I am so glad you are with us today as we finish this study of Paul’s powerful letter to the Galatians. Won’t you open your Bible to Galatians 6:11-18 and let’s read together.
11See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! 12Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. 14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. 16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God. 17Finally, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. 18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen. (Galatians 6:11-18 NIV)
This week we bring to a close our study of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia. This is our twenty-fifth study in this little six chapter letter. For the past twenty-five weeks the Apostle has drawn a bead on those who oppose the way of the cross, those who have crept into the Church to try and substitute a weak, powerless, pitiful alternate to the only remedy for our sin—the cross of our Savior.
During these twenty-five weeks of study the Scriptures have come alive to me and God has shown me that the same options which were available in Paul’s day are still with us today. The world is standing at the crossroads today—you and I are standing at the crossroads this very moment. We are standing at the fork in the road and we must make a choice this very morning. Will we choose the path of human justification and self-righteousness or will we fall upon the path of God’s mercy and grace? There is no other option. There is no other road which we can choose. There is no other option for you or me this morning.
The path of human justification and self-righteousness appears noble and appealing. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Dig in and get the job done. Atone for your own sins, and then hold your head up high, proud of what you have accomplished. Appearances are not always as they seem my friend. Many choose the road of human justification and self-righteousness. They seek to make their lives count. They try and do “good” to cover the hardness of their own hearts. Many find the path satisfying and pleasing for awhile, but they eventually realize that the road leads to destruction, absolute emptiness, and abject despair.
There is the other fork in the road—the way of the cross. This path does not gleam with the glitter of fame, accomplishment, or a rising self-esteem. This path is splattered with the blood, sweat, and tears of Another. It appears to be the path of defeat and surrender, not victory and valor. On this path there is no room for pride or arrogance. There are no class distinctions. No self-satisfied soldiers who claim the victory. All of those who travel this path know their absolute spiritual bankruptcy, they are all too familiar with their depravity, and they are well acquainted with their moral degeneracy.
Those who travel the path of human justification believe that they can fill their emptiness with their efforts. Those who travel the path of mercy and grace know that they have no power and no hope of every filling their emptiness unless they drink of the Living Waters which flow from the Father’s fountain of mercy and grace. John MacArthur writes,
Those two approaches to salvation are the only two that exist, the only two forms of religion that man has ever known. There is grace/faith/Spirit religion, known as Christianity, and there is law/works/flesh religion, which identifies all the rest. God’s way is the way of grace, working through man’s faith in the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the sustaining power of the Holy Spirit. All other ways, no matter how seemingly different, are an attempt at salvation by fleshly works of the law. It is as if, on the market shelf of world religions, there are hundreds of attractive packages, with a great range of shapes, sizes, labels, claims, and prices. But inside all of them is the same tasteless, nutritionless sawdust of works-righteousness. Standing alone, unattractive and repulsive to the natural man, is the gospel, which alone contains real food. (John MacArthur, Galatians, p. 194)
Paul’s letter was written to friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, and he urged them to reject the path of human justification and self-righteousness, and continue on the path of mercy and grace, to walk in the Spirit. This morning I want to urge those of you who are here to reject the way of the world and choose the way of the cross. Let’s take a look at verses 11-14 as begin.
11See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! 12Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. (Galatians 6:11-14 NIV)
In verse 11 Paul points out that he has written in large letters, with his own hand. I’ve read many theories this past week about what Paul intended by using these words. Are the large letters a result of Paul having bad eyesight? No one knows. Some say that the large letters were Greek uncials, large block letters written for public notices. Is this the case? No one knows. Others say that Paul is pointing out that the writing, “his own hand,” which he writes in 11, is different than the writing of his secretary, or amanuensis, someone who wrote what Paul dictated to him. All of these are theories and I don’t want to get bogged down in why Paul wrote with large letters when there are more important questions for us to answer this morning.
Take a look at verses 12-14 and you will see that Paul once again addresses the group of false teachers, the Judaizers, who had slipped into the church to try and gain converts to their perverted, prideful ways. The false teachers wanted to make a good “outward” showing. Do you know what he is talking about? Oh, you know what he is talking about. “How many baptisms did you have last year pastor?” “We’re running 1000 in Sunday school this year, we’ve had to add a third worship service, and we’ve just kicked-off a new capital campaign to build a new worship center.” Religious pride is the most insidious of all diseases.
Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with growth. I pray for this church to grow. I pray for each of us to grow in our walk with the Lord. Each Sunday morning Lorenzo and I gather in my office before any of you ever arrive and we pray for the Lord to draw people out of their beds and into His house where they might hear the Word of God. We pray that those of us who gather here might leave different than we were when we arrived.
I pray for all churches to grow and reach many people with the hope that only Christ can bring, but when someone in this church comes to know Christ, when a Sunday school class begins growing, or new young people begin attending one of our youth groups—we must remember Whose work we are witnessing.
We have incredibly talented musicians and a wonderful choir that leads us into the presence of God, but they can’t sustain the growth of the church. We have tremendous Bible teachers for people of every age, but simply having knowledge of God’s Word can’t sustain the growth of the church. We have the most friendly, warm, and caring congregation I have ever been around in my life, but friendliness can’t sustain the growth of the church. Our growth is not dependent upon our creativity or charisma, our melodic musicians, marketing strategies, or ornamental sanctuary—it is the work of our Sovereign God.
The false teachers of Galatia were not only religiously prideful, but they were also cowards. Paul writes, “The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” John MacArthur writes,
The Judaizers identified themselves with the church but not with the cross and therefore not truly with Christ. They recognized Jesus as the Messiah and proclaimed allegiance to Him, but they had no part in Him because they refused to receive His finished work on the cross on their behalf. Their trust was in their own human works, represented by circumcision, rather than in God’s provision of salvation by grace through the power of the cross of Christ. They wanted a Messiah to deliver them from their oppressors, but not a Savior to deliver them from their sins. They could handle that by themselves, they thought. (John MacArthur, Galatians, p. 198.)
The Judaizers are still among us. There are many in the Church today who want nothing to do with the blood and gore of Calvary’s cross. They love gentle Jesus meek and mild, lying in a manger, and riding on the back of a donkey. They love His pithy little sayings and the fact that He welcomed all kinds of people, but they don’t want anything to do with the cross, the suffering, the shame. They love Jesus the motivational speaker, but they wince at the Suffering Savior.
Throughout history those who have identified with the cross have been persecuted. The cross was a symbol of guilt. It was the most horrible and painful means of death that a person could be forced to endure. The cross was reserved for the state’s enemies, the most reviled of all people. The cross was equated with death, and yet for those who identified themselves with Jesus, the cross was the symbol of life. Life offered through the full and final sacrifice of God’s own Son for those who are truly guilty and unable to absolve themselves of their guilt.
The Judaizers, like many of us today, couldn’t deal with the thought that they were guilty. “Who me? How dare you! Well, I may not be perfect, but at least I’m not like him or her. I go to church. I even tithe.” Does that sound familiar to you? Maybe you’ve even spoken those words at one time or another. Jesus spoke about these kinds of people in Luke 18 when He said,
9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 NIV)
“ Thank you Lord that I am not like those Gentiles, those thieves and thugs, those hoodlums and hooligans, who are an embarrassment to society.” If we cling to the cross alone rather than the precepts and principles of self-justification then we lump ourselves into the same category as the most heinous and vile sinners in human history. The ground is level at the foot of the cross my friends. There are no luxury boxes for the Mother Theresas, Billy Grahams, or Martin Luther King Jr.’s of the world. There are no cheap seats at the foot of the cross—all seats come at the same price, a price that was paid by the sinless Son of God.
In verse 13 we see another flaw in the character of the false teachers who were trying to lure the faithful from the foot of the cross. Not only were they prideful and cowardly, but they were also hypocrites. Paul writes, 13Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your flesh. (Galatians 6:13 NIV) The false teachers don’t practice what they preach. They hold up a high standard, they shine the light of righteousness on the sins of others, yet they choose the course of least resistance and lurk about in the shadows of self-righteousness.
The Judaizers were worshipping at the shrine of self; self-effort, self-righteousness, and self-justification. Paul wanted the folks in the church at Galatia to know that things weren’t as they appeared. Before Paul ever exposed the hypocrisy of the Judaizers, Jesus turned the spotlight on the Pharisees and the teachers of the law in His own day. In Matthew 23, gentle-Jesus-meek-and-mild spoke with fury in His voice because of what the Pharisees were doing to the people. Let me share some of the passages in which Jesus points out the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach…5“Everything they do is done for men to see:…13“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to…15“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are…25“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean…27“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. 28In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23:1-3; 5; 13; 15; 25-28 NIV)
Things never have been as they have appeared. Hypocrisy is rampant in our day, just as it was in the days of the Apostle Paul and Jesus. In stark contrast to the Judaizers, Paul stands as the genuine article. Not as a perfect man, or a paragon of virtue, but as a sinner saved by grace. This is why he writes in verse 14,
14May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 NIV)
Let the self-righteous glory in their outward show for the masses, but we will glory in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The word, “boast” in Greek means, “to glory or praise.” It is not “boasting” as we think about bragging or boasting today. Paul will glory in the shame of the cross. That which is a shame and an embarrassment to so many in our society was Paul’s glory and the object of His praise.
Paul says that the world has been crucified to him and that he has been crucified to the world. What does he mean by this? You ask such great questions. The “world,” written about by Paul, is not the physical world full of plants, trees, animals, flowing rivers, and galaxies beyond our reach, but it is the world’s system. Paul is writing about the ways of the world, the fruit of the flesh, the manners and customs of those who live to please themselves and justify themselves. Paul is dead to that kind of thinking, that kind of living, that type of religion. It is not that they have no influence on Paul any longer, but they have lost their power to hold him captive as they once did.
Paul had traveled that road. Paul knew what it was like to work hard so that he could feel good about himself. Paul had poured himself into religion and he had moved to the head of the class. Yet, Paul writes to the Church in Philippi and says,
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. 7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. (Philippians 3:4b-8 NIV)
Paul considered everything he had ever done that he could pride himself in as nothing. Paul considered everything he had ever accomplished as nothing. It is not that what he had done was nothing, but in comparison to knowing Jesus—it was all junk, worthless junk.
This past week I was watching an interview with Mel Gibson as he was talking to Diane Sawyer on ABC’s 20/20. Diane was talking about Mel’s life 13 years ago as he was experiencing tremendous success, but felt so empty inside. Mr. Gibson said,
Let’s face it. I’ve been to the pinnacle of what secular utopia has to offer. Everything. I’ve got money, fame, this, that, and the other. And it’s all been like –here, there you go. And when I was younger I got my proboscis out and I dipped it into the fount and I sucked it up. It didn’t matter. There wasn’t enough. It wasn’t good enough. It’s not good enough. It leaves you empty. The more you eat the emptier you get.
We need to consider Mel Gibson’s words. “The more you eat the emptier you get.” The more righteous you become in your own eyes the less godly you will truly be. The more you work at trying to convince yourself that you are a success the more of a failure you will become. The more you work at providing your own justification for your sins the less you will know God’s true provision for your sins.
We are in this world, but not of this world. For those who have accepted Jesus as Lord of their life, they have been crucified to the world’s ways. Christ lives in us. He is our hope. Our hope is not in our success, the mark that we leave on society, the number of commendations we receive from the company, or our financial statement—our hope is in Christ and Christ alone. This message is foolish to many in our society. Let me clue you in—it has always been foolishness to society. The Apostle Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 1:18.
18For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV)
Why is this message so reviled? Why is the cross still an object of ridicule and scorn? Why is Jesus more controversial than Janet Jackson or Justin Timberlake? The answer to that question is quite simple. Jesus’ message is that our justification and salvation are all of God. Salvation is of God. No person has ever been justified because of what they have done. No person has ever come to experience the joy of salvation because of who they are or what they have accomplished. Salvation is reserved for those who know they have a debt to be paid and yet they are bankrupt! Salvation is reserved for those who know there is a life to be lived and yet they know they are dead. Paul wrote to the Colossians and said,
13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the . 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Colossians 2:13-15 NIV)
We were dead in our sins and yet God has made us alive in Christ. I don’t know where you have come from this morning. I don’t know if you’ve molded your identity in what you have accomplished so far in life. I don’t know if your identity is in the fact that you have powerful friends in the community. I don’t know if you take great pride in the fact that people know you as a “holy roller,” “church goer,” or “Jesus freak.” Whatever it is that puffs out your chest and makes you feel better than the guy next door, I want to urge you this morning to turn away from pride, lay down your trophies, and come to the cross. Those around you may not see any value in that grisly, gruesome cross or the bloodied One who hung there, but this morning you have the opportunity to come to the Savior who died for your sins.
In the National Gallery of Art in London there’s a picture of the crucifixion that is so dark that when you first look at it, you can’t see anything. If you will stay put and look deep into the picture, eventually you will see in the darkness a very dim figure of the crucified Christ. His head is hanging low. His body is blood red. There are marks, scourge marks running in every direction across His back. His forehead is bloody and smeared with dirt from the falls He had taken on His way to the hill of suffering.
If you can bear to look longer and not allow your attention to be diverted, you then begin to see behind the figure of Christ the presence of God the Father, whose hands are holding up his Son. On the Father’s face is a look of unimaginable grief. This is the way of the cross. Nothing appealing, but life giving. Nothing pretty, but oh so powerful. No glistening jewels or glittering gold, just a heart of love. I pray that today you will allow the Savior to come in.