Paul reaches the end of the letter. He has argued against the false gospel of the legalists and their insistence on following the Law for salvation. He has warned believers not to overreact to the false gospel by pursuing the deeds of the flesh. He has advocated for righteous living through walking by the Spirit. He has made it very clear that the way of the believer is not through the Law but through Christ – that the Christian is justified before God because of Christ and lives through His Spirit. He now ends by focusing on the basis for all he has said – the cross. The cross is why the legalists are wrong. The cross is why walking by the Spirit is possible. The cross is why we are not slaves to the Law or to sin. The cross is the epicenter of our faith and basis for our lives. It is all about the cross.
This text begins with a final rebuke of the false teachers and ends with a prayer for the saints. Paul dismisses the false teachers one last time by exposing their motives and contrasting them with true believers. He explains the basis for the gospel and for Christian living and ends the letter with a personal testimony and benediction. The first and most emotional of Paul’s epistles comes to a close with what he deems most important for his readers to know – their lives mean nothing without the cross and he longs for them to live in the grace of Christ.
Apparently to this point Paul has been using a scribe (amanuensis) but now takes the pen in hand himself to write the conclusion to the letter. He points this out to the Galatians and comments that he writes in large letters. He may say this simply to highlight that his writing differs from the professional style of the scribe. What is more likely, however, is that he wants to emphasize this section and so writes in a way that cannot be missed by his readers. He is getting to the end and so wants to make sure his closing words are remembered.
In these two verses Paul takes his final shots against the false teachers. He again brings up their false doctrine but not for the purpose of refuting it. Instead, he exposes their motives. They want the Galatians to be circumcised and bound to the Law (5:3) not because they are concerned for the Galatians’ salvation, but so the false teachers are accepted by men.
The false teachers are worried about two things – persecution and praise. They do not preach the cross because those who do are persecuted. Paul already pointed this out in 5:11. The stumbling block of the cross is that it assaults the pride of man. Those who preach the cross preach that man is sinful and completely incapable of earning salvation. Consequently, gospel preachers are rejected and persecuted. The false teachers do not want persecution and so preach a man-centered gospel that requires human effort for salvation. Judaism is accepted by Rome so those who preach it are left in peace; to preach Christianity is to risk hardship.
The false teachers also crave the praise of men. They see circumcisions as victories (that they may boast in your flesh). The more men they convince to be circumcised the more esteem they have among their compatriots. They are not interested in obedience – they do not even keep the Law themselves – they are ultimately interested in acceptance and praise. Their motives are all man-centered and based in pride. Their gospel is not for salvation but for their own benefit. They are the consummate flesh-servers – they preach to further their own interests.
Paul contrasts himself with the false teachers. Instead of boasting in the flesh, Paul boasts only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is hard for us to fully comprehend how radical this sounds. We do not really have a way to equate the cross to anything in our culture. The cross is a horrific instrument of death and is not even discussed openly. The word crux was unmentionable in polite Roman society…even when one was being condemned to death by crucifixion the sentence used an archaic formula which served as a sort of euphemism – “hang him on the unlucky tree” (FF Bruce). For Paul to say he boasts in something this horrific must shock his readers.
What he means is that since the cross is the basis for the gospel – and that without it there would be no good news and no salvation at all – it is the only truth worth boasting in. Far from downplaying or hiding Christ’s crucifixion it is the very thing believers must celebrate. Paul does not boast in himself or in his preaching or its effectiveness. He boasts in the fact that he is a sinner completely incapable of earning salvation whose redemption was purchased for him at the cross. He boasts in the weakness that required Jesus to go to the cross.
Note that he uses the full title for the Son of God – our Lord Jesus Christ. Lord – master, fully God. Jesus – fully man (whose name means “Yahweh saves”). Christ – the Messiah. It was the God-man who died on the cross. It is because He was the perfect Son of God in the flesh that the cross can be celebrated.
The cross is the ultimate symbol of man’s sinfulness and man’s weakness. No pride exists at the cross. No self-righteousness exists at the cross. No one comes to the cross and exalts himself or boasts of his own works. No one claims to save himself at the cross. And Paul says these are the reasons we glory in it. The one who comes to the cross realizes he cannot stand before God and that he is a sinner who deserves the death the cross provides. But he also gloriously finds that he does not have to stand before God alone and does not have to die for his own sins. The blood sprinkled on the mercy seat is not his own. He cannot earn his salvation and does not have to – the perfect Lamb of God dies for him. Thus the symbol of man’s weakness becomes the symbol of man’s ultimate celebration – it is where Another died for him.
This boasting or glorying is what sets us apart from the demons. Remember that James says the demons also believe and shudder (2:19). We do not simply intellectually believe that Christ died on the cross to save the world from its sins. We CELEBRATE it. We BOAST about it. We GLORY in it. We call the day on which He died ‘GOOD Friday.’ We take a day that saw the horrific deaths of three men – and one Man in particular who was brutally beaten and humiliated and made to suffer like no other man in history – and commemorate it with worship and praise for the One who died. We love this day and set it apart as sacred. We BOAST in the cross.
Not only that – but Paul says he boasts ONLY in the cross. Nothing else is worthy of our celebration. This is why Paul later says to the Corinthians – For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (I Cor 2:2). Nothing in life should be seen outside the prism of the gospel. All the joy in our life – from whatever source or event – ultimately is based in Christ because without His work it has no meaning. Our lives are centered on the Savior because of what He did on the cross. As believers we should be able to boil our lives down to one note that we play continually – our Savior died for us.
Think about that. We are sinners under the sentence of God’s wrath. We deserve death – nothing more. We have no ability to stand in the presence of God. We have no hope, no future, no claim on the present and no just desire for existence at all. Every breath we take, every day we live, every possession we have, every person we enjoy – they are undeserved gifts only possible because of the cross. Those who enjoy such things in this life without the cross have mercy for a season, but only store up more wrath for themselves in eternity. NOTHING matters if not for the cross. We live a deceived life of self-absorption waiting for the day we join Satan for an eternity of pain and loneliness and regret if not for the cross.
We are free from the condemnation of the Law because of the cross (Rom 8:1).
We are free from the bondage of sin because of the cross (Rom 6:11)
We can call the Creator of the universe ‘Father’ because of the cross (Matt 6:9).
We can pray through the Spirit because of the cross (Rom 8:26-27).
We can walk with the Spirit because of the cross (Gal 5:16-25).
We can come boldly before the throne of God because of the cross (Heb 4:16).
We are partakers of the divine nature because of the cross (II Pet 1:4).
We will be glorified with Christ because of the cross (I Jn 3:2).
When we boast in the cross we glorify Christ. The cross is where the Son brought ultimate glory to Himself and to the Father. Making much of the cross makes much of Him. We celebrate the cross because of our redemption and His glorification. The point of redemption is the glory of God – our lives are to point to Him and point to the redemption we have because He chose to glorify Himself. We make much of the cross because we know what it means for us but also because it glorifies the One who died there.
In the second half of verse 14 Paul explains the ramifications of Christ’s death on the cross. The cross is the instrument through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world. The cross set me free. Free from sin, free from the Law, and free from the cares and concerns of the world. Nothing matters outside of exalting my Savior. I no longer care about man’s praise or persecution like the false teachers do. My fear of man is gone and I only fear the One who can destroy both body and soul in hell (Matt 10:28).
This is similar to what Paul said in 2:20 – I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me. He also said in 5:24 that those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. I am truly new. The old me – the one who belonged to the world and who loved the world and was attracted to what it offered – died on the cross with Christ. I now belong to Christ and He lives in me. I now live a life in the flesh by faith in the Son of God. The world is dead to me and I am dead to the world.
It is interesting that he says specifically, “…and I to the world.” More than just the world being dead to the believer, the believer is dead to the world. This does not mean the Christian cannot be a contributing member of society. What it likely points to is how the believer is so radically different as to be out of the mainstream. We are different in lifestyle, different in motivation, different in goals – we do not even consider this earth our home. The world sees this and thus does not consider us one of its own. [This of course begs the question – is our lifestyle such that the world sees us as radically different from it?]
They are dead to me, and I to them, neither can they captivate and overcome me, for they are dead once for all, nor can I desire them, for I too am dead to them. – John Chrysostom
Paul reaffirms his message with the statement of verse 15. Circumcision means nothing as far as salvation. A physical sign has nothing to do with redemption. Redemption is about the cross – nothing more. A redeemed disciple of Christ is a new creation. Paul will say this again to the Corinthians – Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (II Cor 5:17). We are new creatures who are not bound by the Law or sin and do not love the world – those things were crucified with Christ. We walk by the Spirit and do not carry out the desires of the flesh (5:16).
This verse is similar to 5:6. There Paul said – For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love. This means the new creation lives a life of faith working through love. This goes right along with 5:14 – we fulfill the Law when we love our neighbor as we love ourselves – and also 6:2 where we learned that we must bear one another’s burdens if we want to fulfill the law of Christ – which is to love one another. It also echoes 2:20 – the life we now live we live by faith in the Son of God.
So we are new creatures who live lives of faith working through love bearing one another’s burdens and glorying in the cross. Any outward sign of this new creation – including circumcision or even baptism – has nothing to do with completing or adding to our status.
Paul blesses the new creations in verse 16. Peace and mercy will be upon those who walk by this rule. The rule is essentially the gospel – nothing more is required for the one who is a new creature in Christ. Circumcision means nothing and uncircumcision means nothing – it is all about Christ on the cross. The Israel of God (meaning God’s people – the church) have peace with God and live under His mercy because they walk by the gospel. [The word them and the phrase the Israel of God refer to the same people – Paul does not mean two different groups.]
Paul gives his final remarks. He says no one should cause trouble for him – no one should doubt his authority to speak for Jesus (as he said he did when he began the letter – 1:1) – because he bears the brand-marks of Jesus. He bears on his body the scars from the persecution he has endured as a minister of the gospel. Unlike the false teachers, he has boldly preached the gospel and suffered the consequences (see II Cor 11:23-25, Acts 14:19). These scars are like the brands a master puts on his slaves. Paul can show he belongs to Christ because he effectively bears Christ’s brands on his body. These contrast with the meaningless mark of circumcision the false teachers are trying to impose on the Galatians.
He ends with a benediction. He loves the Galatians. As much as he has spoken hard words and as much as he worries about their eternity and hates how they have been taken in by the false teachers (“You foolish Galatians”) – he loves them deeply. He is their spiritual father – he is the one who brought the gospel to them. He worries and scolds and admonishes because he loves them. And he knows there is still hope for them and they are still his brothers. As such he ends with these words – “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” This brings the letter full circle – back to his greeting in 1:3. Our lives are all about the grace of Christ. The Galatians are his brothers saved by grace because of the work of Christ. Amen.
None of us will be saved because we are perfect or because anything we do earns God’s approval. The peace of God and the mercy of God are free gifts purchased on Calvary for all who walk by this rule—the rule of Christ-exaltation, not self-exaltation. Right standing with God is not merited by works. It is given freely to those who glory in the work of Christ on the cross. Therefore, I urge you to come to the cross. And if you are there, I urge you to glory in the cross. Christ crucified is the basis of all our prayers, the assurance of all God’s love, the certainty of full forgiveness, the ground of all our hope, and the fountain of midnight peace and morning mercies forever and ever. Amen. – John Piper