December 26, 2010

Spiritual Boasting

Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Miscellaneous Scripture: Galatians 6:11–18


Spiritual Boasting

Galatians 6:11-18
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Pastor Randy Smith

In the early 90's I was completing my Master's Degree in Education and I decided to do my thesis on the influence of church on the morality of male teenagers. I surveyed sixty students, thirty were model students and thirty were the typical at-risk troublemakers. Obviously I couldn't measure true salvation - I just wanted to see if there was any correlation with church involvement and overall behavior in school. My statistical conclusions were overwhelmingly supportive of what I suspected. Not always, but in a significant way, well-behaved kids came from families who were committed to a local church. My professor even presented my research at the annual Midwest Conference.

Yet for personal interest alone, the final question on the survey asked each student to identify where he expected to go upon death and why he expected to go there. As you can well imagine, nearly every adolescent believed he would enter heaven. They provided the following reasons:

  • I've tried to change my ways.
  • Because.
  • I am honest and loving.
  • I can be bad, but never have done anything incriminating.
  • I'm not as mean and haven't killed.
  • I've been good throughout my life and pray every night before I go to bed.
  • Because I lead a good life.
  • Because I'm good to people and admit sins.
  • So far in life I have not done anything terribly wrong and that's what my family believes too.
  • I won't commit any huge sins.
  • I try to be the best person I could because I'm a good kid.
  • Because I believe that I'm not that bad.
  • God forgives everyone and loves everyone.

Unfortunately, according to the Bible, none of these answers are correct in that they will grant any of these teens any hope of heaven. Only one child was theologically correct. Ironically, he was the only one who believed be would spend eternity in hell. His response: "Because I seem to never do things right." That's true for all of us! The Bible affirms, Romans 3:23, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." And Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death [hell]."

I ask you, What do all of the other responses have in common (read list - notice all the "I" statements). With the exception of the one universalist (read last response), all these responses are anthropocentric, that is, God is required to grant me eternal life based on my human accomplishments. The problem is God is too holy and we are too sinful for that system to work.

Some things never change. Two thousand years ago there was a sect of false teachers who advocated man-made accomplishments to achieve salvation. They were called the Judaizers. The common motto: "If you do, you will be saved." So the apostle Paul wrote a fiery letter contained in our Bibles to the church of Galatia to warn them of this damning heresy of human-achievement. He condemned the way of belief that prizes the accomplishment of man (like every world religion), and in its place presented the true gospel that saves, the gospel of free grace, the gospel of divine enablement.

The way Paul saw it; we have two (and only two) options related to salvation. We can either do it ourselves (which loses every time), or trust God to do the work for us (which wins every time). We can either boast in ourselves or boast in the cross.

This morning as we come off Christmas and prepare for the New Year, I would like to examine these two opposing perspectives. The sermon is called, "Spiritual Boasting."


A little background: According to Acts 13-14, Paul on his first missionary trip in this Galatian region (modern Turkey) had a successful reception to the Christian message. People in this pagan region were saved. Yet soon after his departure he received news that false teachers infiltrated the area and were teaching the converts that certain works needed to be performed in order to be saved. It was a complete contradiction of the biblical message he preached of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. To Paul, the addition of certain works (in this case, circumcision) corrupted and nullified the gospel.

Often when Paul writes his letters, he begins with a gentle and affectionate greeting. Yet right from the get-go in Galatians, he pulls no punches: "I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you, and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed" (Gal. 1:6-9).

The thread of salvation by free grace alone weaves itself throughout the letter: Galatians 2:16, "Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we may be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified." Galatians 5:1-4, "It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you. And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law. You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace."

As Paul began the letter abruptly, he concludes the letter with an abrupt and stern admonition to the church. Paul had been dictating to a secretary up to this point. But in chapter 6 verse 11 he picks up the pen to both validate and summarize the contents of the epistle. The large letters that he alludes to in verse 11 are most likely for emphasis, similar to capital letters or underlined words today. Then what follows in the remaining few verses are arguably some of the most profound comments that unlock the reality by which people may be saved. I pray that we with the passion of the apostle will understand that when it comes to this doctrine, there is no room for error or compromise. Let's study this essential together.


Boasting in the flesh, the first point. We begin in verse 12: "Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised" (stop right there).

A "good showing in the flesh" is simply another way to describe the person who desires to attract the attention and praise of other people through his religious activities. Why give God the glory when I can use religion to get more glory for myself? Such a person will hate the gospel of free grace because the gospel of free grace condemns his efforts to earn acceptance from God. It rejects his self-righteousness and forces him to depend solely on God's goodness. God gets all the glory. There is no room for self-admiration.

These false teachers called the Judaizers were into these external works, specifically, verse 12, circumcision. They stressed that people can only find favor and acceptance from God based on receiving this external ritual. Acts 15:1 possibly sums it up best, "And some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'"

It is ironic because the whole purpose of the circumcision in the Old Testament was symbolic. It was to show that we are corrupt and we need God to circumcise our hearts. Yet these Judaizers reversed the intent and used the act as a reason to boast of their righteousness whereby they could gain the applause of others, where they could "make a good showing in the flesh" (Gal. 6:12).

I can imagine them saying, "We can accept Jesus as the Messiah, but in addition to His work on the cross, there are certain requirements that we are prescribed to keep in order to achieve salvation. Those achievements are outlined in the law and the epitome of the law is circumcision. Furthermore, who does this Paul think he is? Waltzing into pagan territory and telling those Gentile dogs that salvation is based upon faith alone, that they can be as equal as us apart from the works of the law. Israel is God's appointed agent for the administration of these blessings. In order to become Christians they must become Jewish first."

Paul labors for years among these people in Galatia. This is the place where he was stoned and left on a garbage heap because they thought he was dead (Ac. 14:19). He departs after seeing a multitude of individuals embracing Christ. He even establishes several churches. Then these clowns infiltrate the region and begin telling all these new converts that Paul was incorrect and their salvation is counterfeit unless they get circumcised. Imagine the operation (pun intended!). Imagine Paul's heartache and righteous anger because the gospel is compromised and souls hang in the balance.

Paul exposes their motives. In verse 12 he says the Judaizers are preaching a false gospel so that "they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ."

They simply wanted to avoid persecution. Their way of human righteousness brought applause from man. God's way through divine accomplishment brought the persecution from man.

One reason for this is because God's way involves depending entirely on a Man named Jesus who was crucified (cf. Gal. 5:11). From a Roman perspective, the cross was the cruelest, most agonizing means of execution. It was reserved for the vilest and most heinous offenders. To associate with a crucified victim was to associate with a criminal. From a Jewish perspective, to be hung on a tree was a sign that a person was accursed by God according to the law (cf. Gal. 3:13). Identifying with Jesus often resulted in excommunication from one's family and synagogue. From a human perspective, the cross demonstrates that natural man is inherently sinful with absolutely no goodness or ability to save himself. He must depend entirely on the righteous merit of another to work his salvation. The cross shatters human pride and requires divine humility to embrace. The cross represented shame and thus brought the scorn from others.

And then in verse 13 he says they are preaching a false gospel "so that they may boast in your flesh."

They were like teenage drug dealers. All they cared about was the number of people that they could persuade to adopt their way of thinking. They found a sadistic pleasure in using people, controlling people to stroke their own personal egos (a clear indication of a false teacher). They were into numbers, notches on their spiritual belt. James Montgomery Boice elaborates, "This means that they wanted to boast in the number of circumcisions, much as David had boasted in the 200 foreskins of the Philistines. They were trophy hunters and wanted to be able to report on mass 'conversion' in Galatia." This was not about God's glory. As Paul said in verse 13, "[They] do not even keep the Law themselves." This was all about themselves.

Again, they were only concerned about "mak[ing] a good showing in the flesh" (Gal. 6:12). But ironically, though the Judaizers boasted in the flesh and rejected the cross, it was this instrument of humility and shame that Paul found as his reason for boasting.


As we move to the second point, look at verse 14: "But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world."

Boasting in self with an effort to exalt self, like the Judaizers, is sin. On the other hand, boasting in the cross not only devalues self, but exalts the work of Jesus Christ. Boasting in the cross promotes God's love and mercy and grace because it exposes our desperation and utter bankruptcy that made such suffering necessary. William Hendrickson, the great commentator, put it like this, "I never knew myself as a sinner, nor recognized Christ as my Savior until upon the cross I saw, My God, who died to meet the law, that I had broken; then I saw, My sin, and then my Savior." Remember what Paul said to the Corinthians? "But we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1:23-24). We cannot eliminate the cross and still have the Christian gospel that saves. Paul makes that perfectly clear in 2:21, "I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly."

A story is told about a church from yesteryear that had inscribed in stone over the church entrance 1 Corinthians 1:23 which reads, "We preach Christ crucified." Over the years the ivy had overtaken the final word and all that could be read was, "We preach Christ." Eventually the overgrown plant wasn't trimmed back and the sign over the church said, "We preach." I suppose they could have let it go and it would be reminiscent of many churches today, "We." The point is clear, if we want to boast in ourselves, we must eliminate the cross because we cannot boast in both simultaneously.

As a result of coming to Christ, the Christian and the world have parted company. We have each been crucified to the other. Look at Paul's comments in the second half of verse 14, "The world has been crucified to me and I to the world." Earlier in the epistle Paul wrote, "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh [life on earth] I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). The world says salvation by good works. The Bible teaches salvation by Christ's work on the cross. The two systems are diametrically opposed.

After all, if anyone could achieve salvation based on human efforts it was Paul himself. Listen to what he said to the Philippians: "For we are the true circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh, although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:3-9).

With this in mind, we agree with Paul's comments from verse 15: "neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision anything." If you want to be circumcised, go for it. If you wish to remain uncircumcised that is fine as well. Neither option matters before God. Both are immaterial grounds for spiritual boasting.

But what does matter according to verse 15 is "a new creation." That is God removing the heart of stone and giving us a new heart the split-second we receive Christ for salvation (see Romans 2:29). It is a new birth, a new life that comes with new desires and new attitudes that seek to live a life that glories in God. It is receiving the deposit of the Holy Spirit, adoption into God's family and progressive character transformation to the image of Christ. Total recreation. At this point, isn't salvation by circumcision sounding kind of trite? Isn't boasting in ourselves sounding kind of shallow? "Walk [or we could say, live] by this rule," Paul says in verse 16. "Peace" and "mercy" be upon you, not those who think they are good enough to ignore God's gift of salvation.

In verse 17 Paul concludes. After he has seen many of his converts accept a false gospel, after he has suffered much mental and physical persecution for the church, after he has penned this agonizing epistle, he says, "From now on let no one cause trouble for me." In other words, "People, let's be about the business of the lost. I can't believe you've second-guessed my divine authority. I can't believe you've fallen away from the pure gospel so quickly. I love you to death, but you're draining me! Please listen to me!"

Verse 17, "For I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus." At that point Paul could have lifted his shirt and identified his battle wounds: "This is the scar from the numerous times I've been beaten with lashes in the synagogue. This is the scar when the Romans beat me with rods. This is the scar from my stoning, in Lystra, right before your very eyes! The Judaizers want to boast of their circumcision operations. Let me tell you about a far greater wound, 'the brand-marks of Jesus.' I too have my marks yet mine are linked with my selfless service to the Savior."

The Greek word is stigma, where we get the English word, "stigma." Fascinatingly, the same Greek word was primarily used two ways in antiquity: One was a mark, a brand that a master would put on his slave. How often did Paul himself claim to be a prisoner or a bond-slave of Jesus Christ? To Paul, these scars were cherished marks of ownership and based on future accounts, many more were to follow. Second, the word was also used to refer to religious tattooing. Was Paul saying that persecution not circumcision was the authentic Christian tattoo? Those scars demonstrated the readiness to suffer for Christ if needed. Those scars showed him to be Christ's own.

To Paul, there was an easy escape, a comfortable way of life that would avoid persecution and reward him with personal praise from his Jewish ancestors - simply eliminate the cross. Yet to echo Paul himself from verse 14, "May it never be!" Spurgeon said, "Leave out the cross and you have killed the religion of Jesus. Atonement by the blood of Jesus is not an arm of Christian truth; it is the heart of it."

So what are we boasting in this morning to go to heaven? Is it your good works or is it the good work of Jesus? May we only be found boasting in the accomplished work of our Savior when He died to take away the wrath of God and provide salvation for those who receive Him entirely by faith. Have you done that? This is the biblical and only means of salvation. There is no other hope. And to those who receive this salvation I conclude as Paul did in verse 18, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen."

other sermons in this series

Mar 3


The Entrusted Message

Preacher: J.T. Colville Scripture: 2 Corinthians 5:16–21 Series: Miscellaneous

Feb 25


Affectionate Unity That Leads To Boasting

Preacher: Jack McDonald Scripture: Philippians 2:14–18 Series: Miscellaneous