Galatians 3:1 “You Foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.”
You and I should not underestimate the strange and powerful allure of a home-made righteousness. None of us wants to believe that we are as bad as that cross says we are. Self-righteousness is like one of those germs or diseases that a person is carrying all the time. If you aren’t sick with a full-blown case at the moment, the disease is lurking and waiting for your immunities to weaken so that it can wreak its havoc on your spiritual health again. All it takes is a few minutes exposure to someone else who is losing the battle with some sin or another–it doesn’t matter much which one. It could be some sexual indulgence, a potty mouth, a bad temper, impatience, their own judgmentalism, materialistic spending habits, unwillingness to share or be generous to others, worry, or some other selfishness. Maybe they aren’t putting up much of a fight at all. How easily we begin to congratulate ourselves for our own self-discipline and good behavior. How quickly we begin to think that others should be more godly–you know, like I am. We sigh and think, “If only everyone were more like me.”
More like me? Have we ceased to take our own very real, daily sins seriously? Can we no longer see the damning nature of the thousand and one opportunities to love we pass up every day? Have we become blind to, have we become comfortable with, our own spiritual deformities? Then our own practice of religion may become all about “doing,” all about opportunities to congratulate ourselves for the fine progress we have been making. Then grace, gospel, forgiveness, salvation, redemption, may become little more than a theological starting place for us–truths to which we still give lip service, to be sure. But not ones we actually think have anything to do with me today.
What is the antidote to this disease? How can we confront our self-righteousness? Paul tells us, “Look at the cross!” “Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” Just look at the cross and see why Paul called the Galatians foolish for their self-righteous ideas! Have we lost our minds to think that we might have something to add? After cold iron tears through his flesh, severing bands of muscle; ripping at cartilage, tendons, and ligaments; pinning his hands and feet to the instrument of his death, what will we offer for our sins? After he hangs suspended from this simple structure of torture from 9 in the morning, through the slow ticking minutes of the day, through the heat of the noon day sun–all the while his muscles cramping with no way to relieve the painful knots; the blood pooling beneath him as it drains from his many wounds; the panic of not being able to draw a satisfying breath seizing him as it becomes more and more difficult to support his wounded body; what contribution will we make to our redemption? After the dark and hopeless void where even God’s love can’t be found because the heavenly Father has turned his back on his one and only Son and the sins he carries for the world, what will we give up to save our souls? Can we really imagine there is something left, some unfinished work here, for us to do?
To look at the cross, and still think that there must be some heroic work for us to do, we would have to be under some kind of black magic that tinkered with our minds. “Who has bewitched you?” Paul asks the Galatians. When Christ Jesus has been portrayed as crucified before your very eyes, you don’t so easily forget what you have seen. You can’t easily miss what it means. You don’t want some other kind of salvation. Jesus Christ portrayed as crucified is all we need.
Public executions have always been popular. People are fascinated with death. They find some kind of satisfaction in seeing justice executed on a criminal for his bad behavior. In places like North Korea and Iran they are still televised. Jesus’ crucifixion was a public execution, but we do not watch because we are fascinated with death, certainly not because Jesus was receiving justice for crimes he committed. Before our very eyes Jesus Christ is clearly portrayed as crucified so that we will lay our self-righteous inclinations aside, and find a real righteousness in him by faith.