God deals graciously with us when we sin, and we ought to do the same with fellow believers. The apostle Paul informs spiritually mature Christians of their responsibility to look out for those who are struggling with sin and respond appropriately, with gentleness, humility, and grace: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).
Paul directs his counsel to “you who live by the Spirit,” meaning Christians who “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:16), “keep in step with the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25), and thus manifest the fruit of the Spirit in their daily lives. That fruit includes “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22–23).
In the next breath, Paul urges, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). The law of Christ is to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:14; see also 1 John 4:21). Bearing one another’s burdens incorporates restoring a brother gently when he is suddenly tripped up and falls into sin. We are to respond graciously, patiently, and kindly as we fulfill our obligation to love one another as Christ loved us (John 13:34). Similarly, Paul taught the Romans, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak” (Romans 15:1; Proverbs 16:18).
Paul warns, “Be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself” (Galatians 6:1, NLT). Our gentleness ought to flow from the knowledge that none of us is above falling (Romans 3:23; Proverbs 24:16). “If you think you are standing strong, be careful not to fall,” insisted Paul (1 Corinthians 10:12, NLT). We must treat fellow believers as we would want to be treated ourselves if we were caught in sin (Matthew 7:12).
The phrase caught in sin implies being overtaken suddenly or taken by surprise. Paul refers to sin that isn’t premeditated or deliberately pursued. When evil ensnares a fellow believer, we are to restore that brother or sister gently. The original Greek verb translated as “restore” here means “to correct, or repair, as in mending what was torn or putting back together what was broken.” A fallen Christian is like a ripped net that must be woven back together or a fractured bone that must be reset.
Christ often demonstrated how to restore a brother gently. One of the most poignant examples was when the scribes and Pharisees dragged before Him a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery (John 7:53—8:11). The harsh attitude of the self-righteous religious leaders contrasted sharply with the gentleness and compassion of Jesus. The duplicitous Pharisees wanted the woman stoned to death, but Jesus answered, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” (John 8:7, NLT). Rather than condemn the woman, Jesus gently restored her, saying, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (verse 11).
A rigid or legalistic attitude toward a Christian brother or sister who sins will likely do more damage than good. Instead of helping to bear the burden, the legalist offers a heavy yoke (Acts 15:10). Jesus said of legalists, “They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden” (Matthew 23:4, NLT).
Because God has shown us overwhelming grace and mercy, we ought to restore a brother gently if he sins, just as we would want to be reinstated. The apostle Peter stresses, “Above all, maintain an intense love for each other, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8, HCSB). The God of all mercy and comfort calls us to heal the hurting, mend the broken, and relieve the afflicted with the same comfort God has lavished on us (2 Corinthians 1:3–7).