Paul took the ‘pen’ from the scribe and penned his final, passionate thoughts and burdens to the Galatian Christians in the concluding verses of Galatians 6. This speaks of his concerns and desires that the Galatian Christians understand and appreciate the serious implications in the way they responded to the gospel of Christ.
The cross marks the great division – between the church and the world, and between those in the church who are prepared to endure persecution for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and those who are not.
Paul crystallised this division between those who boast in the flesh and those who boast in the cross. The Judaizers were boasting in the flesh, seeking approval as their ‘god’ and idol; they were looking for fame, prestige and honour as a form of self-salvation in the world and in their ministry. Under pressure from their fellow-Jews, they were keen to demonstrate that they did not abandon Moses and the law. But they themselves knew that they could not keep the whole law themselves and therefore they were cursed. They were focusing on the externals and behaviour (circumcision and the ceremonial law), rather than internal change of heart, motives and character. But the gospel is inside-out: an inner change of heart (regeneration by the Spirit) which leads to a new motivation for proper and godly behaviour, and godly character in transformation by God.
In that sense, the Judaizers were practising biblical legalism; not only concentrating on the externals and behaviour for themselves, but also insisting that others should follow suit. Hence they make big issues out of small insignificant issues, focusing on ‘rules’ of behaviour and manner of religious practice. Perhaps we can see some aspects of these in the context of some churches today – this is the other extreme which differs from ‘hypergrace’ and antinominism which advocate ‘no law’ and freedom, and to live without restraint whatsoever.
Paul affirmed that he and true believers boast in the cross. Our identity, our self-image is based on what gives us a sense of dignity and significance. Religion leads us to boast in something about us (just like the Judaizers). The gospel leads us to boast, not in ourselves, but in the cross of Christ – our identity in Jesus is confident and secure. Why so?
The gospel is about the grace of our Lord Jesus from start to finish. God took the initiative in the plan of salvation; the gospel does not come from human sources, and membership in the church and the ‘new Israel’ is not defined by human categories. Grace reaches out and embraces the whole world – the sign of that embrace is joy and life in the Spirit and not the mark in the flesh (circumcision) or the external religious ‘posture’.
Paul also noted that the world has been crucified to him and he to the world (vs14) – this should also be true for all Christians. In other words, Paul was saying that the world is dead to him. As the late John Stott said – the Christian does not need to care what the world thinks of them; the natural world has ceased to have any claims on us i.e. there is nothing in this world now that has any power over believers, provided they enter into the reality of the world having been crucified to them, becoming dead to them.
We would remember Paul writing in the first chapter of Galatians:
“For am I now seeking the approval of man or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (1:10). This is in line with being ‘dead to the world’ and the ‘world being dead to him’. For the true believer, there is nothing in the world that controls him – nothing that he must have. The world with its values, identity-markers, way of life has already been pronounced dead on the cross. God has unleashed upon the world His own new creation and through the gospel, He invites all to equally share in Its blessings, its new life and its promises for the future and eternity.
Paul is not saying that believers must have nothing to do with the people and things of the world. We are called to be lights of the world and salt of the earth; hence the Christian is free to enjoy the world, because he no longer needs to fear or worship it.
Contrast this with the lives of many believers today: We are very much alive to the world and the world is not dead to us, but very much alive. We ‘worship’ it’s values, it’s attractions, it’s way of life. Wealth, status, man’s approval, power, popularity – all these are on the agenda of many a believer – we are not very much different from the people of the world. This world would pass away, but only those who do the will of God would abide forever.
Finally, Paul wrote: “From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (vs17).
The Judaizers were keen to mark the bodies of the Galatians with the sign of circumcision that says that they belong to the family of Abraham. Paul, on the other hand, was declaring that the only marks that matter on his body are the wounds he has suffered as a result of his allegiance and obedience to the Lord Jesus. It is the signs of the cross, not of the circumcision’s knife. And the signs of the cross are the marks of persecution, the ‘wounds of Jesus’.
We have noted previously that life in the Spirit would involve suffering, weakness, struggles and pain, for it is ‘already’ and ‘not yet’. Looking at Apostle Paul, we know that this is the path of perseverance and endurance for all true servants of God. Let us not deceive ourselves into thinking that we are going to live forever on this earth and that this world is our permanent home. Let us not be ashamed to carry the ‘marks’ of the cross, if and when God allows it as part of His plan for our life and ministry, Let us not be ashamed of the cross but let us instead boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus!