Glorying in the Cross
“Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand. 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. Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”
In these final verses of this tremendous Epistle the Apostle Paul seems determined to leave his readers with their hearts and minds fixed resolutely upon “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Throughout these chapters, he has been showing us that it is in the cross of Christ that the law of God finds its fulfillment and end, that it is Mt. Calvary and not Mt. Sinai that saves, and that all the blessings of grace, righteousness, salvation, and eternal life flow to sinners only by the merits of the cross. His message throughout this Epistle (throughout all his Epistles) is set before us in this one dogmatic assertion. — “God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“Ye see how large a letter I have written unto you with mine own hand” (v. 11). —Paul wrote much longer epistles than this (Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and Hebrews), but some of those epistles to the various churches were dictated by him to others (Rom. 16:22). This epistle was written with his own hand. He calls attention to this fact as an expression of great affection for the saints at Galatia. He cared deeply for them and was very concerned for their well-being. The errors to which they had been exposed, and the fact that many had fallen by Satanic deception into the errors of the legalists, caused him great grief. Oh, for a heart that cares for others and that is broken when their peace is threatened by error or sin!
In verses 12 and 13 Paul identifies the false teachers he has been exposing throughout this epistle and states plainly what the motives of such men are. They are hypocrites, motivated by their own personal interests, and not the glory of God and the good of men’s souls. — “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” (v. 12). They do what they do to be seen of men. Their religion is nothing but an outward show by which they seek the approval and applause of men (Matt. 6:1-5). By force of influence, doctrine, church creeds, and the opinions of others like themselves, they try to constrain believers to be regulated by the rule of law and observe religious ceremonies, holy days, and customs, rather than living as those who have been made free in Christ.
They sway men and women to adopt their legalists rules, “lest they suffer persecution” from the religious people who are offended by “the simplicity that is in Christ” and the preaching of the total sufficiency and efficacy of Christ as our Savior. Christ crucified is our atonement. Christ’s obedience is our righteousness. Our works contribute nothing to our acceptance with God. We are complete in him.
“For neither they themselves who are circumcised keep the law; but desire to have you circumcised, that they may glory in your flesh” (v. 13). — These religious teachers, who preach the law, teach the law, and boast of their regard for the law are nothing but hypocrites. They do not keep the law themselves; and they know it (Gal. 3:10). Yet, they require others to do what they cannot do, so that they can boast before men about the number of people who follow them, and how “holy” they are. Henry Mahan observes that, “Every religious person glories or rejoices in something. These false teachers glory in the flesh, in the outward form, in the noise they make, in the work they do and in the souls they have won.”
“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” (v. 14). — True faith brings needy sinners to Christ, puts on Christ, and walks in Christ. Faith brings sinners to the cross and glories only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world. Though faith is not righteousness, it is the believer’s connection to righteousness. Faith finds in Christ and enjoys in Christ the assurance of perfect, indestructible righteousness before God through the merits of God’s own Son. Faith in Christ assures the believing sinner of eternal life and everlasting righteousness in the ages to come, depending upon the perpetuity of that righteousness which can never change. We shall never put off that Christ whom we put on when we believed (Rom 12:14; Gal 3:27). The garments of salvation shall never wear thin. The robe of righteousness in which the Lord God has clothed us shall never wax old. The beauty our Savior has put upon us (his own beauty) is a beauty that fadeth not away.
Faith abides ever at the cross. It never takes us away from the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, to which at first it led us. Many seem to think that believers quickly get beyond the cross and leave it behind. Like the legalists at Galatia, they never openly do so, but their subtle doctrine is that the cross has done all it can for us once we believe the gospel, and teaches that once we believe we are to abandon the cross and go forward, that to remain always at the cross is to be babes, not men of faith. Nonsense!
What is the cross? Paul is not talking about the historic fact that Christ died upon the cross. The knowledge of that fact, though it is necessary to salvation, is not salvation. Neither is Paul referring to the literal, wooden cross upon which Christ died. He was not an idolater, a worshipper of religious relics. He knew that there is no superstitious, spiritual value in that piece of wood. And he certainly is not suggesting that we glory in some sign, symbol, representation, or form of the cross.
When Paul speaks of the cross, he is talking about the glorious, soul saving doctrine of the cross, the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is talking about blood atonement (Rom. 5:6-11), legal propitiation (Rom. 3:24-26), substitutionary redemption (2 Cor. 5:18-21), and free justification (Rom. 5:19).
As it is used here in Galatians 6:14, and as it is commonly used in the Epistles of the New Testament, the word “cross” refers to the gospel of Christ. Pagans glory in religious relics. Idolaters glory in religious images, signs, and symbols. Ignorant people glory in religious feelings, emotions, and experiences. God’s people glory in the gospel of Christ, not in the “old rugged cross” sentimentalists sing about, but the old, old story of redeeming blood. We glory in that which is the revelation of the glory of God. We can no more part with that than we can part with life eternal. In this sense, to turn our back upon the cross would be turning our back upon Christ crucified. It would be giving up our connection with the Lamb of God slain upon the cursed tree! This we cannot, must not, and shall not do!
All that Christ did and suffered from the manger to his resurrection glory forms one glorious whole. No part of our Redeemer’s work shall ever become needless or obsolete. To forsake any part of his work is to forsake him. I rejoice in the incarnation of Christ. Yet, I know that the incarnation cannot save. I delight to follow my Master into Gethsemane. Yet, I know that his agony there was not the finished work. I glory in the cross. My face is always toward it. My eye is ever on the crucified One. I am convinced that the sacrifice there was completed once for all. I never cease to look into the empty tomb with delight. I rejoice to know that it is the risen, ascended, exalted, reigning Christ who gives eternal life to this needy sinner. Leaving nothing behind, I trust the whole Christ and the whole of his work for all my righteousness, justification, forgiveness, acceptance, and everlasting salvation.
The word “glory” means to exalt, to boast of, and to rejoice in. Paul exalted, boasted of, and rejoiced in the sin atoning death of the Lord Jesus Christ upon the cursed tree. He exalted the doctrine of the cross as the only theme of Holy Scripture and the singular subject of his preaching (1 Cor. 2:2; 9:16). He saw “Christ crucified” as the whole counsel of God, the message of all the types, promises, and prophecies of the Old Testament, the basis of hope for sinners, the motive of all godliness, and the message he was sent to proclaim.
He rejoiced in the cross, the gospel of Christ, as the only grounds of his confident hope before God. He trusted Christ alone as his Savior (Phil. 3:3; 1 Cor. 1:30). He counted all his religious works, knowledge, and experiences to be nothing but dung that he might be found in Christ, robed in his righteousness and washed in his blood.
And he preached the cross, boasting of Christ’s death as the only means of reconciliation to and acceptance with God, the only means of salvation for guilty sinners (Gal. 2:21). If righteousness cannot be gained by man’s obedience to the law of God (And it cannot!), then no man can be saved by anything else he might do. Nothing can save a man’s soul, nothing can bring a sinner to God, nothing can make a sinner acceptable in the sight of God, but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
It is “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” that makes it possible for the holy Lord God to be both “a just God and a Savior.” It is the cross of Christ that makes it possible for God to be both “just and Justifier.” Sinners have hope before God only because of “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Therefore, saved sinners rejoice to say with the Apostle, “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.”
“By which the world is crucified unto me” (v. 14). — Faith in Christ, the assurance of redemption by Christ, caused the Apostle Paul to look upon the world as a thing crucified. He knew that he had no more reason to fear his most implacable enemies in this world than a man would to fear someone crucified and dead. Happy is that person who learns this! Because our Lord Jesus Christ, by his death upon the cross as our Substitute and Redeemer, has overcome the world, conquered Satan (the prince of this world) and cast him out, and vanquished death, hell and the grave, since he has put away our sins by the sacrifice of himself, we are more than conquerors in him (Rom. 8:32-39). We have nothing to fear in this world or from this world. As the children of Israel looked upon Pharaoh and the Egyptian army slain by God in the Red Sea and sang praise to him, so we ought to look upon all that opposes us in this world as dead and sing praise to God our Savior who has “triumphed gloriously.” Let us neither love the world, nor the things that are in the world, but look upon them as dead things. The gospel of the grace of God experienced in the soul teaches us to despise the riches, honors, and applause of the world.
The profits, pleasures, and praises of dead men are as worthless as dung. That is exactly how they are to be looked upon and counted by all who seek Christ (Phil. 3:7-15). But, as Paul uses the term “world” here in the book of Galatians, he is specifically referring to “the weak and beggarly elements of the world” (Gal. 4:3-9), the carnal ordinances and ceremonies of the law. He is declaring that since “Christ is the end of the law” (Rom. 10:4), the law’s sabbath days, sacrifices, and services are to be looked upon by us as dead things. — “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God.”— “For I through the law am dead to the law, that I might live unto God. 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” (Rom. 6:15; 7:4; Gal. 2:19-20). Our all-glorious Redeemer took “the handwriting of the ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, out of the way, nailing it to his cross” (Col. 2:14).
“The world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” — As the world had no more attraction for Paul than a dead corpse, so he had no attraction for the world, but was despised by it for Christ’s sake. So it shall ever be with those who follow Christ. As the law was dead to him and had no power over him, so he was dead to the law by the sacrifice of Christ. He had nothing to do with those weak and beggarly elements of bondage.
It must be stated that Paul is not here suggesting that baptism, or the refusal to confess Christ in believer’s baptism are meaningless things. Those who give such a perverse interpretation of Paul’s words here ignore the teaching of Scripture regarding gospel ordinances. John Gill wrote…
“Though baptism is of no avail in the business of salvation, yet it cannot be said of it, as of circumcision, that it avails not anything as a command; for it is a standing ordinance of Christ; or as an emblem and sign, for it is significative of the death and burial, and resurrection of Christ; or as a privilege, for it is of use to lead the faith of God’s people to his blood and righteousness for pardon and justification; for he that believes, and is baptized, shall be saved; and it is necessary to church communion. And, on the other hand, it cannot be said that non-baptism avails not; it is a bar to church fellowship; and a neglect of baptism in those who are the proper subjects of it, is resented by Christ, and is a rejecting of the counsel of God against themselves; which was the case of the Pharisees, in the time of John the Baptist.”
That which is significant and meaningful, the only thing that is, is “a new creature,” or a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17). This new creation is “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27), “the hidden man of the heart” which is not corruptible (1 Pet. 3:4). This new creation is that work of God performed for us at Calvary when Christ made all things new, putting away our sins and giving us his perfect righteousness, reconciling us to God in justification (2 Cor. 5:17). It is also that which God performs in us, causing us to be reconciled to God in regeneration, faith, and conversion (2 Pet. 1:4; 1 John 3:9). Again, John Gill’s explanation is excellent.
“This is a ‘new’ creature, in opposition to the old man; and because it is a principle in man, which never was there before. It consists of a new heart and spirit, of new eyes, ears, hands, and feet, expressive of new principles and actions, of new light, life, love, desires, joys, comforts, and duties. Now this is of avail. It is a branch of the new covenant of grace, which God has therein promised to bestow on his people. It is an evidence of interest in Christ, the new and living way to the Father, and eternal life. Such are newborn babes, regenerated persons, and have a right and meetness for the kingdom of God. They shall possess the new Jerusalem, shall dwell in the new heavens and new earth. They are called by the Lord’s new name, the adopted children of God; and have a new song put into their mouths, which none but redeemed and newborn souls can sing; and shall drink the new wine of endless joys and everlasting pleasures with Christ, in his Father’s kingdom.”
By virtue of our union with Christ in his death and resurrection and by the power and grace of God the Holy Spirit, all who are born of God are new creatures in Christ. We are no longer under the sentence of condemnation, but entirely free from the law, free in Christ, having past from spiritual death to spiritual life, in Christ we possess eternal life. We now live in the Spirit, are led by the Spirit, and shall never come into condemnation (Rom. 8:1-17). All merely outward religion is utterly meaningless. True Christianity is the work of God in us, transforming us into the sons of God (John 4:24; Phil. 3:3). It is the life of God in you, Christ in you, being made “partakers of the divine nature.” That cannot be accomplished by outward ceremonies, or by the will and choice of a man, but by the creative power of God alone. In this work of the new creation “all things are of God” (2 Cor. 5:18).
The Israel of God
In verse 16 Paul pronounces a blessing of peace and mercy upon all the Israel of God. — “And as many as walk according to this rule, peace be on them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” No blessing of grace is conveyed to anyone because of his physical descent (John 1:12-13). The Israel of God does not refer to the physical nation of Israel (Abraham’s physical seed), but to the church of God’s elect (Abraham’s spiritual seed), made up of all believer’s. All the Israel of God shall be saved by Christ (Rom. 11:25-27). Peace and mercy shall be theirs forever.
Who are these people, this “holy nation,” these chosen heirs of eternal life? Who can rightfully claim this promise of peace and mercy in Christ? ¾ Only those who “walk by this rule”: — the rule of faith. This is the rule of every believer’s life: not law but love (2 Cor. 5:14-15), not works but faith (1 John 3:23). Those who are God’s elect are those who renounce all confidence in, dependence upon, and trust in themselves, and any thing done or experienced by them (Phil. 3:3), believing on the Lord Jesus Christ as their only and all-sufficient Savior (1 Cor. 1:30-31), glorying only in the cross of our Redeemer.
“From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (v. 17) — Those who make merchandise of the souls of men boast of their works and the works they get others to do, just as the Judaizers at Galatia gloried in circumcision, sabbath keeping, and carnal ceremonies. Paul cared for none of those things. He was determined not to be troubled by those who trouble God’s churches with their false doctrine. He counted their enemies his enemies, and washed his hands of them.
He bore in his body the scars of Christ. Paul was stigmatized in reputation as a preacher of Christ, his cross, and God’s free grace to sinners without works. He bore the stigma gladly. He bore it not only in his constantly maligned reputation, but in his very body, in the scars he bore in his body as the result of the things he had suffered for the preaching of the gospel (2 Cor. 6:4-10; 11:13-33). He holds them before us as a soldier might hold up the stub of an arm lost in battle as the only argument needed to prove his bravery and devotion. All the claims of those false prophets of success and authority in the preaching of legal works and will worship, Paul hereby mocks as hypocrisy and deceit. His obedience to his Master was made obvious by the things he suffered in his Master’s cause. With that, he closes the epistle, expressing his love for God’s people as his brothers and sisters in Christ, desiring for them the boundless blessing of God’s manifest grace in Christ. — “Brethren, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”