Today’s reading is Galatians 6:1-10. Paul seems to contradict himself. First, he says that we should bear each other’s burdens. When someone struggles with “a transgression,” we are called to restore that person, not condemn or rebuke that person. We are to “bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Then, on the other hand, he says that “all must carry their own loads.”
So, which is it? Am I supposed to carry your load and restore you when you struggle, or am I supposed to deal with my own stuff, on my own?
The answer, of course, is…YES.
I found great encouragement from Bush and Due’s Commentary Live in Liberty this morning, so here are some quotes for you.
One of the chief criticisms leveled at Paul’s gospel, both then and now, is that grace makes for lazy living. The logic is simple: Holiness advances by hard labor, so the horses need a whip to keep them running. Fear seems a far better motivator than grace. Changing the metaphor, Robert Capon says:
We slip into the stupor of imagining there are things we have to do—some additive of religious works we have to put into the gasoline of grace—if the gift of God is to get its work done in us. And the sad thing about it is that we’ll scour the New Testament (especially the Epistles, and in particular the Pastoral Epistles) for every moral “requirement” and religious “condition” we can find in order to slap a behavioral surcharge on our free acceptance in the Beloved.1
It was inconceivable to Paul’s opponents that grace could be truly sufficient, not only for the beginning of the Christian life, but for every step. But why? It’s helpful to quote Capon again, who says of the “grim pills” of religion, spirituality, and morality:
They’re nothing more than three packagings of the same pain-killer. Or, better said, religion is the generic version of the drug, while spirituality and morality are higher-priced name brands. Moreover, the pain we take them to kill is the agony of not having control over our lives. The ostensible purpose of religion is to give us the power to make things happen the way they “should,” but all it gives us is the illusion of such control. We swallow it in the same hope with which Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: to convince ourselves that when all is said and done, we’re the ones in charge of the management of creation. That never works. We may think that we’re practicing our religion because God told us to. But the side effect of the drug is always and invariably the depressing feeling that if we don’t practice it, God either won’t be able to help us, or he’ll get mad and decide not to (which amounts to the same thing).
Grace means that Jesus closed the metaphorical drug store. The spiritual life has to do with trusting that the sacrifice and oblation of the Good Physician was sufficient, that we should pack up our plastic doctor kits and end the game. We aren’t in control!2
He concludes the section with these words:
When you look at Jesus, you’ll discover two things: that you don’t measure up, and that you are, nevertheless, deeply loved. And knowing your own wretchedness not only keeps you near the cross; it also changes your attitude toward the inadequacy of others. Looking at Jesus frees us from the terrible burden of comparison: No one measures up, so our only recourse is to stop striving against irresistible grace.
Resting in Jesus’ love frees us to love. The more we gaze on him as our only help and salvation, the more grace characterizes our relational life. Why? Because we have no direct relationship with another; Jesus is the one in whom we all meet. This is what Bonhoeffer was getting at when he wrote:
One is a brother to another only through Jesus Christ. I am a brother to another person through what Jesus Christ did for me and to me; the other person has become a brother to me through what Jesus Christ did for him.3
This is the essence of the truly spiritual life. It’s animated and sustained by the Word and Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is never ours to boast over, only to delight in, since it comes from him, not us.4
- Robert Farrar Capon, The Foolishness of Preaching: Proclaiming the Gospel against the Wisdom of the World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 32–33. [↩]
- Daniel Bush and Noel Due, Live in Liberty: The Spiritual Message of Galatians (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2015), 210–212. [↩]
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Christian Community, trans. John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 23. [↩]
- Bush and Due., 218–219. [↩]