May I Never Boast in Anything but the Cross (Galatians Sermon 25 of 26)
August 10, 2014 | Andrew Davis
This morning I'm going to resume preaching in Galatians. According to my own plans, this will be the second to last sermon that I preach in Galatians. Next week, I'm going to go back over this same ground and preach a more normal expository sermon in Galatians 6:11-18, and that will finish the book, God willing. But this morning I thought it best for us to focus on one verse in particular that's had a tremendous impact on my life over the last two months and more. I want to talk about an experience that I've had, actually two different experiences. One I'm going to talk about right away in the sermon and then I’m going to defer the other to the middle or end of the sermon. These things have made a tremendous impact on me, and both of them relevant to the text you heard Andy read a moment ago. Galatians 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."
I. May I Never Boast In Anything Else
I often go bike riding for exercise, and I take with me my smartphone, which has changed my world. How is it that something can enter your life and then become indispensable to life itself? I don't know how that can work, but it seems that way. At any rate, I was listening to a sermon by John Piper on this text, and it just really, really ministered to me in a very deep, rich, convicting way. It spoke to me in ways that I needed to be spoken to. And I yearn and I've been praying all week to be able to confer that same blessing to you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, but I despair of any natural ability to do it. So I know that only by the Holy Spirit can you be similarly moved, convicted, helped by this kind of sermon. But I'm trusting that this will benefit you. By the time I thought about that, I'd already written the expository sermon that I will preach next week.
The hardest Rubik's Cube for me was which should come first. Should I preach across the text and then zero in, or zero in first and then go back? So I've decided to do this first, and next week, we're going to do little more context work on this verse and try to understand it. But there's a power to taking just one verse sometimes, and just letting it hit you at full impact. And I want to do that today, that's my desire. "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Piper was preaching at that point in a series of four sermons at Bethlehem Baptist in Minneapolis. The sermon series was entitled "Education for Exaltation." I talked to John about it. It was a fundraiser for their new sanctuary where they worship now. And so this exaltation is another way of understanding the word "boasting," or exalting in something, boasting in something. And so Piper had planned out four sermons on this boasting and this exaltation theme. And this was the third of four. He'd already preached on boasting in God, and then I think boasting in Christ, and then boasting in the cross. But then when he got to this and just started to do the work for that sermon, he realized, at least he felt, that he had made a big mistake, that he didn't fit the scheme at all.
When you look at the verse, it just seems to eliminate all other boasting. So what about those last two sermons we just heard? It's a kind of a jealous exclusive verse, "May I never boast in anything but the cross of my Lord Jesus Christ." May it never be something like that. Paul uses an expression here that's common. If you study Paul, he has these kinds of expressions, and they're translated different ways in different translations. Sometimes, "God forbid," or, "May it never be." It's at a very strong language, like you get in Romans 6, "What then shall we say? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? God forbid," or "May it never be. We died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?" There's a sense of horror, almost. It's just impossible to conceive that this would ever be. Or another verse, 1 Corinthians 6:15, "Do you not know," he says, "that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members with a prostitute? God forbid!" or "may it never be!" It's just like this horror. It's unthinkable. So you bring that to this verse here, and he's saying it's just, "May it never be." "God forbid that I would boast in anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Paul Boasts in Many Other Things
And that's strange because Paul boasts in many other things, actually. It's actually a pretty common theme with Paul. I think he uses the word "boast" sometimes, translated glory, etcetera, exalt. He uses this word more than any other biblical writer probably because Paul himself was a very prideful boaster before he came to Christ. He was very proud of his spiritual resume. It occupied his full attention, and he thought much about it. There are many verses in which Paul boasts in things. Like in Romans 5, he actually does it three times. Romans 5:2, he says, "Through Him [through Christ] we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand, and we boast in the hope of the glory of God." Then the next verse, "Not only so, but we also boast in our sufferings. And because we know that suffering produces perseverance…. And then at the end of that section, in Romans 5:11, he says, "Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation."
1 Corinthians 1:31, he says "Therefore, as it is written, 'Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord." And then 2 Corinthians 12:9, he says, "My grace is sufficient for you." God was saying to him, "For My power is made perfect in weakness, therefore I will boast all the more gladly in my weaknesses so that Christ's power may rest on me." In Romans 15, he boasts on the work that God has done through him in planting churches from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum. So he actually does this a lot. How are we to understand this verse? How are we to understand the vehemence, the exclusivity of this verse, "May I never boast in anything, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ"?
Well, the immediate context we'll get to more next week. I'm not going to do much work on it, but he's talking here in direct contrast with the Judaizers, the false teachers who were afflicting these churches that he had planted. And these Judaizers had come in to Galatia after he left, and they were preaching a false gospel, which is no gospel at all, of Christ's work on the cross plus their works in the law equals salvation. And he's just laying that whole thing in Galatians. He's talking about these Judaizers and their attitude, and what they're trying to avoid and all that. In Verse 13, he says, "Not even those who are circumcised obey the law, yet they want you to be circumcised in order that they may boast about your flesh. May I never boast." That's the context, and we'll talk more about that next time.
But this self-glorying boasting is the enemy of the cross. They're diametrically opposed. They're absolutely set against each other. The spiritual resume building that the arrogant human heart does when confronted with its own sinfulness. Very few will say, "I'm not sinful," we acknowledge, but what the normal reaction is, "Yes, but I do these things. Yes, I committed adultery, I committed murder, but I'm basically a good person. I gave $10,000 last year to the homeless shelter." That's the mentality. You're going to run into this again and again. The more active you are on evangelism, you're going to see this attitude again and again. It's not rare. "I try to treat people well. I try to treat people the way I want to be treated... " All of this.
It's amazing how they quote a jumbled version of the law, and they think they meet it, but there's this resume building, this arrogant, independent human heart which seeks to save itself by good works. And when it's achieved, it will stand up on the winner's podium of life with the gold medal of final success around its neck, and say, "How do you like me now?" And let me tell you something, God doesn't want to listen to that for all eternity. And so He has, from before the foundation of the world, established a salvation that will deeply humble us and prevent us from boasting in ourselves. And every step of that salvation, from predestination right straight through justification by faith, sanctification by a cooperation between us and the Holy Spirit, glorification by no cooperation at all, all of it humbles us.
We can talk about that another time. We live in a world full of boasters. We're surrounded by it, and we have that affliction ourselves. So confident in our achievement, so confident in what we can do. If you like sports, it's not long before you are listening to some arrogant boasting. Goes on all the time. I think it must have predated Cassius Clay after he defeated Sonny Liston, but when he just stood and said into the camera, Muhammad Ali, "I am the greatest," and then elaborates on this. Well, it was shocking to some degree. People at least tried to fake humility before that, even though they didn't feel it themselves. But why do that?
I remember when Rickey Henderson, a baseball player, set the all-time record for stolen bases. Slid into third head first, as he did, he knew immediately... He knew where he was in the pecking order, jumps up, rips third base up, and holds it over his head. Then Lou Brock, whose record he had just broken, who was a very humble man, came up and stood next to him, had a microphone set up, and there Rickey Henderson stands next to Lou Brock and says "Today, I am the greatest base stealer of all time," right next to Lou Brock, the former greatest base stealer of all time, I guess. But this is the kind of arrogant boasting we are so accustomed to in our culture. And at the root of it, if you look at it long enough, you understand, it is self-worship. And therefore it is idolatry, and God will not have it.
Paul’s Humble Recognition: The Cross Has Stripped Me Forever of Prideful Boasting
Paul here in this text has given us a glimpse into what the cross has done to him. In reference to this boasting, "The cross has stripped me forever of prideful boasting." Paul, on the road to the Damascus, realized who he was. He finally understood who he was. The cross gives us so much. It enables us to know who God is, and you can look and see the attributes of God. But in some amazing way, it's a mirror, too, and you can see yourself there. If you know what to look for, you can see yourself as you really are, at the cross. And Paul realized, as Jesus appeared to him in heavenly glory, that he had been completely wrong about Christ, dead wrong.
Christ was not a false prophet and a deceiver of the people. Christ Jesus was Almighty God, radiant in splendor in heavenly glory. And Paul, he was able to see, in the light of that, who he was for the first time, to see himself truly as he really was, a dirty, a filthy rebel, a transgressor. The law probed him at that time and for hours and days immediately after that, and exposed his corruptions, his arrogant tendency to boast in his Jewishness, to boast in his zeal and his legalistic pharisaism, to boast in his religious attainments, to boast in his superiority over all the unwashed Gentiles, his superiority over all average Jews who didn't study or work as hard as he did. Actually his superiority over his classmates, first in his class and all that. Superiority over everyone else, all of that, all of that was just so much stinking rubbish. He saw that in the light of the glory of the resurrected Christ. In the light of the cross, he was able to understand that as Jesus appeared to him with eyes of blazing fire and feet of burnished bronze, and he's able to see himself in the light of that heavenly glory for the first time who he really was.
And so blinded by that heavenly light, Paul fasted and prayed and allowed the law to do its final convicting and converting work in him as he really understood it and he knew he was guilty, guilty, guilty, crushed by the law, he was lifted by the gospel. He came to understand the Cross of Christ in a radically new way. And that verse, "Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree," made Jesus' claim to be the Messiah the Savior of the world, had made it seem blasphemous up to that point. How could God's chosen Messiah die under the curse of God? How could He cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Didn't make any sense, it just seemed blasphemous. How could someone who was despised and rejected by the Jewish authorities die such a shameful death on a Roman cross?
Now he realized this Jesus was indeed who He claimed to be, the glorious Son of God. So why was he accursed? Well, he understood that Christ had become our substitute, a curse for us, as we saw in Galatians 3:13, "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.'" Essential to his new understanding of the cross was the proper understanding of himself. I deserve the wrath of God. That's what I deserve.
So, here's the shift. Jesus' claim to be God wasn't blasphemous. Paul's claim to be righteous was blasphemous. That's the shift. They go together. If you understand that Jesus is God and died on the cross under the wrath of God, you understand the cross, you see, "Okay, the real blasphemy is the way I've thought of myself up to this point." And from that moment on he said, "May I never boast in anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Yes, Paul does boast of many things, but he would say, "Any good right holy boasting that I do, would not even be possible for me if it weren't for the cross." Well, why is that, Paul? Well, as we said, he boasts in the hope of the glory of God, he boasts in his sufferings, he boasts in God Himself, he boasts in the Lord, he boasts in his weaknesses, he boasts in the work that God has done through him in planting churches, he does all that boasting, but he would tell you immediately, "Yes, but I wouldn't even be alive, I wouldn't even be here, you wouldn't be able to talk to me if it weren't for the cross of Christ because I would be condemned to hell. I would not have the leisure to do any other boasting." And so the cross of Christ is the doorway through which you can do all these other wonderful boasting, and you will. You will boast in God and boast in Christ and boast in your sufferings and weaknesses, boast in work that God does through you to His glory. You can do all that as Paul does, but first boast in the cross and understand who you are. The cross spoke a constant message of humility to him. "Paul, you would even be alive if it weren't for the cross."
II. Boasting in the Cross
So what does it mean then to boast in the cross? Well, boasting, as we said, is speaking words of exultation, look what was done, look what was achieved, look at the power behind it, look at the works, look at the resume, "This is what I'm presenting to you as worthy of your esteem, think about this," etcetera. All of that, in our pre-Christ state, tends to be focused on us. "Look at me, look at what I've achieved, look at my powers, my abilities." Paul says, "Enough of that. It's a disgusting topic to me. I don't want to think about it, I don't want to talk about it. I want to boast only in what the cross achieved for me in revealing me to be a sinner and what it revealed about God as a savior." So behind all this is understanding what I truly deserve. "What do I truly deserve?" That's what this is. It's a meditation on that.
Now, you've walked with the Lord a long time, many of you. You've faced this question before, and that's what makes this sermon a little bit difficult for me. I don't think I'm telling any of you, who have been veteran Christians, anything new. The meditation on the theme "What Do I Truly Deserve?" But what I'm finding is that it's under-applied in my life. And I see that every time I take some credit for some good thing or forget to thank God for some good thing, etcetera, or even more commonly in my life, complain bitterly about some negative thing that's happening because I don't really deserve that kind of treatment. And so that's what I want to do for the rest of this sermon, is to try to apply this concept in a way I hope that will be as healing for you out of your bad habits as has been healing for me or starts to heal me out of some of my bad habits.
So what are some biblical facts on that question, "What do I truly deserve?" Well, first, I am a sinner. I have violated God's holy law. Secondly, God is just and righteous and holy, and He will punish sin with perfect wrath. The just punishment of sin is eternity in hell." Hell is described very plainly in the Bible. It's called, in Revelation 20-14, "a lake of fire." It's a place of terrifying torment characterized by wailing and gnashing of teeth, a place of utter darkness, a place of tormenting memories and bitter regrets, and it is eternal. It says in Matthew 25:41, "Then the King will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" Eternal fire, that's how Jesus describes it. Revelation 14:11, "The smoke of their torment rises forever and ever." There is no rest day or night for those that are suffering there.
So, the cross tells me I deserve to be there right now. Right now. And so do all of you. And that's the key to understanding, "May I never boast in anything except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ," The gracious relief of our just sentence, the just sentence of God against us is meant to humble us, to strip us of boasting in anything but Christ and Him crucified. And so we're supposed to take this idea and apply it to two main categories, the blessings you have received from God, all of them, and then the hard things or afflictions that God measures out to you as a loving father and uses for your good. This meditation helps in both categories.
Now, Piper, when he preached this sermon at that point, he was preaching two services a day. And he finished preaching the first service, and a young woman came up to him in between the two services and said, "Pastor John, I understand what you're saying. I do, I get it. But honestly, if I'm really honest, I just don't feel that undeserving." He was so tender with her and dealt with her beautifully. But it hit him, he said, "like a ton of bricks." And so in the second service, he paused at that point and said about to Bethlehem, and I'm saying to you FBC, he pleaded, "Please, feel undeserving. Please, let the word of God work on you until you do. Feel it. Feel the weight of it. Feel undeserving."
And then, having felt undeserving and realizing that God has delivered you from the hell that you deserve by the grace of God, you're able to live your life in the way that He wants you to. Now, I understand that this is probably a mixed group, probably Christians here and non-Christians. So, if you're a Christian, you will never experience hell. Isn't that amazing? Think about that. Ponder that. You will never experience hell, but you deserve to. And it's helpful to know that and to meditate on it. You've been rescued by the grace of God through the cross of Christ, but you'll never experience the hell that Jesus went through for you. You'll never experience that.
Or perhaps you're a non-Christian, and God is presently bearing with great patience your continual rebellion against Him. Now, rebellion comes in different types. You may be just ignoring Him. You may be flaunting yourself in one particular area of your life. You may just not think about these things much and came because someone invited you. It could be all different forms of rebellion, but God is bearing, the Scripture says, "with great patience" and He is pleading with you now as though God Himself were making His appeal through me. He's pleading with you be reconciled to God so that you never experience the condemnation of hell. Pleading with you, but you deserve it, either way you deserve it and you're not there. And either way, the fact that you're sitting here now, in this climate-controlled room on a cushy surface, and you are experiencing this right now, and not hell, And that's because of the cross. It's the only reason, whether you're a Christian or non-Christian, that's why.
How then can we look at our blessings? Well, look at the physical blessings that you have, the air that you're breathing right now. Think just with wide-eyed amazement at the sweet, clean fresh air that you're breathing now compared to a sulfur stink that you could be breathing right now. Think about the sights that you generally see in your life across a year, let's say, the light, the color, the beauty, the order, a walk through a flowering garden, a trip to the ocean or to the mountains. You're seeing crashing waves with the foam and all that, you're seeing autumn, you're seeing foliage and mountains and valleys and light twinkling on rivers, and all of that, and you've seen that beauty. You've watched the sunset with your friends, you've stood there with your spouse, your kids, your friends, and you've watched that. And you feel the gentle breeze on your face and you feel all of the blessings, and it probably just doesn't occur to you, "I could be, should be, deserve to be in hell right now instead of experiencing this."
What about relationships? You live your lives surrounded by people who love you, care for you, pray for you, laugh with you, cry with you, give you gifts, tell you jokes, care about how you're feeling. Perhaps you have a loving spouse who's put up with your sins and weaknesses for years. Now, you'll be quick to tell me you put up with your spouse too. I tell you what, I actually feel that one of the best applications is meditations in marriage. I really do. Whenever you're tempted to feel... I haven't gotten to the affliction section yet, but whenever you're tempted to feel, "I don't deserve what's coming toward me right now," think about Galatians 6:14. It frees you from the prideful arrogance and makes you humble and enables you to deal well with your spouse at that key moment.
But just think about, "I don't deserve any of my friends, I don't deserve my family, I don't deserve my spouse, I don't deserve to be a member of this church, I don't deserve any of the blessings I encounter." What about food? All of it's pleasure, the various flavors, textures, it's healthfulness, nourishments for body and delight for the tongue. Think about biting into your favorite piece of fruit. It was originally a peach, but I changed it for one person in this room. That person knows who she is. Nectarine, think about that. Take a beautiful, succulent nectarine and you bite into it. Just think about that flavor, and as you're experiencing that, you're saying, "I don't deserve this. I don't deserve this blessing. God has given me this. May I never boast, except in the cross of Christ."
Last night, I put my son to bed, and we were talking and praying. It was pouring rain. And I just was thankful that we get to sleep in a dry, warm, comfortable bed, and I was just grateful. I was thinking about this message, too, and I was saying, "You know... " I didn't say this to him, but just in my mind I was saying, "Instead of being in torment, we're in comfort and protection. And why? Because of the grace of God in Christ." You go through all your spiritual blessings, too, your calling, your election, your justification, sanctification, the Bible, the spiritual gifts, all of that, a river of blessing.
Now, conversely, if you don't think like this, if you think you kinda do deserve all these blessings, if you don't really feel that undeserving, do you realize how eventually you'll be miserable with all of them? They won't satisfy you at all. You'll have a bored, detached, tasteless kind of been there, done that feeling to life. You'll lose your wonder and amazement at God's goodness to you, and you will not be thankful. You'll actually be arrogant. So paradox here is knowing that you should be in hell right now, is the most joy-producing, one the most joy-producing ideas you can ever have. That humbling idea is like, "Wow, I'm alive."
Did you ever see Christmas Carol and Ebenezer Scrooge, and he wakes up and realizes it's all over now and all that, and he tries to live a different life? Now, it's all regeneration without Christ, I get that, but just the exhilaration, knowing, "I'm alive. I'm here. I can live life now. I can live to the glory of God." That's the way a Christian should think. "I'm not in hell. I'm free." I thought this, "I've been rescued from hell to eat this peanut butter sandwich." I don't really like peanut butter that much, but the next time that someone serves me a peanut butter sandwich, because that's all there is for lunch and I eat that, I'm going to say, "Thank you, God." I'm not going to say it to my hostess or host, "I've been rescued from hell to eat this fish." That's about what it would take in that case.
It's also powerful, this meditation is powerful when it comes to our afflictions. Very powerful. And I'll tell you another experience I had in Washington, DC. I was there, and I know I've shared this with a number of you, but we were at the Holocaust Museum and it's a very sobering place, very sad and sobering place. It's a museum dedicated to the memory of Jews that died in the death camps set up by the Nazis in World War II. And it's very sobering and they do a lot of things to make it real to you so you understand what that was like. At the end, it was really just a simple diorama, this diorama of Auschwitz. And it was all one color, like a taupe color, and it was just a scale model. And I just looked down there, and for the first time in my life, I had this thought, as I looked down. I looked at this model of Auschwitz and its prisoners there in that terrible, terrible place, and the thought occurred to me, "It is possible to go from Auschwitz to hell." I'm not saying everyone who died there went to hell, I'm not saying that. I'm just saying that just because you died there doesn't mean you're going to heaven.
And then I kept thinking, I said, "I wonder if anyone who did die from Auschwitz and went to hell, if it were possible, contrary to the parable that Jesus told in Luke 16, remember, rich man and Lazarus, and the rich man's in hell in torment and he would like to go back and warn his brothers but he can't go? Suppose it were possible for someone to make the return trip. Suppose an angel came down and said, "I'm going to let you go back to Auschwitz for a day," how many people languishing in hell would refuse the journey? Zero. None. So what that means is the more you think about that, there is no earthly circumstance that even compares with the torments of hell. None. So that means we have the power, as Christians, to have a kind of joy that non-Christians can't even conceive of in the midst of the most dire circumstances.
Now, I applied this, some would say in an unfair way, to one of my kids recently. The individual was having a hard time with a chore that was a rather distasteful chore, it had to do with cleaning a bathroom. And so I was meditating on these themes. That poor person… being one of my kids. I said, "If you were languishing in hell and you could get out for half an hour to clean a bathroom, would you do it?" Now, John Piper said that was really unfair and mean, but then he tweeted it two days later. So I guess he liked it in the end… quoted me, "Not mine, but somebody I know said this." It's like pastor abuse of kids. I wasn't trying to abuse. I was trying to help, really trying to help. And I thought after the half hour, your 28 minutes, the bathrooms almost cleaned, really all joking aside, can you imagine that individual pleading, "Is there another bathroom I can clean somewhere? It doesn't matter where it is or how bad it is."
You see how it changes your perspective? It's like, "Wow, there is nothing I go through on Earth that even remotely compares with that, and Jesus has delivered me from that." And not only that, the Bible teaches that all of the afflictions that we experience in life were given us for our blessing and our benefit, for our good. And so we are rich with the love and grace of God. Picture yourself as though you were some homeless person in some gutter somewhere and Jesus, the only begotten Son of the Lord of Glory, of the Emperor of the Universe, comes and finds you, takes you out of the gutter and then takes you shopping. And brings you to this incredible boutique, and he's just putting in the cart all of these expensive things, $650 coat and $200 pants and $450 shoes. And you're like, "But it's so expensive," and he's saying "I'll pay for it. I'll pay for it. I'll pay for it. You just add, I'll pay for it in blood."
So it's every blessing you experience in your life is blood bought at the cross. And every affliction that God has wisely measured out for you, to sanctify you and help you, is blood bought. It's very expensive, and it's all paid for by your elder brother, by the only begotten Son of God. You are rich. So FBC, may you never boast in anything except in the cross of Jesus Christ. Close with me in prayer.
Father, we thank you for this meditation. There's so much more to say, but I want to stop here. And I pray that you would enable us, oh Lord, to understand these truths. Next week, God willing, we'll have a chance to see them in their settings, but just free us up from this arrogant boasting in ourselves and our achievements and accomplishments. And free us up from the corollary complaining and negativity that comes when we're afflicted beyond what we think we deserve. God, free us up, help us to see that in the cross is the true measure of what we were and what we deserved apart from Christ, and that Jesus has paid it all by His blood. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.