(Gal 6:1-2 ESV) 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.
Does “law of Christ” mean the “rulebook of Christ”? No. It means submitting to the Spirit’s work in us to become people who express their faith through love. And people who love will gently restore those who slip and bear one another’s burdens. (Context matters.)
Chapter 6 isn’t filled with additional, new laws so much as instructions regarding how to love. And these instructions would be be true and binding had Galatians never been written, because we’d know to carry each other’s burdens, for example, just by knowing that we’re supposed to love our neighbors.
Some authors want to argue that “law of Christ” means we’re still under law, just a different law from the Law of Moses. Denny Smith argues,
There were instruments of music used in Old Testament worship. Why was it okay to use them? Because there was word from God approving such under the law of Moses (read the Psalms). Why is it wrong to use them today? Because there is no word from God approving such under the law of Christ under which we live today.
But if that’s true, then how do we fulfill the law? Well, Paul says we fulfill the law of Christ by bearing one another’s burdens. He doesn’t say “sing a cappella and so fulfill the law of Christ”! You see, he’d just said in chapter 5 that love compels us to serve one another. He’s just giving us an example of how to do exactly that.
(Gal 6:7-10 ESV) 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.
To “sow to the flesh” is to resist the Spirit and act contrary to faith and love. To “sow to the Spirit” is to plant the kind of seeds the produce the fruit of the Spirit. It’s being disciplined to think, feel, and act in faith and love at all times, so that we cooperate with the Spirit’s transforming work in us.
V. 10 is the culmination of the book — the last verse Paul dictated. We “do good to everyone” because it’s what the Spirit wants us to do, because loving people act this way. You see, the church is to be marked by the good it does more than its pattern of worship, because love is most clearly shown by what we do for each other and for others. And the true gospel is marked by faith expressing itself through love — not through sermons on the pure doctrine of love, but through acts of love.
Paul then adds an additional note —
(Gal 6:12-14 ESV) 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.
Focus for a moment on v. 13. Paul argues from the inconsistency of the Judaizing teachers. They insist that Gentile males be circumcised, but not that they keep the whole law. For that matter, the teachers themselves don’t keep the whole law. Rather, they want to pick out certain elements of the Law as “boundary markers” to show that the Gentiles are separated from the world just as the Jews are.
This is a point lost on most of us but emphasized recently by N. T. Wright and others. The First Century Jews weren’t really about a works salvation — not as they saw it. Rather, they considered the “marks” of Judaism essential, so that circumcision, honoring Jewish holidays, and the food laws became “marks” separating the Jews from Gentiles. They understood that God saves by faith, but they concluded that these distinctive markers of Judaism were essential to be a part of the covenant community and so saved.
Thus, Paul says, they “boast” in these marks. After all, there was often considerable sacrifice involved in displaying their differences this way. Many a Jew had accepted martyrdom rather than give up the distinctive marks of Judaism. Wright explains,
The ‘works’ in accordance with which the Christian will be vindicated on the last day are not the unaided works of the self-help moralist. Nor are they the performance of the ethnically distinctive Jewish boundary-markers (sabbath, food-laws and circumcision). They are the things which show, rather, that one is in Christ; the things which are produced in one’s life as a result of the Spirit’s indwelling and operation. In this way, Romans 8.1–17 provides the real answer to Romans 2.1–16. Why is there now ‘no condemnation’ [per Rom 8:1]? Because, on the one hand, God has condemned sin in the flesh of Christ (let no-one say, as some have done, that this theme is absent in my work; it was and remains central in my thinking and my spirituality); and, on the other hand, because the Spirit is at work to do, within believers, what the Law could not do – ultimately, to give life, but a life that begins in the present with the putting to death of the deeds of the body and the obedient submission to the leading of the Spirit.
Now, if you think carefully about this, you see that it tells us that the marks of the church, and the law of Christ, and the law of the Spirit in Rom 8:2, and the fruit of the Spirit, and “faith expressing itself through love” are all much the same thing. And it’s not complicated.
When the modern Churches of Christ define themselves by such things as their acts of worship — using these as boundary markers — they are guilty of the very same thing. There are, of course, actual boundary markers — but Paul has already told us what they are — faith in Jesus, love for our neighbors, and the presence of the Spirit.
Paul concludes by saying it like this —
(Gal 6:15 ESV) 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.
We last met “counts” in 5:6 — “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Now Paul says that a “new creation” is what counts. What’s going on?
“New creation” refers to a second Genesis 1, to God once again making mankind in his image, but this time doing it by living in his people through his Spirit. It’s the same thought as —
(Rom 12:1 ESV) 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. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
We are to “be transformed” (passive voice!) by a renewed mind — clearly a reference back to Paul’s description of the work of the Spirit in chapter 8.
You see, you entirely miss the point of “new creation” if you don’t accept the obvious — that this is a miracle performed by God in us to change us into his image. If it’s just God issuing commands and our obeying them as well as we can on our own, well, God tried that under the Law of Moses. It didn’t work out.
(2Co 3:18) And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
The solution isn’t different laws but hearts transformed by God — restoring us to God’s image as we were always meant to be.