Our Only Boast

 

Dali CrucifixionGalatians 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.”

What makes a restaurant like McDonalds, McDonalds? It’s not the ambiance of their dining room, or the quality of their straws or napkins. It’s the taste of their food: the Big Mac, the fries, the chicken nuggets. And you see that in their advertising. That’s what their commercials boast about. What makes a luxury car like a Lexus, a Lexus? It’s not the emergency jack in the trunk, or the owner’s manual in the glove compartment. It’s the features of the vehicle itself: the power of the engine, the comfort of the passenger cabin, the styling of the vehicle’s body. That, again, is what their commercials boast about.

What makes the Christian faith the Christian faith? It’s not a superior set of rules to follow or more stimulating and entertaining worship to attend. It is the central message of our faith, the chief thing that distinguishes it from all others: the saving death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the message of the cross. There may be many other things that are true about Christianity and Christians. But there is really only one thing to boast about: the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.

That was Paul’s message to the Galatians who were being led to think that Christianity was about something else. Paul’s own faith had been on a different track at one point in his life. As a Pharisee who opposed Jesus and persecuted his people, he was building a religious career for himself that promised him prestige, power, and plenty of money. Now he had discovered the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that other world had been crucified to him.

There are many forms that the world can take in our own lives, and many of them are hard to recognize. We, too, can pervert religion from being God’s means to save us, and a sincere matter of faith, and turn it instead into a way to give me what I want here and now. We can turn church into an entertainment venue, a place we go to get our grins. That’s worldly, not spiritual. It is a wonderful thing for friends to invite friends to church to introduce them to Jesus. It is a worldly thing to choose a house of worship for the chance to be popular with certain people, because it makes me look good, because it means I will be accepted by my peers, or because it puts me in contact with potential customers for my business. There is no “love God” or “love your neighbor” in that, certainly not a single-minded focus on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. All of this is also a kind of worldliness, a sinful focus on tickling my fancies and getting my heaven on earth, in addition to the more traditional descriptions of worldliness like materialistic greed, sexual indulgences, and the pursuit of personal power.

Now, Paul says, due to the cross of Christ, that world has been crucified to me. It hasn’t just been assigned a lower place in my life, a demotion in which it gives up part of the time and attention it used to demand. The world and I did not merely come to a mutual recognition that this relationship wasn’t working out very well, and so we politely broke up and went in different directions. The world has been crucified to me. It met a violent, painful death by execution. It is the evil criminal in my life that had to die before it took my life instead.

The irony is that the world is crucified to me by means of another crucifixion, but this one is a crucifixion that makes me boast. That is a striking concept. The cross was an instrument of shame and humiliation. It is not something one would boast about. No one wants a relationship with a criminal, especially one on death row. It’s an embarrassment. It’s the kind of thing that families keep secrets about–the old uncle that no one ever talked about because he lived his life behind bars, or ended it prematurely in an electric chair.

But this criminal and this cross are my pride and joy, because the crimes for which he dies are mine. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing that has real value because it is the only thing that can free me from the penalty for my sins. The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is the one thing in which I boast because it is the one way I am sure my poor life is not going to end in shame and failure in this world, but will find eternal joy and fulfillment in God’s presence in heaven. Wonder of all wonders, the cross, an instrument of death and punishment, does what I could never do: it removes all sin from my record, reconciles me to God in heaven, and gives me a life that will last forever and ever. Compared to that everything the world offers is just so much stinking garbage that I should be happy to carry to the curb. I should hurry to get it out of my house and out of my life before its stink has time to corrupt the real treasure I have in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s our only boast. And what that cross has done for me crucifies the world to me.

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