How could Paul possibly say that he would “boast in the cross of Christ.” Such language must have been shocking. The cross was, after all, an instrument of torture and death. Yet, that is what Paul says. He has no ground on which to boldly stand, except the ground at the foot of the cross. Crucifixion, as gruesome as it was, took on a new light in the life of the Christian. Crucifixion becomes, then, the defining metaphor of the Christian life.
The life of the follower of Jesus involves a necessary element of persecution. That is to say, all those who would follow Jesus must “take up their cross” (Matt. 16:24). It is to be expected that if they persecuted our savior then the world will persecute us too (John 15:20). Here Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians by reiterating and emphasizing this truth. He warns Timothy that it is out of a desire to escape persecution that the Judaizers were attempting to requiring circumcision. So he states:
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (v. 12)
Christianity was, of course, under constant pressure right from the start. There was pressure both from Rome – to conform to its poly-religious worship – and there was pressure from the Jews. The Judaizers believed that if they gave the impression that Christians were not, in fact, that far removed from the practices of Judaism, that perhaps they would not suffer any oppression. The insistence, then, on the practice of circumcision, was purely self-protective. It was an attempt on their part to make the faith less offensive.
We can do this too. We can become embarrassed of our faith, or concerned about our own acceptance, and a s a result we can minimize those elements of the faith that seem offensive or particularly strange. Academic theologians have done this for centuries as the secular culture has become more hostile to the faith. They have “questioned” more things in the Bible, or put unique spins on various texts to make them seem less supernatural. But even at the local church level and the individual level we can do this too. We can deny aspects of our faith or practices. We can minimize certain ideas that seem offensive to contemporary culture. We can even hide our faith. But Paul’s example stands in direct contrast: far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (v. 14a).
The cross matters because it is the only means by which man can be made right with God. All the religious rituals and observances don’t amount to anything apart from that cross. That is why Paul will “boast” in it. He will not be ashamed of the cross because it is the “power of God for salvation” (Rom. 1:16). He boasts because it is the cross that matters! While others would boast in their religious accomplishments, Paul finds only the cross worthy of praise. In fact the cross matters because through it we are made “new creations” (v. 15), and that is something circumcision can never do.
Paul spells out again in this concluding text the similarities between religion and irreligion. “Neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision” (v. 15). It’s not about whether you observe the religious rituals, or whether you avoid the religious rituals. The real issue is whether you have been made new in Christ. The cross matters because it trumps both religious devotion and religious rebellion. It matters because it actually changes lives! If we doubt or downplay the significance of this cross we will never really have “peace and mercy” (v. 16).
Paul concludes by using his own life as further support to the weight of his argument. He bears in his body the “marks of Jesus” (v. 17). This is probably a reference to the literal scars he carries from the tortures, persecutions, and assaults he has experienced for his commitment to following Christ. He speaks with authority, in part, because he speaks with experience. Following this crucified savior will result in persecution, there is no escape from that! But for Paul it is worth it! He will gladly bear all these marks of Jesus (2 Cor. 12:10). He boasts in the cross despite the persecutions because this cross has forever changed his life!
What do you boast in? What is the defining metaphor of your life? We all have one. For some the defining picture of their life is a big home, a successful career, a beautiful spouse, successful children, the perfect weight/health, etc. We have thousands of pictures that define our lives, and when one doesn’t work anymore we trade it in for some other picture. The Christian ought to be defined, however, by the cross of Christ. For it is only in the cross of Christ that we are made right with God, and it is only in that cross that we find peace and mercy.