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“Bear ye one another’s burdens” (Gal 6.2) and “every man shall bear his own burden” (6.5) seem to conflict. Would you please explain?

Liberty, in contrast to legality, is a prominent theme in Galatians chapter 5. The next chapter continues the subject of liberty for, in verses 1-10, we have the Exercise of Liberty: in Loving Sympathy (vv 1-5), and in Liberal Giving (vv 6-10). In chapter 6 we find the distinguishing features of a believer who is walking by the Spirit: “Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh” (5.16).

Verse 2 of chapter 6 is a generalisation based upon the specific situation highlighted in verse 1, where we read “Brethren, if [‘even if’– this is no more than a possible contingency] a man be overtaken in a fault [this indicates a temporary lapse; it refers to one who has been tripped up at an unguarded moment], ye which are spiritual [in other words, those who “walk in the Spirit”], restore such an one [the word “restore” signifies ‘mend’, and is used of the setting of a dislocated or broken bone, an operation that requires both skill and tenderness] …”

Verse 2 follows, “Bear ye [in the present continuous tense – it means to support as of a burden] one another’s burdens [in the shape of infirmities, that which ‘weighs too heavy for individuals to shoulder’. There are difficulties, trials and sorrows, there are circumstances of the most painful nature that sometimes press upon the children of God], and so fulfil the law of Christ.” There were those in Galatia who had sought to carry the wrong kind of burdens, but here was a law to keep: “the law of Christ” - the rule of His own life in this world.

Verse 5 is no contradiction of the statement in verse 2, since the word here translated “burden” is different from that used in verse 2. In the verse “for every man shall bear his own burden”, the word “burden” is that used of the pack usually carried by a soldier on the march; indeed, it is employed to describe the burden which Christ lays upon each of His disciples: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Mt 11.30). The word “burden” is used in the sense of responsibility, and the Judgment Seat of Christ is in view; the “for” looks back to verse 4. When a man’s work is finally put to the test, he himself must bear the Lord’s evaluation of it. We cannot get anyone to answer for us, but “every one of us shall give account of himself to God” (Rom 14.12).

- David E West

Romans 2.7 seems to indicate salvation by works. What does the verse mean?

No one verse of Scripture contradicts another. Salvation is not by works. In this the Gospel of God stands in contrast to man’s religious schemes. Man says that my being right with God is dependent on my works, but the Gospel plainly states that it is “not of works” (Eph 2.9), and “not by works of righteousness which we have done” (Titus 3.5). It is impossible, then, that Romans 2.7 is suggesting otherwise.

Context is all-important in considering difficult verses. In the first three chapters of Romans the apostle looks back to the times before Calvary, and shows that man’s need of a righteousness from God was fully demonstrated by man’s universal guilt before Him. Whether it is seen in the open immorality of the man in chapter one, or the hypocrisy of the moralist in chapter two, or the privileged Jew in chapters two and three, the whole world has become guilty before God. All stand in need of a righteousness from God.

In chapter two there are those who, in a high moral tone, judge others for their actions but, at the same time, engage in the very things they judge in others. Paul points out that the judgment of God is of an entirely different character. It is: according to truth (v 2); righteous (v 5); according to a person’s deeds (v 6); without respect of persons (v 11); and with nothing hidden (v 16).

God’s justice demands that He will render to every man according to his deeds. If people were contentious, choosing to obey unrighteousness rather than the truth, they would know indignation, wrath, tribulation and anguish. On the other hand, judged by the same standard, the person who by “patient continuance in well-doing” sought for glory, honour and immortality would most certainly be rewarded by God with eternal life in the Messianic Kingdom. The difficulty is, of course, that no one ever perfectly continued in well-doing, “for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (3.23).

This verse, therefore, does not teach that people without knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ can be saved by other means. Salvation cannot be by works because nobody can achieve perfect continuance in well-doing. Praise God for a righteousness from Him, revealed from faith to faith.

- Ian Jackson


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