by Rev. Paul Doellinger

Following in the footsteps of St. Paul, Luther and the Reformers sought true peace and unity in the Church through the pure proclamation of the Gospel. Indeed, the only way peace and unity can be achieved in the Church on earth is through the pure teaching of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

In a church rife with discord brought on by false teachers, St. Paul’s desire is for the Galatians to abide in the Gospel first preached to them, that we are “justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law” (Gal. 3:16). The fruits of this Gospel are harmony and concord with each other as they “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). The apostle closes out his letter to the Galatians urging them to live in love and service to each other; to care for their pastors; and to never depart from the Gospel, but always to boast not in self or works, but in the cross of Christ alone.

Read Galatians 6:1-18

  1. The Gospel puts us all on the same page as sinners who are covered by the righteousness of Christ. Since we are all recipients of God’s undeserved kindness, the Gospel does not permit someone to “think he is something when he is nothing” (Gal. 6:3). Luther speaks of how Christians bear one another’s burdens, dealing with one another as fellow sinners: “The kingdom into which you have been called is not a kingdom of fear and sadness; it is a kingdom of confidence and happiness. If you see your brother in terror because of a sin of which he has been guilty, run to him, and extend your hand to him in his fallen state. Comfort him with sweet words…in a spirit of gentleness, not of zeal for righteousness or cruelty.”[1] How does the Gospel of Christ shape the way in which we approach sin and rebuke our fellow Christians?
  2. The Church finds her unity in the Gospel and its pure teaching. As the Small Catechism teaches, “God’s Name is kept holy when the Word of God is taught in its truth and purity, and we, as the children of God, also lead holy lives according to it.”[2] When Christians are rightly taught the Word of God by their pastors they are edified and strengthened in the faith. Thus Paul encourages, “Let him who is taught the Word share all things with him who teaches” (Gal. 6:11). How does the Church’s support of her pastors strengthen their unity and faith around the Gospel?

3. Paul’s closing words to the Galatians emphasize the necessity of the Gospel, brotherly love, care for pastors, and doing “good to everyone, especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal. 6:10). Luther explains, “‘The household of faith’ is a new phrase to designate those who belong to our fellowship of faith; first among these are the ministers of the Word, and then the other believers.”[3] What compels Christians to care for their pastors and one another?

  1. Over and against the false teachers in Galatia, the apostle boasts only in the cross of Christ (Gal. 6:14). He does not seek the approval of men, but rather to preach the Gospel of Christ, even if it brings persecution upon himself (Gal. 6:12, 17). Luther describes what Paul was up against: “The false apostles are striving to accommodate themselves to the demand of these men that they live outwardly and regulate their lives as they require. To keep the favor of these men and to avoid the persecution of the cross, they teach that circumcision is necessary for salvation.”[4] Name some ways and instances where we might be tempted to compromise on doctrine in order to appease the world.
  2. Paul doubles down, once again, on justification by faith alone apart from the outward works of the Law: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation” (Gal. 6:15). Luther reinforces Paul saying, “There is nothing under the sun that counts for our righteousness in the sight of God except Christ alone, or as [Paul] says here, ‘a new creation’…a work of the Holy Spirit, who implants a new intellect and will and confers the power to curb the flesh and to flee the righteousness and wisdom of the world. This is not a sham or merely a new outward appearance, but something really happens. A new attitude and a new judgment, namely, a spiritual one, actually come into being, and they now detest what they once admired.”[5] As “new creations” in Christ why should we insist on adhering to the Gospel of the cross of Christ? How, then, does that Gospel direct how we live our lives?

The clarity of the teaching produced by the Lutheran Reformation is a treasure beyond compare. When Luther and the Reformers unflinchingly proclaimed the Gospel of Christ, boasting only in His cross, unity and oneness came in the confession and concord of the Church. As new creations, we seek to “walk by this rule” so that “peace and mercy be upon [us], the Israel of God” (Gal. 6:16), that is, upon the Church.

This rule—the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith in Christ apart from works—is the rule “about which Paul is speaking here…By it we live in faith in Christ and are made a new creation, that is, truly righteous and holy through the Holy Spirit, not through sham or pretense.”[6] True unity and concord is found in the truth of the Gospel, not in an imitation peace that the world regards and upholds, but peace with God and one another in “the household of faith” through the forgiveness of sins won by Christ and given to us in the Gospel preached.

Let us pray. “O Comforter of priceless worth, send peace and unity on earth. Support us in our final strife and lead us out of death to life.” [7] Amen.

The Rev. Paul M. Doellinger is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church, Cassopolis, Mich.

[1] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6, 1519 Chapters 1-6 (J. J. Pelikan, W.A. Hansen Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964., pg. 111

[2] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Small Catechism. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1991., pg. 19.

[3] Luther, Martin. Luther’s Works, vol. 27: Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 5-6, 1519 Chapters 1-6 (J. J. Pelikan, W.A. Hansen Ed.). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1964., pg. 129

[4] Ibid., pg. 130

[5] Ibid., pgs. 138, 140

[6] Ibid., pg. 141

[7] Luther, Martin, “Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word” (No. 655) in The Lutheran Service Book (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2006).