Paul’s been banging on about grace, insisting that we’re saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and anyone who modifies that message with works for us to do is accursed, but he’s not antinomian – being saved by grace alone doesn’t mean it’s ok for us to carry on in sin. If someone is transgressing the law, we should restore them. But the gospel of grace affects the way we restore someone who’s transgressed. We do it humbly. We do it gently. And we restore, rather than judge.
This is one of the ways we through love serve one another, so when Paul says to restore a brother who’s “caught” in transgression, he doesn’t mean we point out every little fault (1 Peter 4v8 says “love covers a multitude of sins”), but where someone is caught, or “overtaken” in the NKJV, in a sinful tendency that they need help to escape from, then we should restore them. If we love that brother (or sister) we will do what we can to get him or her out of that destructive sinful pattern.
If we’re walking by the Spirit, we’ll want to restore them – apparently the word translated restore is the word that would’ve been used to put a dislocated bone back into place; it will hurt, but the aim is to bring healing – that will be our aim, to restore them, rather than judging them for being worse sinners than we are.
Paul says “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted”. It’s possible that in drawing close to that brother or sister with the intention of restoring them, we could be drawn in and tempted by the same sin that they’re caught in – we mustn’t arrogantly think we’re immune. But perhaps the more likely issue is that we’ll be tempted to pride/conceit/feeling superior to that brother because we haven’t fallen into that particular sin. We need to keep watch on ourselves for that. This section, v1-5, is a warning, not to those who have been caught in transgression, but to those who are to restore them.
That might put us off wanting to get involved in restoring those caught in transgression; it’s a serious responsibility and there’s a danger of getting caught in sin yourself as you do the restoring. We might be relieved that Paul lets us off the hook in v1 when he says “you who are spiritual” should do this work of restoring – phew! that counts me out – I’ll leave the work of restoring to the more spiritual people in the church. But that’s not what Paul means; “you who are spiritual” doesn’t refer to a few elite Christians on a higher level of spirituality than you or me, it’s anyone who’s walking by the Spirit rather than under the law, which is all Christians. We’re all responsible for restoring a brother or sister if they’re caught in transgression.
And if we’re walking by the Spirit rather than under the law, we’ll be bearing the fruit of the Spirit in chapter 5v22-23, and since the fruit of the Spirit includes gentleness, if we’re walking by the Spirit, we should be able to restore that brother or sister in “a spirit of gentleness”. I can only assume Paul felt compelled to include that phrase “in a spirit of gentleness” because sometimes we won’t feel like being gentle in restoring someone. Perhaps because we’ve been personally hurt by their transgression, we’ll be tempted to hurt them back, but walking in step with the Spirit will enable us to deal with them gently, seeking their restoration rather than our revenge.
In v2 Paul refers to this as bearing one another’s burdens. We would usually think of “bearing another’s burden” as being there for them in their illness or bereavement or something, but Paul here uses the phrase in the context of restoring someone who’s been caught in sin. You could just take v2 in isolation and it makes a nice quote: “bear one another’s burdens and so fulfil the law of Christ”, but I think this section from chapter 5v25 to 6v5 is all meant to be considered together, and it’s about how we respond when other Christians sin. Paul’s building up a picture of what it looks like to keep in step with the Spirit in a church full of sinners, and this phrase “bearing one another’s burdens” is part of that picture.
He says that by bearing one another’s burdens we will fulfil the law of Christ; the law that Jesus both taught and exemplified.
Remembering that the overall point of the letter to the Galatians is to overturn the teaching of the Judaisers, the legalists, who had been teaching the Galatians that they needed to obey the law for their justification, Paul is explaining here how to properly obey the law of Christ. Jesus similarly criticised the Jewish lawyers in Luke 11:46. The Judaisers load people with the burden of earning their justification by their obedience, while back in Galatians 6v2 Paul says those who walk by the Spirit do the opposite; instead of loading people with burdens, they bear their burdens for them.
That’s how we fulfil “the law of Christ”. In John 13v34 Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another”. We love one another by bearing one another’s burdens. And Jesus exemplified that for us, as we see in Isaiah 53 (v4-12). Of course we won’t bear anyone else’s guilt in the way Jesus did for us, but we may have to bear some grief caused by someone else’s sin, and we can look to Jesus’ example to help us in that.