Summary: If we live by the Spirit, it wil change how we live as part of the community of God’s people. We’ll care for one another, care for God’s ministers, never weary in doing good, and keep our focus clear.
Since we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. That’s Paul’s summary statement at the end of ch 5. We’ve spent all this time talking about how our salvation comes through the grace of God alone, how it’s faith alone that’s needed for us to be right with God, how nothing we can do will make us any more worthy to receive the salvation that Christ has won for us but now he wants to clarify an important issue for all Christians.
You see there are actually two problems with rules, with obedience to the law. The first is legalism as we’ve seen over the past few weeks. Seeking righteousness through the law is an exercise in futility. But there’s an equally dangerous temptation for those who have learnt that lesson of Galatians. That is that we sit back and do nothing. We rely on God to do everything. This is what in some circles is called quietism. It comes from the mistaken idea that all we have to do is sit back and the Holy Spirit will produce the goods, i.e. the fruit of the Spirit. These people read 5:18, "If you are led by the Spirit you are not subject to the law", and conclude that the spiritual person will automatically do what’s right. It’s summed up in the slogan, "Let go and let God." But that’s not how things work is it? We’re not spiritual robots, automatons who simply respond to God’s directing. No, we need to follow the Spirit’s lead. We need to keep in step with the Spirit as the NIV puts it. That’s why in we’re told in 6:4 that we’re to test our own work. That’s why we’re told in v9 to not grow weary in doing what is right. Not because this’ll make us more worthy of salvation, but because of who we now are. Having received this new life in the Spirit, we’re now a new creation. We’ve now become self-determining human beings who are freely able to offer our service to God. That changes the whole dynamics of how we behave with respect to the law. The legalist or the nomist, you see, struggles in self-reliance and futility, while the Christian works hand in hand with the Spirit. It’s still a struggle, but the Spirit equips and empowers us so our struggle is not without hope.
There’s a story in ancient Greek mythology about an island inhabited by legendary creatures, half spirit and half human, called Sirens. These creatures used to sing such haunting music that sailors who passed by the island would be entranced so that their ships would run aground and they’d all be killed. Well, when Odysseus sailed past this island he solved the problem by tying himself to the wheel and filling his ears with wax so he couldn’t hear their singing. On the other hand, when Jason and the Argonauts had to pass by the island, Orpheus took along a harp and played such beautiful music that the sailors weren’t lured by the sirens’ song. Now that’s a picture of the 2 approaches to law keeping. One seeks to bind our fallen human nature, to barricade our will with rules and regulations, while the other depends on the work of the Holy Spirit to free us and empower us for doing good. The Spirit leads and we march in step, like soldiers marching in file behind their battalion leader.
So what sorts of things will mark our lives, if we’re keeping in step with the Spirit. This is one of those places where the chapter headings in our Bibles can mislead us. You see, 5:25,26 are actually connected to ch 6. Here’s how we’ll live if we’re being guided by the Spirit: we’ll be caring for one another, we’ll be caring for our ministers, we’ll never weary in doing good, and we’ll be keeping our priorities right and our focus clear.
Caring for one another
He says "Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another, but rather supporting one another." The church should be a place where we can be open with one another. There’s no place for competitiveness in the Church. No place for envy or conceit. All that does is to destroy. As he said back in 5:15, all that will result in is us destroying one another. It reminds me of one of my favourite limericks:
There once were 2 cats of Kilkenny,
each thought there was one cat too many,
so they fought and they fit
and they scratched and they bit,
’til excepting their nails and the tips of their tails,
instead of 2 cats there weren’t any.
By contrast, if we’re walking in step with the Spirit here’s what will characterise our lives. We’ll be part of a community and that means being involved with one another, being responsible to each other, caring for each other. We’ll support one another. We’ll bear each other’s burdens (v2). He says, "if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness." This is the opposite of the spirit of conceit and envy of 5:26. Now, you do see some Christians who take great delight in restoring those who have fallen into temptation. They’re like vultures, hovering around waiting for someone to fall so they can rescue them. But their motives are really self-seeking. They love rescuing weaker Christians because it makes them feel important, even self-righteous. But he says, be careful you’re not tempted yourself. Remember the old proverb, pride comes before a fall. That feeling of superiority you get when you show Christian charity to someone is really the work of Satan undermining the work of the Spirit. Rather, we’re to restore that person in a Spirit of gentleness. This word restore could be used for setting a fractured bone or repairing a piece of furniture. It was used of the disciples mending their nets. It’s a positive, proactive action. Sometimes we see someone who’s fallen into sin and we don’t know what to do, so we just do nothing, as though it were nothing to do with us and we’d rather not be involved. But that isn’t a Christian response. Neither is talking about it behind their back, or telling the minister about it. No the Christian response is to go to them and offer a helping hand to pick them up, to set them back on the right path, to restore them to Christian fellowship.