“For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…”
The long of the short of this passage is that Paul the Apostle told the believers in Galatia that their identity and self-worth (boasting) should not and cannot be based on their religious affiliation (circumcision). To be a true Jew, one had to be circumcised as a physical sign that one had adopted the religion, customs and identity of Judaism. In effect they were saying something like, “Look at me, I’m saved because I’ve cut the foreskin off my penis and this shows I’m one of God’s people now!”
That seems a little crass and strange to us today, but do we not often point to things we might do as proof of our rightness with God? “I go to church.” “I helped a little old lady cross the street.” “I gave a homeless man 5 dollars.” “I went on a mission trip to India.” “I’m a youth pastor.” And on and on….
Paul quickly and handily smacked down any cause for boasting except in what Jesus had done for him. If you recall, Paul had said another time that he was a religious leader of religious leaders and a man of God among the men of God… but now he had no identity except in Jesus.
This attitude, too, is strange to us today. We are too quick to point to our works as confirmation (boasting) of our spiritual pedigree (circumcision).
So, what was the cross all about and why was it so radical that Paul said God forbid that he boasts in nothing but?
As we know, when Paul speaks of “the cross” he’s not talking about a t-shaped piece of wood. He’s talking about the overall concept of the cross, that Jesus gave his life for sinners.
The cross should bring both humility and praise into our lives, almost as a seeming contradiction, but completely complimentary.
In humility think about this: In the firstc entury mind the cross was an instrument of torture and death. It was as gruesome a way to be punished as any ever devised in history. It humiliated it’s victims. Those put on crosses were done so publicly and violently. The cross bearer was publicly mocked, stripped of his dignity and rights,beaten, hanged and left to rot with the burning sun and rain with the maggots and flies.
Yet Paul said, “I’ll boast only in this.” At the cross Jesus endured all the physical duress a man could stand. He was killed there. But, he also suffered a spiritual agony none of us will ever remotely endure. When we think of the cross this way, it’s weird to me that we’d boast in it, but we should. We should boast because it was there that we were freed from the curse of sin and the law. It was there that we, like the slaves we were, were purchased with the finest gold and silver, though those treasures be drops of crimson running from the wounds of our Savior.
(To think that Jesus took our place there, for us and as us, brings nothing but humility and I can hardly lift my head as I’m writing this just thinking about it.)
Yet, even in the humility, there is a cause for praise, for boasting. Because of what Jesus did on the cross I don’t have boast in my own works as “proof” of my spiritual pedigree. I simply need to boast in the Savior. He did it all for me.
“He did it all for me.”
“He did it all for me.”
God Almighty, I have no reason to boast before you in anything I’ve done or will do, and you know that very well. But I confess it anyway. A part of me hangs my head in shame because I have caught an inkling, I’ve seen a shadow, of what your Son endured on my behalf. I’d stand in silence with my face buried in my hands forever and I know that’d be a justified response to the cross of Jesus. But, I am overjoyed that because of the cross I don’t have to. Let me boast only in the cross of Jesus Christ, not in myself, forever. Amen.