Danger!  Thin ice!

Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. – Galatians‬ ‭6:1-3 ‭NLT‬

In his letters to the churches, Paul always followed up teaching on faith with practical applications of how to live that faith out.  His letter to the church in Galatia was no different. The church in Galatia had become infected with people who were trying to get followers to fall back on their Jewish and Gentile beliefs to bolster their chances of salvation.  Thinking that “faith” was not enough, these people were trying to convince others that there were special works such as circumcision and worship of other gods that needed to be included with faith in Christ to ensure that they would be acceptable to God.  After spending the bulk of his letter correcting such misconceptions, he then turned to how, as Christians, we should go about the business of guiding those who had strayed back onto the path of righteousness.

Anyone who has ever spent time in the frozen north can tell you of the dangers of thin ice.  Ice skating, ice fishing, and hockey are all pastimes enjoyed in the winter months where temperatures insure thick ice.  But along with these enjoyable pastimes comes the responsibility of identifying, and responding accordingly, to areas where the ice may not be thick enough to support the pressure of such activities.  Participants must identify areas that are dangerous and label them properly.  Those with experience should tell those with less about the dangers involved.  And then there is the problem of how to rescue someone who has fallen in.  Going alone after someone who has broken through can be dangerous to both the victim and the rescuer.  The best way to retrieve someone is with the help of others.  The rescuer is supported in his efforts and others are available in the event that he too becomes a victim.  And even if the victim is admonished after he has been rescued, no one wastes time doing it before he is pulled to safety.

We in the church could take some lessons from those who enjoy the ice.  We should be diligent about identifying areas where there is a danger of falling into sin.  When we find such areas we should make it a point to steer clear.  We should also warn others about the dangers and do whatever is possible to help them stay away.  But there will be times when people, tempted by the world, will venture out where the ice is thin.  When that happens, the church that has a plan is the one that redeems a brother or sister.

We should always be aware of the dangers of following a brother or sister into sin by ourselves for the purpose of bringing them back.  There may be times when we are helping someone who is tempted by something that does not have the same effect on us, but we must be careful that our judgment in the matter is clear.  For what good do we do another believer if, having rescued them from temptation, we fall into the same hole?  If we are alone, who will help us?  We must be humble in our examination of our own faith and weaknesses before we determine it is ok to “go it alone”.   And even when we have made such a determination, we should still have brothers or sisters overseeing our efforts in case our decision was in error.

Whether alone or as part of a group, we need to remind ourselves that we are trying to help someone in sin back onto the path.  There will be time, after everyone is back on the journey, to assess where things went wrong.  But while we are “helping” someone who has gone astray, we should try to be as encouraging and loving as possible.  Remember, we are trying to rescue someone the Lord has died for, not drive them further away.  Beating up on someone for something we have all been guilty of will almost never result in changed lives for the kingdom.  If we are honest with ourselves, the only thing accomplished by deriding someone mired in sin is the puffing up of our own ego.  So let us “help” in humility and love, knowing that “there but for the grace of God go I”.

Probably the most important thing we need to remember when we see someone in need of help is to help them!  To many times we walk away, hoping someone else will come to the rescue.  The world teaches us not to get involved.  The world says that we need to take care of ourselves and not worry about others.  The world says that we are more important than those who cannot take care of themselves and they are not worth our effort.  But the scriptures tell us that we are a family, a family in Christ.  The scriptures tell us that we are all equal in God’s eyes.  We have a responsibility to do everything we can to help our brothers and sisters when they are in need.  And we have a responsibility to do so as a family.  Will it be enough?  Maybe, maybe not.  We may never know.  But that is not a reason not to try.  For God put us where we are, with the gifts that we have, for a reason.  If we use them together we can have faith that we can rescue the perishing, without getting lost ourselves.

Slave or Free?

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. – Galatians 5:1

Why do some slaves refuse the opportunity to be free?  Why indeed.  As a former police officer, I can say that one phenomenon that never ceased to amaze me was the number of offenders who would commit a second crime just so they could get back into jail.  People who have never been to jail would probably never say they wanted to go.  All they know is the freedom of the outside.  But someone who has spent time in jail sometimes becomes accustomed to it to the point that there is more security for them in jail than out.  They understand the system.  It makes sense.  They know what is expected of them and they know how to do just enough to get by.  And so, rather than be free, they stay “in the system” where they are safe and are never expected to make their own decisions.

In the Galatian Church, Christians who had come out of the Jewish faith were starting to listen to some who were trying to add the Law back on top of their faith in Christ.  Like ex-prisoners looking to get back into jail, they were feeling the call of safety that comes with a system that sets all the rules up front.  In Judaism, they knew what was expected of them.  They could just follow the rules.  The freedom they had found in Christ was unsettling, especially talk about God’s Law dwelling within them.  How would they know if they had done something wrong.  Hundreds of years had not wiped out the memory of seventy spent in exile when the Israelites had failed to follow God.  And for the hundreds of years since that event, they had worked on refining the rules as much as possible.  To go from a rule book to a conscience is a scary thing.  Especially when there is no understanding that our conscience is actually God in Spirit.

But Paul’s plea was a call for them to escape the slavery of the Law and run into the freedom that comes from abiding in Christ.  He was calling out those who were looking to scare the former Jews back to their old ways.  He was warning them that they were running back to something that could never save them, and away from the only One who could.  He gave the same warning to the Gentile Christians in the church.  They too were looking back to the familiar as a safety net.  

Walking into the freedom that comes from accepting Christ can be unsettling, especially if we are leaving a situation that we have been in long enough to “get comfortable”.  We may be at a place where we know what is expected.  We may like the familiarity of our surroundings.  But once outside, we will see it for what it is, a prison cell.  And that prison will hold us forever unless we step out of it in faith.  Just like the Jews and Gentiles of the Galatian Church, we have a choice to make.  The slavery of beliefs that say we can save ourselves.  Or the freedom of knowing that, in Christ, we are free to live out the Law instead of breaking under it.  Slave or free?  There’s a choice to be made.  My prayer is that we all choose freedom as we walk into a relationship with Christ and the liberty that lasts forever.