30 March 2022
“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” (Galatianss 6:14).
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I Iive by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).
We may be wondering why we are considering the impact of the cross of Christ in Paul’s life and surely this impact in his life cannot be ‘applicable’ to us – after all, Paul was a great apostle and we cannot hope to emulate his life and his success in the ministry.
Paul was the church planter par excellence of the early church. It is estimated that he traveled some 6000 miles in his missionary journeys and at the end of his missionary career of about 30 years, scores of house churches were established and the number of believers must have been in the thousands.
Yet this man shared that his driving force behind his ministry is to preach Christ and the cross to those who have never heard (Rom. 15:20-21). The depth of his commitment to Christ and the church is remarkable.
To the church in Corinth, he wrote, “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Corin. 2:2). Yet this great Apostle, in his epistles, urges his converts and fellow-believers to follow his example or imitate his behaviour as he himself follows Christ (1 Cor. 11:1; 1 Thess. 1:6; Eph. 5:1; Phil. 2:5). Without doubt, Paul must have had desired his converts to experience the same impact of the cross of Christ in their lives. It was his great ambition to see his converts grow “to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:1,) for he knew that this is possible only if they appreciate fully the meaning and impact of the cross of the Lord Jesus and the key – “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col. 1:27).
It is most helpful to consider the life of Paul before his conversion to realise the great change and impact that took place in his life after he met Christ and believed. This also would help us to appreciate how much and how deep is the change that ensued in his life after his conversion. It will cause us to ponder also how Christ and His cross effected this change and how this should also be somewhat similar in our lives if we are truly born again; perhaps the degree may vary but essentially the principles and truths underlying this change and impact should apply to us too as we seek to follow Paul as he followed Christ .
Paul of Tarsus was proud and boastful, yes, “circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee, concerning zeal, persecuting the church, touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless”, the perfect man, absolutely moral, absolutely religious, a most learned man, chief of the Pharisees. And then he met Christ. One glimpse of that blessed face humbled him to the dust, and the light that Christ by the Spirit cast upon the very law which he thought he knew so well, convinced him immediately that he had not kept it. The cross showed him that he was wretched; it showed him that he was a complete, utter, absolute failure, in word, thought and deed. He had nothing to be proud of. He was a wretched abominable failure. The cross had humbled him and crushed him to the ground. Once you see yourself like that, you forget other people. But the cross also reveals to us the truth about others. The cross makes us see ourselves exactly as we are and the moment that happens we see that there is no difference at all between us and other people. We are one in sin. We are one in failure. We are one in misery. We are one in helplessness and hopelessness. What is the point of boasting of our status, heritage, race, knowledge, righteousness, wealth when we are miserable in our heart and soul, filled with jealousy and envy and malice and spite? The cross humbles us – it is the cross of Christ that brings us all down to the same place. All have sinned and come short ofthe the glory of God. There is nothing in which we can boast (Phil. 3:7-9).
But thank God it does not leave us there. We look up together into the face of the One and only Saviour, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and He saves us. It is HIs going to the cross, submitting Himself as the Lamb of God, and having our sins put upon Him by His Father, and bearing the stroke, the punishment, for us, that is what saves us. He does it all.
We have looked at the life of Saul of Tarsus and noted that he had much in terms of status, knowledge, Jewish background – he was a Hebrew among Hebrews of the tribe of Benjamin, a religious scholar and Pharisee. The same Paul wrote: “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:7-8a). Note the degree of the impact of knowing Christ and the cross of Christ in the converted life of Paul. Paul in fact referred to the everything in his previous life as rubbish when compared to knowing Christ in the next verse (vs 8).
At the height of his spiritual maturity, the cross was everything to him. He had found that everything proceeds from the cross; it was the source and fountain of everything he had as a Christian. The cross governed his view of himself and it was a new and renewed view, a view that delivered him from himself. One of the most wonderful things that the cross of Christ does to a man who understands and knows it’s meaning is that it delivers him from himself and sets him free from himself, the self that is self-centred, selfish, and boasts of his position and station in life, his natural powers and talents, his abilities and understanding, even his apparent goodness.
It is the cross that shows himself to himself. He has seen that he, like everybody else, is a sinner, a vile one at that. Once a man sees himself in the light of the cross, he sees the horror of that self-centred view in its every aspect. That was what happened to Paul and that explains what he declared in Philippians 3 about everything he once valued in his life.
Saul had tried to be free from slavery to sin, slavery to the devil, slavery to the world and he could not get free despite his religious pedigree. The cross of Christ had changed everything for Paul – he had been delivered, he had been set free, he had been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son. He formerly lived to himself, but no longer, he had been bought with a price. Paul expressed this in Galatians 2:20: I am not what I was. I used to live to myself and for myself. I live, yet not I – Christ lives in me – it is an entirely new type of life; he now lives to Christ and for Christ, for the One who died for him and rose again.
The old Paul had died; the new Paul is alive in Christ! That explains why he was relatively immune to criticism; he was unconcerned by what people think about him as long as his master thinks well of him. As fast as Paul was concerned, he had finished with himself and to him, God is his judge and he lived to Him and to His praise.
The cross gives us an entirely new view of sin, and it shows us that sin is our greatest enemy. It shows us what the glories I is what that has brought us to our present misery. The thing that seemed so wonderful is the thing that makes us afraid to die and afraid of God. The cross strips sin of all its gaudy colouring and reveals it to us in its vileness and foulness.
Once a man sees the message of the cross, he has an entirely new view of everything. He has a new motive. To sin now means that he is wounding love; he is wounding the love of the One who gave Himself for him. He now knows he has no right to do it and he cannot do it – he now belongs to Him; he is a slave of Christ, no longer a slave of sin and the devil. He has a new understanding of sin, he has new motives for living a holy life, and thank God, over and above all, he has got a new power whereby to do it (through the ministry and power of the Holy Spirit).
Previously, we have considered the sufferings of Apostle Paul: we noted how he received forty lashes less one five times at the hands of the Jews; three times he was beaten with rods; once he was stoned and left for dead; three times he was shipwrecked; he encountered danger in the city, in the wilderness, at sea, from robbers, from his own people, in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and in thirst (2 Cor. 11:24-28). On top of all these, he experienced daily pressure from and for the churches. Have we encountered even some of these sufferings he went through?
“From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus” (Gal.6:17). The cross taught Paul to suffer for the sake of the Lord Jesus and the gospel.
The Holy Spirit, through the cross, teaches us how to live; He also teaches us how to suffer. Because we live in a world of suffering and we need to be taught how to suffer, He teaches how. The cross teaches us not only to live morally and ethically, but also how to suffer. Sufferings come to us all: misunderstanding, people misunderstanding us, injustices done to us, the failure of trusted friends, people in whom we have every confidence letting us down, disappointments, loneliness, physical pain. How do we stand up to all these, how do we meet them?
There is the only way, the cross – misunderstanding, injustice, treachery of friends, the loneliness, even His disciples forsaking Him and fleeing from Him. In the dark night, they all forsook Him and fled, and left Him alone. But He had known that it was coming, He had told them that when He said: ‘The hour has come…and you shall all be scattered…yet, I am not alone, because the Father is with Me (Jn.16:32).
No experience can ever fall on you but that He has gone through it.
So the cross not only teaches us how to live, it teaches us how to suffer, how to follow in HIs steps – and Apostle Paul was one who learned it well and went through it well.
“But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24).
“Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13).
The impact of the cross of Christ was so great in his life that Paul, who was the enemy of the Way, became the great Apostle of Christ who went through much sufferings for the sake of the gospel and his Master and there was no regret. Instead, he counted it a privilege and a joy to follow in the steps of his master and to finish the race. What about us? Has the cross made any impact in our lives? Do we whine and squirm at every little suffering (in comparison to Paul’s and the Lord’s) and complain relentlessly to God “Why me?” The Apostle Paul would refrain, “Why not me, since the Lord Jesus has suffered so much for me?”
“as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:20-21).
Paul wrote this in prison in Rome; his captor was the notorious Emperor Nero, an unjust, unprincipled dictator. He was hearing rumours almost every day as to when he was to be put to death (for Nero had put to death many believers). And Paul knew it was coming and it could come at any moment; but this is how he faced it (see above passage).
Paul knew that death is gain; death means to be with Christ, which is far better, death is no longer a spectre, not since the death of the Son of God. He saw the way to heaven, and to die, if you believe in Him and His death, means to go to be with Him – it is gain.
The cross not only teaches us how to live, how to suffer; it also teaches us how to die. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, wrote: “Oh this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15: 54-57). By dying on the cross, Jesus satisfied the law and He has taken the sting out of death to all who believe in Him and in the efficacy of His atoning sacrificial death. He has conquered death and the grave, but in addition, by dying there upon the cross He has shown us how to die.
It has become conventional to think as if we are all going to live in this world forever and to view every case of bereavement as a reason for doubting the goodness of God. We all know in the depths of our hearts that this is ridiculous, but we do it all the same. We thus part from the Bible and historical Christianity, and with a basic principle of right living, namely, that only when you know how to die can you know how to live.
Modern people, with their preoccupation with materialism and pleasure, think that this life is the only life for enjoying anything, and this has also infected Christian minds. It produces the feeling that it is a cosmic outrage for anyone to have to leave this world before he or she has tasted all that it has to offer.
Dying well is one of the good works to which Christians are called, and Christ will enable us who serve Him to die well, however gruesome the physical process itself. And dying thus, in Christ, through Christ, and with Christ, will be a spiritual blossoming.
Out of the cross of Christ come all these wonderful things: man is delivered from his petty self, he is taught how to live and enabled to live in that way. He is taught how to suffer whatever may come. He is taught how to die victoriously and triumphantly, because he knows that Christ by dying conquered death and HIs death led to the glory of the resurrection, the ascension, and HIs sitting in the glory at the right hand of God. No wonder Paul declared: ‘Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ’. What else is there? This is everything., Every good thing comes out of this. Without this there is nothing. With this there is everything – in this world, in life, in death, and in the glory everlasting – which awaits the children, the people of God.
In every century until our own, Christians saw this life as preparation for eternity. All of life should be seen as preparation for leaving it behind. This is realistic wisdom, since death really is the one certain fact of life. Our life here on earth as God’s children is a ‘rehearsal’ to prepare us for heaven – we need to go through the rehearsal well to be ready and ‘acceptable’ to be the unblemished bride of the bridegroom, the Lord Jesus.
Paul knew it well indeed. Even languishing in the prison in Rome, he exhorted the Christians to rejoice in the Lord always. He wrote: “Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all. Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me” (Philippians 2:17). Paul was actually telling the believers to rejoice that he should die for their faith and he himself rejoiced at that prospect. Paul rejoiced to die for Christ and for the believers. Like the missionary who wrote, ‘When I am dying, how glad I shall be that the lamp of my life has been burned out for thee”. Is this how we believers today face the prospect of life and death? Has the cross of Christ made this difference inn our lives?