The final and longest post in this series!
The concluding section of the book is about how the influence of the cross spreads outwards until it pervades the whole of Christian faith and life. We cannot do away with the cross in our thinking and living. Stott examines the book of Galatians which is one of the first, if not the first, of Paul’s letters. It contains seven assertions about the death of Jesus, each of which highlights a different facet of it. When put together, they give a comprehensive view of the influence of the cross.
The Pervasive Influence of the Cross
1. The cross and salvation (1:3–5)
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Paul uses this introductory salutation to make a theological statement about the cross.
- The death of Jesus was both voluntary and determined. He “gave himself for our sins”. His self-giving was “according to the will of our God and Father”. The death of the Son was foretold in the Old Testament scriptures, and Jesus embraced the Father’s will of his own accord.
- The death of Jesus was for our sins. In scripture, sin and death are related as cause and effect. Usually, the one who sins is the same one who dies, but not so with Christ.
- The purpose of Jesus’ death was to rescue us. He died to rescue us from “the present evil age” and to secure our transfer into the new age to come.
- The present result of Jesus’ death is grace and peace. Grace is free and unmerited favour; peace is reconciliation with God and with others.
- The eternal result of Jesus’ death is that God will be glorified forever. Grace comes from God; glory is due to God.
2. The cross and repentance (2:19–21)
For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!
What does Paul mean by saying he has “been crucified with Christ”? I’ll let Stott answer that in his own words:
“We need to examine the context. Verses 15-21 are in general about justification, how a righteous God can declare the unrighteous righteous. But in particular they assert that sinners are justified not by the law (referred to 7 times) but by God’s grace through faith. … Why is this? Because the law condemns sin and prescribes death as its penalty. Thus the function of the law is to condemn, not to justify.
“Since the law clamours for my death as a law-breaker, how can I possibly be justified? Only by meeting the law’s requirement and dying the death it demands. If I were to do this myself, however, that would be the finish of me. So God has provided another way. … Being one with Christ, I am able to say ‘I died to the law’ (v. 19). meeting its demands, because ‘I have been crucified with Christ’ and he now lives in me (v.20)
“… It is the old ‘I’ (sinful, rebellious, guilty) which lives no longer. It is the new ‘I’ (justified and free from condemnation) who lives by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.”
3. The cross and preaching (3:1–3)
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Things we learn from this passage:
- Gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross, adding on the resurrection and that Jesus was born of a woman, and under the law
- Gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross visually. The verb Paul uses likens his preaching to s huge canvas painting. The subject of his painting, Christ on the cross, was so vivid that it was like the Galatians had a painting before their very eyes. Similarly, our aim in preaching the gospel is to make people see what we are talking about.
- Gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross visually as a present reality. We should bring the event of the cross out of the past into the present. Almost certainly none of Paul’s readers had witnessed the crucifixion, but his preaching brought it before their eyes that they may see it, and either accept or reject it.
- Gospel-preaching is proclaiming the cross as a visual, present and permanent reality. The cross was a historical event, but it has validity, power and benefits that are permanent.
- Gospel-preaching proclaims the cross also as the object of personal faith. Paul’s purpose in proclaiming Christ was that those hearing would put their trust in him as their Saviour.
4. The cross and substitution (3:10–14)
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith.”The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, “The man who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.”He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.
This passage shows the necessity, the meaning and the consequence of the cross.
- All who rely on the law are under a curse, since no human being has ever continued to do everything the law requires (see Deuteronomy 27:26). Therefore, nobody is justified before God by the law
- Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us.
- Christ did this so that in him the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles by faith. He died not only to redeem us from the curse of God, but also to secure for us the blessing of God. The blessings we enjoy today are due to the curse Christ bore for us on the cross.
5. The cross and persecution (5:11, 6:12)
Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.
Those 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.
Again, I shall let Stott speak for himself:
“To ‘preach circumcision’ is to preach salvation by the law, that is, by human achievement. Such a message removes the offence of the cross, which is that we cannot earn our salvation; it therefore exempts us from persecution.
“To ‘preach the cross’ (as in 3:1) is to preach salvation by God’s grace alone. Such a message is a stumbling-block (1 Cor 1:23) because it is grievously offensive to human pride; it therefore exposes us to persecution.
“… Either we preach that human beings are rebels against God, under his just judgment and (if left to themselves) lost, and that Christ crucified who bore their sin and curse is the only available Saviour. Or we emphasize human potential and human ability, with Christ brought in only to boost them, and with no necessity for the cross except to exhibit God’s love and so inspire us to greater endeavour.”
6. The cross and holiness (5:24)
Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.
“It is essential to see this text … in its context. Paul in Galatians 5 is concerned with the meaning of moral freedom. He declares that it is not self-indulgence but self-control, not serving ourselves but serving others in love (v 13). Behind this alternative is the inner conflict of which all Christian people are conscious. The apostle calls the protagonists ‘the flesh’ (our fallen nature with which we are born) and ‘the Spirit’ (the Holy Spirit himslef who indwells us when we are born again). In verses 16–18 he describes the contest between the two, because the desires of the flesh and of the Spirit are contrary to each other.
“… How then can we ensure that the desires of the Spirit predominate over the desires of the flesh? Paul replies that it depends on the attitude which we adopt to each. According to verse 24 we are to ‘crucify’ the flesh, with its evil passion and desires. According to verse 25 we are to ‘live by’ and ‘keep in step with’ the Spirit.”
He goes on to say that we are to be ruthlessly fierce in rejecting our fallen nature together with its desires —crucifixion is a brutal form of execution. Jesus told us to take up our crosses. Paul tells us what to do once we get to the place of execution.
7. The cross and boasting (6:14)
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.
Paul was obsessed with Christ and the cross. What does it mean to boast in the cross?
- to boast in the cross is to see it as the way of acceptance with God. The cross excludes all boasting of our own merits (see Romans 3:27)
- to boast in the cross is to see it as the pattern of our self-denial. On the same cross which Christ was crucified, the world and the flesh are crucifed too.
Having looked at the assertions in chronological order, here they are in theological order:
- the cross is the ground for our justification (1:4, 3:13)
- the cross is the means of our sanctification (2:20, 5:24, 6:14)
- the cross is the subject of our witness (3:1, 5:11, 6:12)
- the cross is the object of our boasting (6:14)
♥ The end ♥