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7. The Cross And Boasting (Galatians 6:12-15)

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The cross has become the universal symbol of Christianity. The most wretched means of death has become the most cherished symbol of life. God transformed the most fearful form of man’s hatred into the most beautiful expression of His love. What was for the Romans an object of shame, disgrace and disgust was for the apostle Paul his pride, his boast, his glory.

When Paul speaks of the cross, he does not mean the physical structure of wood. He means the entire work of Christ in securing our redemption. He means the significance of the whole event – our deliverance from the flesh and the law; all that Christ has done for us in satisfying the judgement of God against our sins.

Because of what the cross stands for, it is a dividing line between all people. On the one side of the dividing line are those who trust their own works for their eternal destiny - for them, the cross is an offense (1 Cor. 1:23). On the other side of the dividing line are those who trust the work of Christ for their eternal destiny - for them, the cross is the power and wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:24). The subject in this passage is: “The separation of the cross.” The teaching of our passage is that when we boast in the cross, it separates us from the world.

We need to understand that…

I. In Ourselves, We Have No Reason To Boast (Gal. 6:12-13)

Whatever we boast in engrosses our attention, absorbs our time, appeals to our flesh, our pride. It’s our obsession. Some people are obsessed with themselves, their money, fame, power, position, self-image. In his book, “Love Beyond Reason,” John Ortberg tells the story of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company who pulled into a service station to get gas. After going inside to pay, he came back to the car and noticed his wife engaged in a deep discussion with the service station attendant. It turned out that she knew him. In fact back in high school, before she met her eventual husband, she used to date this man. The CEO got in the car and the two drove in silence. Feeling pretty good about himself he said: “I bet I know what you were thinking. I bet you were thinking you're glad you married me, a Fortune 500 CEO, and not him, a service station attendant.” “No,” replied his wife, “I was thinking if I'd married him, he'd be a Fortune 500 CEO and you'd be a service station attendant." (pp. 142-143).

We have nothing in ourselves of which to boast. Such human, fleshly pomp is foreign to the thinking of the apostle Paul and has no place in the Christian life. So notice two arguments why we have no reason to boast in ourselves …

1. We have no reason to boast in our ourselves because we have no “religious” merit before God (6:12). Those who want to make a good showing in the flesh, who would force you to be circumcised…” (6:12a). This is speaking of people we call “Judaizers.” Judaizers were Jews who were preaching a false gospel, a hybrid of Judaism and Christianity, a gospel of salvation by works. They were trying to convince Gentile Christians that it wasn’t enough to trust Christ alone for salvation, that salvation consists of faith in Christ’s atoning work on the cross plus their own self-righteous works, that in addition to trusting the work of Christ on the cross in order to be saved they must also keep the law by being circumcised. This was a religion of the flesh. They didn’t care about the spiritual well-being of their converts. They had no personal relationship with Jesus Christ – no inner, spiritual renewal. Everything about them was superficial religiosity and external rituals but with no spiritual reality. They were spiritual frauds, motivated by deceit.

They were motivated by deceit – the deceit of impressing others with their religious zeal. They wanted to “make a good showing in the flesh” before their Jewish colleagues by forcing Gentile Christians to be circumcised – i.e. by converting, at least partially, Gentile Christians to Judaism. All they wanted to do was impress others with their religious efforts, to be able to boast in their religious fervor. This would make them look good in the Jewish community. They were motivated by religious pride, glorying in their own accomplishments. The more Christians they could convert to this false gospel, the more prestige they would gain among their fellow Jews. This is what they boasted in. This was how they sought to gain religious merit.

But before God we have no religious merit. We cannot earn God’s favor in any way. There is nothing we can do by way of religious activities that in any way deserves the grace of God. We are sinners by nature and by practice with nothing to offer to God that is of eternal or spiritual benefit. Going to church is good, but it has no saving virtue. Singing in the choir is good, giving money to charity is good, but they don’t have any saving value. Before God, we have no religious merit nor can we earn it.

Not only were these Judaizers motivated by deceit, but also…

They were motivated by fear - the fear of persecution for the cross. The purpose behind these Judaizers trying to force the Gentile Christians to be circumcised was not only to be able to boast to their Jewish brethren about their success in proselytizing, but also “…in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ” (6:12b). They wanted the best of both worlds - to come under the umbrella of Christianity but without suffering persecution for the cross of Christ. They weren’t prepared to identify themselves out-and-out with the “cross of Christ” for fear of being persecuted. Why would identification with the cross of Christ incur persecution? Because the cross of Christ is offensive to unbelievers. So they removed the “offense of the cross” (5:11) by mixing it with religious rituals, by making salvation dependent on human effort as well the work of Christ on the cross.

There is no persecution or stigma for advocating human achievement or good works. In fact, most people aspire to some inherent human goodness in themselves, whether displayed in religious, charitable, or social works. Perhaps you are clinging to your own good works for salvation. You are refusing Christ because you fear the stigma attached to being a Christian that might incur rejection, ridicule, or even physical attack. Persecution for faithfulness to the cross of Christ is very real today. Recently, I read a report that, in Nigeria, one Christian is killed every two hours and that since 2009 more than 60,000 Christians have either been murdered or abducted, never to be seen again.

There is no doubt that the cross of Christ may be the cause of offense. The offense to unbelievers is that the only way of salvation is through repentance and confession of faith in the crucified Christ. The offense to unbelievers is that we preach the truth that they cannot earn their salvation by their works, not even works that appear to have some religious basis. Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. That’s the offense of the cross!

The cross of Christ divides the world. To the Jews it is a stumbling block (lit. “a scandal”); the notion of a crucified Messiah is revolting to them. To the Gentiles it is foolishness; it doesn’t make sense to their intellect (1 Cor. 1:18-25). But, to the Christian, whether Jew or Gentile, it is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). For us, the cross is the glory, joy, source, and object of our boasting.

You cannot place your trust in the cross of Christ and expect to be popular in your school or workplace or neighborhood. Identification with the cross of Christ has always brought suffering. That’s why these Judaizers tried to tone down the cross by adding to it works of self-righteousness in order to make the message more palatable.

Some years ago my wife and I attended the funeral of someone we knew, who belonged to the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JW’s). She had spent so many hours phoning people and knocking on doors that her works earned her the special position of “pioneer” in the JW organization. This is what they boasted about and gloried in. But apart from their own works, it became evident throughout the funeral service that they had no hope.

Firstly, then, Christians have no reason to boast in ourselves because we have no “religious” merit before God. And secondly…

2. We have no reason to boast in ourselves because we have no “personal” merit before God (6:13). 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.” These Judaizers were nothing but hypocrites! What they were demanding of others they didn’t do themselves. They insisted that others keep the law in order to be saved but they didn’t keep it themselves. These religious hypocrites were interested in only one thing, to “boast in your flesh” – i.e. to boast in their successful circumcision campaign among the Gentile Christians. The more Gentile Christians they could convince to undergo circumcision the more they boasted in the success of their proselytizing.

Theirs was a religion of personal merit. But in ourselves we have no personal merit before God. Neither our religious activities nor our personal accomplishments are meritorious before God. For the cross has made all personal accomplishments of no redemptive value, all requirements of the law unnecessary. There is no personal merit before God, not for trying to keep the law nor for performing good deeds of any nature whatsoever. The only basis for a favorable standing before God is faith alone by grace alone in the cross of Christ alone. It is impossible on any other basis to gain favor with God.

When we come face to face with Jesus Christ and the cross all boasting in ourselves is gone, all reliance on anything but the cross is gone, because the cross shows us clearly what we are - that our justification is based in the work of Christ alone, that neither good works nor trying to keep the law nor any personal merit can justify us before God.

In ourselves, therefore, we have no reason for boasting. We have no religious merit before God – we can’t boast of keeping the law or any other religious standard. And we have no personal merit before God - we can’t boast about anything we have done be it ever so good.

So, in ourselves we have no reason to boast. But…

II. In The Cross, We Have Every Reason To Boast (Gal. 6:14)

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14a). Paul had many religious and personal accomplishments - more than these Judaizers did - but he realized the worthlessness of those things. That’s why he said in Philippians 3:7-8: 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.” After his conversion, his sole occupation was knowing Jesus Christ more personally, following him more devotedly, trusting him more fully, loving him more intimately. That’s why he boasted “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” not in his personal accomplishments (such as his education or social position), nor in his religious rituals (like being circumcised on the 8th day), nor in his religious fanaticism (in persecuting the Christians), nor in his family background (being of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews). Instead, Paul boasted solely in the cross because he knew that his religious zeal and personal accomplishments did not and could not earn favor with God.

He was finished with “making a good showing in the flesh” (6:12). The cross completely broke Paul’s connection with the religious world of external rituals and personal good works. The cross gave him an entirely new perspective: “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” “Except in the cross” indicates that the cross was central to his thinking, it was the sole object of his boasting. Elsewhere he says, I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Notice three reasons that we have to boast in the cross…

1. We boast in the cross because the cross separates us from the world. …by which (i.e. the cross) the world has been crucified to me” (6:14b). The “world” here refers to humanity in rebellion against God, the corrupt values and evil practices of unbelievers (1 Jn. 2:15-17).

What is being described here is what takes place at our salvation. Our separation from “the world” by the cross is the result and evidence of genuine salvation. If such a separation is not evident, then we have every reason to doubt the genuine salvation of such a person, for salvation means that we have been redeemed from the world, the flesh, and the devil. Salvation means that the cross stands between me and the world as an impregnable barrier. Salvation means that I am dead to the world and the world is dead to me.

The apostle John reminds us that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 Jn. 5:19). Non-Christians live in the world under Satan’s control, a meaningless life, a life without hope, purpose, or meaning. The only thing they have to live for is the present world / age (2 Tim. 4:10; Tit. 2:12). Physical life is all they think and care about – “eat, drink and be merry” is the sum and substance of their lives.

But the cross separates Christians from the world. When we believe in Christ we no longer conform to the world’s values and practices but we are being transformed by the renewal of our minds (Rom. 12:2). We have been freed from the world’s evil and hopelessness, separated by the cross from our old, worldly values and associations. Through the cross we are freed from the tyranny of the world. Jesus Christ gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:4). We are freed from its corruption and judgement. We are released from the penalty of sin through the death of Christ on our behalf at the cross and we live now in the power and control of the Holy Spirit.

The cross separates us from the world. The cross draws a dividing line between us and the world. The cross puts the Christian entirely outside of and apart from the world. There is no common ground between us. It is a mutually exclusive death - the world and the Christian have been crucified to each other. Paul is saying: “The world system is dead to me and I to it.” It doesn’t mean that the world no longer has any influence over us, but its dominion / power has been broken. We are no longer in bondage to it because it has been rendered a fatal blow by the death of Christ.

Once, we were part of the world’s system and values but now we don’t care what the world thinks or says about us. We have been transformed by Christ’s death on the cross. His self-denial for us is the pattern of our self-denial for him. In the world I see all the hatred and enmity that was shown out against Christ. Therefore, I want nothing to do with it.

So let me ask you: Are you living a separated life? Are you living your life for the glory of Christ? Or, are you still dabbling in, and attracted to, the world? To put it in concrete terms, is the language you use honoring to the Lord or do you use curse words and coarse language that the world uses? Are the TV shows and movies you watch wholesome and uplifting or are they characterized by the world’s lust for sexual immorality and violence and foul language? How about your style of dress? What about your habits, where you go, the things you do when no one is looking? What about the music you listen to? If the words were projected up on the screen, would they shock us? Are they pure and holy or dirty and defiling?

Can you say that by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ “the world has been crucified to me”? This is how the Christian views the world. The world and all that it stands for has been put to death, so that it has no power over us. We find it tasteless and meaningless and defiling. It generates no response in us, it has no life for us, it is hollow and opposed to everything we hold dear. When a person receives Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, sin is put to death, the cross becomes our glory and our greatest joy. The cross is what we boast in!

The only escape from the world is through the cross of Christ. Through it we become dead to our old sin nature and its lusts and we become alive to God (Rom. 6:6-7, 11). Now I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

So, on the one hand, “the world has been crucified to me” – that’s how I view the world; on the other hand simultaneously “I (have been crucified) to the world” (6:14c) – that’s how the world views me, the believer. The world wants nothing to do with Christ and the cross. Therefore, it wants nothing to do with me either. As far as the world is concerned I am DOA (dead-on-arrival). I am of no use to it. I am non-responsive. There is nothing in us that is attractive to the world. In fact, the world finds us somewhat repulsive, objectionable, ridiculous, laughable because we are identified with Christ.

We must always keep our crucifixion in focus with Christ’s crucifixion. We died with Christ – when he died, we died. Only when we see our dead position in Christ as far as the things of this world are concerned can we say with Paul that we glory in nothing but the cross. Just as the cross filled Paul’s vision and illumined his life, just as he boasted in the cross, so our world of reference should orbit around the cross.

So, we boast in the cross, first, because the cross separates us from the world and…

2. We boast in the cross because the cross destroys the flesh (6:15a). For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision.” For the Christian neither circumcision nor uncircumcision have any saving merit (cf. also 5:6; 5:15a). They represent religiosity, the flesh, and are of no value for salvation or for a right standing with God. There is no more virtue in being circumcised than of being uncircumcised - both are irrelevant in Christ. In Paul’s words, “our old self was crucified with him (Christ) in order that the body of sin (the flesh) might be brought to nothing so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6).

We boast in the cross, first because it separates us from the world; second because it destroys the flesh; and…

3. We boast in the cross because it makes us a new creation in Christ (6:15b). That’s the power of the cross – to make us “a new creation” in Jesus Christ. The old life can’t be remodelled: there is nothing good in it. We need an entirely new life, a new birth, a new creation. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Through the cross, we have been transformed into new creations in Christ and this transformation is reflected in a new way of thinking, a new world view, a new life of holiness, and it will culminate in our resurrection to immortality at the second coming of Christ (Rom. 8:19-23; 1 Cor. 15:51-54).

Final Remarks

We’ve been talking about “The separation of the cross.” The point is that, when we boast in the cross, it separates us from the world, the cross becomes the dividing line between the Christian and the world. So, what we learn from all this is that…

1. We cannot boast in the cross and in ourselves at the same time. Biblical Christianity is a matter of what Christ has done for us, not of what we have done for him. Human activity is impotent in the shadow of the cross. Pride in human achievement has plagued humanity from the very start when Satan appealed to Adam and Eve’s pride. There is nothing in ourselves in which the Christian can boast, but there is everything in the cross in which to boast.

So we learn that we cannot boast in the cross and in ourselves at the same time. And we learn that…

2. To boast in the cross is to declare unquestioning allegiance to the Christ of the cross. Our language must be that of the hymn writer: “On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross the emblem of suffering and shame. And I love that old cross where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain.”

The more I am occupied with Christ, the more precious the cross becomes and the more I will boast about it, glory in it. How much do you think about the cross? How much do you boast in the cross? How much do you speak of it to others? That depends on how much of the world you allow in your life. The more you permit of the world, the less you boast about and glory in the cross.

3. Allegiance to the cross means separation from the world. We cannot understand the truth of Galatians 6:14 without separating from the world. Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?” (James 4:4). We are “in” the world but not “of” the world (see Jn. 17:11-15), For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world” (1 Jn. 2:16-17).

There is nothing in the world that attracts us to it. It all speaks of hatred against Christ and will eventually be burned up. Therefore, allegiance to the cross means separation from the world.

4. What we boast in is the litmus test of who we are. It is the test of our profession of Christianity because the cross is the dividing line between the ages and between all people. Either, the cross is an “offense” (5:11) to you, or the cross is the one thing about which and in which you glory. To worldly, unsaved people, the cross is an offense because their mind can’t understand it and because their proud heart won’t accept it. But to Christians, the cross is our glory and joy, that about which we are pleased to boast because of what we see there and because of what it means to us personally.

5. The glory of the cross is reflected in all who are new creatures in Christ. The cross is central in the lives of those of us who have a new nature with a new way of looking at things and, therefore, a new way of living. That’s the power of the cross! No wonder Paul said, “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.”

6. The glory of the cross is present every time we gather around the Lord’s table. We cannot end this study of the centrality of the cross of Christ in Galatians without these final thoughts on the cross that engage our attention most particularly when we gather around the Lord’s table to remember him. When we do so, let us always remember that at the cross of Christ three crucifixions are taking place…

a) The first crucifixion is that of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. It is the physical crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ that pays the penalty for our sins, that satisfies the justice of God (Gal. 3:13; 4:4-5), that makes it possible for us to be redeemed from our sin, that makes us fit for God’s presence. Notice the title that Paul gives it: “The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (6:14). We will never understand the significance of the cross until we are clear about who died there.

It is the cross of “our Lord” because he is the exalted one, the authoritative one, because he is the supreme one, the one above all others. It is the cross of “Jesus” because he “saves his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21), because he is the Redeemer, the Saviour. It is the cross of “Christ” because he is the Messiah, the Deliverer, the Sent One from God.

So, the first crucifixion is that of our Lord Jesus Christ…

b) The second crucifixion is that of our flesh. As we noticed in our earlier study, those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (5:24). There is within every believer this lifelong battle going on, the war between the “flesh” and the “Spirit” (5:17). The “flesh” is our sinful nature that we are born with in Adam. The “Spirit” is the Holy Spirit who indwells us when we are born again in Christ. The one wars against the other and vice versa. The desires of the flesh and the Spirit are contrary to each other. The only way to ensure that the desires of the Spirit prevail over the flesh is by crucifying the flesh with its passions and desires, by living in the Spirit, walking in the Spirit (5:25).

To crucify the flesh means to assign it to the most brutal form of execution. We are not to pamper it or in any way grant its desires. We must maintain a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to the desires and activities of our flesh. We are to reckon “our old self” to be dead, nailed to the cross. We are to totally reject it.

To crucify the flesh means that we take an active, positive role in putting to death anything and everything in our lives for which Christ died, in banishing any notion of deriving pleasure from sin, because that is what Christ died for. The apostle Paul challenges us: 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom. 6:1).

So, the first crucifixion is that of the Lord Jesus Christ himself. The second crucifixion is the crucifixion of our flesh so that it is inoperative. And…

c) The third crucifixion is the crucifixion of the world. “The world” (6:14) refers to the order of the evil world system ruled by Satan and his agents, the world’s value system, godless materialism, vanity and hypocrisy, the society that is hostile to Christ and the church, that entire system of things that is opposed to Christ, the community of unredeemed people whose actions are governed by their unredeemed nature (cf. John 12:31; 14:30; 1 Cor. 2:6, 8; Eph. 2:1-2).

The “world” is Satan’s evil system to which humanity is now in bondage because of sin and it includes Satan’s vast system of false religions (cf. 1 Jn. 5:19). If the flesh is the foothold that the devil has inside us, then the world is the means by which he exerts pressure on us from outside us.

Those are the three crucifixions that take place at the cross – the crucifixion of Christ, the crucifixion of our flesh, and the crucifixion of the world. May the cross of Christ always be at the centre of our lives. May the cross always be our joy and rejoicing. May we never lose sight of the cross. May we always glory and boast in the cross. Don’t demean it or diminish it. Don’t be ashamed of it or embarrassed by it. Remember our thesis: When we boast in the cross, it separates us from the world.

Sir John Bowring was a brilliant man who had a special gift for languages. He is reputed to have learned a hundred different languages during his lifetime and translated poetry into English from a number of languages. Because he was brilliant and good with languages, the British government appointed him to a number of jobs that required him to travel throughout Europe as well as to Syria and even Siam (modern Thailand). He learned Chinese and served as the British governor of Hong Kong in the mid-1800s. Tradition says that one time Bowring visited Macao, a Portuguese colony near Hong Kong, and saw a great bronze cross towering over the ruins of a cathedral that had been destroyed by a typhoon. That sight inspired him in 1825 to write the hymn: “In the cross of Christ I glory, towering o'er the wrecks of time; all the light of sacred story gathers round its head sublime.”

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

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