Pastor David B. Curtis

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Boasting in the Cross

Galatians 6:11-15

Delivered 08/14/2005

Paul, in these last verses of his letter, develops a contrast between two mindsets. The one believes that salvation is only and all of God. The other believes that salvation is a joint effort between God and me. This second mindset is what he has been trying to drive out of the Galatian churches. The first one is the one he seeks to live by and teach. He calls this first mindset a canon, or a rule, and says that those who are in sync with this rule receive God's mercy and enjoy God's peace.

Paul has told us in the Book of Galatians that there really is a great divide between these two different mindsets: two different understandings of salvation and two different philosophies of how the Christian life is lived out. We either choose the way of grace or the way of law. We either choose the Spirit or the flesh. We choose the Cross or the world.

What's at stake here for Christians is our freedom. For some, what's at stake is still wrestling with the question of salvation - which has to do with where you will spend eternity. For most of us, it's really an issue related to whether we will live out our Christian life in freedom or in bondage.

So the stakes are very high. When it's all said and done, it does boil down to what you believe. Do you believe that in your own strength, in your own power, by your own effort, you can somehow merit righteousness with God - that you can somehow perform for God in order to receive God's blessings? Or do you have an understanding that you cannot do this yourself; therefore you are totally dependent upon the Spirit of God to do in you what you cannot do for yourself?

To truly believe that I'm dependent on the Spirit of God means that I have a commitment to God's Word. I have to. It means that I am on my knees before God in prayer, because I'm dependent upon Him. It means that I am committed to the church - not just attending, but to body life, because that's what God has put in place to be a tool for the Spirit of God to use in order that I might walk by the Spirit. Therefore, it dramatically affects what my priorities are: what's important to me.

We've spent the last ten months in the Book of Galatians, and as we come to the final verses, let's remind ourselves of a few basics that we've talked about.

Legalism is the problem that Paul is fighting. Legalism was the subject of almost every one of Paul's New Testament letters, because it was a huge problem in the New Testament church. And it's a huge problem today.

Paul goes back to the Old Testament over and over again as his way of saying that this is nothing new; this is the way it has been from Genesis all the way through Revelation. It has always been about grace. The Law was never given as a means of righteousness. The Law was given so that people could measure themselves, recognize their sinfulness, and realize their need for grace. The message is consistent from Genesis to Revelation.

Grace is simply understanding that I am totally dependent upon the Spirit of God to do for me what I cannot do for myself. And the reason the Spirit of God does that for me is not because I've deserved it, or not because I've earned it, but simply because of His grace. It's a favor that I experience that is unmerited; it's undeserved; it's a product of grace. Grace means I walk by the Spirit. The Spirit of God never leads me out of alignment with the will of God. The Spirit of God never leads me into sin.

Anytime I drift into license, into sin, it is not because of grace; it is because of flesh. It's because at that moment I'm walking independent from the Spirit of God. At that moment I'm doing my own thing, and that's what gets me in trouble. We are never more obedient and never more in alignment with the will of God than when we are walking by the Spirit.

Ultimately, when it's all said and done, this is an issue of the heart. It boils down to whether I believe I can do this myself, or whether I believe I am dependent upon the Spirit of God to do what I cannot do for myself. What you believe about that in your heart, will determine the most ordinary, practical decisions you make throughout your day.

Galatians 6:11 (NASB) See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.

Careful studies of thousands of letters written in Paul's day have led to the discovery that most of the letters exhibit two styles of handwriting: a refined style of a trained secretary in the body of the letter and a more casual style of the author in the conclusion. It appears that it was common practice for letters to be written by dictation to secretaries. The author would personally write only a few lines at the end of the letter. Usually these concluding lines in the author's own hand summarized the cardinal points of the letter. We see this common practice of letter writing in Paul's letter to the Galatians.

Since most of the members of the Galatian churches would not be able to see that there was a change in script when his letter was read to the churches, it was necessary for Paul to draw attention to the fact that he had picked up the pen and was writing the conclusion.

At first glance, this verse seems out of place, having little to do with what this letter is teaching. But it really isn't. From the middle of Chapter 5 up to verse 10 of this chapter, Paul has shown the Galatians how they are to live as believers. Beginning with the next verse through the end of the letter, he will summarize the important points that he has written in the first four and a half chapters. This verse thus serves as a transitional statement.

Little in these final verses of Paul's epistle is new, but what is written is crucial for it closes Paul's letter with the essence of the difference between Paul and the Judaizers. The importance of what is written in these verses is underscored by Paul in verse 11. In his day, there were no typewriters or word processors. When I wish to emphasize a point, I simply boldface the words, or underline what I have written. Paul did the same thing by taking the pen in hand (possibly taking it from the hand of an amanuensis) and writing what follows with large letters. The effect is to inform the reader of the importance of what is written as well as to remind us of who is writing it.

Paul would dictate his letters to a scribe, as we see in Romans:

Romans 16:22 (NASB) I, Tertius, who write this letter, greet you in the Lord.

Who wrote the book of Romans? Paul did! But Tertius was Paul's amanuensis. Tertius was the one who transcribed Paul's dictation. Paul would often take pen in hand and give the final greeting in his letters. We see this in his letter to the Corinthians:

1 Corinthians 16:21-24 (NASB) The greeting is in my own hand - Paul. 22 If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed. Maranatha. 23 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. 24 My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

At the very beginning of the Book of Galatians, I mentioned to you that in every one of Paul's letters he opens up with a greeting - except this one, where he goes right to the point. In all of Paul's letters he ends up just signing something at the end. But in this one he writes the whole last paragraph with his own hand - that is very unique. Put those two things together, and it's Paul's way of saying this is very important; as a matter of fact, unusually important. This is the essence of what we're about as Christians. The idea of large letters is just a way of saying: "I'm writing it in large letters so you can't miss it, it's that important."

Paul now talks about two different mindsets. He starts off by talking about people with the wrong mindset:

Galatians 6:12 (NASB) Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.

Who are the "those" in this verse? It is the Judaizers! The Judaizers were a group of Jews, possibly Jewish Christians who taught a "Jesus plus" religion. They didn't deny that Jesus was the Son of God, and they didn't deny His death and resurrection, and they didn't preach against believing in Him. But they in essence said that what Christ started, we need to finish; We must finish the unfinished work of Christ.

Paul, on the other hand preached a "Jesus only" gospel. Another term for that is "justification by faith alone, apart from the works of the law". He taught that the way of salvation was "by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone." In Paul's mind, what the Judaizers taught was nothing less than an attack on the gospel itself. If the Judaizers prevailed, his work would have been in vain. The doctrine of grace itself was at stake in this controversy. It comes down to a simple question: Are we saved by believing or by achieving? Paul said by believing, the Judaizers said by achieving.

Believers, the descendants of the Judaizers are still with us today as teachers and followers of Jesus trying to improve on the biblical doctrine of justification by faith. Salvation comes as the free gift of God. It is not earned, it can't be bought, and it has never come as a reward for good behavior. It has always been bestowed upon those who are undeserving, unworthy, and unlikely in the world's eyes to receive such a gift.

Just as Paul battled the Judaizers during his lifetime, so we must constantly battle the Judaizers of our own day. The most important doctrine of the Christian faith is this one single teaching: "The just shall live by faith." Faith not in themselves, nor their ability to live a godly life, or their ability to adhere to legalistic requirements of the Law, but faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone.

In verse 12 of our text Paul gives us the motive of the Judaizers. Their motive was twofold: to make a good showing in the flesh and to avoid persecution. When all is said and done, their motives were the love of human praise and the fear of human opposition.

There is a play on words here that has to do with the outward act of circumcision and making a good showing in the flesh. What Paul is saying here is that these Judaizers are boasting of the cutting away of their foreskin and using that to display their spirituality.

Paul says their motive is: "to make a good showing in the flesh." They worked to bring the Galatian Christians from a Gentile background under circumcision, because it would be a good showing for them.

"Compel" is an important word. There was nothing wrong with a Gentile being circumcised. There was everything wrong in compelling a Gentile to be circumcised, saying they could not be right with God without coming under the law of Moses.

Beyond their own glory, their other motive was to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ. If these legalists had said, "We are saved only by the work of the cross of Christ, not by our obedience under the law," they would have been persecuted. Probably the persecution would have come from other legalistic Christians, or from those still in Judaism. Their unwillingness to stand in the face of this pressure made them stand for false doctrines.

By aligning Christianity with Judaism through emphasizing circumcision and the law of Moses, men could escape persecution from the Jews and the Romans. To advocate circumcision was to align the new movement with Judaism, a religion that had official Roman sanction, and therefore one that avoided persecution.

To the Judaizers the cross was offensive, because it was the cause of their persecution and suffering. To find one's salvation solely in the cross of Christ was so abominable to the unbelieving Jew that those who thus believed were persecuted. To avoid this persecution, the Judaizers played down the cross and promoted circumcision. This setting aside of the cross for circumcision enabled the Judaizers to gain the praise of the Jews, rather than the persecution which Paul and other Christians experienced.

Throughout history those who have identified with the cross have been persecuted. The cross was a symbol of guilt. It was the most horrible and painful means of death that a person could be forced to endure. The cross was reserved for the state's enemies, the most reviled of all people. The cross was equated with death, and yet for those who identified themselves with Jesus, the cross was the symbol of life; life offered through the full and final sacrifice of God's own Son for those who are truly guilty and unable to absolve themselves of their guilt.

What does he mean by "the persecution of the cross"? It's understanding all that's implied in the cross of Jesus Christ. This is really the point of the great divide. There are those who believe that Jesus died on the cross, but that isn't sufficient for salvation. In addition to that, they believe we need to do these certain works of the flesh in order to ultimately be saved. Paul told us in chapter one that if that's true, grace is nullified, and this becomes a different gospel, which is no gospel at all.

The majority of people in our country would most likely say that they believe in God. They would probably say that they believe that Jesus lived, and He died on a cross. But the overwhelming majority believe that still isn't sufficient. They believe: I've got to do something; I've got to perform these religious functions in order ultimately to be saved. That is in contrast to the cross alone, which is understanding that Jesus died on the cross to do for me what I could not do for myself. Therefore, Jesus' death on the cross alone merits my salvation; I don't add anything to it.

When I understand the implications of the cross, what I'm saying is: I am a moral failure. I am unrighteous. I am damned and headed for hell, and I realize there's nothing I can do to change that. Therefore, I have to reach out to Jesus on the cross and trust Him as my Savior in order to experience salvation.

The cross, therefore, kicks the props out from under legalism. It puts the legalist out of business, because the legalist is about making a good showing, about performing. The meaning of the cross is: There's nothing you can do to make a good showing; you cannot perform well. Therefore, all you have is the cross. So the message of the cross is offensive to the legalists, because it puts them out of business.

I know there's a tendency to think: Well, as long as people believe that Jesus died on the cross that's the main thing. And then if they add all these other things, then that's not that big of a deal. Paul says: No, that is a big deal; that has become a different gospel, which is no gospel at all. This is the point of the great divide. It's either all of grace or it's not. There's no middle ground.

This was the point of divide in the New Testament church. This was the point of divide in the Reformation. And this is still the point of divide today.

If Jewish Christians associated with Gentile Christians simply on the basis of their common belief that the cross of Christ is the only way of salvation, then they would be condemned by zealous Jews for negating the central Jewish teaching that only faithful, law-abiding Jews were included in the covenant of salvation. But if the Jewish Christians led Gentile Christians to live as faithful Jews should live by getting circumcised and observing sabbath regulations and dietary laws, then their zealous Jewish friends would compliment, rather than condemn them for their association with Gentiles. For then it would be obvious that what really mattered to them was not their belief in a crucified Messiah, but identification with the Jewish nation.

Persecution because of the cross of Christ is a difficult concept for modern-day American Christians to grasp. In all likelihood, none of us has ever been struck because of his Christianity; nor have many of us been locked up in prison or denied economic opportunity because of our faith. But in Paul's day the persecution was quite severe. Look at just some of the persecution Paul received:

2 Corinthians 11:24-25 (NASB) Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.

Paul's faith cost him.

Galatians 6:13 (NASB) For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised, that they may boast in your flesh.

Paul goes on to expose the inconsistency of the legalists by noting that the Judaizers do not really practice what they preach. While the Judaizers are telling the Gentiles to be circumcised, they themselves are not keeping other parts of the Mosaic law.

Galatians 5:3 (NASB) And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law.

Circumcision was only part of the law. But if these Galatians were going to use circumcision, then they were obligated to also adhere to the dietary laws, to the keeping of certain holy days, to making sure they kept themselves from ceremonially unclean things. The law is not a cafeteria where you can say: "I'd like a helping of circumcision, but I don't want any sacrifices. I'm going to hold off on the feast days, but I'll take an extra helping of the Levitical priesthood." It doesn't work that way. The law of God is an all-or-nothing proposition. As James reminds us:

James 2:10 (NASB) For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

The law is like a chain of many links that joins earth and heaven. Break just one link, and it's as if you've broken them all. Once you have decided to base your relationship with God on your performance, you will not be graded on a curve. You must get 100 percent all the time.

Paul says the crazy thing about this is that those who believe that on the basis of their merit, their own legalistic structure, that they can achieve a level of righteousness, don't even measure up themselves. They're failing according to their own system. Yet they invite you to become a part of their failure. What sense does that make?

Paul now switches and begins to talk about the right mindset - the one that boasts only in the cross of Christ:

Galatians 6:14 (NASB) But may it never be that I should boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

The word, "boast" in Greek means, "to glory or praise." It is not "boasting" as we think about bragging or boasting today. Paul will glory in the shame of the cross. That which is a shame and an embarrassment to so many in our society was Paul's glory, and the object of His praise.

When we talk of the cross of Christ here in our text, we are not talking simply about the wooden instrument of death, which our Lord Jesus was nailed to. The "cross" is used in metonymy for the atoning work of Christ, it refers to all Christ accomplished as He died in our place on the Cross.

A metonymy is a figure of speech in which something named is used to represent another thing that is part of or associated with. When we say, "I was reading Calvin last night," we mean that we were reading a book written by him. The name of the author is used to represent the work he has written. Metonymy is a figure of speech where an initial or prominent feature is taken to represent the whole thing. So when Paul says that he boasts in the cross, he is referring to the doctrine of justification by faith alone.

Justification is a declarative act whereby God declares righteous him who believes in Christ. Justification is not being made righteous experimentally, but being declared righteous. It is not the removal of our liabilities, it is the imputation of Christ's righteousness. It's not something done in us, it is something done for us. Righteousness is imputed, not imparted. That means that though I may not act righteous, my account says that I am.

Romans 3:24-26 (NASB) being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

The word "justified" means: "made righteous". The Greek word that Paul uses for "gift" is dorean. Dorean means: "without a cause." Jesus uses this same word in:

John 15:25 (NASB) "But they have done this in order that the word may be fulfilled that is written in their Law, 'THEY HATED ME WITHOUT A CAUSE [dorean].'

The cause of their hatred of Christ was in them, not in Christ. In this same way the cause of our justification is in God and NOT IN US. Justification is without a cause in us. There is a cause, but it is in God through Christ.

Jesus Christ took our sin and gave us His righteousness. That's what took place at the cross, and for anyone to try to add to that with their good works, be it through circumcision or rules they make up to ensure our salvation, is nothing short of blaspheming our God and Savior and calling His ability to save men into question.

And don't think for a moment that we can't add our own version of circumcision to the cross of Christ today. There are many people who claim to be Christians who insist, for example, that unless you are water baptized, you cannot be saved.

One of the largest religious groups in the world today teaches that unless you are water baptized, you cannot be saved. It's the religious group called Roman Catholics. The other prominent group that teaches a similar heresy is the Church of Christ. They, also make it clear that unless you are water baptized, you cannot possibly be saved.

Paul says because of the cross, because of justification by faith alone that - "Through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

The "world," written about by Paul, is not the physical world full of plants, trees, animals, flowing rivers, and galaxies beyond our reach, but it is the world's system. The world is characterized by prideful boasting in self; whether it be about national identity, social status, and religious practices. When I have the world's mindset my life will inevitably be characterized by such boasting. This is what Paul is talking about. And this is why he is so upset with the Judaizers. Their message is the message of the world. Their message is that you can do something to earn God's favor and righteousness. This is the mindset of joint effort in salvation. And that is a lie.

Paul knew what it was like to work hard, so that he could have things to boast about. Paul had poured himself into Judaism, and he had moved to the head of the class. Yet, Paul writes to the Church in Philippi and says:

Philippians 3:4-8 (NASB) although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. 7 But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ,

Paul says that all of his Jewish accomplishments were rubbish or dung. The Greek word that Paul uses here for "rubbish" is skubalon. This word is extremely vulgar. It is only used here in the Bible, and most of the translators try to avoid the clear vulgarity Paul intended. He wants us to understand these things are not just lost, he counts them to have an odor about them. Compared to Christ, they are repulsive, because anyone who trusts in these things will be eternally lost. In extra-biblical writings, skubalon is used of dung - human excrement, food that is spoiled or ripe garbage. It is used of half eaten corpses and lumps of manure. He wants us to be repulsed, because that's what all our achievements are, compared to Christ.

Paul is saying: My glory, my boast, is all in the Lord Jesus Christ. That's because my salvation is altogether in Christ. He is the One who died on the cross to pay for my sin, and He is the One who has given me the faith to believe on Him. I have been crucified unto the world. I am dead to the world. The things and pleasures that it offers don't appeal to me anymore. I have lost my interest in those worldly things; I just want to live for Christ.

These statements that Paul makes under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit trouble us, don't they? It hits me very hard. It makes me realize that when we put life in its proper perspective, the things of the world are so unimportant.

What does it matter how many cars we have or how big a house we live in? What does it matter how much money we have in the bank? Our life on earth is short; sooner or later we will die. What really matters is that I'll be with the Lord throughout eternity. That's the only thing that counts.

Paul says, "There's nothing I have to boast about, except the cross of Jesus Christ." Grace takes all the boasting out, because I realize I didn't do anything; I failed; I didn't measure up; I blew it. And all I have is what I received on the basis of grace. He said, "I had to die to the world"-- which means that living life independent from God is believing: "I can do it without God, I don't need help." Paul died to that mindset.

Galatians 6:15 (NASB) For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

For the Jew, prior to Christ coming into the world, circumcision was a sign and seal of belonging to God as one of His chosen people. This was the sign given to Abraham by God Himself.

Here, Paul encapsulates succinctly what salvation by grace is all about. There are no conditions to our salvation. Whether or not we have been circumcised does not mean anything. Paul adds at the end of verse 15 that uncircumcision is also nothing. So as not to possibly give the Gentiles a false pride in not being circumcised, he points out that whether you've been circumcised or not, none of it plays any significance in your salvation. We are saved only if we are in Christ. And we are in Christ only if we are a new creation.

That's precisely what Paul said earlier in this letter:

Galatians 5:6 (NASB) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.

The reality of life in this new creation has been a theme of the entire letter. We have a new relationship with God: we are no longer slaves; we are His children and are free to address Him by the Spirit as, "Father, Abba" (4:6). We have a new relationship with one another: We are no longer imprisoned and divided by racial, social, or gender barriers; we are now free and one in Christ (3:28).

The gospel is the rule for Paul's life; it determines both the spiritual and the social dimensions of his life. No longer does he relate to God or to others on the basis of his Jewish identity, but on the basis of his union with Christ in His death and resurrection.

How about you? What is your mindset this morning? Are you boasting in the cross or in your own achievements? What side of the great divide are you on? What are you trusting in this morning for eternal life? If it is anything except the "cross" alone, you are under the condemnation and wrath of God.

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