Paul is now wrapping up his epistle to the believers in the province of Galatia, and he has some great instructions for us as we relate to other believers.
First of all, he tells us what to do if a fellow believer is “caught” in a sin. It could mean he was “caught” by his fellow Christians, or it could be referring to him falling into sin’s snare. This is a world full of alluring traps, and it’s the easiest thing in the world to get your foot caught in one. If we see someone who’s been caught by the Enemy and then by us, then how are we supposed to respond?
First, be gentle. Don’t harshly rebuke someone, especially if they’re repentant for what they’ve done. The word “restore” (per MacArthur) literally “means ‘to mend’ or ‘repair,’ and was used of setting a broken bone or repairing a dislocated limb.” You’re a surgeon trying to gently set a broken bone, not a drill sergeant looking for an excuse to belittle someone.
Second, be careful. When dealing with an errant brother, keep this in the forefront of your mind: There's no sin that a fellow Christian can fall into to which I’m immune. That fellow believer who's having to deal with regret and consequences could be me, and would be me apart from grace.
I think that this second point is what he’s getting at in vss. 3-4. If you think that you’re immune to that type of sin, if you’re looking at a fallen believer with a judgmental attitude, then verse 3 applies to you: You are thinking you’re something when you’re nothing, and you’re deceiving yourself. Where does a judgmental attitude start? By comparing yourself with another Christian. If I compare myself with another sinner, of course I might come off looking better than him. But when I compare myself with God’s real standard, then not so much. And of course when I’m comparing myself to some sinner, I find myself sounding uncomfortably like someone else I don’t want to emulate.
Third, be helpful. The “burden” in vs. 2 that we’re supposed to carry is an extra heavy load that no one person can bear. In context, this is probably referring to the load of guilt that we try to carry ourselves. No, we can’t relieve their objective guilt before God, but we can help them deal with the subjective guilt. We can remind them of God’s promise that when we confess, he forgives and cleanses and he'll never ever ever bring up our sin again.
But what about verse 5, where Paul tells us that “each one should carry their own load”? Does this contradict verse 2? Not at all. The “burden” in verse 2 is a load of guilt that no one can carry alone. The “load” in vs. 5, a different word, is a responsibility that each one of us has as a Christian. It’s referring to the routine obligations we have, one of which is caring for each other when someone else has fallen. The ideal is for you to carry your own load, but at times each of us has a burden that we need help with.
And finally we come to the stern warning in vss. 7-8: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Why is he placing this warning here? Is this just a general principle that he’s submitting, which has no connection to the verses before or after? Possibly, but I think probably not. Remember that the first part is addressing what to do if a Christian is caught in sin. But what if he isn’t caught by others? If you’re reading this and you’re a believer in Christ, and there’s sin in your life that you’re not dealing with, and you haven’t been caught (yet) by other believers, this warning is for you. Based on what the rest of the Bible says, this isn’t talking about losing your salvation (which is impossible), and in the context of the rest of Galatians, it’s not addressing nonbelievers. But if a Christian falls into sin and does nothing about it, then the Bible says two things to him: 1) You will regret this, either in this life or the next one. It is entirely possible to lose your reward, and 2) If you can sin and sin and sin and never let it bother you, then you really need to question whether you’re saved at all.
God is not going to be mocked. And when I sin with impunity, he is. He won’t stand for it. When I sin, I’m going to regret it sooner or later. Better I regret it sooner by confessing and repenting from it, rather than deal with it at some later point.
Lord Jesus, if ever there was a time to ask you to examine my heart, it’s now. Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. And if you ever find any judgmental thoughts in my head, squash them like a bug. Please.