See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
To boast in the cross is oxymoronic to the people of Paul’s time because the cross was the ultimate symbol of humiliation. Not only was the cross one of the most cruel instruments of torture, it was also one of the most shameful methods of punishment. To be crucified on a cross is to display yourself to the whole world – stark naked at that – as a lowlife criminal, the worst of the worst. Yet, Paul reveled in the fact that he was a follower of the Crucified One – someone the world considers loathsome, despicable, and repugnant. And we too follow Christ because, despite what the world thinks of him, we know that he is the spotless lamb of God who took upon himself our sin and shame so that we may live forever in God’s presence blameless and spotless through his blood that cleanses us from all sin – the blood that he spilled on the cross. Yes, he died on the shameful and cruel cross – but he did so for our sake. That is why for us this ugly symbol of death has become a sacred and beautiful symbol of love and life. That is why we boast in the cross. But I am getting ahead of myself.
I must give you a little background before I proceed. Paul in this letter is very angry because some people were preaching a false gospel, and the Galatian Christians were falling for it! He’s angry because the gospel is being distorted and salvation itself is at stake. The Judaizers were teaching the Galatian Christians to boast in self rather than in the cross, to rely on their ability to keep God’s law (e.g., circumcision) rather than to trust completely in the finished work of Christ.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your very eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
1. What Does It Mean to Boast in Self, and Why We Shouldn’t.
To boast in self is to rely on our own works to save ourselves.
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches…”
They rely on human wisdom, ability, and resources to save themselves.
We shouldn’t do this because –
It exalts self rather than God.
The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men,, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.”
It nullifies God’s grace.
I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose [in vain].
It condemns people to hell.
For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law.
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
2. What Does It Mean to Boast in the Cross, and Why We Should.
To boast in the cross is to completely rely on what Christ achieved on the cross for our salvation (Proverbs 3:5-6).
(11) Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” (12) But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them. (13) Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us – for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” – (14) so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.
We should do this because –
It glorifies God.
I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robes of righteousness.
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
(1 Corinthians 1:30)
Turn to me and be saved all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance. Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against him. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory.
(Isaiah 45: 22-25)
It magnifies grace.
But God being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ Jesus – by grace you have been saved.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
It changes lives.
For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:15)
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations – “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used) – according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
In other words, so-called religion might lead to external change, but cannot change the heart and its lusts.
For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?
How do we live in a way that exalts the cross of Christ? How do we show that our boast is in the cross of Christ? We do so by –
believing in Christ alone for salvation.
Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.
living for Christ not for the world (Gal. 6:14b-15)
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal. 5:24)
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor. 5:17)
being ready to suffer for Christ (Gal. 6:17)
Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one – I am talking like a madman – with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
(2 Corinthians 11:23-28)
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
(1 Peter 2:21)
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.
Are we boasting in the cross, or are we boasting in self? Are we relying on what Christ has done for us or what we can do for ourselves?
The Porch, Lopue’s East
Bacolod City, Philippines
March 25, 2018