Isn’t this portion of Scripture the true crux of our spiritual journey as a church family? We have seen, in Galatians 5:16-25, a list of the “acts of a sinful nature,” and there are certainly some major league issues listed there. I am feeling pretty good as we get started into the list. But then we get to “sins” that impact our relationships. Paul seems to be saying to me that “moral failure” is more than adultery or acts of public depravity. He gives even more space to acts and attitudes that make me stop and take inventory. Sandwiched between “sexual immorality” and “drunkenness, orgies, and the like” we find “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions, and envy.” In short, I think Paul is setting us up for the realization that what follows is applicable to all of us.
Now, in Galatians 6:1, we are instructed to be ambassadors of Christ. I am drawn back to one of my favorite portions of Paul’s writing found in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20. In Christ we are a new creation, and all of our past is washed away. Seeing that we, ourselves, have been reconciled (restored), we are called to be ambassadors of His grace and have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Christ put it this way, in John 8:7, as He was confronted with the woman who had been “caught” in adultery, when He said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then, after assuring her that He offered forgiveness rather than condemnation, He bade her, “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” Some point out that the Greek infers that this sin is not blatant, deliberate, willful sin but rather more of an “oops” or “excuse me” sin. But haven’t we learned in the context of God’s reaching out to us that sin is sin. A little sin is as damaging to my righteousness as a big sin, is it not? So if we are saying here that gentle restoration is for those who have simply been caught up in habits or circumstances that catch us off guard rather than intentional depravity, I think we are missing the bigger part of what Paul’s gospel message is all about. “We who are spiritual should restore him gently.” Well, will the "real" spiritual person please stand up! Which one of us is qualified to begin an act of restoration for someone who is “caught in a sin”?
Let me make this personal in order to illustrate what Paul’s intent is here according to my simple mind. I am indebted to an organization that has small groups meeting around the world. When I attend one of these meetings, my introduction to participation begins with this: “My name is Marvin, and I am an alcoholic.” Now you know I am talking about AA. At one point in my life, I was drunk every night for two years. I could not hold a job for more than a few months. My marriage fell apart. I hated myself. My life had truly become unmanageable, and I was powerless to do anything about it.
God has taken that time in my life and not only forgiven it (yes, I have stopped drinking), but He has used me to mentor and minister to so many who struggle with alcohol and any number of other addictions. I am an alcoholic . . . with forty years of sobriety. Praise God!
I am working with addicts who are struggling with their “sin.” The way some would interpret this week’s passage seems to be that I can seek to gently restore someone who has “slipped” into old ways and needs a helping hand to get back on the wagon. But what about the brother or sister who has messed up big time? What about the person who has just let go of their ropes and fallen deeper into the hole than they have ever been before? Can they ever have hope of restoration? Isn’t my ministry as much to the hopeless outside of the church as it is to the struggling who are still in the church? Is there really any difference between us?
I will accept the fact that in Galatians 6:7-8, we are reminded that there are consequences for sin that will remain. We will indeed reap what we sow. I can testify to the fact that some of the results of my former life have left scars that will be a part of my life as long as I live. But I will also testify that those same scars have been a powerful part of my ministry.
In my ministry of reconciliation, I can only truly help those who have come to the place where they admit that their lives are unmanageable and that they are powerless. There does have to be a spirit of confession, repentance, and brokenness. But there is no addict (read as sinner) who cannot be changed and restored, and who better to mentor them than one who has been changed and restored?
We who are spiritual (forgiven and restored) should be in the business of gently restoring those who are caught in sin! And we should be careful that we don’t ourselves get drawn into sin either by being sucked back into our own past addictions, or by seeing ourselves as “better” or as “something.” We should not be “comparing” ourselves with anybody else.
I have had numerous privileges of seeing individuals who were caught (both by their own addiction and then by public knowledge) in sin but who were in an environment where God used people to lead them through the process of admission, conviction, repentance, acceptance of forgiveness, renewal of surrender, and finally, restoration. I have been privileged to work with pastors who have been removed from ministry but then have been allowed to work through a process of restoration and return to be far greater tools in the hand of our merciful God than they were before. Yes, praise God!
Should not our church be in the full-time business of restoration? Are we not all daily in the process of restoration? The same author, in Romans, chapter 7, says that he continues to struggle with the fact that he neglects the things that he knows he should do and gives in to the things he knows he should not do. His only hope of restoration from his “body of death” is in Jesus Christ, the One who came to save sinners!
Please, let us do away with “degrees” of sin and recognize that even our “righteousness” is an abomination to God if we see it as something of merit. We are all hopelessly lost were it not for the grace and mercy of our Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, and soon coming King! Let us then, who have been reconciled, be Christ’s ambassadors, as He makes His appeal through us, and be ministers of reconciliation to each and every person He places in our path on this journey.
This commentary was originally published to Spectrum on November 24, 2011.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
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