This year our theme that we will consider is the cross of Jesus. As is on our banner and in our advertising materials, the specific theme is Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross, which comes from a beautiful song in our songbooks. We have spent the first quarter of this year considering the cross of Jesus as we have looked at the final chapters of Jesus’ life as recorded in Mark’s gospel. Now each month we are going to look at scriptures that speak about the significance of the cross. We will also return to the book of Hebrews which is a sermon of encouragement which speaks to the greater things we have in Jesus because of his death on the cross. So our year will be saturated with a study of Jesus and his death on the cross. For our study today, I want us to turn to Galatians 6 and consider what the apostle Paul proclaims.
See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 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. But 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. (Galatians 6:11–14 ESV)
Boast Only in the Cross
It is easy for us to miss the ironic, upside down nature of this declaration because we are used to hearing about the cross. We have sanitized the cross and have stripped away so much of what made crucifixion what it was. Crucifixion was a violent and shameful death. It was so shameful that it was not spoken about by people. We even get a little uncomfortable if we were to have a long discussion about capital punishment. Today there are 30 states who still use capital punishment and all of them use lethal injection as the primary means of execution. Many of these states also have a secondary means if for any reason lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional. These secondary means that these states can use are electrocution, lethal gas, hanging, nitrogen hypoxia, and firing squad. You see that we do not like to talk about or think about these things. Further, we do not want to talk about the details of any of these execution methods. It is insensitive and uncivilized. The same was true in the Roman world where crucifixion was the primary execution method for violent criminals. It was a horrifying way to die, far worse than any means our states use today.
Now I want us to think about what Paul says to the Galatian Christians. In context, there are false teachers who are boasting in the physical. They were boasting in the fact that they were making these Gentile Christians be circumcised. They praised what they were doing. But listen to Paul in verse 14. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Notice that Paul does not say that he only will boast in Jesus. That is not what he says. Paul says that he will only boast in the cross of Jesus. Paul will not praise himself. Paul will praise nothing but the cross of Jesus.
Imagine if our spiritual leader was tried in a court of law, received the death penalty, and was executed by our government through capital punishment by means of the electric chair. Who would take pride in the electric chair? Who would go around proclaiming their boast and their glory in the electric chair? Who would proclaim a message about our spiritual leader by killed by the government by means of lynching, lethal injection, the electric chair, hanging, firing squad, or the gas chamber? Who would do it? Do you see the implicit shame in proclaiming allegiance to a person killed as a violent criminal? Yet this is exactly what Paul proclaims and boasts in. Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ! Paul will not boast in himself at all. Paul will not boast in what he does at all. His joy, his glory, his praise, and his boast is only in the execution device used to kill our Lord Jesus Christ.
The World has been Crucified to Me
Now Paul explains what this looks like so that we can understand why this would be all that he would boast in. Why do you boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus, Paul? He tells us that the world has been crucified to him and he has been crucified to the world. His boast is in the cross because the world has been crucified to him. What does he mean? Nothing has power over Paul now. Not money, not possessions, not sex, not power, not reputation, not authority, or anything else has power over him. The world and all that it represents is dead to him. Paul is speaking a decisive separation between himself and the world. The cross of Christ is how we are set free from the world and are not longer captured by it or have an allegiance to it. The cross is the power to free us from slavery to the world. The world no longer pulls us or rules over us. We no longer have a compelling interest in the things of the world. We are just dead to it. We glory in the fact that we want no part of the world. All that we want is Jesus. This is exactly what Paul said a little earlier in this letter.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Galatians 5:24 ESV)
Now we have to ask ourselves if this is true of us. Could we say what the apostle Paul says that the world has been crucified to us? Those who belong to Christ has crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Why is this so difficult? Why does the idea of carrying our cross and crucifying our desires and passions such a difficulty? I believe there are a couple of reasons. First, we do not see our slavery. We do not see that we are enslaved to these passions and desires. We think that we are doing what we want. We deceive ourselves into thinking that this is true joy and true living. But consider how this is actually slavery. You are captured by a desire or passion that you do not have control over. All sins fall into this category.
Let me illustrate for a moment. Let’s talk about anger, bitterness, or malice. You are enslaved to those attitudes. Rather than being able to have peace in your life, enjoy relationships, and enjoy the blessing of family relationships or friend relationships, you are consumed by one of these traits. If we could practice forgiveness or practice letting it go, we could enjoy this life and the relationships we have. But instead we are destroying ourselves because we do not control these emotions but are consumed by them. We think we are in control of these desires when in fact these desires are destroying us.
Allow me to illustrate with a consuming sin: sexuality. You have a marriage but rather than finding joy and fulfillment in your marriage, your body is consumed with finding a substitute. Rather than investing in your marriage, you take a cheap alternative of self-gratification through pornography. Rather than having someone who has made a covenant to stay with you for life, you seek your pleasure through strangers or acquaintances, ignoring the very blessing God has given you. Again we think we are in control. But we are wasting money, wasting time, and wasting our lives on passions that have enslaved us. We do not see our slavery and this is why we choose not to crucify the flesh.
The second reason we do not crucify the flesh is pretty similar to the first reason. We love our sin. We often want to describe our sins as overpowering us. The only reason sin has power over us is because we love it. Our love for our sin gives its power. It is not greater than us. It has not overpowered us. We have empowered it because we love our sin. So we need to think about this for a moment. How will we overcome something that has power over us because we love it? We love our anger, our bitterness, our malice, our sexuality, our passions, our immorality, or our sin whatever it is. Remember that James tells us that we are tempted by our own desires (James 1:14). The apostle John declares that the problem is that we love the darkness more than the light (John 3:19). So how do we overcome this?
We need a new affection. We need to have a greater love for something else. Power over sin does not come by knowledge alone, but by a love for the Savior that is so great that it displaces our love for sin. There is no greater motivation that we have in life than love. Love is what drives a parent into a burning building to rescue their child. Love is more powerful than any other influence. So what will develop our love for Jesus to be greater than our love for the world? What will be the source? The source is the amazing love God displayed toward us through the cross of Jesus. The reason why we expose the scriptures, digging deeply into what God says line by line is because this word shows us love. The word reveals the cross and the cross reveals God’s relentless, unwavering love. The more we see his love, the more we will love him. The greatest command is to love the Lord because it is the fuel for our service, worship, and obedience. Love for the Lord will drive all our other desires and affections away.
When we see that sin has wrecked our lives and enslaved us to our passions, we now look at Jesus and his cross in a completely different way. We see the beauty of Jesus who has set us free from our sins. The more we know him and what he has done, the more we will love him. We see Jesus so beautiful that we will want to sacrifice our lives on the cross, desiring to crucify these passions and desires that are destroying us. The world has been crucified to us and we have been crucified to the world.
Crucified to the World
Paul also says that he is crucified to the world. In short, you are dead to this world. You live in the kingdom of God. You do not live in America. Your life and your concern and your hope is not in this country, in this culture, in your race, in your ethnicity, in your background, in your parents, in your friends, in your spouse, in your president, or anything else that is physically here. You live in the God’s kingdom. That is your only concern. Paul used the picture to the Philippians that our citizenship is in heaven. Our hope is not in capitalism. Our hope is not in socialism. Our hope is not in democracy. Our hope is not in the next election. Our hope is not in a political party or a political position. Our boast is in nothing except Jesus crucified for us. That is all that matters and that is all that we live for. A disciple does not live for anything else in this world. We do not live for our job. We do not live for our children. We do not live for our spouse. We do not live for anyone except Jesus and the world sees that because we have been crucified to the world. We are dead to it. We glory in the fact that we are connected to Jesus and not to the ebb, shifts, and waning of this world.
The cross was not something Paul wanted to escape but wanted to glory in. The only glory that matters is that we are dead to the world and alive to Jesus. We are no longer desperate for favor with the world. Further, all self-glorying is killed. The cross represents the means of our redemption. The cross is the way that we are forgiven. Our prayer is for us to be kept near the cross because the cross is the display of God’s love for us (Romans 5). The cross represents our decisive break from this world and its desires. The cross represents our decisive break from ourselves. Our love is not in ourselves so that we boast in ourselves, like these false teachers in Galatians were doing. Our love is in Jesus and his cross so that we boast in him only. What do we boast in? What do we praise? This represents where our hope lies. This represents where our love resides. Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:24). The only way to crucify the flesh and its desires is to love Jesus and his cross more than our desires. If we are not on the cross, we cannot boast in the cross.