Boasting in the Cross | Galatians 6:11-18
Brian Hedges | December 17, 2017
Well, turn in your Bibles this morning to Galatians chapter six. While you’re turning there, let me remind you that the cross stands as not only central to the Christian faith, but also the central scandal of Christianity.
You may have heard before that the earliest known pictorial depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus was found inscribed on a wall in Palestine Hill, near Rome, called the graffito blasfemo. It’s the inscription of a donkey being crucified on a cross, with a man oriented towards the donkey, and the inscription says, “Alexamenos worships his God.” Of course, it was written as an insult to Christians, that here are people who worship a God who was crucified.
It is a reminder of just how scandalous the cross was in the first centuries of the church. It was crazy that people would worship a man who had died this cruel, criminal death of crucifixion, and that’s why Paul calls the message of the cross a scandal, a scandalon, or stumbling block, the word from which we get our word “scandal.” It is a scandal. It’s scandalous; it’s crazy that we would worship a crucified man, and yet the cross stands at the heart of the Christian faith, so that John R.W. Stott is right to say, “There is no Christianity without the cross. If the cross is not central to our religion, ours is not the religion of Christ."
That’s important for us to recognize as we come to this passage this morning in the book of Galatians, Galatians chapter six, verses 11 through 18. Let’s read it.
“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.”
This is God’s word.
Now this is, of course, the last paragraph in this letter to the Galatians, and so this morning we conclude this series through the letter to the Galatians. It’s always bittersweet for me coming to the end of a letter. I feel like we’ve lived with Paul in this letter for the last several months. We’ve learned a lot, and yet I look at a shelf full of books in my library, some of which I’ve barely touched, some of which only half-read on the book of Galatians, and realize there’s much more to mine here in this letter. So someday, if I live long enough, we’ll come back to Galatians and do it again, if you’re still here with us 15, 20 years down the road.
It is a wonderful letter, and it’s interesting that at the conclusion of Paul’s letter there are no throwaway words here. There are interesting patterns in the conclusions to Paul’s epistles, and Galatians, interestingly enough, violates a lot of those patterns. Paul doesn’t request prayer, as he often does at the end of his letters. Paul doesn’t give any personal greetings from other companions, as he often does in his letters. There’s no mention of names, there’s no commendation of the church.
Paul is intent and focused on the message that has carried him through this entire letter. He pushes it once again: the centrality of the cross of Christ over and against circumcision and the Judaizers, those who would push this circumcision, law-keeping agenda on these new Gentile Christians. Paul is relentless all the way to the end of his letter, and as you read through this passage you can see this series of contrasts. There’s the contrast between the Judaizers and what they boast in and Paul and his central boast in the cross of Christ, as you see it in verse 14.
So I want to organize our thoughts around this idea of boasting, and I want you to see three things this morning. I want you to see, first of all, that everyone boasts in something, then I want us to unpack what Paul means by “boasting in the cross,” and then consider the difference that this makes, how this changes us.
I. Everyone Boasts in Something
Okay, so first of all, let’s just acknowledge the fact that everyone boasts in something. This word “boast” literally means “to glory in” or “to take pride” in something or “to rejoice” in something. It’s translated in all of those ways. In the King James, “May I never glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Other versions, perhaps, use other words. But the idea is that of taking pride in something, of rejoicing in something.
All of us know this impulse, don’t we? To boast in something, to take pride in something in our lives. We’re looking for something, either about ourselves or about our identity or about our group, about who we are, something to feel good about, something to rejoice in, something to boast in, something that gives significance and meaning to our lives.
In an interesting Old Testament passage, Jeremiah chapter nine, verses 23 and 24, the prophet there gives us the words of the Lord, and it shows us some of the ways in which people boast. Listen to what Jeremiah said: “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…’” Now there are three categories of things that people boast in: their might or their strength, their wisdom, and their riches.
But the Lord says, “‘Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight,’ declares the Lord.”
Everybody boasts in something. Some people boast in their strength, in their physical prowess, their might, their ability, maybe their athletic ability, maybe their good looks. Some people boast in their wisdom, their education, their accomplishments, their skills; they’re proud of their titles, the letters after their name, or of their job, the things they’ve accomplished in this life, their success. Other people boast in their wealth; their material possessions, their riches, whether earned or inherited, and the status that comes with all of that. Those are things that people boast in.
We boast in other things as well. Some of us boast in our ethnic background, so there’s a lot of ethnic pride in the world today. There’s a lot of national pride today. In fact, some serious concerns about nationalism, the rise of nationalism, and there can be a dangerous kind of boasting in one’s country of origin.
Some of us just boast in petty little ways. We’re comparing ourselves constantly with other people, trying to show that we’re just one better. Did you ever see that old play or hear the songs from that old play Annie, Get Your Gun? There’s a song in that play where there are a couple of people, Annie and Frank, and they’re singing like this: “Anything you could do I can do better; / I can do anything better than you.”
Well, that’s basically the motif of some people’s lives; it’s petty, but it’s just constantly assessing ourselves, judging ourselves by other people. There’s this idea of superiority and inferiority. We’re wanting something to boast in.
Paul shows that right here in this letter, the central issues he’s been dealing with in this letter, have to do with boasting. You can see it right there in verses 12 through 14. He makes reference again to the false teachers, the agitators, the Judaizers. These were the people of Jewish descent who were boasting in circumcision, who were pushing a law-keeping agenda on the Gentiles, and who essentially were saying, “You have to be circumcised and you have to keep the ceremonial laws in order to be saved.”
Notice what Paul says about them in verse 12: “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.”
It’s really interesting how Paul characterizes them here. He characterizes them as people who are oriented to the flesh. They’re oriented to the flesh. Now, of course, circumcision was a physical act, alright? This is an act that has to do with the physical body. But Paul is sort of playing on words here, and you remember there’s been a contrast in this letter between those who walk according to the flesh and those who walk according to the Spirit. There’s been a contrast between the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul has essentially shown that Christ has come to bring a new order of things, and the old order of things has been transcended. The old order of the law and the works of the law have been transcended because of what Christ has done. Christ has brought to realization the promises made to Abraham, Christ has brought the advent of the Spirit, and now those who are retreating to the law are living in the old realm, in the old way, they are living according to the flesh, not according to the Spirit.
And Paul says, “These who are compelling you to be circumcised are essentially doing so for two reasons,” and he names their motives here. They are doing it in order to avoid persecution (that’s what he says in verse 12), and they are doing it in order to boast in your flesh. They are driven by self-protection and by self-promotion, and Paul says this is the problem, the problem of their boasting.
It’s in contrast to that then Paul says in verse 14, “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.”
Paul says that the cross brings an end to all human boasting, and it centers all of our boasting, all of our glory, all of our significance, all of our seeking for some kind of value, for some kind of meaning, it puts all of our rejoicing right there in the cross of Christ.
II. Boasting in the Cross
So here’s the second thing to see: boasting in the cross. I want you to see the three reasons that Paul gives for boasting in the cross. Now, this is in addition to everything that Paul’s already said about the cross in this letter. So Paul has said a lot about the cross, both implicitly and explicitly.
At the very beginning of the letter, in chapter one, verse four, Paul tells us that Christ “gave himself for our sins in order to rescue us from this present evil age.” Now that is a reference, of course, to Christ’s self-giving on the cross.
In chapter two Paul tells us that he found himself crucified with Christ, who loved him and gave himself for him. In chapter three, verse one, he reminded the Galatians that he had presented to them Christ crucified. Christ had publicly been portrayed as crucified through the preaching of the gospel to them.
Then in chapter three, verse 13 Paul tells them that Christ has redeemed them from the curse of the law by being cursed in their place. “As it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung upon a tree.’” Again, a reference to the cross of Christ.
In the early part of chapter five Paul, again, talking about this issue of circumcision, said that “those who rely on circumcision make the cross of Christ of no effect.”
So he’s already said a lot about the cross, but now Paul says, “I boast in the cross, and I boast only in the cross.” “Far be it from me to boast in anything except the cross.” He gives us three reasons, right here in the context, for why we should boast in the cross. I want you to see these.
(1) Number one, boast in the cross because the cross crucifies us to the world. It crucifies us to the world. Do you see that in verse 14? “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.”
Now we have to ask, what does Paul mean by “the world”? He, of course, doesn’t mean the physical world; he’s not talking about mountains and trees and rocks and rivers and things like that. He doesn’t mean that. The word “world” is often used in Scripture with a negative connotation to refer to the world’s system as it is aligned against God and his will.
So, for example, “Do not love the world or the things that are in the world,” as the apostle John says in his letter. Or when James says, “Anyone who is a friend to the world is an enemy to God.” That’s the idea of the world here. It’s the world as it is at enmity with God, the world aligned against God and against the will of God.
Right along with that, it’s the world as it presently is under the dominion of the evil powers. Again, the apostle John says that the whole world lies in the hands of the wicked one, First John chapter five. The world is characterized by evil in this present, and in fact I think it parallels with what Paul has already said in chapter one, verse four (I just quoted it): Christ gave himself to deliver us, he gave himself “for our sins, to deliver us,” or rescue us, “from this present evil age.”
That’s the world. It’s this present evil age. It’s the world system in all of its anti-Godness. It’s the world system that is all about power and wealth and national pride or ethnic pride or superiority. It’s this present world, as it is aligned against the peace and the justice and the mercy that God gives through Jesus Christ. It’s this present world as it is in dominion to the evil powers. That’s the idea. And Paul says through the cross of Christ “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
What does he mean by that? “The world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” This is what he means: when you become a Christian, when you come to Christ, you are co-crucified with Christ, as Paul has already said, “I am crucified with Christ,” you are co-crucified with Christ; you die with Christ, and part of dying with Christ means dying to this old world order. You die to what is old, and you’re now oriented to what is new. It’s a dying to the flesh, it’s a dying to the world, it’s a dying to sin.
It means that there is a marked difference between how you as a Christian relate to the present evil age now as opposed to how you did before you became a Christian. At one time you were a citizen of this world; now you’re a citizen of another world. You’re a citizen of the future kingdom, you’re a citizen of the kingdom of Christ, not of the kingdoms of this world!
Listen: I know that there are many things to be thankful for that we live in the United States of America with all the freedoms that we enjoy, and I am thankful for those, and I do thank God for them. But I want to tell you, Christian, that your primary citizenship is not to the United States of America. Your primary allegiance is not to the American flag; it is to Jesus Christ and the cross of Christ. Let us never confuse Christianity with American nationalism. There very well may come a point where to follow Christ means to go against the country, and perhaps it already has come in certain respects.
To be a Christian is to be crucified to the world and to have the world crucified to you. It is to have your primary allegiance to Christ. It means that between you and the present world, including not only the political realm but including all kinds of other things that are characteristic of the world - the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes, the pride of possessions, again, to quote the apostle John. It means that between all of those things and us stands the cross of Christ.
Now we relate to the world, we are in the world, we are to be in the world and not of the world, we can’t completely separate ourselves from the culture, nor are we called to; but we are called to live as citizens of another kingdom, as emissaries, as ambassadors, of another kingdom, so that even as we live in this world we constantly have our eyes set on the horizon, looking to the future life. We’re looking to the future world, the kingdom of Christ.
And, being crucified to the world means that our affections and our desires, our passions are mortified as to the things of the world and they are fixed on Christ instead. This was the insight that that great Puritan John Owen drew from this passage. I don’t think it exhausts what this passage means, but I certainly think Owen is on the mark to describe how our affections towards the world are crucified and our affections, instead, are set on Christ and his cross. Listen to Owen.
He said, “Set your affections on the cross of Christ. This is eminently effective in frustrating the whole work of indwelling sin. The apostle gloried and rejoiced in the cross of Christ; his heart was set on it. It crucified the world to him, making it a dead and undesirable thing. The baits and pleasures of sin are all thing sin the world (the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life), but by these sins entices and entangles our souls. But if the heart is filled with the cross of Christ, it casts death and undesirability on them all, leaving no seeming beauty, pleasure, or comeliness in them. Again, Paul says, ‘It crucifies me to the world and makes my heart, my affections, and my desires dead to all these things.’ It roots up corrupt lusts and affections and leaves no desire to go and make provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts. Labor, therefore, to fill your hearts with the cross of Christ.”
This is the great way to battle sin and worldliness in our lives: to have our hearts enraptured by the cross, the cross of Christ, the great demonstration of God’s love, his mercy, his grace, his justice, his holiness, his righteousness in sending his Son to die for us.
So that’s first. We boast in the cross because the cross crucifies us to the world. It makes a difference in the way we relate to this world.
(2) Secondly, and this goes right along with the first (it’s the other side to it), the cross ushers us into new creation. It ushers us into the new creation. Again, look at verses 14 and 15, and notice that they are connected. There’s a “for,” the little word “for” at the beginning of verse 15. It’s giving us the reason or the grounding for verse 14.
So Paul says, “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 nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but a new creation.”
Now isn’t that interesting? He brings it right back to the issue of this letter. I mean, this has been the issue throughout the letter, right? The issue of keeping the law. Must someone keep the law in order to be justified? Must they be circumcised in order to be considered part of God’s family?
Paul says it again: circumcision doesn’t count, uncircumcision doesn’t count. What does count is a new creation. Now, this echoes something Paul has already said in chapter five, verse six: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” Now there he’s characterizing the life of the Christian. The life of the Christian is a life of faith working through love. It’s faith oriented towards God and towards Christ and the promises of God and Christ, and it’s faith that energizes a life of love towards others, faith and love.
Now here Paul is talking about similar, but he uses a different word, doesn’t he? He uses the word “new creation.” What does he mean by new creation? Paul only uses this exact phrase one other time in his letters, in Second Corinthians chapter five, verse 17, where he says that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; [behold], the new has come.”
So, new creation has something to do with being in Christ, doesn’t it? “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” So it has something to do with being in Christ; it has something to do with our union with Christ, our relationship to Christ. And again, it has something to do with this basic understanding of an old age and an age to come. The old age of the world, the present evil world, in contrast to the age to come, new creation in Christ.
I think that Paul is working here with a mind saturated in the Old Testament. The Old Testament doesn’t exactly use the word “new creation,” that phrase, but Isaiah the prophet did talk about a new heavens and a new earth, didn’t he? At the end of his book in Isaiah 65:66. Isaiah often uses language of creation.
You see this over and again in his prophecy, and one place in particular is in Isaiah 32, where he talks about the day when the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, will be poured out, and it will be poured out on a wilderness, and the wilderness, because of the Spirit, will become a fertile plain. It’s the idea of here’s this wasteland, and there’s new life, there’s new fertility, there’s new growth, there’s new creation, because the Spirit has come.
I think when you connect the dots, this is what Paul understood. With the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ a new age has dawned. New creation has dawned. The day of the Spirit has come. The Spirit is poured out on all flesh in Acts chapter two, when the Spirit is poured out on the day of Pentecost, and now the Spirit who was given because of what Christ has done, Galatians 3:13-14, he bore the curse, he was crucified for us, he died on the tree, so that the promise of Abraham would come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the Spirit. The Spirit given because of what Christ has done leads us into new creation, new life.
What is the fruit of that life? What is the fruit of the Spirit? We’ve already seen it, haven’t we, in Galatians chapter five, verses 22 and 23? It’s a new way of living. You see, he’s setting this in contrast to the old way of living. The old way of living, whether it’s the works of the law or the works of the flesh, the old way of living is done away with. The new way of living is the way of the Spirit. It’s walking in the Spirit, it’s keeping in step with the Spirit, it’s bearing the fruit of the Spirit, love and joy and peace and so on.
We do all of that because of the cross. Through the cross of Jesus Christ we are crucified to the old way of life and we are brought into a new way of life, you see. The cross was followed by resurrection. Christ was the firstfruits of the resurrection. If we have been baptized into Christ we’ve been baptized into his death and raised to walk in newness of life, Romans chapter six; the same idea. The whole point here is that something new has come because of the cross of Christ.
As you know, one of my favorite ways of illustrating this is to quote C.S. Lewis. You knew either Lewis or Luther had to make it into this sermon. So it’s not Luther today, it’s Lewis.
I’m re-reading right now Lewis’s Narnian tale The Silver Chair. There’s a passage, there’s a chapter in The Silver Chair that’s called “The Healing of Harms,” when the children are brought to a funeral. It’s King Caspian’s funeral. They begin to hear the music for this, they’re walking with Aslan, who is this Christ figure. They’re walking on a mountain, and they come beside a stream, and Aslan is going before them.
Lewis says, “He became so beautiful and the music so despairing that Jill did not know which of them it was that filled her eyes with tears.” And then the lion stops and the children look into the stream, and they see the body of this king, the dead king, Caspian. All three of them see the king and they begin to weep, Jill and Eustace and Aslan.
And then Aslan tells Eustace to do something really amazing. He says, “I want you to find a thorn in a thicket and bring me this thorn.” So Eustace does; he brings the thorn. Let me just read what Lewis says.
“Eustace obeyed. The thorn was a foot long and sharp as a rapier [a sword].” Then Aslan says, “‘Drive it into my paw, son of Adam,’ said Aslan, holding up his right forepaw and spreading out the great pad toward Eustace.
“‘Must I?’ said Eustace.
“‘Yes,’ said Aslan.
“Then Eustace set his teeth and drove the thorn into the lion’s pad, and there came out a great drop of blood, redder than all redness that you have ever seen or imagined, and it splashed into the stream over the dead body of the king. At the same moment the doleful music stopped and the dead king began to be changed. His white beard turned grey, and from grey to yellow, and got shorter, and vanished altogether. His sunken cheeks grew round and fresh, and the wrinkles were smoothed, and his eyes opened, and his eyes and lips both laughed, and suddenly he leaped up and stood before them, a very young man or a boy.”
King Caspian is resurrected, and he’s resurrected because Aslan’s paw was pierced. It’s a wonderful picture of new creation that comes through the shedding of the blood of King Jesus. We are brought into new creation because of the cross. So that’s second.
(3) Here’s the third thing: not only does the cross crucify us to the world and usher us into new creation, the cross constitutes us as the new people of God. The cross constitutes us as the new people of God, and I’m drawing this especially from verse 16. Paul says, “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” That phrase, “the Israel of God.”
Now, this can be read in two different ways. It could be read as the ESV has it here, “peace and mercy be upon them,” that is, those who walk by this rule, “and upon the Israel of God.” Or the little conjunction there could be used to explain those who walk by this rule. So it could read, as the NIV does, “even the Israel of God.” Only context and Paul’s broader theology can determine.
So, what does Paul mean by “the Israel of God”? That’s the question. Does he mean the nation of Israel, does he mean ethnic Israel; or does he mean the church as the new Israel of God? I’ll just give you my brief argument for this.
In Romans chapter nine, verse six Paul says that not everyone who is an Israelite is of Israel. Alright? So just being an ethnic Jewish person does not constitute someone who is truly an Israelite, in Paul’s view in Romans chapter nine. Not all those who are Israel of are of Israel.
In another passage, in First Corinthians, he talks about the Israel according to the flesh, and throughout his letters Paul is drawing this contrast between those who are circumcised in the flesh and the new circumcision or the true circumcision, those who are circumcised in their hearts. He’s drawing this contrast between the old and the new, between the flesh and the Spirit.
And indeed, in the book of Galatians, in the letter of Galatians, Paul has already made this point in Galatians chapter three that it is “those who are of faith,” those who believe, “who are the true children of Abraham.”
Then one more piece of the argument is this: in Ephesians chapter three Paul says that the mystery of the gospel is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs of the promises of God, the promises made to Israel.
So I think Paul means here not ethnic Israel, I think he means the church. I think his point is this: that the cross has created a new people of God. The cross has joined together believing Jews, believing Gentiles into one new society. That’s the argument of Ephesians chapter two. One new society, one new humanity, one new group of people, the church, and they are the people of God, they are the true people of God. They are the new temple of God.
All this language that’s used of Israel is used of the church in the New Testament, and Paul pronounces, then, this blessing upon them. Notice the blessing: “Peace and mercy upon them, even the Israel of God.” And then in verse 18 also grace, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers.” There’s the family language.
So, here’s the point: the reason we boast in the cross is the cross not only takes us out of the old, crucifying us to the world, [and] brings us into new creation, but it brings us into new creation as part of the family of God, part of this new humanity, the true people of God. We find our unity with one another at the foot of the cross.
There are a lot of things that Christians in the world today disagree on. We disagree with mode of baptism; some people sprinkle and some people immerse. We disagree on who should be baptized, whether it’s believers only or children of believers. We disagree on what the Lord’s table means.
We disagree on exactly what the eschatological calendar’s going to look like. Is there going to be a rapture? Is the rapture going to be before a tribulation or in the middle of a tribulation or after the tribulation? Is it going to be a literal thousand-year reign, or is that figurative? Are we living in it already? Is Christ going to come before the thousand-year reign, or after the thousand-year reign; or, again, are we in it already?
I mean, there are all kinds of things we disagree on! We disagree with some of the fine points of soteriology, exactly how the various words like justification, sanctification, regeneration, conversion, and perseverance all fit together. What’s the order and how does one impact the other? A lot of things we disagree on.
Let me tell you the one thing we agree on, and this is right at the heart: we believe that Christ was crucified for sinners, and that he rose from the dead, and that’s our point of unity. That’s how you come into the family, [by] trusting in the crucified, risen Messiah. And as believers in Christ we want to affirm our solidarity with all who are part of the family and who believe in that central, saving message.
III. How Does This Change Us?
So then, how does this change us? What difference does it make? That’s the third and final point, and I just want to point out a couple of things to you briefly from these verses.
(1) In verse 16, notice that Paul says, “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” “All who walk by this rule.” So here’s the first thing he does to change us: he gives us a new way of life.
“All who walk by this rule.” What is the rule? Well, the rule seems to be what he’s just said about the cross crucifying us to the world and new creation. “Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but new creation.” That’s the rule. And Paul says that for all who walk by this rule, “peace and mercy be upon them and upon the Israel of God.”
It’s interesting that the word “walk” here is a word Paul has already used in this letter, in chapter five, verse 25, where he said, “If we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” That’s the word for walk. It’s just a few verses before, and the chapter breaks - we inserted those, not Paul. So just a few verses before Paul has already said, “If you live by the Spirit, keep in step with the Spirit,” and now he says, “And all who keep in step with this rule,” or, “walk by this rule…”
So I think it’s not a long shot to say that one verse helps define and explain the other. To walk by this rule is to walk according to the principles of new creation. It’s to walk according to the Spirit. It’s to live by this way of life. The word “walk” was a word that carries the idea of marching together in regiment, such an army that’s marching together, all to the beat of the same drum. Okay? That’s the idea. It’s to fall in line, to follow a rule, to follow a way of life.
And Paul says that there is a rule to follow. “All who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” So there’s the first thing. This changes the way we live. We walk according to the principles established by Christ in his cross and resurrection and the gift of his Spirit to the church. We live according to the new, not according to the old. Alright, so that’s first.
(2) Here’s the second thing to note: this way of life involves mission, and it involves a willingness to suffer for the sake of mission. You see that in verse 17, where Paul says, “From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”
Now, again, this is implicit. “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.” I think he’s contrasting here the marks on his body with the marks of circumcision. Here are some people who are boasting about the marks of circumcision; Paul says, “I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”
What does he mean? That word “mark” was the word used of a tattoo or a brand that was given to a slave; and he says, “I bear the marks of Jesus.” I think he’s talking about the scars on his body that he received because of his suffering persecution. He suffered persecution.
In fact, in these very churches, in Acts 13 and 14, remember that when Paul went to Lystra, one of the Galatian cities, he was stoned. He was stoned! You think that didn’t leave a scar? It left a scar. There are a lot of scars on the body of Paul, and Paul looks at those scars and says, “This is my badge. I belong to Jesus. I bear on my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”
Now why did he do it? He was saved; he didn’t do it because he had to do it to be saved. He’s already saved. Why does he do it? He does it so that other people will be saved. That’s why he does it. He does it for mission. He does it to take the gospel where it’s not been heard, to name Jesus where he’s not been named. That’s why he does it.
So right here we see the way the cross works in us. The cross not only brings us to Christ and justifies us and makes us right with God, but the cross is also a call. Remember Bonhoeffer? “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die”? The call to carry our own cross.
In fact, this word “bear,” “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus,” that word “bear” is the same word that Jesus uses when he talks about bearing one’s cross. You and I are called to do that. We’re called to follow Christ. We’re called to bear the cross. We’re called to follow him in his mission to take this gospel to the nations, to take it to the world, and it involves sacrifice, it will at times involve suffering, and it’s the badge of the disciple.
(3) And then, finally, here’s the last thing, the last difference this makes. It changes the whole tone of our boasting. So, Paul says, “I boast in the cross.” He’s not boasting in himself, he’s not boasting in his accomplishments or his achievements, he’s not boasting in the law, he’s not boasting in the flesh, he’s not boasting in his ethnic background. He used to do that, Philippians three; he’s not doing that anymore. He’s not boasting in circumcision or law-keeping. He’s making his boast in the Lord, and it’s a tone of humble adoration and worship.
That’s what the cross does. It gives us that. It brings humility into our lives, humility joined with exuberance, adoration, and worship of God.
Don’t the hymn-writers nail it over and over again? We’re going to sing this in just a minute:
I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place.
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of his face.
Content to let the world go by,
To know no gain nor loss,
My sinful self my only shame,
My glory all the cross.
Or this one:
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charmed me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small.
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
The hymn-writers understood this, that when you come to the cross of Christ it changes you, makes such a difference in your life, that it changes the whole posture of your boasting, of your glorying, of your rejoicing, where you’re now not glorying in yourself, but you’re glorying in Jesus Christ.
What are you boasting in this morning? What are you rejoicing in? What are you counting on? Where do you find your significance as a person, as a human being? Is it in your background, is it in your family, is it in your accomplishments, your education, your wealth, who you are, or is it in Jesus Christ and what Christ has done for you? Let’s pray.
Gracious Father, we thank you this morning for the cross of Jesus Christ. We thank you for this wonderful letter that Paul wrote to the Galatians and all the things that we have learned together in this letter, we’ve really only scratched the surface of the depths of the riches of your grace to us in Christ. We thank you for the cross, we thank you for what Christ has done. We thank you that through the cross we, like Paul, are crucified to the world, we are part of the new creation, we are part of the people of God, and we make our boast in the cross this morning.
As we come to the Lord’s table, may we do so this morning depending on Christ, counting on Christ, trusting in Christ and in Christ alone. Even now, as we take the bread, as we take the juice, would you orient our hearts towards your Son, in whose precious name we pray, Amen.