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Studies in Galatians

Standing Fast In The Liberty By Which Christ Has Made Us Free (See 5:1)

Chapter 6:11-18

A Crowning Word: In the Cross of Christ I Glory!

We hear it often enough when it comes to a discussion of religion affiliation: “Oh, so you’re a Lutheran? Well, I’m Presbyterian (Baptist etc.), but it really doesn’t matter, does it? After all, when we get to heaven, it doesn’t matter where we went to church, as long as we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

On one level, that’s pretty hard logic to refute. After all, true Lutherans would be the last to argue that we are saved by something other than simple faith in Jesus Christ! In fact, Paul, at the end of his letter to the Galatians seems to echo that “it doesn’t matter” statement with one of his own: “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation” (6:15).

But we’ve also seen by now that Paul was hardly laid back in his approach to the differences of teaching that were cropping up in the Galatian churches. His urgency was evident in the start of the letter, where he brushed through an unusually short introduction, and in the end, which again is unusual for its abruptness. The seriousness of the matter at hand–which teaching is right and which is wrong–is underscored by the words, early on, “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:9).

Still, many would shake their heads at this apostle’s concern. All the other party (the Judaizers) was seeking were some concessions to the larger Jewish community; a few adjustments in lifestyle; a minor operation. . . .

But in Paul’s book these teachings were like “witchcraft” (3:1); a “curse” (3:10); and a “bondage” (5:1). This fellow from Tarsus had quite a head of steam up over the thing. Was he just one of those folks who criticizes everything, but has little to stand for?

Not at all. In closing this letter Paul is crystal clear in letting it be known what he believes and where he stands: “But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (6:14). This is his pride and glory–the true apostolic Gospel (1:6-9) of Jesus of Nazareth, who was so miserably and cruelly betrayed, slandered, and executed.

That would seem like a strange boast–and it is, if one is looking for worldly glory. The Gospel of Jesus was an offense to the Jews, who found it hard to swallow the idea that their long-awaited Messiah was supposed to be this Jesus who was condemned and crucified by the Romans. We humans aren’t inclined by nature to line ourselves up behind the loser in a contest.

The Pauline View Of The Gospel

Even harder to accept is the meaning of the cross for the person who claims Jesus as his or her savior. There is no hint of human pride or bravado associated with it. To believe the Gospel means to accept the idea that we need whatever it was that Jesus did. To believe is to first acknowledge the fact that by nature and deed we are under the curse of the law (3:10) and are spiritually helpless. To accept the righteousness provided through Christ is to abandon all attempts to justify ourselves before God. It is to take to heart Isaiah’s lament that “all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags” and to find our needed salvation in “Christ {who} has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (3:13).

No, Paul’s boast was a strange boast in the eyes of his adversaries. They were busy looking for something visible and material to boast in. Most of all, they were desperately seeking to sway the congregation in their direction, one result of which would be for the male members to be circumcised and live under the Old Testament laws. There was a practical reason for them to push this so hard. The Pauline view of the Gospel obviously liberated people from the requirements of the Jewish laws, and thus, from a “salvation is from the Jews” mind set. Paul’s gospel was too free, too gracious, too merciful, too open-handed. Furthermore, Paul’s doctrine left no middle ground between the Christian gospel and traditional Judaism as did the fence-sitting Judaizers. The Judaizers were trying to escape persecution from the Jewish community by trying to impose Jewish customs on new Christians.

Paul would not let his friends start down that road of works-righteousness. As for himself, having stated his case for the pure Gospel of Christ, he was now free–free to live to Christ by faith, and let the fruits follow faith; free to abide in Christ’s word, unshaken by the opinions of others (“let no one trouble me…” 6:17). In Christ, a “new creation” comes about (6:15), a person led by the Spirit of Christ, working the new life of love; rejoicing in Christ’s full and free pardon; enjoying peace with God, no longer condemned under the Law. Let the others boast in their apparent successes; let them struggle to maintain ties with the corrupt doctrine of their old beliefs. The crowning word of the Christian Gospel is the Cross. For under the Cross alone can any man find true peace and mercy; under this Cross alone abides the true Israel of God. If our brand of Lutheranism stands for anything unique, let it be for this, that we are unashamed in preaching this pure and clear message of the Cross.

–Pastor Peter Reim