The Brand Marks of Jesus

Tom Nettles
| Galatians 6 | October 9, 2018

I. (Verses 1-5) Paul shows how, in contrast to 5:26, the individual should relate to his fellow Christians. As we walk by the Spirit, we will not seek superiority over another, nor to destroy the usefulness of another, but we will seek their usefulness and their spiritual growth and health in all things.

A. When a sin of the flesh becomes obvious in an individual so that the church recognizes its destructive tendency, a process of restoration should be pursued.

  1. The scene here is, not that a person has planned and contrived to trespass God’s law, but that the energy of the flesh has arisen in light of a sudden temptation which, combined with the subtlety of the flesh, has caught him or her. This seemingly could involve a lapse into any of the sins of the flesh described above.
  2. When this occurs, the task of the brethren is to restore, not to destroy, the person. Those who may be gifted at spiritual counsel and who also are seeking consciously to walk in the Spirit, as per 5:25, should undertake this restoration. The restoration will involve recognition, repentance, and resolution.
  • Recognition of the sinfulness of the trespass. The person is aware of and acknowledges that his action has violated a commandment of God.
  • The person is remorseful to the point of genuine sorrow that God has been dishonored by his action and he is determined to turn from the sin and renew his guard against such sudden and unwatchful failure.
  • His deeper knowledge of the sinful fragility of his flesh will give firmness to his resolution to inculcate the fruit of the Spirit so as to avoid works of the flesh.
  1. This restoration must be saturated with a spirit of gentleness, not repression, superiority, or even rejoicing in the weakness and fall of another. The restorers must see themselves as fellow-sinners and as liable to fall should they be left to their own strength. When they see the way in which another was overtaken with the war of the flesh, the restorers must examine their own hearts and be warned that the devil and the flesh are not respecters of persons but will assault one as well as another. In fact, the more upright the target appears the more prone to the fiery darts of the evil one.

B. (Verse 2) We must help shoulder the burdens of fellow-Christians. Their road to recovery, not the promotion of their shame, should be the central concern of those who have been deemed spiritually qualified to work in the process of restoration. Christ bore our burdens and when he asked us to take his yoke on ourselves, he pointed to himself as “meek and lowly of heart,” and taught that the yoke was not designed to increase the burden but to lighten it, for it is designed to give rest to our souls. (Matthew 11:2-30).

C. The process of restoration and the shouldering of the burdens of others must not result in a spirit of superiority. If we believe that we have not fallen because we are less affected by sin than others, or we have greater moral fiber, then we become like the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men (Luke 18:10-14). In ourselves we are nothing and can do nothing (John 15:4, 5). Matthew Henry observed that the one who so thinks “is neither the freer from mistakes nor will he be the more secure against temptations for the good opinion he has of his own sufficiency, but rather the more liable to fall into them and to be overcome by them.”

D. (Verses 4, 5) We gain a sense of satisfaction before God, not by comparison to others, but by a deep awareness of being a steward of gifts and opportunities and faithfulness in calling. We do not judge our standing by the failure of others but by personal conformity to the word of God. Even in his most candid moments of transparent faithfulness, Paul knew his heart had hidden recesses of pollution that tainted our best actions and deceived our most lucid judgments (See 1 Corinthians 4:1-5) “I know of nothing against myself but I am not justified by this; but he who judges me in the Lord. Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”

 

II. (Verses 6-10) Paul looks at Spirituality and Money. As we work to restore the “overtaken” on a case by case basis, so the church should make sure that it receives instruction regularly in the revealed truth of God. It is by the searchlight of God’s word, the ever-unfolding implications of gospel truth, that we will be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

A. (Verse 6) Those who have the task and calling of feeding the word of God to the church should be supported in their earthly needs by the church. Paul, though he required no regular monetary support for his work as an apostle, taught that a church should support a gospel ministry among themselves (Read 1 Corinthians 9).

B. (Verses 7, 8) We show the values we have by the use to which we put our earthly wealth. Spending money is like sowing seed.

  1. The use to which we put our earthly wealth tells the story about our hearts. Jesus told the story of the unjust steward in order to show that material wealth invested strategically transforms relationships and may be used to the advantage of eternal good. We may use the “unrighteous mammon” for the sake of achieving eternal ends (Luke 16: 1-13).
  2. If we are cheap and covetous concerning our monetary status and use it on increasing temporal comfort and pleasure, going far beyond ordinary daily needs, then we will reap only the passing, fleeting, and failing fascinations of this present life. When they are done, nothing substantial remains. It is like eating a “bit-o-honey”—sweet in the mouth but soon gone and forgotten. If we sow to the flesh, we will from such sowing reap the world that passes away (1 John 2: 15-17).
  3. If we use monetary wealth to ascertain the presence of a qualified spiritual ministry, then we sow to the Spirit and we will of the Spirit reap life everlasting. Wicked mammon becomes transformed into a steady diet of eternal truth; it has the power to bring salvation, ongoing transformation of heart into the character of heaven.

C. (Verse 9) We must seek to support and encourage those efforts that are productive of spiritual fruit based on gospel truth. It is not necessarily the immediate and spectacular success but the quality of the work to which we pay heed. If we keep sowing to the Spirit, if we keep hearing the word, if we keep restoring the fallen, if we keep watching ourselves and our doctrine then we will of the Spirit reap life everlasting.

D. In addition to supporting gospel ministry we must find ways to “do good” for all people, but particularly fellow believers. This too is a spiritual use of material wealth. When we honor the image of God in all men by seeking their well-being, especially those who are also believers in the gospel and lover of Christ, we observe the spiritual purpose for which God created the world.

 

III. Circumcision and the cross.

A. Paul closed the letter with his personal inscription. In light of the presence of false teaching and, at times, even false apostles, Paul wanted the churches of Galatia to know that this hard-hitting message was indeed his own. His confidence in the gospel message he preached and his call as an apostle would work toward the eternal well-being of the recipients.

B. He summarized his argument using the “flesh” as a principle of works righteousness and “the cross” as the principle of justification by faith.

  1. (Verse 12) Those who sought to impose the ceremonial law on the Gentiles were working to curry favor with the self-righteous who think that they are saved by their personal obedience to the law of Moses. This concession is deadly to the gospel and is pursued only to avoid being persecuted for the cross. In 6:2, Paul referred to fulfilling the “law of Christ.” Here he interpreted our present obedience to the Law in terms of pursuing the law of love, not for justification, but for the sanctifying power of its focus on loving God and loving our neighbor.
  2. (Verse 13) The punctilious and fastidious attention to the ceremonial law of the Judaizers does not render them any less guilty as sinners before the Law of God. They, like all sons of Adam as well as all sons of Abraham, are transgressors in need of justification outside of their own failed obedience. Though they do not keep the law, they believe that if they turn people back to the Law of Moses as a way of approval before God, this will give them cause to boast. As Jesus said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Matthew 23:15). If the Galatians give in to them in even the slightest sense of achieving obedience through the law, they will have forfeited all that is given in the cross.
  3. Paul, therefore, does not boast in anyone’s flesh. Of the flesh we reap only corruption, death, hell. He looks to the cross of Christ and all that it means in the complete fulfillment of the Law. Both its curse (3:10, 13) and its relentless demand for righteousness (3:11, 12) have been met in him and in him only. This has completely transformed the vision of Paul and he now looks to the eternal world where Christ is, interceding for us while seated at the right hand of God (Colossians 3:1-3; Hebrews 1:3; 1 John 2:1, 2). Paul has grasped the truth that we are made to live in the presence of God and enjoy his own happiness, joy in himself, and the unalloyed love of heaven (2 Corinthians 5:4-8’ Philippians 3:10-14).
  4. Circumcision is fulfilled in the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in raising us from death to life, granting us the new birth, and circumcision of the heart (Ephesians 2:1-4; John 3:3, 5; John 6: 61-65; Colossians 2:12, 13). The ceremony of circumcision has been fulfilled so that “neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision.” Instead the new creation has taken the place of all the ceremonies and Christ has bought for himself a people. Those regenerated by the Spirit are now the Israel of God. Those who grasp this truth, believe in the finality of the cross, and have received the Spirit of adoption constitute the new people of God. They are marked, not by circumcision, but by the fruit of the Spirit.

C. He pointed, not to circumcision of the flesh but to his suffering for the cause of the gospel as the true marks of Christian discipleship—on his body were “the brand marks of Jesus.” Why should the sincerity of his work be questioned? Why should the clarity of his theology of the cross be challenged? His very body testified to both. Paul asked that he no longer have to engage this issue (“From now on, let no one cause trouble for me”) for his suffering for his message should be, to the Galatians, a sufficient witness to its truth.