (v. 3). He imagines that because he has not been overtaken in this fault (God knows he has plenty of other faults that are tracking him down!), he is more acceptable to God. He is a practical heretic. He professes with his mouth to believe in justification by faith alone, but he denies it in his attitude and practice. He is therefore critical, harsh, and ready to heap more burdens upon the distressed soul. And while he is about his wickedness, he is feeling even better about himself—for it is a good work to rage against sin and condemn his brother—by his twisted standard! His practical heresy makes him useless—yes, worse than useless. When he lays his cold-as-death hand upon the burdened soul, he heaps burden upon burden. If you are such a person—if you have that spirit—please stay away! Never attempt to help a burdened soul. You are not qualified to be a burden-bearer. You know nothing of the spirit of meekness.
Spurgeon judged that most people would rather be “blown up by a meek man, than praised by a harsh one.” “There is,” he says, “a way of doing things so that the person reproved feels positively grateful to you. One may kick a man downstairs in such a fashion that he will rather like it, while another may open a door in such an offensive way that you don’t want to go through till he is out of the way.”
Christ’s burden-bearers must be spiritual. That is, they must be “walking in the Spirit” and manifesting “the fruits of the Spirit” in the way they relate to their brethren (Gal. 5: 22-23). A burden-bearer will, most especially, manifest thespirit of meekness! That is the spirit of a justified sinner! He will be considering himself lest he also be tempted. When he says: “There go I, but for the grace of God,” he means it from the depths of his heart! His experience in daily conversion convinces him. And his experimental acquaintance with the freeness of God’s justifying grace drives it home to him in a way that he cannot forget or deny. He confesses, God justified an ungodly, wicked man when he justified me! He has learned meekness at the foot of the cross. Such a person recoils from a harsh, censorious attitude. He is compelled by the Spirit to deal graciously and gently with his brother—because he understands something of his need, from the inside out!
Beloved, that is the spirit we learn from Jesus. We not only come to Him for rest, but to learn of Him who is meek and lowly of heart. What we learn is reinforced anew every day on our knees before the throne of grace, where we look for help to our sympathetic high priest who is moved by the feeling of our infirmities, being tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin. He came to us while we were yet in our sins, completely overtaken and swallowed up! He didn’t turn away in disgust! No, He bore our griefs and carried our sorrows. He bore our sins away from us as far as the east is from the west! Do you not say: “He is my Burden-Bearer!”
In all our faults and sins we are nothing without the righteousness and intercession of Christ to uphold us, bear away our burden of sin, and maintain us in the state of justification and acceptance with God. This is our most fundamental confession. Is it not!?
Therefore, we, in our attitude and conduct toward our brethren must reflect this truth. If we stand, we stand by the grace of God. If we are not swept away into destruction by our sins, it is by the faithfulness and continual intercession of Jesus Christ. No other reason can be found!
If that reality lives in your heart, if it is the animating principle of your life, if it is the strength and comfort of your soul—then Christ has equipped you to be a burden-bearers! Thank God for you! How we need you in our midst!
… to be concluded