Boasting Only in the Cross (text)
Topic: Galatians Passage: Galatians 6:11–6:18
NOTE: Due to technical difficulties, there is no audio available for this sermon.
Boasting Only in the Cross of Christ
This morning we finish up our series in the book of Galatians so let’s turn together to Gal. 6:11-18
Near the end of an interview last week with former NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg, the writer made this personal observation about the former mayor: Mr. Bloomberg was introspective as he spoke, and seemed both restless and wistful…His mortality has started dawning on him at 72. And he admitted he was a bit taken aback by how many of his former classmates had been appearing in the “in memoriam” pages of his school newsletter.
But if he senses that he may not have as much time left as he would like, he has little doubt about what would await him at a Judgment Day. Pointing to his work…he said with a grin: “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.”
Mr. Bloomberg may have been trying to be lighthearted about the subject of his mortality, but I think his boast about having earned his place in heaven probably does reflect a sincere confidence that his good works are enough - more than enough- to qualify him to enter heaven. Over the years as I’ve talked to people about what qualifies a person to enter heaven, the most common answer I’ve found is some form of “I’ve tried to be good and do my best”. Maybe not everyone thinks they’ve done so well that they can bypass an interview with God like Bloomberg, but in the end, most people I’ve talked to think they’ve done enough to qualify for entrance into heaven. After all, how could God refuse to let us in if we’ve tried to be good people? Many people envision Judgment Day like this: God puts our good works on one side of the scale and our bad works on the other side and if our good outweighs our bad then we are declared “good people” and we’ve earned our place in heaven.
Tilting the scales
Legalism comes in a lot of different forms – but ultimately legalism is always this: the belief that we can earn our way into heaven, that there are things we can do to tip the scales in our favor and deserve God’s acceptance. The letter to the Galatians was written because some Jewish Christian teachers called Judaizers came to the churches in Galatian and were persuading them to embrace a legalistic message: it wasn’t enough to have faith in Jesus, if they were going to win God’s acceptance and qualify for heaven they needed to add to the scales their obedience to the law and circumcision.
Paul knows this is an abandonment of the gospel of Jesus Christ for a form of legalism that could never save them, and as he comes to the end of the letter he is so emotional about them getting this that he stops dictating the letter and grabs the pen and writes the last thoughts in his own large and clumsy handwriting – and he appeals to them to compare Paul and the Judaizers in just one simple category: what they boast in. Paul reduces it all to this simple question: what are you going to boast in? See, what we boast in is what we have confidence in. Bloomberg boasted that the work of his life was more than enough to tip the scales and earn him heaven.
Numbered, weighed, divided
We’re going to look at what the Judaizers boasted in and what Paul boasted in, but before we do, turn with me to Daniel 5. I want us to see a vivid example of the chasm between man’s arrogant boasting about himself and God’s measurement of the man.
King Belshazzar becomes so impressed with himself and his power that he wants to find a way to boast about himself, and the way he decides to do it is to bring in the vessels from the temple in Jerusalem, the vessels that were used to worship the God of Israel. This is more than just calling for the fine china to be brought in. By doing this Belshazzar is boasting that his strength and his gods are greater than the God of the Jews.
Vv. 5 – 9
No one can interpret the meaning of the writing. The words on the wall would have been understandable to all of them, it was a simple currency equation that said, two minas, a shekel, and two parts, but they knew it meant more than that and no one could fathom it’s deeper meaning. Finally they call in a Jew named Daniel to see if he can interpret it and he agrees to interpret it, but before he does, he reminds King Belshazzar of another king, his grandfather Nebuchadnezzar who became so impressed with himself that his heart was lifted up boastfully and the Most High God, the one true God, turned him into a raving mad lunatic who lived like a wild beast until finally he saw how weak and small he was and he was humbled.
The words on the wall are terms of currency, but contained within their root meaning are three verbs: numbered, weighed, divided. From those root meanings, Daniel then decrypts the message for the king in verse 25:
 And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN.  This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end;  TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting;  PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel 5:25-28 ESV)
That very night the city was conquered by the Medes and Belshazzar was killed. Belshazzar boasted of his greatness but on God’s scales he wasn’t worthy of another day’s worth of breath. Boasting about ourselves will always give us a false measurement because our scales are calibrated to God’s scales.
Paul zeros in on the Judaizer’s boast:
- They want to make a good showing for themselves in the flesh (vs. 12)
- They want to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ (vs. 12)
- And verse 13 they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh (vs. 13) If they can get you circumcised, they look good to the people they are trying to impress.
They are just using the Galatians to rig the scales in their favor – to make themselves look good in the eyes of men, to pad their resume. Boasting is a way of trying to tip the scales in our favor. Think about someone who brags – that person who, no matter what the conversation is about, finds ways to mention how smart they are, how athletic they are, how rich they are, how many places in the world they’ve visited, how many important people they know, what they’ve accomplished. What are they doing? They’re letting you know that the scales are tipped in their favor – they’re pretty great. Now all that boasting usually has the opposite effect and people think they’re annoying, but in their minds they are tipping the scales in their favor. And the truth is that while most of us learn how to do it more discreetly, we all find ways to boast. Some boast out of an abundance of confidence and some boast from a sense of insecurity and they want to puff up their accomplishments in the eyes of others. But whether out of confidence or insecurity, boasting is a way of tipping the scales of how people see and think of us.
Legalism is boasting in religious clothing. Legalism boasts “I have lived such a good life (been so religious, given so much to charity, been so intolerant of sinners, or whatever form of legalism we embrace) that I have earned my place in heaven.” Legalism believes we can live in such a way that we tip God’s scales in our favor.
And verse 13 nails the dark secret about legalism: 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. They’re not even doing what they insist you do! Legalism doesn’t produce people who are holy; it invariably produces people who are hypocrites. It’s a death spiral: we set up rules that we say earn God’s acceptance, and then we are, of course, expected to keep those rules. Only deep inside we are sinners to the core and we cannot really obey God – not from the heart – and so after a while we bend the rules for ourselves and we settle for looking holy to other people and getting them to follow the rules. Legalism doesn’t get rid of our sin; it just makes it go into hiding.
The Judaizers were out to make a good showing, but to other people, not to God. Legalism will always focus on the tipping the scales of men in our favor because it can never tip God’s scales in our favor. If our boast is our own efforts to be good enough to deserve heaven, the Bible says that, like King Belshazzar, we may impress ourselves and other people, but on Judgment Day we will hear this tragic message: you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting.
The deeper irony is that while the Judaizers were trying to boast in the Galatian believer’s flesh, they were influencing these young believers to stop trusting in the one boast that does tip the scales in our favor in the sight of God and to put their confidence in their flesh.
So Paul grabs the pen and with large and emotional strokes he writes about a radically different type of boasting in verse 14: 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.
Think about this. At this point Paul’s life is devoted to serving God. He is willing to die for Jesus. He is preaching the gospel and he is traveling into dangerous places and establishing church after church where there was none before. He is an apostle and he’s writing scripture – will go on to write more books in the NT by far than any other author. And yet he refused to try to put any of that on a scale in his favor. Far be it from me, he says. There’s only one thing that I will boast of, only one thing that I will put on my scale: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The cross has come, over the centuries, to be a respectable religious symbol, but that’s not how it was thought of in the first century. Crucifixion was a horrifying and shameful means of execution and the Romans only hung criminals of the lowest order or geopolitical foes of the most rebellious order on their crosses. No one liked the cross in Paul’s day. Jews considered it evidence of God’s curse, and the
Greeks considered it to be foolishness.
So on the scales of man, it tipped the Jewish scales over to “cursed by God” and it tipped the Gentile scales over to “raving idiot”. But to those being saved – both Jews and Gentiles – it is the power of God for salvation because it is the only thing that can tip God’s perfect and holy measures in our favor. That’s because on the cross Jesus obeyed and pleased his Father perfectly as he willingly died in place of a lost and sinful world so that those who believe in him could be forgiven and saved. When we believe in Christ, God puts Christ’s righteousness, His blood, His obedience, on our scale and that earns us heaven!
So when Paul says he boasts in the cross, what he’s saying is he doesn’t boast about anything he is or achieves. He boasts about what God has done for him through the work of Christ. It flips boasting on its head. We want to boast about ourselves – it’s so deeply ingrained in us that we measure our lives by how much or how little we tip the scales in the eyes of other people – but Paul has embraced a radically different kind of boast and as Christians we must too.
And as Paul is writing these closing thoughts, he begins some rapid fire thoughts but they sum up what he has already written as a passionate reminder to the Galatians to get it, and return to the gospel. Paul repeats himself when he says that neither circumcision counts for anything (that is, on God’s scales) nor uncircumcision. It reminds us not to boast over this religious tradition or that religious practice. Whether you do this religious thing or that religious thing doesn’t really mean that much – what matters is God’s supernatural work inside of you. What counts is what God has done: onlyHe can make us a new creation. Again the boast turns upwards to God and what He does.
In verse 16 he sums up what he taught in chapters 3 and 4 – those who trust in God’s promises and His work are the offspring of Abraham and Sarah’s line of promise just as Isaac was a child of promise. Abraham and Sarah weren’t boasting about having Isaac – they knew it was a miracle from God that at the age of 100 and 90 respectively they had a son, just as God promised. In the same way those who trust in Christ and what he has done to save us, find that God does a miracle and we become the Israel of God, the people of God.
As Paul closes the chapter, he reminds them that his body bears the mark of Jesus. He has been scourged and beaten and shipwrecked and suffered many things for the sake of the cross. The Judaizers are doing everything they can to avoid suffering the shame of naming Christ and the cross. Paul embraces it as an honor, and by doing so evidences himself as a true ambassador of the Lord Jesus Christ. But those marks aren’t his boast. Christ and his cross is his only boast.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit…This book from start to finish points us to the grace of God. We should obey God, we should serve God, we should act and do and sow to the Spirit, all out of grace. Grace doesn’t demotivate us to serve God, it activates us to serve God…but never so that we can boast. Never in order to add to our resume before God. Never to tip the scales in our favor, but out of the assurance that the scales have been tipped forever in our favor by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and his substitionary death on the cross.
If you know in your heart of hearts you are given to boast in yourself. You tend towards legalism and get self-righteous about how other people don’t measure up to your high religious standards, let God’s word convince you this morning that your measurements are not calibrated with God’s. Don’t boast in the flesh – I guarantee you have nothing to boast about before God. Your flesh has this written on it: weighed in the balance and found wanting. Or, if you want a NT verse: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Rom 3:23).
And if you struggle with feeling condemned because you know you just don’t measure up. Maybe there’s some recent failure that’s right in front of your face, making you very aware of your sin and shortcomings. Boast in Christ. He is our only boast – no matter where on the spectrum we may fall, the reality is he is our only boast. And he is more than enough. It’s not even close!
Paul grabs the pen so that as we get to the end of this amazing letter we get this – if we are proud about
what we are doing, if we are boasting, get this! Far be it from you to boast about your flesh! Boast in
Christ. Boast in what he has done. Boast in the cross. Boast in His grace, His power, His mercy, His love, His faithfulness. Never ours. Let me end the message by reading another passage from Paul about boasting, 1 Cor. 1:27-31
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”