Galatians 6:14-16

Galatians 6:14-16


14 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. 15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. 16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.


I would like to begin my sermon this morning by saying a bad word, an obscene word.  Or, to be more precise, by saying a word that used to be considered obscene two-thousand years ago.  The word has had an interesting journey for reasons we will discuss today, but, make no mistake about it, the word I am going to share with you today was once considered profoundly obscene and profane.

Two millennia ago, in Greece, Rome and the civilized world at that time, this word was largely off limits. It was taboo, obscene, profane.  This word was largely avoided as something beneath the dignity of cultured people.  People knew it happened, of course, the act that this word signified.  It happened not infrequently.  But it was a kind of open secret.  In fact, from the 3rd century onward, the word that rested at the center of this one act was actually used as a vulgar word, a profane word.  History often puts the word on the lips of slaves and prostitutes from that time, but virtually never on the lips of cultured, respectable people.  It was too scandalous to be on the lips of respectable people.  The Roman Varro said that even the sound of this word was too unpleasant for ears to hear.  Martin Hengel said that, to ancient people, this word was “utterly offensive” and “obscene.”[1]  In fact, most writers considered the subject that this word spoke of as so distasteful that they almost never mention it.

The Romans and Greeks practiced this act, but in their writings they referred to the act itself as shameful, infamous, barren, criminal and terrible.  Josephus, an ancient Jewish historian, referred to this act as “the most wretched” of acts.  Cicero called it “that plague.”  The Stoic philosopher Seneca said that what this word signified could only arise from the basest of human emotions, anger.

The word I’m talking about is the word crux in Latin.  In English, we translate crux as “cross.”  Two thousand years ago, and before that even, the word cross was essentially a swear word, a profane word.  It was profane because crucifixion on a cross was reserved for the worst of criminals.  The ancient jurist Julius Paulus (200 A.D.) wrote the Sententia.  In it, he listed the worst punishments for the worst crimes.  The crux (cross) is listed as the summa supplicia.  It sits above crematio (burning) anddecollation (decapitation) in Paulus’ list.

The early Roman opponents of Christianity were shocked and outraged that this new group, the Christians, would present their Lord as having been crucified.  In fact, they considered the Christian focus on the cross as a sign of madness, what Pliny the Younger called amentia, or a mental disorder.  Minucius Felix had one of his literary characters refer to the “sick delusions” of the Christians.  He called Christianity a “senseless and crazy superstition” leading to “old-womanly superstition.”  His main complaint was the fact that Christians dared to worship somebody who had been crucified.  He said:

To say that [the Christians’] ceremonies centre on a man put to death for his crime and on the fatal wood of the cross is to assign to these abandoned wretches sanctuaries which are appropriate to them and the kind of worship they deserve.

In ancient oracle of Apollo, a man complains that his wife has become a Christian.  He is told:

Let her continue as she pleases, persisting in her vain delusions, and lamenting in song a god who died in delusions, who was condemned by judges whose verdict was just, and executed in the prime of life by the worst of deaths, a death bound with iron.

The ancient parody De Morte Peregrini calls Christians “poor devils” for believing in a crucified God. Some early anti-Christian graffiti from the Palatine shows a crucified man with a donkey’s head and the words, “Alexamenos worships his god.”


I want you to see this morning how utterly abhorrent the idea of worshipping anybody who had hung on the cursed tree of the cross was to the ancient world.  In truth, it is abhorrent to the world today as well. But more than that, I want you to see how those who knew Jesus, those who walked with Jesus, those who, like Paul, had had an encounter with Jesus came to see in this despised word a thought so beautiful, so unbelievable and so shockingly hopeful that their lives were altered forever.

I. The cross redefines our understanding of ourselves and our abilities. (v.14a)

We are considering today the Apostle Paul’s conclusion to his great letter to the Galatians.  He starts his conclusion in a jarring manner.

14a But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ

“But far be it from me…” Paul writes.  John MacArthur notes that “far be it from me” (or “may it never be”) “translates me genoito, a strong negative that carries the idea of virtual impossibility.”[2]  In other words, it is impossible in Paul’s mind for him to boast about anything other than the cross.

Keeping in mind how obscene this word was to the ancient world, can you imagine how flabbergasting this statement must have sounded to the people of that time?  The great Roman Cicero wrote that the very word “cross” “should be far removed not only from the person of a Roman citizen but from his thoughts, his eyes and his ears,” and here is Paul proclaiming that this word is his greatest boast and his greatest hope!

We must try to get how shocking this idea was!  In the mid-20th century, the Southern Baptist minister Clarence Jordan tried to reclaim this sense of shock for Southern Christians in the 1950s and 60s.  He did this by paraphrasing the verse in his famous Cotton Patch Gospels in this way:  “God forbid that I should ever take pride in anything, except in the lynching of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[3]

At that time, with the great racial upheavals in the South, that was Jordan’s best shot at getting people to understand how unexpected Paul’s boasting in the cross was.  It is hard to think of a parallel in our culture.  The cross, for us, has been domesticated.  We frankly have to work to find the cross offensive. We grew up looking at the cross, singing about the cross and thanking God for the cross.

But the cross was a bloody scene of execution in the ancient world.  It was not a piece of jewelry and it was not on any 100% cotton t-shirts.  It was not pretty, ornate, decorated or stylish.  Musicians did not wear it and athletes did not have it on gold chains.

The idea of the cross as something beautiful would never have been imagined in the ancient world.  To them, it was a brutal, barbaric, but necessary act reserved only for the worst of the worst.

And here we find Paul, in the midst of that same culture, writing “far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

His boasting in the cross was amazing enough, but notice the beginning of the verse:  he proclaims that he will boast in nothing but.  Meaning, the cross of Jesus has now become more important to Paul than his own sense of self, his own accomplishments and his own abilities.

The cross, in other words, changed Paul’s view of Paul.  Why?  Because Paul knew that his greatest efforts could only accomplish the sins for which Christ died on the cross.  Paul knew that, at his peak, he was an enemy of God and blind to the things of God.  Paul had seen himself at what the world would have called “Paul’s best” and he knew that his best was nothing but a sham and a shame.

Church, the cross is where we see ourselves for who we really are.  This is why the cross remains repellant to many people today.  People who want to boast in themselves hate the cross, for the cross calls for us to see our own sins and weaknesses and failings.  The cross demands humility and surrender.

For those who are willing to surrender, however, the cross is our greatest boast and our greatest hope. The way of the cross leads home for the way of the cross leads us from the death of our own rebel souls.  The cross and the resurrection leads us to God through Christ.  The cross redefines us.

Carl F.H. Henry said, “How can anybody be arrogant who stands beside the cross.”  Indeed!  How indeed!

II. The cross establishes a life-giving disconnect between the believer and the world. (v.14b)

Paul then says something even more shocking and enigmatic.  He says:

14b 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.

Some commentators have noted the fact that, biblically, the cross speaks of three crucifixions:  the crucifixion of Jesus, the crucifixion of the world to the believer and the crucifixion of the believer to the world.  Of course, there is only one cross, one crucifixion that matters:  the cross of Jesus.  But what Paul is doing in the latter half of Galatians 6:14 is unpacking the deep and profound implications of Christ’s cross:  “by which the world has been crucified to me, and the I to the world.”

First, in the cross of Jesus, the world has been crucified to us.  Paul is using the word “world” here to refer to the fallen, anti-Christ, rebellious, wicked world order:  its assumptions, its values, its arrogance, its love of evil.  This world does not own us anymore.  It does not control us.  It does not define us.  It does not give us our marching orders.  It does not tell us how we will live.  The world no longer has us in its grasp.

When Christ died on the cross and rose from the grave, the power of sin, death, hell and the world was shattered.  We still live in it and we still battle against it, but we have been given victory over it.

Furthermore, Paul says that he has been crucified to the world.  This communicates a posture of basic hostility between the church of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fallen world order and system.  To the world, Paul is now insane, deluded, foolish and weak.  The world that once respected Paul now think he has lost it and has been duped.  The world now hates Paul’s values, Paul’s new sense of right and wrong, Paul’s devotion to this crucified Jesus.

In his usually subtle way, Martin Luther comments on this verse and says:

“Paul regards the world as damned, and the world regards him as damned.  He abhors all the doctrine, righteousness, and acts of the world as the poison of the devil.  The world detests Paul’s doctrine and acts and regards him as a seditious, pernicious, pestilent fellow and a heretic.  The world’s judgment concerning religion and righteousness before God and the devil are contrary to one another.  God is crucified to the devil, and the devil to God; God condemns the doctrine and acts of the devil (1 John 3:8), and the devil condemns and overthrows the Word and acts of God, for he is a murderer and the father of lies.  So the world condemns the doctrine and life of godly people, calling them pernicious heretics and troubleers of the public peace.  And faithful people call the world the son of the devil, following its father’s steps as a murderer and liar.”[4]

What this means is the cross establishes a life-giving disconnect between the believer and the world. This disconnect can be temporarily difficult, for it means we now live in a world that does not and cannot understand us.  But it is a life-giving disconnect in that it frees us from a world system that, if it had its way, would drag us to hell with it.

Friends, some of you have experienced this disconnect.  You have received opposition in your workplaces or in your homes or, Heaven forbid, even in your churches when you have tried to follow and love Jesus. Some of you have felt the sting of the world’s reproach when you have stood up for what God’s Word calls the truth.  Some of you have paid prices for refusing to abandon the way of Jesus in how you conduct your business, in how you stand for the truth, in how your live as a spouse or as a parent or as a friend.

Please remember that Paul said the world had been crucified to him and him to the world.  This is not a call for abandonment of the world.  We must love those in the world and plead with them to come to Christ, but recognize that the cross of Jesus affects a disconnect that it will be observable, palpable and real when you seek to walk in the ways of the Lord.

III. The cross is the means by which we come into a new way of living. (v.15)

Yes, the cross changed everything for Paul, as he next reveals:

15 For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.

The cross affects a new creation.  This is where we cannot speak of the cross without remembering the resurrection.  The two great events go hand in hand.  Because Paul had died to self and embraced the cross and because Paul was so enraptured by the beauty of Christ crucified and risen again that he could boast in nothing else and because Paul’s immersion in the ways of the world had been severed on the cross, Paul was not able to become a new creation in the midst of the renewal of creation itself.  Jesus was making all things new, including Paul!

New Testament scholar Leon Morris notes concerning this verse that “[Paul’s] acceptance of the crucified Christ was not simply an interesting episode:  it was a death to a whole way of life and a rising to a new mode of existence.”[5]  It was a new way of living life.  The only thing that “counts for anything,” to Paul, is “new creation.”  He must now become a new creation in Christ.

In another of his letters, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:

17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

He understood what we must understand, that Christ came to replant Eden, to redeem us from the curse, to win the battle!  Our brother John put it prophetically like this in Revelation 21:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” 5 And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

Can you say what Paul has said!  Can you say, “The things that used to matter to me do not matter anymore.  The bigger paycheck does not mean what it used to mean, because of the cross of Jesus.  The perfect job does not mean what it used to mean, because of the cross of Jesus.  Fame does not mean what it used to mean.  The desire to be the best does not mean what it used to mean.  The need for more does not mean what it used to mean.  The frantic search for pleasure does not mean what it used to mean.  The need to be adored, the need to be feared, the need to be respected, the need to be successful, the need to be popular, the need to have it all…none of that matters now to me, all because of the cross of Jesus.  All that matters to me now is becoming a new creation in Christ and being useful in God’s great work of bringing new creation into all things!”

In 1707, the great hymn writer Isaac Watts wrote a hymn expressing the truth of our text this morning. This hymn has been rightly adored throughout the ages.  Charles Wesley, another great hymn writer, said that he would gladly give up all the hymns that he wrote if he could only have written this one.  Hear Isaac Watts’ hymn:

When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride.


Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood.


See from His head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?


His dying crimson, like a robe,

Spreads o’er His body on the tree;

Then I am dead to all the globe,

And all the globe is dead to me.


Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

IV. The cross is an invitation to a life in which God pours His peace and mercy upon us. (v.16)

Paul reveled in the cross.  But the cross, to Paul, was not stuck in time.  Oh, it was a one-time event, an event that, by its nature, could never be repeated.  Yet it was a living, daily reality, not a stagnant, historical truth.  He reveals this in the next verse.

16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

Paul speaks here of the life-altering reality of the cross as a “rule.”  Craig Keener notes that “Jewish teachers described their moral laws derived from the Old Testament law as halakah, which literally means, ‘walking’…Paul blesses those who ‘walk by this rule’ (NASB) as opposed to the ‘rule’ of Jewishhalakah.”[6]

We must remember that, in Galatians, Paul is concerned with freeing the believers in Christ from the legalist rules of the Judaizers who were saying that you must have “Jesus plus”:  Jesus+circumcision, Jesus+kosher, Jesus+following the customs.  In calling the way of the cross a “rule” he is contrasting it with the burdensome “rules” of the false teachers.  As if to say, “If you demand rules of the people of God, let our rule be this:  the rule of the cross, the rule of the crucified and risen Jesus!”

Christ is our halakah, our rule!

Notice that the cross is an invitation to a way of life, a way in which we are invited to walk.

16 And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

We have come to treat the cross as a bank of salvation that we rob and leave.  We have come to treat the cross as a pantry that we raid for eternal goodies.

But the cross is a way, it is a life.  We walk in it and by it and in the shadow of it.  The result:  “peace and mercy.”

Let us return to the cross as a living reality, an ever-present reminder and motivation.  Let us free it from its status in the religious museum of our own customs.

The way of the cross leads home.  It leads to Jesus.  It leads to life.

Love the cross of Christ.

May the Christ who took the cross change you now and forever.


[1] Martin Hengel. Crucifixion. (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1977), p.22.  The many quotations and references in the opening illustration for this sermon come from Hengel’s tremendous and very helpful work.

[2] John MacArthur, Jr., Galatians. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1987), p.204.

[3] Quoted in Timothy George, Galatians. The New American Commentary. Vol.30 (Nasvhille, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1994), p.436.

[4] Martin Luther, Galatians. The Crossway Classics Commentaries. Eds. Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1998), p.299-300.

[5] Leon Morris, Galatians. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), p.189.

[6] Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), p.534,537.

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