–April 0f 2009
Glorying in the Cross
“As many as desire to make a fair show in the flesh, they constrain you to be circumcised; only lest they should suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh. But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” (Galatians 6:12-17)
The primary struggle in the book of Galatians is between salvation by rule-keeping and salvation by grace. But there is another subtle problem occurring right under the surface – the carnal desire to glory in the visible signs and trappings of religion.
The Judaizers were trying to turn the Galatian Christians back to the works of the Mosaic law. Paul’s opponents feared that his talk about salvation by grace alone and freedom from the works of the law was making religion too easy. They worried that if rule-keeping and the outward signs of righteousness were abandoned the Church would fall apart. They needed their rules and regulations, especially those who had a powerful sense of identity like circumcision. They needed a “mark in the flesh” as their badge of authenticity and spirituality! It gave them something to measure, something to achieve, something to take pride in!
Paul utterly rejects their teaching. Their doctrine was not just a harmless addition to the Christian faith, but a complete undermining of the gospel. Salvation by the law had saved no one. It never would or could. From his own experience, Paul knew that those who attempt to be saved by rule-keeping live in bondage, depend on the flesh, live for self and seek the praise of men. Rule-keeping makes valiant attempts to change the old nature and make it obey the law of God but it ultimately fails. It succeeds only in stoking the fires of fleshly pride.
The gospel delivered to Paul and declared by him was salvation by grace through the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Its obedience is not motivated by law but by love! To Paul religion was not a matter of satisfying the claims of the law, but satisfying the obligations of love – the love of God revealed in Christ by His death on the cross. Hence, man has nothing he can glory in save the cross of Christ.
Man has a long history of trying to earn favor with God by what he does, while at the same time trumpeting his actions before his peers. We don’t have Pharisees standing on street corners praying, or going around looking gaunt from days of fasting, or sounding trumpets when they write big checks for the offering, but subtle boasting of spiritual activity can happen in a thousand other ways. Complicating all of this is the fact that at the very core of man’s sinful nature is the desire to keep his thumb on or have control of his own salvation. This is why “works salvation” still has so many adherents. Paul saw this for what it was – not the freedom of grace as revealed in the gospel but the enslavement of sinful idolatry as seen in the works of flesh. If anyone could easily have fallen into this trap it would have been Paul. He could have boasted of his Jewish heritage, his holy zeal and his many good works. He could have been puffed up by the revelations given to him directly from God. He could have gloried in the scars on his body from being whipped five times with thirty-nine lashes, or being beaten three times with rods, or stoned and left for dead. But instead he cries, “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of Christ Jesus my Lord!”
It is very difficult not to boast of our spiritual exploits in subtle ways. It is also very difficult not to rest on them for merit. The only cure is to live in utter dependence upon saving grace, to walk moment by moment in the power of His Spirit and to experience such a radical death to our old man that we can say, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.”