Bible Passage: Galatians 6:11-18
Paul finishes Galatians by returning to the issue that has preoccupied him throughout the letter: his appeal to the believers in Galatia not to give in to the pressure being put on them to add circumcision to the gospel. He hits the question of motive, and particularly the idea that for the false teachers, persuading the Galatians to be circumcised would be a reason to boast in fleshly achievement, whereas the only thing that true boasting should be based on is the cross of Christ. This is a great sermon to sum up the whole of the argument of Galatians and call people one more time to refrain from adding to the gospel and focus only on the cross.
Do Not Boast In the Flesh: Having signed off the letter with his own hand (and commenting on his large handwriting), Paul addresses one more time those who are trying to compel the Galatians to be circumcised. This time, he highlights their motive, that they ‘want to to make a good showing in the flesh.’ There is a double meaning in Paul’s words here regarding ‘the flesh.’ In one sense it is a cover-all term that speaks to the attempt to attain God’s favour in our own strength. But in another very literal sense it is referring to the circumcision that is literally done in the flesh. In verse 13, Paul is clear that it is the Galatians’ flesh that the false teachers wish to boast in, and that they themselves do not even keep the law.
As with much of Galatians, the direct application of this may seem distant from us, but the indirect application is a very live one. There are many religious accomplishments, spiritual experiences, ministry accomplishments or good deeds that we might be inclined to boast about and put our confidence in, but all of it is hollow and does not hold the weight we put in it. When we look to this for approval before God, we will be ultimately disappointed.
Boast Only In the Cross: Instead of the fleshly things we boast in, there is one place we can look to find a basis for a confident boast before God, and that is in the cross of Christ. In verse 14, Paul expresses his desire to never boast in anything other than the cross, and then goes on to explain how the cross has transformed his relationship with the world: it has now been crucified to him, and him to it. He is saying that because of the cross he no longer needs to pay heed to the worldly system of accomplishment and works, and it has no claim on him. The cross provides complete forgiveness of sin and reconciliation to God (which the law could never do), so the cross is fully worthy of our boasting.
To boast in the cross means keeping the cross front of mind. It is not enough to be theoretically aware of what happened on the cross, but spend most of life ignoring it. If it is truly the only grounds in which we boast then it is important that we devote time and attention to pondering the cross, talking about it, singing about it, thanking God for it and proclaiming it to all who will hear.
Living as a New Creation: In verse 15, Paul shows why the issue of circumcision does not matter in the way the false teachers are suggesting. He claims that both circumcision and uncircumcision are nothing. It is not that one is better than the other, it is that neither have any bearing on the gospel. To insist on either (especially when elevating it to the level of ‘essential for the gospel’) has completely missed the point. Instead, Paul says that a ‘new creation is everything.’ What God is doing is not on the basis of the flesh. Rather he is regenerating Jews and Gentiles alike, forming in them a new creation where their old self has died with Christ and the new self is alive in him. Together, those believers are forming his new ‘Israel of God’, not based on circumcision but on faith.
It is a powerful thing to recognise that what sets apart believers in Jesus is a work of God. That he has worked internally and reformed us into new creations in Christ is something with profound implications for how we live and worship in the world. It is on this point that Paul ends his argument, before signing off with a plea to not be troubled and a closing prayer.
- Ask people to think about what things they are currently boasting in according to the flesh, and to lay these things down before Jesus.
- Suggest people build time into their routine every day to remind themselves about what Jesus has done for them on the cross.
- Invite those who have never before responded to Jesus to put their trust in the cross.