Christians Are Cross! (Galatians 6:14-18)
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Christians are Cross
The unusual lifestyle of the cross-centered Christian
Galatians 6:14-18–part 2
As a junior higher, I had the privilege of doing historical site surveys for the state of Utah–following the journals of pioneers as they made their way across the state heading west. It was thrilling to read the journal of a survivor, then actually find the same cave he slept in one night, from a drawing he made of the cave in his journal–the exact location. It was also heartbreaking to see where the entire wagon train went off-trail, deceived in the wrong direction by lush grass, versus the true rocky, dirt trail.
The entire wagon train took the wrong fork and twenty miles later ended up having to dismantle each wagon and lower the parts of each wagon down a 40-foot cliff in a narrow rock canyon. Visiting the location was emotional, as you could gasp over what they had to do because they were deceived by what looked attractive, yet chose the wrong path.
This is what Galatians has been for you and for me. You gasped at the bad decisions some Galatian Christians made when deceived by the green grass of false teachers. But you can also cheer for those who stood firm on salvation by grace through faith in Christ–the truth which is centered on Christ and His cross. It is fair to say that Christians are cross–not bad-tempered, but saturated with the cross of Christ, motivated by Christ’s sacrificial death on their behalf, drenched in the truth that salvation is completely the gracious work of Christ for us and not dependent on anything we do except to entrust ourselves to His sacrifice for our sins on the cross.
This is how Paul concludes this powerful letter which we finish today. Paul wants you and all of us glorying, obsessed, consumed and motivated by the cross of Jesus Christ. Similar to Hebrews 12:2 to 3, Paul wants you and I to be “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” The Lord God wants you to fix your eyes on Jesus, who endured the cross so you would not grow weary and lose heart.
Last week in verses 11 to 13, Paul exposed the bad motives of the untrue teachers and the false followers in Galatia, who had bought into trying to work for their salvation by getting circumcised, keeping the Law, or following the Jewish festivals. Now this week, in verses 14 to 18, Paul summarizes the entire letter by calling all true believers to focus on Christ and glory in the cross. Let’s read it aloud.
Galatians 6:14 to 18, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. 17From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.”
You and I need to reprioritize our lives, because God’s Word in these verses demand it. 1) It is so easy for us to get off-trail into idols, loves, secondary issues, and lower priorities. We describe ourselves as beach people, movie maniacs, gamers, sports nuts, fans, foodies, Disney types, friend groups, even families–and the reality is Christ is secondary. 2) Too many of us are consumed with Christian issues, but not Christ nor His cross. We love ministry, doctrine, the Church, our fellowship, our gatherings, our discipleship–so much so we become obsessed with Christianity, but not Christ.
3) It is so easy to live externally committed, but allow our hearts to be far from Christ. 4) Far too many are deceived into thinking they’re saved, but show no sacrifice for Christ. 5) Many believers are current with the news–incensed by evil agendas, disgusted by off-center government, disappointed by faulty political leaders, grossed out by wicked immoralities–but give little time to actually loving Christ or living thankful for the cross. Christ and His cross must be a genuine Christian’s obsession. What must we do?
#1 Pursue the LIFESTYLE of Glorying in the Cross
Let me ask you something this morning—what is your obsession? You’ve gathered to worship to be with your church family, so you might not be honest. So Monday through Saturday, what would your friends and family say is your obsession? A team, a sport, your kids or grandkids, your cute wife, scuba diving, chocolate, coffee, ice cream, cars, your bike, travel, your skills, your gifts, your talents, your music, your ministry, your study, your friends, your diet or your exercise–what is your obsession? Today, the Lord wants you to dramatically change your obsession–to what?
First Make your biggest BRAG Christ and what He did on the cross Verse 14a
The hypocritical false teachers made their boast in what they could do. They bragged about how they could earn salvation through circumcision and God’s Law. Did you spot their boast in verse 13? “For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh.”
They were boasting about how they could convince the Galatians to be circumcised in order to get an additional spiritual notch in their “win a convert to salvation by works contest.” But if the boast of the Judaizers is strange, Paul’s boast was even more eccentric–Galatians 6:14a, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord.”
Translating the Greek word “boast” is difficult, because it has no precise equivalent in English. It is more than bragging–commentator John Stott says, “to boast in, glory in, trust in, rejoice in, revel in, and live for. The object of your ‘glory’ fills your horizons, engrosses your attention, and absorbs your time and energy.” It means your obsession. Paul’s obsession with the cross is very unusual for two reasons.
ONE) Paul refused to live for any of the things most of us live for. Paul didn’t boast about his popularity, his strength, his intellect, or his influence. Paul didn’t obsess over his circumcision, Law-keeping or festival attending. When Paul looked at any of His spiritual achievements, he said it’s all excrement compared to knowing Christ. So Paul refused to take pride in any of his abilities, gifts or accomplishments–which is weird, because that is exactly what people do take pride in.
TWO) What Paul actually did boast about was even more abnormal. Imagine Monday to Friday you tell your schoolmates how excited you are about a firing squad. How about having a close friend who’s obsessed with the hangman’s noose? What about your doctor dad and mother nurse who start each day thrilled over lethal injection? Or your Barbie-loving daughter who is consumed with the electric chair?
This is what it was like for Paul to be obsessed with the cross of Christ. After 2,000 years, you and I view the cross as something noble or beautiful. But to everyone in the first century, the cross was the lowest, ugliest thing imaginable. The cross was the ultimate humiliation. No Roman citizen was allowed to be crucified, because the Romans considered the cross degrading, detestable and disgraceful.
FF Bruce says, “The object of Paul’s present boasting was …the most ignoble of all objects–a matter of ….shame, not of boasting. It is difficult, after …. centuries …where… the cross has been a sacred symbol, to realize the unspeakable horror and loathing which the very mention … of the cross … provoked in Paul’s day.” The cross should have been an embarrassment to the Early Church–after all, what would people think when they discovered that the founder of Christianity had been executed like the lowest criminal, in the most painful and shameful way to die?
But instead of denying, or ignoring, or excusing it, Christians advertised it! Paul wrote in the New Testament, Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified–”we preach Christ crucified . . . we know nothing but Jesus and Him crucified . . . the message of the cross . . . the offence of the cross . . . the triumph of the cross . . . and the wonder of the cross.”
So what is on your list of obsessions? What is on your “I like best” list? What is on your list of events, things, places or people who occupy your heart and mind? Paul is telling you this today–do not add Christ and the cross to your list. No, tear up your list and make a new one with only one item on it, just one–the cross. Galatians 6:14a, “But may it never be that I would [be obsessed with] anything, except in the cross of our Lord.”
Do you understand what the cross means to you, Christian? The cross means you renounce anything you might try to do to save yourself, and everything you might try to please God by your own effort. The cross means you are obsessed with Christ and His suffering, dying for your sins and resurrecting from the dead–and you are not obsessed with religious actions like church attendance, amount of ministry, sound doctrine, even the number of people you’ve led to Christ. But you are only obsessed with the person and work of Christ.
The cross means you glory in Christ and you don’t glory in yourself in any way. You cannot boast in yourself and boast in the cross simultaneously. Galatians–this letter forced believers to choose between circumcision and the cross. It was either one or the other, but never both. Circumcision was just another way of claiming, “I can earn my own salvation.” But the cross declares, “Jesus paid it all!” Religion is your failed attempt to earn God’s favor and eternal presence. The cross is God accomplishing your favored standing and heavenly, eternal blessing.
Pastor Philip Ryken says it this way, “The cross is not just something to boast about; it is the only thing to boast about. The cross is the only thing to boast about because it means that God loves us enough to die for us, that he saved us through the death of his own dear Son. It means that we have been redeemed, that Christ has paid . . . the whole price for our salvation. The cross means that we have forgiveness for our sins, that Christ offered himself as an atoning sacrifice to take away our guilt. It means that we are justified, that God now accepts us as righteous in his sight. His wrath has been turned away, and now we stand innocent before him.”
Whatever thrills your life, captivates your thinking and motivates your time and money needs to be demoted off your obsessed list and the cross and Christ must be made number one with everything else a distant second. The cross of Christ is the all-sufficient ground for the salvation of sinners. The cross of Christ is sturdy enough to support the whole weight of your guilt all by itself, meaning this–to boast in the cross properly is to boast in the cross exclusively, alone.
Second Make your most powerful HOPE the way of salvation that frees you from this world Verse 14b
Boasting in the cross is more than simply believing Jesus died for your sins. Glorying in the cross is living a crucified life. This is what Paul meant when he wrote in verse 14b, “through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” There are some who claim to know Christ, but they are enslaved to the world. All believers, at times, will sadly find themselves with enamored with the world. At some point, every saint will also become worn out by the world. But for those who are obsessed with the cross, you will begin to live dead to the world.
First John 2:15, “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” James 4:4, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” Being obsessed with the cross means verse 16, “the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Verse 16 describes not one crucifixion, but three of them. True, there is only one cross, but there are three crucifixions in this verse. The cross was the place where Christ died for your sins. When you put your faith in Jesus Christ, you’re personally joined to Him and to everything He has ever done for our salvation. This is the doctrine of union with Christ–Christ is in the Christian and the Christian is in Christ. Being united to Christ includes being united to Him in his death.
You were, practically, crucified with Christ–so when Christ died on the cross, you were crucified to the world and the world was crucified to you. That’s where I get three crucifixions in this text—1) the crucified Christ, 2) the crucified world, and 3) the crucified Christian. The world here refers to all the godless values and hopeless temporary pleasures of this present age. The world includes an unredeemed humanity which is dominated by sin. It’s the world apart from God–it’s a mind set on self-seeking and fulfilling its own desire. And it is Christ and His cross which strike the deathblow to all worldliness and world love.
We Christians sometimes get caught up in pleasure, retreats, non-sinful enjoyments, fun, and worldly distractions–but we now have new hearts that are at peace, know love, and experience joy that the world knows nothing about. And it is all because of Christ and the cross. The world says many genders, but Christ says only two–just male and female. The world says sex whenever, with whoever–Christ says only in marriage between a husband and wife. The world says greed is good, Christ says giving is good. The world says self is your identity, Christ says He is our identity.
As Christians, we no longer think the way the world thinks, talk the way the world talks, or misbehave the way the world misbehaves. We no longer take comfort in the comforts the world has to offer. We no longer value what the world values. We no longer care what the world thinks, because each of us have been crucified to the world. What means the world to us now is the cross. As far as we are concerned, they can take the whole world away from us, as long as they leave us our Lord Jesus.
Being crucified to the world is simply another way to describe what Paul talked about in chapter 5, verse 24, “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Paul already told you to crucify the flesh, to mortify it, to put it to death. Now he tells us the world needs to join our flesh on the cross. All our remaining internal fleshly desires and all our remaining external desires for the world need to be nailed to the cross and die there.
The verb “crucified” in verse 16 is perfect, meaning this. On the cross, the power of the world to influence or control our lives was killed and that cross event has present abiding results today. The present result of that past event is that the influence of the world (and our flesh) was killed–and over time, it will gradually lose its hold on you and me. You and I are dead to the world with its temptations, but alive to God by his grace. That is why Paul reminds the Galatians and you to . . .
Third Make your greatest RELIANCE on what the Spirit can do, not what you can do Verse 15
The cross changed the world. The cross turned everything upside down. Now you and I live in a whole new world, a world verse 15 says, “where neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” The moment you are born again, you will turn from your sin in repentance and surrender your life by faith in Christ and His work on the cross. At that moment, all religions, all spirituality including the Jewish symbol of faith, circumcision, and all other religious actions–all immediately show themselves for what they really are–irrelevant. For none of those things have anything to do with your salvation or the Christian life.
It’s shocking to hear Paul say circumcision doesn’t matter. He already said it in chapter 5, verse 6, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” Yet it is still surprising to hear Paul say circumcision doesn’t matter again, because the whole reason for his writing the Galatians in the first place was that circumcision did matter to the Galatian struggle. Circumcision only mattered to Paul now because it was the big deal to the Judaizers, who were making circumcision a matter of salvation.
That’s why Paul even brings it up–in and of itself, circumcision means nothing. If you are in Christ, circumcision can do nothing to improve your standing before God. And if we are not in Christ, circumcision can do nothing to save you. Circumcision has nothing to do with Christianity, your faith, or your salvation at all. Then what does matter, Paul? I love this–verse 15 says, “a new creation”. What does count is a new creation. What is that?
This is so good. That’s the inward transformation by the Holy Spirit, who metamorphosizes a sinner into a whole new person. Read 2 Corinthians 5:17 slowly with me. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” Anyone who is born again by God’s Spirit gets a whole new life–not a new leaf. You become a brand new creation. The outward sign, seal, and confession of this supernatural transformation is baptism–but what really counts is the transformation itself.
The theological term for this inward transformation is regeneration–the term which describes what happens to a rebellious sinner when he or she is born again. In regeneration, the Holy Spirit makes the believer a new creature in Christ, with a new nature which desires to please Christ and obey His Word. But regeneration is only the beginning. As one theologian says, the new creation “involves the whole process of conversion: the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit leading to repentance and faith, the … continual growth in holiness leading to eventual conformity to the image of Christ. The new creation implies a new nature with …new desires, affections, and habits, all (the result of) the supernatural ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer.”
As far as salvation is concerned, the only thing that truly matters is whether this transformational change has taken (and is taking) place. It does not matter if you are a circumcised Jew or an uncircumcised Gentile–what matters is whether or not you are a regenerated Christian, a new creature in Christ. Any of you who have not yet experienced God’s spiritual transformation through regeneration must ask God to genuinely save you from the inside out. God alone can save you through His Spirit. Any steps you take in your own strength, no matter how sacrificial, generous, or spiritual, will do nothing for you now and nothing for you eternally. It is God alone who can transform you internally.
Lots of externally religious Christian looking people will hear Christ say Matthew 7:23b, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.” They must respond to Nicodemus’s challenge–John 3:3, “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’” This is why Paul wraps up the challenge to be a cross Christian with . . .
Fourth Make your greatest CERTAINTY that Christ can transform anyone Verse 16
Everyone who is a new creation receives this blessing–Galatians 6:16, “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” This benediction grants peace and mercy–peace with God and peace between Jew and Gentile, and mercy from God, even though you and I deserve eternal wrath. Wow! But this blessing is conditional–peace and mercy are only for those who, verse 16, “walk by this rule.”
The Greek word “rule” has the basic idea of measurement and was often used in the sense of a principle or standard. To “walk by this rule” is to accept the Gospel of divine accomplishment–God alone did all the work to save you through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. And God alone does all the work to sanctify you by faith in the power of His Spirit, rather than the power of the flesh, your strength, or your choices.
The “rule”–the principle here is salvation through the cross alone. Salvation, not by being circumcised–we could add today, not salvation by walking an aisle or praying a prayer. Not salvation by making a decision for Christ and going to church. No, salvation is being born again, regenerated, made new, into a new creature by God. For the Judaizers, circumcision was the standard for the Jewish faith, to determine whether someone was inside or outside the family of God.
But circumcision means nothing to those who are now a new creation. The Christian’s standard is the cross of Christ. The principle that determines whether one is inside or outside the family of God is faith in Christ crucified that comes from regeneration. That’s when you get the blessing. You receive peace with God, plus peace between Jew and Gentile. And you receive mercy from God for a vile sinner such as yourself. “Peace” is the believer’s new relationship to God, and “mercy” is the forgiveness for all your sins and the setting aside of God’s righteous judgment.
But pay attention to this phrase in verse 16, “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” God through Paul is making a distinction between the regenerated Gentile believers in the church, and Jews who are a part of the nation of Israel. Internal transformational salvation and its accompanying peace and mercy is available to the Gentiles in Galatia. But this same regeneration and its resultant peace and mercy is also available to anyone who is a Jew, any who are racially a part of the nation of Israel. And Paul says those Jews who turn to Christ in salvation are truly the Israel of God.
Paul implies there is a difference between the Church and the nation of Israel, but that salvation is available to both–to Gentile and Jew. God can save anyone–amen? Even the false teaching Judaizers can be regenerated and respond in saving faith. No matter if you are a murderer, an idol worshiping pagan, a homosexual or a religious zealot–God can transform you from the inside out, no matter how hard your heart is. You and I cannot change the terms of salvation, but you can refuse the terms of salvation. And when you knowingly refuse God’s offer of salvation, your judgment is greater than if you had never heard the Gospel at all. Hebrews 10:29, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has …trampled under foot the Son of God?” Paul wraps us this letter with two unusual statements in verse 17 and then 18.
#2 Determine to give your LEADERS their due honor Verse 17
The apostle Paul was a member of God’s true Israel, and he had the battle scars to prove it. The last thing he said to the Galatians, almost as an afterthought, was in verse 17, “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” This statement was partly a warning to the false teacher Judaizers. They had followed Paul all the way from Jerusalem to interfere with the true Gospel of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
The apostle finally had enough, so he warns his opponents not to cause him any more trouble. It’s also a loving reminder for every Christian, because it shows what kind of treatment we can expect for obsession over the cross. Sooner or later, every Christian who glories in the cross will face opposition. And some of us may even bear marks on our bodies–“the brand marks of Jesus.” Paul is not guaranteeing you’ll get the exact same cuts Christ received in his suffering. No, Paul means that you Christians will receive various wounds for the cause of Christ.
Paul had already taken a beating. Paul had already been stoned and left for dead in the Galatia region of Lystra. And these persecutions left physical marks on Paul. Yes, Paul was a marked man—why? Because people hate the cross. If you glory in the cross, then you believe all your friends are putrid, sick sinners. If you boast in the cross, then you believe no family member can ever save themselves. If you brag about the cross, then you believe Christ alone can provide salvation.
All of those are an attack on human pride, and the push back will be your persecution. Second Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Paul’s persecution had left its mark on him. The Greek term for “brand-marks” was normally used for tattooing rather than branding–but could more commonly apply simply to any mark or puncture wound. When first century folks read, “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus”–immediately what came to mind were slaves, criminals and prisoners of war.
Once captured, they were all tattooed, marked–indicating their status as slaves. Paul was persecuted for boasting in the cross rather than boasting in circumcision. Paul boasted in salvation by divine accomplishment (grace) and not human achievement (circumcision). As far as the Judaizers were concerned, the badge of true religion was the mark of circumcision. But God, through his apostle Paul, affirmed only the cross of Christ. Paul was beaten and bruised for boasting in the cross. His scars were a badge of faith.
Whenever a Christian is persecuted for his faith, it is really Christ who is being persecuted through him. Because Satan and his world system can no longer afflict Christ directly, they afflict Him indirectly by persecuting the Church, His body, His people—you. Do you pray for, support, and encourage your spiritual leaders–those who live by faith in God’s transforming Gospel? Those who are obsessed with the cross–those who are saved by and live by God’s grace, which is why Paul now closes this book with . . .
#3 Enjoy the lifestyle driven by GRACE Verse 18
In his closing benediction, Paul makes a final declaration of grace over law, faith over works, internal over the external–so read verse 18, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” Make your treasured pursuit God’s grace, knowing you need it every moment. G.R.A.C.E.–God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. Paul’s final benediction implicitly extols the superiority of the Gospel of grace over any man-made system of works righteousness.
This is a prayer for God’s blessing on everyone who trusts in the Gospel of free grace and seeks to be justified by faith alone in Christ alone. Grace means salvation is a free gift that can never be earned in any way. Grace means that Christ did all the work to save us, yet gave it to us at no cost. Grace means salvation is the result of divine accomplishment, never human achievement. It is God’s work, not your work–and it is given freely by grace.
And this grace is to be with your Spirit–God’s grace is transformational. It is internal–it changes your immaterial spirit. You are in the same physical body–but your nature, your spirit is changed by God’s grace given in salvation. And who is it for? Notice it is for the brethren–Gentile and Jew. God’s grace is for believers–those whom God has chosen to be His eternal family. And all you and I can say in response is amen–so be it, I agree, I affirm this. God is the author of salvation and offers it to anyone who cries out to Him for it–will you?
A Are you OBSESSED with the cross?
Only those who disdain and remove all their other obsessions, all of them–and focus daily on the person of Christ, the bearing of God’s eternal wrath for sin upon the cross, the forgiveness of all their sins, and daily thankfulness for a salvation given by grace through faith in Christ alone can possibly hope to be obsessed with the cross.
B Are you FREE from the world?
We can enjoy the blessings of this world that are not contrary to the Word but in your heart. Are you willing to give up anything that smacks of competition to Christ–anything or anyone that could appear as an idol in your heart? You have died to the world, been made free–are you living free? Do you treasure your internal love, joy and peace more than the noise, the music, the entertainment and distractions of this world?
C Are you VOCAL about salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone?
Galatians told you and I to stand against the false salvation of any effort to try to please God in our own strength. Fight for the truth of salvation by grace alone. Be vocal to others who are trusting in a false religion, or themselves, to be saved. Make it clear that salvation is only in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone.
D Grow to become a CROSS Christian–start every day obsessed with the CROSS
As you depended on Christ to save you, depend on His Spirit to walk you through each day. Remember what our Lord Jesus Christ did for you–just like Isaac Watts did when he wrote,
“When I survey the wondrous cross
Where the young Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ, my God;
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.
“See from his head, his hands, his feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
“His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er his body on the tree;
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
“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.”
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