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Gal 6:11-18: Cross-Centered Motivation Print E-mail
Galatians
Sunday, 25 June 2006

Identifying a person’s motivation can often aid us in discerning whether or not that person’s actions are good and trustworthy.  One example of this is politics.  Have you ever found yourself listening to a particular candidate’s speech wondering: Does he/she really mean that?  Is he/she just saying that so that people will vote for him/her?  What is the motivation behind what they are saying?  If we are honest, be it political or not, we have all probably tried at some point to figure out someone’s motivation so as to help us judge their actions.  Yet, the difficulty in this process is actually identifying people’s motivation.  People are often good at fooling us.  We struggle to see past what they are saying or what they are doing to identify their true motivations.

We see in Galatians 6:11-18 that Paul is not confused about what is motivating the Judaizers.  As we have mentioned, from Acts 15:1 we see their motto: Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.  Paul has written his letter to the Galatians to combat this error.  Yet, we might ask: Why are the Judaizers so intent on following the Law and having the Galatians circumcised?  What is the motivation behind this?  It is this question that Paul answers for us in Galatians 6:11-18.

We might be tempted to skim through this portion of the book as just Paul’s benediction, or closing of the letter.  But look at what he says in verse 11.  It seems that Paul’s practice was to dictate his letters and have someone else write them down (see Romans 16:22).  Yet, here, Paul takes up the pen himself.  Not only that, but apparently he wrote this section with large letters to emphasize the point.  For us today, it is like someone using the bold button, or the underline button to emphasize what is being said.  Identifying the Judaizers motivation and contrasting that with his own motivation is important to Paul and he does not want us to miss it.  So, let’s begin by looking at the motivation of Paul’s opponents.

The motivation of the Judaizers (to have the Galatians circumcised) was so that they could boast in their flesh in order to avoid persecution (v. 12-13).

The Judaizers long to make a good showing in the flesh by having the Galatians circumcised.  Look at verses 12-13 with me.  Paul’s opponents are looking for bragging rights.  They want to use the Galatians as visible evidence of their adherence to the Law.  A possible modern day example of this is pointing to the number of baptisms as evidence of faithful ministry.  Baptism is an outward symbol and people will use it to defend their practices.  Yet, since salvation is an inward reality, such ‘evidence’ can be misleading at times.  Likewise, number of baptisms should never be used as bragging rights by an evangelist, minister, or Church, for this robs God of His glory in saving sinners.  So, then, why would the Judaizers want to boast in the flesh, or the circumcision, of the Galatians?

Paul tells us that the reason why the Judaizers, or the circumcision party, wanted to brag about the Galatians being circumcised is to avoid persecution.  Again, look at verse 12.  It is important for us to recognize the fact that many Jews were persecuting Christians.  We see this throughout the book of Acts.  They could not accept the fact that people could be justified apart from the Law through faith in Christ.  This was a scandal to them (see 5:11) and they were persecuting those who believed and taught justification apart from the Law.  The Judaizers had found a way to avoid such persecution: simply have the Gentiles circumcised.  Then, when accused by the Jews, they could boast in the flesh of their Gentile converts and avoid being persecuted by them.  In the end, they were afraid of the Jews and were looking for a way to avoid persecution.

Yet, as Paul argues so well in this book, to claim that justification depends upon anything other than faith in Christ crucified is to completely distort the gospel.  In trying to avoid persecution, the Judaizers were forfeiting the gospel itself.  In the same way, we cannot afford to take the easy way out when it comes to the gospel for we may very well distort the message.  Throughout the history of Christianity many have tried to ‘fix’ the problems of the gospel.  They realize that the culture does not like the gospel for whatever reason (be it science or reason or some particular sin) and so people try change the gospel to make it not so offensive.  Yet, the gospel is offensive (as we will see more clearly in the next few verses).  It is hard on humanity, hard on our pride, hard on sinners.  Yet, at the same time, it does not need us to ‘fix’ it.  For it is also the power of God unto salvation.  Out of fear and a desire to please the Jews, the Judaizers were willing to compromise the gospel and boast in the flesh of the Galatians.  Brothers and sisters, we cannot afford to make that error.  We must hold fast to justification by faith no matter what the world threatens and be faithful in proclaiming the ‘offensive’ gospel that men might be saved.

So, then, what about Paul?  What is his motivation?

The motivation of Paul (to preach justification by faith) was so that he might boast only in the cross in order to magnify Jesus Christ (v. 14-16).

In contrast to his opponents Paul will only boast in the cross of Christ.  Look at verse 14.  We must ask, ‘What does Paul mean by boasting in the cross?’  Well, as we have already said, he is contrasting the Judaizers who were wanting to boast in the flesh of the Galatians.  They wanted to avoid persecution by boasting in the circumcision of the Gentile converts.  Yet, Paul refuses to do such and claims that he will only ‘boast’ in the cross.  The word translated ‘to boast’ means glorying in or exalting or rejoicing over.  While the Judaizers are glorying and rejoicing in the circumcision of the Galatians, Paul will only glory in the cross.  All of his rejoicing comes from the cross.  His passion, even obsession, is the cross of Christ.

It is hard for us to see the contrast here because we think of the cross as something positive, something ‘wondrous’ as we sang, and it indeed is such.  Yet, to the first century person, to use the word ‘cross’ is very crass.  The cross, the instrument used for public execution of terrible criminals, was not to be talked about lightly, much less positively.  So Paul’s statement would be shocking to them.  How could he boast in the cross?  How could he glory in the instrument used to execute criminals?  Listen to the Cotton Patch paraphrase of this verse: God forbid that I should ever take pride in anything, except the lynching of our Lord Jesus Christ.  What a crazy thought.  Paul is glorying in and rejoicing in and making his only boast in the lynching of Jesus Christ.  Why would he do this?

The reason why Paul’s only glory is in the cross is because he knows what took place there.  Look at verses 14 and 15.  Paul knows that he has been set free from the passions of the world.  He is not concerned with worldly gain or success, for he has been crucified to the world through the cross.  Not only that, but he knows that through faith in Jesus’ work on the cross, he, and all those who repent of their sins and believe in Christ, have become new creatures.  We are no longer enslaved by our sins and rebellion.  We are no longer enemies of Almighty God.  God’s wrath that burned against us for our sin has been satisfied by Christ on the cross.  Paul glories in the cross not because it was easy or fun or looks cute hanging around our neck, he glories in the cross because on that dark hill called Calvary Jesus Christ redeemed his soul from eternity in hell and reconciled him to the Father.  For Paul, it may not be flashy or fancy or popular, it may lead to persecution and certain death, but, even so, the cross of Christ is our only boast, our only glory, our only source of true rejoicing.

For Paul, the issue is not circumcision or uncircumcision, but new creation.  He is not concerned with pleasing the Jews who will not accept justification by faith.  He knows the cross is offensive, he knows that it drives guilty sinners to their knees, he knows that it leaves no room for boasting in any work a man could ever do.  Yet, he knows that it is the wisdom of God and the power of God unto salvation.  As he says in 1 Corinthians 1:22-24, For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 

All of this leads me to ask you this question this morning: is your motivation to glory only in the cross of Jesus Christ?  At work, do you credit all success to Christ and use it to tell others the gospel.  At home, do you want your kids to be successful according to the world’s standards, or do you pray for them and encourage them to forsake all to follow Christ?  Can a person look at your bank statement and see that your only glory is in the cross of Christ?  As a Church, are we more concerned with externals, so that we will have a good reputation in the community, or are we desperate to be so biblical and so cross-centered that we are guaranteed persecution and suffering?  In the end, we will either glory in cross alone or we will glory in the flesh.  I pray that we will follow the example of Paul and be cross-centered in every area of our lives for the glory of Christ. 

Paul concludes the letter with three remarks.  In verse 16 he prays for peace and mercy to be upon all who believe in the principle of new creation through faith in Christ.  In verse 17 he asks for no more trouble about such matters, since he is already facing fierce persecution as did Christ.  And in verse 18, he longs for grace to be poured out upon the Galatians, whom he considers to be brothers in Christ. 

In the same way, I pray that we would be a people who glory only in the fact that we have been made new creatures through faith in Christ’s work on the cross.  I pray that we would not be given to arguments about trivial matters, but that we would be willing to bear the marks of Christ on our body.  And I pray that God’s grace, which has been lavished upon us in our salvation, would be with our Church and with you individually as He conforms you more and more into the image of Christ.  Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 26 July 2006 )

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