Galatians 6:3-4, “For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor.”
After admonishing the Galatians to bear one another’s burdens, Paul challenges them to examine themselves with a warning.
When we are in an atmosphere where sin is being confronted, and we are bearing one another’s burdens we should not be surprised when we are confronted with temptation. Paul indicates here that a certain type of temptation may come, pride. And the deadliest type of pride (if we can say there are levels of pride) is spiritual pride. In Galatians 6:3-4 Paul lays out before us how to avoid such a situation.
Don’t Be Deceived
It is easy, and I know because I’ve experienced it in my own life, to think we have arrived when we are helping a brother or sister who has been caught in sin and are bearing their burdens. It is tempting to walk around with our chest puffed out and to become boastful. We think we have become someone. We think more highly of ourselves than we ought (Romans 12:3). We have deceived ourselves when we begin to think this way.
The reality is we are nothing. The only reason we can restore someone caught in any transgression or bear one another’s burden’s is because of the gracious work of the Holy Spirit.
Paul exhorted the Galatians to walk by the Spirit so that we will not gratify the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). Any sign of spiritual pride, of thinking we have arrived when we have not, is a tell-tale sign that we are not walking in the Spirit, but are gratifying the desires of the flesh.
What then is the antidote to fighting this line of thinking? It is walking by the Spirit. It is being filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) as we give ourselves to Scripture more and more. Only by and through the Spirit working through Scripture can we guard against becoming puffed up by our own actions.
Test Your Own Work
The second warning Paul gives here is that we should be most concerned about our own work. We are to examine ourselves (2 Cor. 13:5). We are to be more concerned with the disposition and actions of our own life then we are that of others.
Now, you might be thinking, “Wait a minute, didn’t Paul just write that we should restore those who are caught in any transgression and bear one another’s burdens?” The answer is, of course, yes.
Now you might be responding, “Isn’t Paul talking out of both sides of his mouth? How can I only test my own work when I have to restore those caught in any transgression and bear their burdens? Which is it, Paul?”
Paul is not talking out of both sides of his mouth. In a way, he is ,stating again what he said in verse one, “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” When we are involved in one another’s lives, and we are walking with them through it if we are not careful, we can become more concerned with their pursuit of sanctification than our own. Paul is warning us. Test yourself. See if you are in the faith.
This is not either, or for Paul, it is both and. We must walk by the Spirit. As we walk by the Spirit, we will gently restore those who are caught in any transgression, bear one another’s burdens, view ourselves properly, and test our own work. All of these will happen in their proper proportion.
The key again is we can only do this as we walk by the Spirit. He makes this possible, not us.
Boasting in Ourselves Alone?
We still have one more question to address. What do we make of Paul saying, “then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor?”
After all, doesn’t Jeremiah tell us we need to boast in the Lord alone (1 Corinthians 1:31 cf. Jeremiah 9:23)?
You’ve experienced this in your own life. When you begin to examine your own life, and you see where you are in the faith, if we are walking by the Spirit, we will admit and acknowledge that any good we see in our lives, and the good others see, is from the hand of God. Therefore, our boasting is in the work God has done, not in the work we have done. If we boast in our work then we are thinking more of ourselves than we should. And we are showing again that we are deceived.
We will boast, but not in our effort, but in the work of God that He has graciously done in our lives.
Everything Paul writes about in verses 1-4 is only possible if God is working in our lives. And when He is the application, the living out, of these truths will be beautiful and glorifying to God.