The Spiritual Nature of Sin and Restoration (Galatians 6:1)

May 22, 2019
The Spiritual Nature of Sin and Restoration (Galatians 6:1)

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.”

To contemporary, American tastes a verse such as this one is foul. We are stubbornly independent and private and do not want to be accountable to anyone. However, for those of a humble mind, willing to receive what the Lord is teaching, we see the wisdom and love of a Christian community which looks out for one another.

In the first place, the writer calls the church’s attention to the matter by addressing them as “brethren,” that is, brothers and sisters in Christ. They are all a part of the family of God. And, we are reminded, “One way in which brothers and sisters can support one another is by seeking to bring those who have committed a sin back into the fellowship of the community” (Moo, 374). Family should always promote the best for their loved ones. To leave someone caught in a sin or in a pit of despair, or, worse, to enable them to stay in that vulnerable and destructive state is not only unloving but cruel. Christian accountability starts with the loving, familial bond that we have with one another in the church.

The apostle speaks of potential circumstances where any one of the church members could be caught in a trespass (and the statement is so general that he surely has in mind any and all kinds of sins). If this scenario happens, and it is likely to happen to someone at some point, then those who are “spiritual” should seek for the person’s restoration. What does the term “spiritual” mean? One translator renders the phrase, “You who are Spirit people” which is said to be “a cumbersome attempt to carry over into English translation what Paul means by” the Greek phrase” (Moo, 374). What the writer means by this is to call on those in the church who have taken the exhortations seriously to “walk in the Spirit” (Gal 5:16, 25) to now carry out their Christian duty to help wayward brothers and sisters. To put it another way, Paul is not calling on a certain group of spiritually superior believers to aid the less spiritual; not at all. He is calling on all believers to do this God-glorifying, soul-saving work of restoration.

The goal is restoration, not humiliation or judgmentalism or cruelty or any of the sort. The goal is restoration. Another scholar explains, “Instead of looking down on those who have failed, people of the Spirit bear their burdens by helping them back up. . . . [W]e must restore the fallen by the Spirit whose fruit is gentleness (cf. 5:22)” (Keener, 266).

Lastly, we must always keep in mind our own life and attitude. Three possibilities have been offered for what the restorers may be tempted to do: (1) Become angry at the offender; (2) Become prideful or self-righteous; (3) Fall into the same sin as the offender (Moo, 375). Thus, the apostle stresses throughout the verse, and the bulk of this section in the epistle, that this work of restoration must be spiritual in nature. We must be dominated by the Holy Spirit in order to get these situations right. If someone falls into sin, they have fallen out of their walk with the Spirit. Those who are in step with the Spirit should seek to spiritually restore these folks “both for the sake of the transgressor (cf. 1 Cor 5:5b) and for the sake of the church’s public testimony (cf. 1 Cor 5:1b; 6:1, 6)” (Keener, 266).