“May 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
Galatians is probably the first letter, which we still have, that Paul wrote and was written to try and correct the problem of adding to the gospel. It seems that a group of agitators had arrived in Galatia and started belittling Paul’s gospel. They admitted that people were saved by grace, they believed in Jesus, they considered themselves Christians, but they believed that there was more to the Gospel than “mere” grace. To be a real Christian the Galatians had to keep the law and through the rite of circumcision they would enter into the family of God. In other words, these agitators (false teachers) believed that salvation was a combination of grace and works.
Many years ago I remember being at a meeting in a church where there was a picture of a man sitting in a boat with two oars. Written on one oar were works and the other faith. The idea, I was told, was that if you only had one oar you would go around in circles and never get anywhere so you needed both to move ahead. That may well be true of a rowboat but it is not true of the gospel.
Before I go any further in this post let me be clear I do not believe in “believe and do what you want” philosophy of religion. We have been set free from the domination and condemnation of law (Torah) keeping to become servants of Christ. We now follow the law of Christ which is love manifested through the fruit of the Spirit and demonstrated through carrying each other’s burdens. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2 the law always demands, “you do,” while grace always reminds us “God did.” Let’s never mix them up.
Remember, Paul had been a Pharisee of Pharisee’s. He was so content in his Judaism that he even hunted down and persecuted Christians wherever he could find them. Then on the Damascus road he encountered the risen Christ and everything changed. He was born again, a new creature in Christ. He realized that everything he had taught, believed and lived for was a lie. Instead of doing the work of God he was actually fighting against God. He had made his life about knowing God through study, Temple rituals, and observance of the laws prescribed to him through the Scriptures. However, he never knew God as a personal until the day he encountered the revelation of Jesus on that road.
So, what changed Paul from Pharisee to the author of Galatians—the risen Christ? I don’t think he could ever be clearer than in these verses,
4 “You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
5 For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.
6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Galatians 5:4-6
Earlier he said (5:3) that if you want to be justified by the law then you need to keep all the law. Well, that’s a non-started since Romans 3:11-12 (quoting Psalm 14) makes it very clear that none of us “does good, not one.” Paul makes it crystal clear that the road to redemption is forever closed to anyone who wishes to add works to Jesus’ saving grace. He says those folks, “are alienated from Christ,” and have “fallen away from grace.” No one wants to say it but the truth is, anyone who claims works along with grace is lost. I don’t know how else to read verse four. If you have fallen away from grace and are severed from Christ where do you go for salvation? Nowhere!
Let’s look at Galatians 3:1-6 to put this all in perspective:
1 “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.
2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard?
3 Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?
4 Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain?
5 So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard?
6 So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Paul, starts out by saying how have you let Satan put the evil eye on you (bewitched)? You came to know Jesus through the Spirit and God manifested Himself to you through the miracles and wonders of the Spirit working in and amongst you. He goes on to say that having begun with the Spirit and received the blessings of the Spirit, grace, peace, mercy, and eternal life why would you grasp on to “works of the law”? They can’t add anything to your status as redeemed sons and daughters of God.
He makes it clear that by faith and believing in the gospel that Paul preached they have all they need. He then clinches his argument by stating Abraham, “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” We need to remember that for the Jews Abraham was saved by obedience. They taught that it was his response to being called out of Ur and later his willingness to sacrifice Isaac that gave him righteous standing before God. Most of all, however, they believed that it was his circumcision that made him righteous in God’s sight. Paul, on the other hand, goes back and shows that Abraham was declared righteous long before circumcision and any of the promises were fulfilled to him. Genesis 12, 15.
I have so much more to say on all this but the post is becoming long so I need to bring it to a close. Many people today are like the Galatians; they start out believing grace saves them but that their daily lives are judged by works. I can’t tell you how many people have argued, “If what you’re saying is true then I can go out and rape and murder?” Is that really on their hearts that if law did not restrain them they would do those things? The gospel has to be much more than that.
When we become followers of Jesus we are empowered by the Holy Spirit and the Spirit guides us all the days of our lives. Paul tells us in Galatians “to walk by the Spirit,” and “be led by the Spirit,” (5:16 & 18). Our justification and our sanctification are in Christ and neither involves the law being added to grace. We are saved by the cross alone and nothing can be added if we wish to live according to the gospel.
Once again, let me end by saying our lives will reflect Jesus through love and the fruit of the Spirit that streams forth from us (not always as it should unfortunately); not by striving to live up to laws that we can never keep and are there to show us our need of Jesus.
Yes, Paul could only boast in the cross because there is nothing else!