This is a touchy subject, but I’m pretty confident we all need to hear it. I know I do. So here goes.
You’re responsible for you. Notice the period at the end of that sentence. It indicates that “you” is the only person for whom you are ultimately responsible. Let’s hash that out. Here’s a relevant passage of Scripture from Galatians 6:1-5 (HCSB):
1 Brothers, if someone is caught in any wrongdoing, you who are spiritual should restore such a person with a gentle spirit, watching out for yourselves so you also won’t be tempted. 2 Carry one another’s burdens; in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. 3 For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.5 For each person will have to carry his own load.
So at first glance it might not seem like this passage agrees with my main point. The very first verse tells spiritual brethren to restore others. So doesn’t that mean we are responsible for them?
No. No it doesn’t.
Here’s what happening in this letter. Paul’s not happy. He’s very not happy. He’s preached the gospel to this church (or group of churches, since Galatia is a region and not a town), and they are now departing from his message in his absence. And we’re not talking “agree to disagree” types of departure. They are going back to legalism. They are acting as though Christ is not actually enough. So Paul goes to great pains in the letter to illustrate that Christ is enough. Perhaps a good summation of the book could be Galatians 2:21 (HCSB) – “if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.” If we can be good without him, then why did he need to die? If you have to add to him, then you haven’t understood why he came.
But Paul’s audience is treating the additional stuff as though it makes them more spiritual than anyone else. This is why Paul lists out the deeds of the flesh and the fruits of the Spirit in chapter 5. He’s saying, “Okay guys, here’s how you can tell where you are on the spirituality spectrum. Are you sexually immoral? Are you jealous? Do you have fits of anger? OR are you loving? Joyful? Peaceful? Which terms describe you best?”
Paul follows this list up with some practical advice. If you want to be spiritual…if you call yourself spiritual…here’s what you should be doing: helping people who have fallen. Bearing their burden. Being gentle with them. That’s what fulfills the law of Christ. He shouldered our burden. Now we are to shoulder the burden of others. That isn’t easy.
But…this post started with “you are responsible for you.” How does that work? Look at verses 3-5:
3 For if anyone considers himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. 4 But each person should examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in respect to someone else.5 For each person will have to carry his own load.
This is the explanation of Paul’s practical advice. He’s saying, “Okay people, the last thing you want to do is think you are spiritual when you aren’t. If you are spiritually mature, you will help people. But if you think you are spiritual but you aren’t helping people, you’re deceiving yourself. You need to honestly test yourself. You need to make sure that you are what you think you are. Don’t worry about the person beside you until you have an honest self-appraisal.”
It’s here that Paul anticipates the typical sibling question, “But, but…they don’t have to do this! They aren’t examining themselves! They aren’t bearing my burden!!!”
His response: “For each will have to bear his own load.”
How does that work? He just told us to “Carry one another’s burdens.” How is that we are to bear one another’s burdens, but we have to bear our own? Why the heck isn’t someone bearing our burden for us? Because you are only responsible for you. You can’t get upset if someone isn’t bearing your burden, because maybe they aren’t there yet. You can’t force their maturity. After all, it isn’t about you (or me, or them). We’re all heading towards Jesus, right?
If you are mature you should bear the burdens of those around you. You can tell when someone is spiritually immature, because they turn this upside down. They make other people responsible for them, and expect other people to bear their burdens. This is a form of legalism.
Here’s my practical example.
One day, when I was a young Christian, God convicted me for something strange. He told me to take my watch off when I got to church. Time needed to be the last thing on my mind there. So I obeyed. I eventually got to the point where I was removing my watch without even thinking about it. But one day I thought to myself, “Gee, everyone should do this. Everyone should take their watch off for worship. It’s helped me so much!” God immediately called me on the carpet. “I haven’t put that on them. I only put that on you. You let me deal with them. You just worry about you.”
Since that day I’ve been reminded of the watch story several times. It’s really easy for this to creep in. We feel convicted by something, and that’s a good thing. We respond, and it’s awesome. Then we notice that no one else is doing the same thing….and we assume they are terrible Christians. How dare they do that thing that is so clearly wrong? How dare they not do that thing that is so clearly right? But that isn’t yours to carry. You aren’t responsible for them. You are responsible for you.
Here are some questions you should consider from this framework:
Should Christian girls wear yoga pants?
Should Christians celebrate Easter and/or Christmas?
Should Christians…just about anything fits in here. Seriously. Google “Should Christians…” and see what comes up.
This is ridiculous. So, instead of crusading against the most recent evil thing, or trying to tell all the other Christians we know how wrong they are to do/think/say a particular thing, perhaps we should spend a little more time thinking about what our burden is. Are we bearing it? What about our neighbor’s burden? How can we bear it in a spirit of gentleness? As corny as it sounds, maybe we need to get back to “What Would Jesus Do?” And until your approach to them can be described as “in a spirit of gentleness,” then just bear your own stinkin’ burden already. The sooner we all do that, the sooner we will all have a bunch of spiritually mature Christians walking around ready to help the rest of us.