law of Christ

Glorying In The Cross of Christ

Todd Braye

Glorying in the Cross of Christ

But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. (Galatians 6:14 ESV)

 

Introduction

On his deathbed in October 1851, Dr. Archibald Alexander spoke these words to a friend: “All my theology is reduced to this narrow compass- Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”

This morning, I want to give greater attention to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.  I do so with two aims. I do so to unearth more fully what it means to glory in it. And I do so that everyone is this room would glory in it, even as the apostle does. Paul makes it abundantly clear. Unlike the false brothers he describes for us in the previous two verses, he glories in nothing but the cross of Christ. 

The Cross: The Crux of Paul’s Gospel

The cross, here signifying the redeeming, atoning work of Christ, is the crux of Paul’s doctrine. Of all else that he both preached and pressed, it is, if you like, the spine, the backbone. He made much of it in his preaching. He elevated it to a place of supreme importance and value. He even told the Corinthians that his mission was not to baptize, but to “preach the gospel.” He was to do this “not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross … be emptied of its power” (1 Cor.1: 17). In fact, he determined to know nothing among them “except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:21). That Christ died for our sins in keeping with the Scriptures was and is for Paul a matter of prime and supreme concern. He delivered what was of first importance, what he himself received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in keeping with the Scriptures, that is, the Old Testament (1 Cor. 15:3-4). The apostle states that the cross, the blood of Christ, reconciled to God both Jews and Gentiles, both Israel & non-Israel, both the nation entrusted with the oracles of God and the “lawless,” into one body (Eph. 2:14-16).

Elsewhere, the apostle pleads on behalf of Christ for sinners to be reconciled to God. “For our sake, “ he wrote, “He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).  The cross – the place where the righteousness of God was displayed, where his wrath was absorbed, satisfied for His elect, where Christ suffered one time for all time, once for all, the just for the unjust, the sinless for the sinful, the guiltless for the guilty, the righteous for the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God – is that in which the apostle gloried, exclusively. This is the object in which he boasted, upon which he leaned, in which he trusted. It is the finished work upon which he relied, in which he had absolute, unfailing confidence for acceptance with God, both in the present day and on Judgment Day.

“Where should the guilty, who has lost
Jehovah’s favour by his sin,
Find worth that he may safely trust,
A righteousness to glory in?

“Behold the cross! The blood divine
That there for sinful man was spilt!
Here’s worth enough to glory in,
Enough to cleanse the foulest guilt.

The apostle gloried in the cross because it filled his soul with peace. It overwhelmed his heart with hope. He knew that all his sins were paid for, pardoned, forgiven. God was no longer angry with him. He now stood in grace, not in guilt. He had peace with God! And not on account of his faith, not due to his repentance, not because of his desire to obey the Scriptures, but exclusively and only because of what transpired there on the Tree of Calvary. The Cross – the place where freedom was purchased by One who suffered the death of a slave, ‘the fountain of honour, the height of disgrace,’ emblematic of the punishments reserved for the vilest of criminals guilty of the most unthinkable crimes – reserved for the Son of the Most Holy God by the Father Himself! The Cross – where God shows off to the universe His incomprehensible majesty and splendor and wisdom and justice and … love. Does “love win?” A thousand times “YES!” But the love of the Cross is a divine, sovereign, discriminating, holy, righteous love aimed not at making much of men, but of HIM! Paul knew that! He looked at the cross and he was entranced with “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6). This is the object the apostle gloried in, an offense, a stumbling block, a foolish, even shameful thing to most. But to the apostle, it was worthy of his life, of his reputation, even as a theologian… It was worthy of his life; and it was worth dying for.

The Example Paul Sets for Believers

In this, Paul sets an example for believers. Every Christian is to glory in and make much of the cross of Christ. Indeed, if one claims the name Christian, and does not glory in the cross, his claim is a questionable one at best. Damnable is that notion which passes as gospel truth, which passes saving faith off as a mere nod to the truth. Agreeing with the facts of Christ is no saving agreement. Agreeing with the facts of the cross saves nobody. The faith that saves is none other than a faith that glories in the cross! Do you glory in the cross? Do you boast in the cross, even at personal risk and cost? Indeed, in light of what Paul says, can we say we are Christians at all, if we are not boasting in the cross? Writes one: 

“Indeed, we are not Christians at all, in the true sense of that word, if we are not glorying in the Cross – in the Cross alone – as the ground of our hope. It is to be feared that [many] are deceiving themselves on this all-important point. They say they are depending on Christ; but, in many cases, if they would but ‘examine themselves,’ they would find that they are depending on themselves. They expect pardon and salvation, not solely because Christ … died in the room of the unjust, but entirely, or in part, on the ground on their not being so bad as others, or of their repentance, their reformation, their good intentions, their alms deeds. If they think of the Cross as a ground of reliance at all, it is only something to [fall back on] to [make up for what the other grounds of hope lack.]”

Would there be any professors in this room, sitting with an unexamined heart? Who among us expects salvation on account of anything but the cross? Maybe you expect it because of cross + your repentance, the cross + not being as bad as the next guy, cross + law, or even cross + sorrow over your sins and sinfulness. Is mourning over sin not a good thing? Yes, it is. That’s not at issue here. “Blessed are those who mourn…” The issue here is the ground and cause of salvation. Boasting in anything but the cross alone, including sorrow for sins and obedience for righteousness, both diminishes & dishonors the cross. This is not what Paul means when he says, “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.” If the cross alone is not the grounds of our hope, and if we do not glory in the cross, then we are not Christians. Christ is of no benefit to us. 

To Glory in the Cross

What it means to glory in the cross is therefore a crucial matter. We must know what it means if we are to know if we so glory – or if we are self-deceived. To glory in something is to express a high degree of confidence in it. For Paul to glory in nothing but the cross is for him to say he has no confidence whatsoever in the things of the flesh, his own ability, his own religious performance, the Mosaic Law, even submitting himself to that Law in whole or part, even to direct his steps. To do so would be to fall from grace, severing himself from Christ – for submission to part obligates subjection to the whole.

But this is not all. To glory in the cross means much more than expressing much confidence in it and not the things of the Old Covenant. It means more than not boasting in the shadows of Moses and relying fully on the substance who is Christ. To glory in the cross is to embrace it with the highest degree of esteem. It is to exult in it so that everything else by comparison is considered to be “skubala.” What is ‘skubala?’ ‘Skubala’ is what you don’t step in if you’re a city boy in the farmyard. It’s exactly the word Paul uses in Philippians 3:

“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the real circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh – though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews (All this matters much. It was of tremendous benefit… that is, before Christ came.); as to law, a Pharisee (They didn’t come any better.); as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness, under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as ‘skubala,’ in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him…”   

What is it to glory in the cross the way Paul speaks of it here? To glory in the cross is to exult in it as that which far outweighs all else. It is to esteem it so that whatever else we might have thought to be of saving benefit or necessity, including doing what the Law of Moses commands, is considered to be excrement! Preaching on this very verse, Galatians 6:14, the Rev. John M’Laurin said: 

“… the cross of Christ was an object of which the apostle had the most exalted sentiments, and the most profound veneration (or ‘adoration’); this veneration he took pleasure to avow before the world, and was ready to publish on all occasions. This object so occupied his heart and engrossed his affections, that it left no room for anything else; and, as he telleth us in other places, he counted everything else but loss and dung, and would know nothing else, and was determined about it.”

Does this not search your heart? Do we know anything of this? To glory in the cross alone is to have it so occupy our hearts and engross our affections that it leaves room for nothing else. Of utmost concern, the concern of all concerns is therefore the Tree of Calvary.  

The Sanctifying Effect of the Cross: The World Crucified to Paul

It stands to reason that such affection will radically impact one’s life. But to be precise, Paul says that it was the cross itself that impacted him. The cross is that by which, he says, the world had been crucified to him. This was his actual experience. The cross of Christ changed Paul. It turned his life upside down – and thus made it right side up. The world, the sphere in which all that is aligned with the flesh operates, the world of natural, unregenerate men, the world around us, in which we live, with all that it craves and all that it deems worthy of our efforts and time and money and consideration, and all that it esteems and considers valuable, had been crucified to him.

As such, it did not hold his affections. Paul did not love the world. What it held out to him as worthy of having did not interest him. Fame, fortune, the latest in fashion: such things were no concern for him. What influenced others and shaped their worldviews and religious ideas had no such effect on the apostle. Culture did not fashion Paul’s appetites, attitude’s, ambitions and behavior. “But,” says one, “Paul was an apostle. Surely, I can’t be expected to be like him!” “Surely, you can,” I say in reply. “Read Paul’s second letter to Timothy and you will discover this to be no unrealistic expectation.” Timothy, who was not an apostle, followed Paul’s teaching, his conduct, his aim in life, his faith, his patience, his love, his steadfastness…(2 Tim. 3:10f.). Who was Paul anyway if not a ‘jar of clay,’ redeemed by the blood of Christ, but one in whom resided the very Spirit of Christ? Walk by the Spirit and you will glory in the cross!

How do we know if the Spirit is here? How do we know if the Spirit of Christ resides in us? How do we know if we are led by the Spirit and thus not under law? Is the cross gloried in? Is the cross made much of? Is Christ crucified that which alone captivates your soul and launches your heart into stratospheric heights of praise?   Is therefore the world crucified to you? Or does it appeal to you? Is it shaping your thought life, your behavior, your budget, and even your view of yourself? Glory in the cross and you will not vaunt yourself! Glory in the cross and you will not be conceited! Adore the cross and you will never admire yourself. And don’t forget: It is more than possible that the one who says, who MAKES MUCH OF the fact that he is a sinner, may in fact be the most self-righteous person in the bunch. Paul did not fix his gaze on himself or his wretchedness. That would be a kind of inverted, upside-down pride. Humble is the man who makes much of Calvary, not Sinai! 

But this is the effect, this is the consequence the cross had on Paul: It changed him. It changed him from a shameless persecutor to a faithful apostle. It changed him from one who was driven by law to one concerned for the cross. By it, the world could not hold sway over him. Its influence, values, philosophies, events, pleasures, enticements, toys, temptations were as water on a duck’s back to him. The world was to him as one nailed to a cross. He perceived it as a condemned criminal. He loathed it as a thing shameful. He no longer sought happiness from it. He no longer pursued its course. And he no longer sought its approval.

This we must hear. This we must see. The man who wrote this epistle, who wrote abrasively, with urgency, with dogmatism, with no uncertain sound, with undeniable urgency, and with strong words, the kind that make even many evangelicals squirm, is the man who alone glories in the cross. There is a connection. Paul defined his doctrine sharply, and without wavering. He did not dance around the issues, fearing men. He did not seek to befriend anyone, to gain points with anyone, or to not upset those insistent on holding to a certain theology. Not in the least! Chapter one and the tenth verse reveals the apostle’s heart. Paul explicitly says he had no interest whatsoever in pleasing men. He cared not for the approval of the world.  

What he says is simply sheer delight, anchored in the essence of what it means to be a Christian. “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant [‘slave’ is much better] of Christ.” This is what the cross, the “Everest” of redemptive history, does. It ‘crucifies’ the desire to seek approval from men. It kills the sinful bent one has to be made much of, to be esteemed by others. Is it wrong to be so esteemed? No. Is it wrong to seek to be esteemed? Yes, especially when doing so puts you on the course of the world. Was Paul obnoxious for the sake of being so? No, he wasn’t. Paul wrote as he did “so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved” (Gal. 2:5). That was his concern. This was his heart. This is what consumed him. This is what drove him and determined everything he did. He gloried in the cross, the cross of the gospel. The cross changed Paul. He was a man-pleaser. But now he was a slave of Christ, in submission to the authority of his Master.      [Do not think freedom from Law = freedom from authority.] Paul was so in love with Christ, he was so concerned that the truth of the gospel be preserved, he spoke as he did. No doubt at all that he made enemies. We know that he did. A slave is not greater than his master.  A Christian is not greater than Christ.

To glory in the cross is to not love the world or seek its approval. Such things do not seduce the one who glories in the cross. His allegiance, his affection, his loyalties are to Christ and not the world. To abandon Christ for the gain of man’s reward, even his companionship, even to avoid his dislike, is a vile thought to him. 

The Separating Effect of the Cross: Paul Crucified to the World

But there is another effect of the cross. If by the cross the world was crucified to Paul, Paul was also crucified to the world. In other words, if the cross caused Paul to loathe the world, it also caused the world to loathe the apostle. In the eyes of Paul, the world was ‘skubala.’ In the eyes of men, Paul was ‘skubala!’ Glory in the cross and you will know this. Boast in the cross openly and you will experience this. Glory in the doctrine of the cross as that which alone secures and is therefore sufficient for every aspect of our salvation, and you will invite the hostility of evangelicals even. Paul elsewhere writes:

“We are fools for Christ’s sake …We are weak … You are held in honor, but we in disrepute… When reviled, we bless; when persecuted we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things” (1 Cor. 4.10-13).

Glory in the cross and men esteem you as garbage. They will view you with contempt. They will hate you. In their eyes you’re a fool. The cross sanctifies men. But the cross also separates men. “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the FALSE prophets” (Luke 6:26). Jesus said that. He also said this: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:51-53). Translation: The cross, if you truly boast in it, can be a very lonely place. That is one reason why the church is, why we need the church, each other.

Why Paul says these things as he does and where he does is a matter to consider. He is, you recall, contrasting two kinds of men. He pits himself against the kind of man who boasts in the flesh, forcing others, that is, believers to be law-keepers. He compares himself with those who fear persecution on account of the cross. He contrasts himself, in other words, with those who wish not merely to be in the good books of men, but to be esteemed by certain men whose theology of sanctification is in keeping with the world, i.e. the sphere in which the flesh operates. Remember the rebuke of Galatians 3:3 – “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” This is the primary issue in Galatians. Paul is bent on making it clear that believers begin by the Spirit and they continue by the Spirit and they finish by the Spirit, and not by law. And so he says, in effect, ‘Those guys boast the flesh. Law drives them.  They’re really pandering to “the elementary principles of the world.” But as for me, I’ll have none of that. It’s 100% cross. It’s all cross or nothing. By it all that is in and of and aligned with the world has been crucified to me. And those who think differently than me – who do not cherish, who do not exult in the cross alone as I do, and see it as my only hope, and savor the display of the perfections of God in it, and thus see it as a thing most excellent, even able to alone effect my sanctification – to such ones, in their eyes, I am a fool. So be it. What the world can give with all that it has to offer pales in comparison to the cross of Christ. I will glory in the cross alone, even if it means my old theology professor rejects me as a heretic. The cross is worth it!

The Cross: A Cause for Self-Examination

What we have before us then is cause for examination. We must ask ourselves, even as the Table is before us, whether or not we glory in the cross – alone. All who are in Christ, all in whom the Spirit of Christ resides, glory in the cross. Genuine faith in the Person and Work of Christ manifests itself in such heartfelt exultation. It is a peaceful, exuberant, hopeful tranquility, an undeniable, unwavering sense of confidence of things into which angels long to look. Without fail it crucifies the world to such. And it makes such ones the objects of scorn. Does this sound like you? I think it’s high time everyone knows this. There is far too much confusion, far too much hesitation in defining what, or who a Christian is. If Paul is to be believed here, a Christian is not a Christian simply because he professes to be one and believes it to be so. No. A Christian is one who glories in the cross, is crucified to the world, and has thus become scum in the eyes of men, a fool for Christ. Are you a fool for Christ? That is the question!

The Cross: A Reason for Encouragement

Not at all wishing to leave you looking inward, I exhort you to look outward. Self-examination we must do. These things are essential to understand. It is good to see if what we assume to be true of ourselves lines up with what the Scriptures themselves actually say. It is good to be judged by Scripture while there is time, in other words.  But don’t forget to look outward. Don’t live in the house called ‘introspection.’ Fix your eyes on the place where hope lives.

“Where should the guilty, who has lost
Jehovah’s favour by his sin,
Find worth that he may safely trust,
A righteousness to glory in? 

“Behold the cross! The blood divine
That there for sinful man was spilt!
Here’s worth enough to glory in,
Enough to cleanse the foulest guilt 

When false foundations all are gone,
Each lying refuge blown to air,
The Cross remains our boast alone:
The righteousness of God is there.” 

~ Todd Braye

Courtesy Todd Braye and Unveiled | Beholding the Glory of Christ

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