Boasting in the Cross

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.

(Galatians 6:11-18)

Introduction

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?

(Gal. 3:1-3)

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…”

(Jeremiah 9:23)

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.”

(Luke 18:11-12)

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].

(Galatians 2:21)

It condemns people to hell.

For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law.

(Galatians 6:13a)

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

(James 2:10)

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.”

(Galatians 3:10)

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.

(Galatians 3:11-14)

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.

(Isaiah 61:10)

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.

(Ephesians 2:4-5)

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.

(Ephesians 2:8-9)

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.

(Colossians 2:20-23)

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.

(Galatians 5:22-23)

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?

(Galatians 3:2)

Application

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.

(Galatians 2:16)

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)

Conclusion

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

(Gal. 6:18)

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?

__________________________________
Ikthus East
The Porch, Lopue’s East
Bacolod City, Philippines
March 25, 2018

The Foolishness of the Cross

This month at Ikthus East we are remembering the Passion of Christ; that is, the fact that Jesus suffered and died on the cross of Calvary to save us from our sins. This morning one of our pastors at Ikthus East preached on the Message of the Cross. His first point surprised me: The Message of the Cross is Pointless!

At first, the statement struck me as misleading. Upon deeper reflection, I realized it was faithful to what the New Testament taught. The message of the cross is indeed pointless or foolish to the worldly mind.

“For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Why is the Cross of Christ pointless to many people? Because they can’t see how it solves the problems we encounter in our daily lives.

Generally speaking, the solution to a problem is either political (i.e., power or force) or intellectual (e.g., management, technology). That is, you bend circumstances to your will through brute force, or you shape circumstances to your will through the application of effective techniques.

The first method is crude and often unsound. Many times, we are up against forces far stronger than our puny strength can handle. And even if momentarily we succeed, how long can we sustain the strength needed to keep our enemies down?

Pitting force against force is actually a simplistic idea. People who subscribe to this paradigm are enamored with the idea of accumulating, maintaining, and increasing political power and financial capital. They seek to vanquish their problem by overpowering it with superior force. In extreme cases, they cheat at the polls and assassinate their opponents.

The second method is at its core similar to the first, in that its seeks to get rid of the problem, but in more subtle and indirect ways – ways that require the application of intelligence. If meeting a problem head-on won’t defeat it, then we must probe deeper: Find its weakness and concentrate on that. One does not have to be stronger than his opponent to defeat him. Or maybe one can simply sidestep the problem, make it irrelevant so that it won’t be a problem anymore. If talking to the uncaring sales clerk is a dead end, maybe one can try talking to the supervisor or the manager, since the goal is to exchange the defective product you bought for a functional one, and not to win an argument!

The second method abounds with tips and how-to’s. It studies patterns of success and failure in order to discover what causes success and failure. And then it distills its findings and presents these in the form of easy-to-understand-and-apply tips or techniques.

Incidentally, many churches today have more or less adopted this managerial mind-set. The trend of how-to sermons is proof of this. Doctrinal sermons are taking a backseat to how-to-succeed inspirational messages sprinkled with Bible verses. This should not come as a surprise. People are interested in how the Bible can solve the problems they face in daily life – problems related to money, relationships, work, and physical and mental health. In other words, they want to know how they can live a successful, happy and comfortable life. Sadly, many churches cater to what people want, at the expense of providing soul-maturing spiritual meat, because they too want to be “successful.”

However, the message of the cross goes against this mindset. The cross sounds foolish to the worldly mind because it does nothing to achieve all those things we’ve mentioned that human beings crave: success, happiness, health, meaningful relationships, and the like. In fact, the cross represents the opposite of all the foregoing: The cross represents defeat, sorrow, death, separation and resignation! It is, to the worldly mind, a non-solution.

The irony is: It is in embracing the foolishness of the cross that human beings can find ultimate fulfillment, the satisfaction of their deepest longings, cravings, and desires. For the cross is the solution to greatest problem of all, the one problem that prevents human beings from experiencing life that is truly life: The problem of sin and holiness. In other words, the problem of how sinful human beings can be reconciled to a perfectly holy God.

All this pursuit of happiness, success, health, meaning, significance, and the like, is at bottom an unwitting pursuit of God. This is the paradox of our existence: In running away from God, we prove that we we were made for him. We run after this and that, only to discover that that which we desperately desire, in its truest and deepest essence, can be found only in him.

And this is where the cross comes in, the cross that negates the power and wisdom of this world. For no power of man can force God to bestow on man what he desires according to man’s terms. No wisdom of man can manipulate God into giving him what he wants.

But God gives us all that we need and truly desire through the cross alone: unconditional love, complete forgiveness, peace that transcends all understanding, ultimate significance, unbreakable intimacy, heavenly joy, and everlasting life! And he does this freely and voluntarily. Not because we deserve it or have earned it, but simply by grace. That’s what the cross means. By grace God gave his one and only Son to pay for the sins we could not pay for in order for us to have the everlasting life and joy in and with God we could never earn or deserve.

This is what the Bible calls Salvation. Left to ourselves, it is simply out of reach. Human power and wisdom can acquire wealth, win friends and influence people, improve emotional health and even prolong life! But no amount of human wisdom or power can do what the cross of Christ alone can: Cleanse and save one’s soul and reconcile it to God.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the gift of God; not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Be reconciled to God: Embrace the foolishness of the cross!

Ikthus Villa Angela Sermon (August 4, 2013)

3 KINDS OF FAITH

(James 2:14-26)

INTRODUCTION:    The Epistle of James has been something of a problem for Protestants – Luther called it “an epistle full of straw” – mainly because James seems to contradict Paul’s teaching that salvation or justification is by faith alone and not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). But the contradiction is more apparent than real. My task this morning is to show that there is no contradiction between James and Paul, and that there is a need for us to heed James’ teaching in order to counteract some people’s abuse or misinterpretation of Paul’s teaching. I will in this message reaffirm what Paul has to say about salvation or justification, that it is by faith alone from first to last, never by works; but at the same I will also uphold what James has to say, that faith without works is dead, and dead faith cannot save anyone. In order to do that we will have to distinguish between three kinds of faith as taught in this passage. Two of them cannot save; only one does. Continue reading “Ikthus Villa Angela Sermon (August 4, 2013)”