How to Walk in the Spirit and Keep Your Feet on the Ground (Phil Johnson)

Galatians 6   |   Sunday, December 1, 2013   |   Code: 2013-12-01-PJ

      This morning I want to look at Galatians 6 with a wide-angle lens. There's enough stuff here for a whole series of messages, but what I want to do this morning is look at the whole chapter as a unit and try to get the gist of Paul's flow of thought. This, of course, is the closing chapter of Paul's epistle to the Galatians.

      The apostle Paul had a pattern that he followed in nearly every one of his New Testament epistles. At the beginning of the epistle, he was concerned with some point of doctrine. Usually he was defending a doctrine that was under attack, or explaining a doctrine that was being misconstrued. And he would devote his full attention at the beginning of the epistle to the explanation and defense of whatever point of doctrine he was writing about. But then there would be a turning point in the epistle, and from that point on he would deal with practical issues.

      In Romans, for example, Paul spends the first eleven chapters outlining the gospel, focusing particularly on the doctrine of justification by faith. He explains it in detail, defends it from Scripture, anticipates and answers objections, and deals with difficulties posed by the doctrine. But then starting in Romans 12 he turns his attention to practical matters, and from that point on, everything he has to say involves practical application of the doctrine he has already spent 11 full chapters explaining.

      Ephesians follows a similar pattern. In Ephesians 1-3, Paul deals with the doctrine of election in a didactic fashion, explaining and outlining the doctrine itself. But then, starting in chapter 4, he begins to exhort them to walk worthy of the calling with which they have been called. And he turns again to practical application of the doctrine he has already covered in the first three chapters. Everything from Ephesians 4:1 through the end of that epistle is practical truth that grows out of the doctrine of election.

      Colossians—same thing. There he spends more than two chapters teaching them about the supremacy of Christ and their position in Christ. Then in chapter 3, verse 5, he turns to the practical side and begins exhorting them to live in accordance with their exalted position in Christ. And the remainder of the epistle is consumed with practical matters.

      That was always Paul's way. He would first teach and explain the doctrine, and then he would take up its practical ramifications. And usually the change of direction is marked by the word therefore.

      In Romans 12:1, where he turns from doctrinal matters to practical ones, he writes, "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"—and then he spends the remainder of the epistle giving them the practical ways they can live out the doctrine of the first eleven chapters.

      Ephesians 4:1 says, "I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called." And he proceeds to fill the final chapters of Ephesians with practical exhortations that flow from the truth of election, showing them how they can walk worthy of their calling.

      Colossians 3:5: "Put to death therefore what is earthly in you"—and he goes on to tell them practical ways they can employ their heavenly position in Christ to overcome the pull of earthly temptation.

      We have a lot of people in GraceLife who love doctrine. Our church is more or less known as a teaching church. And I love that about Grace Church. I love it that our congregation is filled with people who want to learn and be taught the great doctrines of Scripture. I think every church ought to be a teaching church, because the mandate to teach is at the heart of the biblical idea of what a church should be. The mandate to teach is part of the Great Commission, isn't it? Matthew 28:19: "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations"—cultivate learners. Verse 20: "Teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you." Notice again, the emphasis is on teaching. Teaching is one of the most important tasks we are called to as a church, and as individual Christians.

      But notice this: our teaching ought to have a practical dimension to it. It's not just about abstract doctrine. Listen to the second half of the Great Commission again: "Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you." The content of the message He wants us to teach is practical. The goal is not merely abstract learning, but obedience.

      Some of us—myself included—need to be reminded constantly that doctrine is never an end in itself. After you have learned doctrine, there is always a "therefore." And the apostle Paul's New Testament writings are a perpetual reminder to us that doctrine is practical. Some of us who aspire to be expert theologians would do well to remember that we haven't really mastered any doctrine until we put its practical ramifications into practice.

      Here in this epistle to the Galatians, Paul devoted the first four chapters to a meticulous explanation of the relationship between law and grace. And then in chapter 5, verse 1, we find that turning-point word, "therefore": "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery." So starting in chapter 5, through the end of the epistle, he deals with practical matters that arise out of a right understanding of law and grace. Chapter 6 continues that emphasis on the practical application of these truths.

      To help set the context for our passage, let me give you a very brief overview of Galatians 5. I once preached on Galatians 5 from this pulpit. I wouldn't expect all of you to remember it, but the message was about the dangers of legalism. That is where Paul starts in Galatians 5:1: "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage." Notice, again, the word therefore. He spent the first four chapters of Galatians defending the doctrine of justification by faith against those who said it wasn't enough just to believe the gospel; you also need to obey the Old Testament ceremonial laws, and specifically the ritual of circumcision. He contrasted the law and the gospel. The doctrinal message is summed up in Galatians 2:16: "A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ."

      So here's the practical application of that truth in Galatians 5: Stand fast in your liberty. "do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." In verses 1-12 of chapter 5, he says, "Don't get entangled in the yoke of legalism." Then in verses 13-15, he cautions them about the danger of coming under the yoke of sin through licentious living. So he gives them boundaries on both sides: don't be a legalist; and don't be a libertine.

      And the key to chapter 5 is verse 16: "But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh."

That is the key to truly spiritual living. It isn't a list of dos and don'ts. It isn't an ascetic life-style or a pious attitude. Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the lusts of the flesh. And Paul goes on in verses 17-18 to contrast the carnal appetites of the flesh with the godly desires of the Spirit. In verses 19-23, he contrasts the works of the flesh with the fruit of the Spirit. And He urges us to walk in the Spirit, to focus on spiritual things, and to feed our appetites for that which is spiritual rather than allowing the lusts of the flesh to govern our behavior. Verse 25: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." That verse fairly sums up Paul's practical application of the doctrinal first half of his epistle to the Galatians. Here's the key verse to the practical application part. Galatians 5:25: "If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit."

      Now, what does it mean to walk in the Spirit? The Greek phrase employed in Galatians 5:25 literally means "keep in step with the Spirit." It uses a Greek expression, stoicheo, which literally speaks of marching in a military rank. Keeping in step.

      So walking in the Spirit means keeping in step with the Spirit. It means cultivating the fruit of the Spirit, feeding those spiritual appetites, allowing our faith to be energized by love. Those are the means by which we keep in step with the Spirit of God. And all of this is extremely down to earth and practical.

      This is a vital point. When Paul tells the Galatians they need to walk in the Spirit, he isn't calling them to live on some mystical or ethereal, otherworldly, plane.

      People are too prone to think in those terms. In fact, that kind of thinking permeates false religion. Ask the typical Buddhist, or Hindu, or New Age practitioner what it means to be spiritual, and they will give you a lot of abstruse jargon about how you have to cut yourself off from the realities of this world and devote yourself to contemplation of abstract virtues—and all that kind of thing. They chant meaningless mantras and try to empty their minds of any coherent thought and try to isolate themselves from everything but their own feelings. And they think by doing that they have achieved "spirituality." That ethereal notion of the spiritual life is nothing more than escapism. It's not true spirituality; it is an unbiblical mysticism.

      But mysticism is precisely what most people these days have in mind when they talk about "spirituality." They imagine that in order to be truly spiritual, a person must disconnect from his environment and withdraw from earthly life.

      That kind of thinking has begun to dominate the popular consciousness of 21st-century America. You hear a lot of talk about spirituality today. "So-and-so is a very spiritual person." And usually what they mean is that the person is superstitious, or a member of the Psychic Friends Network, or eccentric in some other way. People think being spiritual means being sanctimo­nious, living an ascetic lifestyle, or just completely cutting oneself off from the realities of everyday life.

      According to Hollywood, the epitome of a spiritual person is a new-age hipster whose only moral values are diversity, tolerance, and environmental concerns—and they think by cloaking that kind of worldview in a veneer of otherworldliness, they have achieved spirituality.

      There are even atheists who meet together as if they were a church. They have their own humanistic liturgy, and all the trappings of religious ceremony—while denying the existence of God. But they think by coming out of the world and meeting together they have achieved some kind of spirituality.

      Even some people who call themselves Christians think like that. There are whole churches that have adapted their message to the piety of political correctness. There is hardly anything biblical or spiritual about their worldview, but they pursue spirituality by contemplative prayer—medieval mysticism. Here's something they think takes them out of the real word—and they think it makes them spiritual, even though they have sold their souls to worldliness.

      Then at the opposite extreme you have various kinds of fundamentalist piety—people who try to cut themselves off from the world as completely as possible, 24/7—as if it were impossible to be spiritual and live in the real world at the same time.

      It seems a even lot of evangelicals nowadays simply cannot envision true spirituality in a real-world context. If they were Catholics, they would join a monastery. If they were Amish, they would fit right in. But as evangelicals, they usually try to build an invisible cocoon around themselves and just float above the rest of us, constantly looking down on us with a critical eye and never really making any personal contact with anyone. You know the type I mean: people who are so heavenly-minded they are no earthly good. They think that's what it means to be "spiritual."

      But that is not how the apostle Paul portrayed life in the Spirit. True spirituality is not escapism. It is anything but escapism. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians to rebuke them for tolerating an adulterer in their fellowship, he said this in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10: "I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world." Clearly, he doesn't think its a valid or viable option for the Corinthians to "go out of the world," even though the world they lived in was a sordid cesspool of debauchery and false religion. He expected them to stay in that culture and live godly lives. Be spiritual—even in the real world. In Jesus' high priestly prayer (John 17), he prays for all who would ever believe, and this was part of his prayer (John 17:15-17): "I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth." That's true spirituality: sanctification through the truth of God's Word while living and functioning in the heart of an evil world.

      And just in case anyone is tempted to think walking in the Spirit entails the escapism of living a mystical or ascetic life, the apostle Paul brings our thinking back down to earth in the most explicit way here in the final chapter of Galatians. He outlines what it looks like in practical terms to keep in step with the Spirit. In fact, the portrait of the spiritual walk he paints may surprise you when you see it in its down-to-earth simplicity.

      Here are three very practical matters that define a truly spiritual walk. Here are three things you need to concentrate on if you want to maintain a spiritual walk. (Are you ready with your note pad? These are the three points we'll be looking at this morning.)

      Three down-to-earth facets of the spiritual walk: 1. Bearing Burdens (vv. 2-5); 2. Sharing Blessings (vv. 6-10); and 3. Wearing Bruises (vv. 11-18). Let's examine these one at a time.


1. Bearing Burdens

      Let me read the first five verses. And in fact, I'm going to include the last verse of Galatians 5, because I think it goes with this section:

Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

6:1 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.

3 For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.

4 But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.

5 For each will have to bear his own load.

That whole section has to do with the bearing of burdens. The gist of Paul's meaning is this: if you want to walk in the Spirit, there are some burdens you are going to have to bear. Far from being an ethereal escape from this world's hardships and vexations, the truly spiritual walk involves bearing some real-world burdens. These include both others' burdens (v. 2), and a burden of our own (v. 5).

      The burdens we are supposed to help others bear are burdens that are the result of sin; emotional burdens—burdens of grief, sorrow, remorse, and other heartaches; financial burdens; burdens involving afflictions, toil and labor, misfortunes, and troubles of all kinds. The truly spiritual person will always be looking for ways to help shoulder some of the weight of those kinds of burdens on behalf of other brothers and sisters in Christ who are straining under the burdens.

      The first and preeminent example he gives involves dealing with the burden of another Christian's sin. "if anyone is caught in any transgression," he says, "you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness."

      The scenario is that of a fellow believer who is caught in sin. The word translated "caught" is a Greek word that conveys the idea of surprise and suddenness—like being caught in a trap. It might mean that the sinning person has been suddenly and unexpectedly ambushed by temptation and has fallen into some unforeseen sin. I'm inclined to think instead that Paul has in mind someone whose sin is abruptly and unexpectedly uncovered. The person is caught in a sin he was trying to cover up. Either way, the remedy is the same: the person is to be restored by those who are spiritual—people who know how to walk in the Spirit. And those who are seeking to restore the sinning brother are to do it with a spirit of gentleness. Plus, he adds, "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted."

      Now, this is not in contrast with the instructions for church discipline; it merely sheds light on how the steps of discipline are to be carried out. And it makes explicit what is implied in Matthew 18: that the goal of all discipline is restoration—not punishment, not public rebuke per se, but renewal and recovery of the sinning person's spiritual walk.

      In other words, the person restoring the sinning brother isn't to approach the brother as if he were a master over him, but meekly, as a brother—as one who is willing to help shoulder the burden so that the one who has stumbled can get to his feet again.

      That's the spirit in which all church discipline should be commenced. The first step is not supposed to be a harsh confrontation, but more like a meek and gentle offer of help. If the sinning brother refuses to hear, there may come a time when rebuke and confrontation are in order, but that is never the starting point or the ultimate goal of church discipline.

      By the way, no matter how far the process goes into the steps outlined in Matthew 18, the goal is restoration. When someone has to be excommunicated, or put out of the church, because of some sin, the right response is not to utterly shun the person, but to continue to try to win him to repentance, so that he can be restored.

      This is an interesting Greek word in verse 1: "Restore him." The word translated "restore" is kat-ar-tid'-zo, which is the same word used for the setting of a broken bone. It is also the same word used in Matthew 4:21 and Mark 1:19 where James and John were mending their nets. So it describes a mending process that requires a tremendous amount of skill and patience to accomplish.

      It's the same word in 1 Corinthians 1:10, where Paul writes, "that there [should] be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." The expression translated "perfectly joined together" is this same Greek word, kat-ar-tid'-zo.

      So here in Galatians 6, Paul is saying that spiritual believers should patiently, meticulously, skillfully pursue the spiritual repair and restoration of the sinning brother.

      You want to walk in the Spirit? Here's a very practical way you can do it: get involved helping to shoulder the burden of your brothers and sisters who have stumbled, so that they can get back on their feet again.

      If you've ever been involved in such a situation you know how frustrating it can be. Sometimes they stumble again and again. Sometimes the process of mending the damage can be almost overwhelming—just like untangling and mending the snarled remnants of a torn fishing net. Often you will be tempted to give up and walk away. But if you do that, you'll be out of step with the Spirit.

      In addition to the temptation to walk away, there's the temptation to lose that spirit of meekness which ought to govern our hearts whenever we are called upon to help a brother or sister in sin (verse 1): "Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted." Just remember that apart from God's sustaining grace, all of us would fall into sin, and sometimes the Lord puts us in the position of discovering a fellow believer's sin, because He wants it to be a reminder and a caution sign to us, lest we be tempted too.

      Keep that in mind, and you'll find it easier in these situations to be a burden-bearer rather than someone who only adds more to the burden your brother or sister is carrying.

      I believe verse 2 is not introducing a new subject, but simply broadening and continuing the thought of verse 1: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ." This is an echo of the same idea as Galatians 5:14: "the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" You want to fulfill the moral requirements of the law? Love your neighbor. How do you love him? By bearing his burdens.

      It's interesting that Paul hammers this theme in an epistle written to confront people who were falling into legalism. It's as if he were saying, "You want to observe a law, let it be the law of Christ. If you feel you must impose burdens on yourselves, let it be through an act of love for your neighbor."

      Or it may be more appropriate to say that he meant this as a contrast with the Judaizers' error. They were in the business of binding heavy burdens on other people. As Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matthew 23:4: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger." Remember, according to Acts 15, the Judaizers—the people who were causing the problems in the Galatian church—were former Pharisees. They had simply imported into the church their wicked practice of saddling people with the impossible burden of the law. Paul tells the Galatians their duty is precisely the opposite: bear one another's burdens. Take a load off your fellow believer.

      Remember, this encompasses burdens of every kind. Sin burdens, emotional burdens, financial burdens, the trials of everyday life. There are thousands—maybe tens of thousands—of burdens represented in this auditorium this morning, and somewhere near you is a burden you can help bear. I'm betting if you search your heart, you already know what it is.

      Paul gives two obstacles that keep us from being burden-bearers. One is pride, and the other is a lack of proper focus. Notice these in verses 3-4. Verse 3: "If anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself." If you think you're too important to carry a load for someone else, you're deceived. If you think you are above being a servant, a foot-washer—a bearer of your brother's burdens—then you're mistaken. We're called to be spiritual coolies. Baggage handlers. For others. Esteeming others as better than ourselves. And if you think you're too important to do that, you are not walking in the Spirit. Pride is a hindrance to the kind of ministry Paul says we should be doing.

      Often people come to me and say, "I'd like to get involved in ministry." I always say, "Great. Find a burden that needs to be borne, and carry your part."

      And invariably they say, "No, you don't understand. My gift is teaching. I'd like to be given a group of people I can teach."

      Listen, I was part of Grace Church for eleven years, and I served in all kinds of behind-the-scenes ministries for eleven years before I ever taught in any public venue other than a small Bible study that met in my own home. So you won't get much sympathy from me if you refuse to get involved in any capacity other than a teaching role. That doesn't reflect a heart for ministry. I want to see you in action serving people and bearing their burdens before you can ever expect me to help you get assigned to a public teaching role.

      Leadership positions and authority are not what constitutes "ministry;" service and burden-bearing are.

      A second obstacle besides pride is a lack of proper focus. We all tend to compare ourselves and our performance with that of others. And the danger of that is twofold: One, you can always find someone who is doing worse than you are, and soothe yourself that you're really not that bad. That was the error of the Pharisee, remember? Luke 18:11. He prayed, "God, I thank you that I am not like other men."

      Or danger number two, you can always find someone who is doing better than you, and you will constantly live in a state of discouragement and defeat.

      Paul says, "Don't compare yourself with other people." Verse 4 is a bit hard to interpret, but here's what I think is the proper sense of it: "But let each one [stay focused on] his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not [by comparing himself with] his neighbor." In 2 Corinthians 10:12, Paul tells the Corinthians: "[We do not] dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding."

      Remember this, too: Bearing one another's burdens doesn't mean minding one another's business. Verse 5: "For each will have to bear his own load." You're going to be accountable to God for what you do. You shouldn't be so concerned with measuring others' performance.

      Someone might think verse 5 is in conflict with verse 2. But if you could read this in the original Greek, the tension disappears. The word "burdens" in verse 2 is BAR'-ay, meaning "heavy loads," "great encumbrances." But the word for "his own load" in verse 5 is for-TEE'-on, denoting something like a backpack. So there's no contradiction between verse 2 and verse 5: Put them together and you get this: "Help one another bear those heavy burdens, and while you're doing it, hang onto your own backpack." That's the gist of what this is saying.


      Now, there's more to walking in the Spirit than bearing burdens. There's also the duty of—


2. Sharing Blessings

      Verse 6: "One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches." The New International version says, "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor." That is speaking specifically of the kind of sharing that enables the teacher to make a living at what he does. "share all good things"—and specifically support your teachers financially.

      Now I can say this, because I am not talking about me. I do not get paid by Grace Church. I am a lay person, just like most of you. I earn a comfortable living working in a 9-to-5 job, and even though my job is ministry-related, the organization I work for is not financially linked to this church. I don't get paid for teaching here at the church, and I have no need and no desire to get paid for it. I am a lay elder, and I'm happy to remain a lay elder. I emphasize that, because I want you to know that I have no vested interest in stressing what this passage teaches.

      This is talking about those who have devoted their whole lives to the study and teaching of the Word and who therefore have no other means of earning a living. Let me make it real practical for you: You know that struggling seminary student who teaches your Bible Study while supporting his family and trying to make it through school? You have a duty to help make sure his needs are met. You know those pastors on staff at Grace Church who labor in the word and doctrine? You need to carry your weight in meeting the church budget so that their salaries can be paid.

      Paul is saying it is your duty as the one who is taught to see that your teachers aren't burdened financially. And more than just barely meeting their needs—you have a duty to see to it that they are generously rewarded with a share of the blessings God has given you. In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul says, "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching"—those who have devoted their lives to the task. "Double honor" speaks of financial remuneration. Notice how the emphasis is always on liberality, abundant giving—double honor. Shame on the churches that deliberately keeps their pastor in poverty!

      Now, that doesn't happen here. We compensate our pastors generously. The people of Grace Church collectively are wonderfully and consistently generous. But this is an individual mandate, so each of us as individuals need to examine ourselves and ask if we are bearing an appropriate share of this burden. We "must share all good things with" those who teach us. This is a duty, and to neglect it is to be badly out of step in your spiritual walk.

      Now I could preach an entire sermon on verses 7-10, and perhaps one of these days I will do that. But for now, I just want to point out how the principle of sowing and reaping fits into this context where Paul is speaking about sharing blessings—and particularly sharing material things. He's talking about giving. And it is in this context that he expounds on this principle. Verse 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.

There are two choices: You're either sowing to the flesh or sowing to the Spirit. And what you sow determines what you reap.

      Now remember, this comes in a context where he is talking about sharing the material blessings God has given. He is saying that if you sow to the flesh—that is, if you spend your money and use your material possessions for fleshly uses, self-gratification, the satisfaction of fleshly lusts, and so on—then what you will reap will be corruption.

      But if you sow to the Spirit—that is, if you use your material goods for spiritual purposes, meeting others' needs, giving to those who minister to you, investing in the Lord's work and the Lord's people—then you will reap life everlasting.

      He doesn't mean you'll acquire eternal life as a result of your giving. He means you'll eternally reap rewards and blessings from the spiritual seed you sow when you share your blessings as they were intended to be shared. You're investing in heaven when you use your material blessings wisely here on earth. Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 6:19-20:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal,

20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.

      Back to Galatians 6. Look at verse 9: "And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up." You might not get an immediate return on your investment, but keep sharing those blessings. You will reap in due season.

      And it's not only our teachers with whom we should share our blessings. It's all our brothers and sisters in Christ. And all our neighbors as well. Verse 10: "So then, as we have opportunity,—every time opportunity presents itself (that's a lot more than we fulfill this command, isn't it?)—let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith."

      God doesn't give you blessings to keep for yourself. If the Lord has materially prospered you, don't get the idea that it's because he wants you to bask in a life of ease and excess. If the Lord has materially prospered you, He has indeed given you a great blessing—but the blessing is this: You get to use those resources to meet others' needs. You get to share those blessings. You're not supposed to stockpile them for your own enjoyment.


      So here's what is involved when we walk in the Spirit: Bearing Burdens, Sharing Blessings, and finally—


3. Wearing Bruises

      The spiritual walk isn't sounding so glamorous and other-worldly, does it?

      Verse 11. Paul writes,

See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

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.

15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

Now, let me sum that section up for you, since we're about to run short of time. This is the close of Paul's epistle. He usually dictated his epistles to a secretary who wrote them down, and then he would sign the epistle to verify its authenticity. Usually, as he drew his letters to a close, he would take the pen from his secretary and write the closing salutation in his own handwriting. You see this in 2 Thessalonians 3:17,where he writes, "I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. This is the sign of genuineness in every letter of mine; it is the way I write." You see it also in 1 Corinthians 16:21 and Colossians 4:18.

      But here, he takes the pen from his secretary and appends an entire paragraph. He wrote in extremely large letters. This might have been because of damaged eyesight or disfigured hands or some other frailty owing to the hardships Paul has suffered. But he calls attention to the large letters. They were appropriate in this case, because Paul wanted to emphasize this closing paragraph. It's like a sentence in your e-mail that you type in a capital letters, so that the recipient will read it as though you were yelling.

      And this final paragraph contains a final warning about the deadly influence of the Judaizers. Paul suggests, in verse 12, that they have a less than honorable motive for persisting in their error and resisting his correction. It wasn't because they were committed to the truth. It was because they wanted to avoid persecution. By compromising the message of the gospel, they had gained the respect, rather than the condemnation, of their unbelieving Jewish brethren. And they not only loved the praise of men, but they also feared persecution for Christ's sake.

      Their doctrine was hypocritical, because even they themselves didn't obey the whole law perfectly (verse 13). But they were just trying to look good to others. They wanted the Galatians circumcised so that they could glory in their flesh.

      By contrast, Paul says he glories in nothing but the cross of Christ (verse 14). Now, there's not much earthly glory in a cross. It is an instrument of execution that was expressly designed to divest any and all glory from its victim. It was humiliating—the very opposite of what the Judaizers desired when they sought a means to glorify themselves.

      But Paul says, "As for me, I will glory in the cross." Look at the end of verse 14: "by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." "I don't want the world's praise. I'll gladly bear the world's contempt, just as Christ bore it."

      And he points to all the wounds and bruises he bore as his final argument against the Judaizers. Look at the end of verse 17: "I bear on my body the marks of Jesus."

      Now, follow his little benediction here. Verse 15: "For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation." The sign of ownership Christ stamps on His people is not circumcision. It's the evidence of a changed life. If there's any visible, physical, external, mark worn by the true believer, it's the bruises of persecution.

      Verse 16: he pronounces a benediction on "all who walk by this rule"—that is, the doctrine he is defending in this epistle. Peace and mercy is theirs if they embrace the truth Paul has defended.

      But, verse 17: "From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus." In other words, "I'm not only speaking with my apostolic authority; I'm also wearing bruises that prove my commitment to Christ and His truth. Don't be swayed by false teachers whose only motive is their own glory."

      You can't walk in the Spirit unless you too are willing to wear some of those bruises. Are you crucified to the world? Do you bear the world's abuse gladly? You should. Are you wearing some bruises? That's an essential part of walking in the Spirit.

      Now think about this: When Paul commands us to bear one another's burdens, share our blessings with one another, and be willing to wear the reproach of Christ, he is simply urging us to be like Christ.

      This is precisely what Christ has done for us. He has borne the burden of our sin; he has shared the blessing of eternal life; and he has worn the bruises of divine chastisement for all that we have done wrong.

      So keeping in step with the spirit means following the steps of Christ—just as 1 Peter 2:21 says: "For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps."

      And the life that walks in the Spirit this way is a life that reflects the message of the gospel in action. This is how we can best represent Christ in a world that does not know Him.

      How does your life measure up? I have to confess that I still have plenty of room for growth in all these areas. But I'm striving to be more spiritual—not by dropping out of life and assuming an ascetic lifestyle, but by getting more involved in burden-bearing, blessing-sharing, and bruise-wearing for Christ's sake.



Father, we live in a hostile world—a world whose values are contrary to truth and righteousness. You have not taken us out of the world, nor have you commanded us to retreat from the world. We know that to love this world's values is to be at enmity with you. So help us to be in the world but not of the world—committed to holiness in an unholy culture, seeking to be godly in an ungodly environment. We need your grace to do it, because all these characteristics of spiritual living are contrary to our nature, against every normal human instinct, and in conflict with any worldly idea of prosperity. But this is what it looks like to be conformed to the image of Christ. May we embrace that process by your grace.