In the Cross of Christ I Glory!
11See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand!
12Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they want you to be circumcised that they may boast about your circumcision in the flesh. 14May 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. 15Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. 16Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule—to the Israel of God.
17From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.
18The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.
In this final part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, I want to zero in on two key verses that I believe are very instructive to us as 21st century Christians, especially in the unique times we currently find ourselves.
In v. 14, Paul writes, “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Since the fall of man the essence of the sinful heart has been to look inward, to seek our own good over that of God and our fellow man. The Latin phrase Incurvatus in se (turned/curved inward on oneself) explains the desire of our hearts, rather than “turning outward” toward God and others.
In subtle ways, we seek our own glory – even through the things that outwardly make us seem magnanimous and selfless. Inwardly, Satan lures us into basking in the applause of others, the pat on the back, the admiration and affirmation that comes through our good actions. Though we’d never say this out loud, inside, “It’s all about me!” I’ve quoted him before but it bears repeating, “we must also repent of the reasons we ever did anything right,” (Keller).
For Paul, the glory he shunned was in stark contrast to what he saw in the hearts of those who opposed him and the Gospel he advanced. Luther writes this: “God forbid,” says the Apostle, “that I should glory in anything as dangerous as what the false apostles glory in because what they glory in is a poison that destroys many souls, and I wish it were buried in hell. Let them glory in the flesh if they wish and let them perish in their glory.
To not glory in ourselves is one thing, but to instead glory in the cross of Christ? What is he saying? To answer that, Luther references Paul’s letter to Romans 5, “We glory in tribulations,” and 2 Corinthians 12, “Most gladly, therefore, will l rather glory in my infirmities.” According to these expressions, Luther reminds us, the glory of a Christian consists in tribulations, reproaches, and infirmities.
Back in 1987, there was a pitcher from the San Francisco Giants named Dave Dravecky. Dravecky was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on the deltoid muscle of his pitching arm. After the surgery that removed the tumor, his doctors, having had to remove a good portion of that muscle, told him his career as a pitcher was likely over. But Dravecky, a devout and outspoken Christian, refused to give up. He worked tirelessly to strengthen and rehabilitate the arm, performing actions (like taking his wallet out of his back pocket) that doctors said he’d never be able to do.
He began a throwing program and gradually progressed until he could go full speed. He started pitching in the Giants’ minor league system and, in 1989, was eventually back in the majors. It was truly a miracle! He pitched 8 innings and got the win against the Cincinnati Reds. In the glow of the victory, it would have been a storybook ending. Pitcher believes in God. Pitcher gets cancer. God heals cancer. Pitcher defies the odds and regains his form. God is good. End of story.
Not so fast. In the very next game Dravecky pitched, in the 6th inning, as he threw a fastball to Tim Raines, his left arm literally broke in half. He collapsed in pain on the pitching mound as his teammates surrounded him. What should have happened the very first time Dravecky tried to throw fastball months earlier finally happened – the bone in his upper arm, weakened by the process needed to perform the surgery in the first place, succumbed to the force being acted upon it. Now most definitely, his pitching career was over.
The cancer would later return, and this time it would require the amputation of the arm that made him famous.
This is all chronicled in the book “Comeback” – written by Dravecky. The reason I share that story is because of something Dravecky said at the conclusion of the book. He talked about how easy and free flowing his testimony was during his comeback. It was feel good, and almost sounded like if you trust God with your life, good things will follow. But now, with an amputated arm and a career cut short at its pinnacle, his testimony would have to change. But that’s when it became powerful.
What else could Dave point to when talking about the greatness of God and the work He had done in Dave’s life? A Hall of Fame career? No. A World Series ring? No. A movie deal about his life? No. For Dave, it had become…the cross of Christ.
He now knew what it truly meant to follow God – not to get things from God, but to bask in what God had already given him and what had been his all along – a story of forgiveness, redemption and new life.
That’s our story, too – when we drain it dry of all the things we think we should expect from God, the things we think God owes us in return for our faithfulness to him. To do otherwise would be to follow a God of our own making – a false god.
So Luther is spot on when he says the glory of a Christian consists in tribulations, reproaches, and infirmities. When people see Christ fully on display in our lives as we suffer through the difficulties in our lives, our testimony becomes authentic and undeniable. We glory in those times, because that’s when God’s power is made perfect in us (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The last half of v. 14 reads, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.
To this, Luther writes, “The world is crucified unto me,” means that I condemn the world. “I am crucified unto the world,” means that the world in turn condemns me. I detest the doctrine, the self-righteousness, and the works of the world. The world in turn detests my doctrine and condemns me as a revolutionary heretic. Thus the world is crucified unto us and we unto the world.
If anyone was familiar with being hated and lied about, it was Martin Luther. For you, if you find that you are increasingly at odds with the culture around you, take heart…you’re on the right track. To his disciples, Jesus in John 15:18-19 said, “If the world hates you, understand that it hated Me first. If you were of the world, it would love you as its own. Instead, the world hates you, because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world.…”
We speak with words of love to the world and to one another in the household of faith. To the world, even those words of love can be received with confusion, anger, and even hostility. I’ve come to believe that, as this to be expected, it is also the reason why we must remain connected to one another in a community of faith, where we can give and receive encouragement and hope, and where we remind one another of the hope that is ours through faith in our Savior.
I’ve enjoyed my journey through Galatians. I hope it has been of some benefit to you, as well. As always, I welcome your feedback and contributions to the thoughts on this section of the epistle. Thank you for being a part of it.
P.S. If you want more on Dave Dravecky, his book is available on Amazon (all formats) HERE.
There are clips on YouTube of his story. Here’s one: