Do you know any magic tricks? I have never really been able to do any that actually fooled anyone. I can sort of do one trick, which I performed for my wife with a plastic cup and a lemon. I think I might have fooled her with that one. But from what little I know about magic tricks, the trick is to distract the person with one hand, while doing something else with the other hand. So you distract on the one hand and then deceive with the other. Or at least that’s a simple explanation for a lot of tricks. That’s why they call it a sleight of hand.
The devil is a master of deception. He is a mastery of trickery. And he uses this method to deceive people, not only those who are unsaved, but even those who are in the church. He distracts people from the truth on the one hand, and then deceives them with what appears to be true by the other hand, when in fact, he has substituted a lie for the truth. And because you think you so obviously see it, you believe it.
Paul warned in 1Tim. 4:1 “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons.”
The devil substitutes a lot of different things for the gospel. He has a lot of different tricks up his sleeve. Some people are duped by false experiences. Some are deceived by a false prophet who proclaims some new revelation or dream. Some are deceived by some pseudo science that claims to provide the missing link to understand the Bible. Some have come to believe that by being baptized they are insured a place in heaven. Some are trusting in the observance of the Sabbath as the means of being right with God. Satan has deceived many people by many different means.
The Galatians had been tricked into thinking that by observing the law, especially the law of circumcision, they could be fully right with God. It seemed innocuous enough. After all, the law came from God, it was recorded in the scriptures. It had the appearance of righteousness. But Paul calls it another gospel. A false hope. And he even goes so far as to say that to observe the law was to make the gospel of no use to you.
He said in ch. 5:2-4 “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.”
Paul was talking about two different gospels, not two different interpretations of
the same gospel, but two different gospels. In one of them, man stands before God on the basis of human merit. In the other, he stands before God on the merits of Jesus Christ. In the one, he stands before God in the righteousness of his own human achievement. In the other, he stands before God recognizing he cannot do anything to satisfy God but Christ has done something that does satisfy God.
So he has finished his argument by the middle of chapter 6. He has shown that the flesh and the Spirit are opposites, and we must die to the flesh that we might live in the Spirit. And now the apostle Paul writes the postscript to the letter with his own hand. Vs. 11, “See with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand.”
What he is talking about here is his usual method of writing a letter was to dictate it to a secretary, or what they call an amanuenses. I believe the scriptures indicate that Paul had a severe eye impediment which made it difficult for him to write. And so he used someone to write for him. But at the end of his letters it was customary for him to write a postscript so that they might be assured that it was written by Paul. For instance, he says at the end of 2Thess. 3:17 “I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand, and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter; this is the way I write.” His handwriting must have been very distinctive, using large letters because he could not read his own handwriting.
And he should have just signed off at this point, and say farewell to all his readers and to those whom he knew personally in Galatia. But Paul can’t help himself. He feels so passionate about this subject, he feels that it is so dangerous, that he can’t help but throw a couple more punches as he hand writes this postscript.
And so he says in vs 12 “Those who desire to make a good showing in the flesh try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For those who are circumcised do not even keep the Law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised so that they may boast in your flesh.”
In other words, the Judaisers are trying to claim you as converts to their gospel so that they might avoid persecution. It would appear that in Jerusalem there was a sect of people that claimed to believe in Christ to some extent, but they also said that you must adopt the Jewish laws and be circumcised. They were the ones who had traveled to Galatia to win those converts over to their gospel. So it was some mix of Judaism and Christianity.
But Paul says that they do not even keep the law themselves, but they just wanted to secure the physical sign of circumcision in the Galatians that they might boast that they had so many converts. Paul had said earlier, that if you kept one part of the law, you were obligated to keep all of it. But they were really just focused on the law of circumcision and didn’t keep the laws that they felt were more egregious.
So the Judaisers weren’t really concerned about the Galatians souls, but they were only concerned about boasting about a sign in the flesh of the Galatians that they had submitted to their gospel. Paul on the other hand had the right motives for preaching the gospel. He said in vs 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.”
Paul cared nothing for the glory that came from fame as some sort of super apostle. He cared nothing for the glory that came from riches. He cared nothing for the glory that came from his status and power among men. He only cared about the glory of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.
For the people reading Paul’s letter who understood what crucifixion was all about, the words “cross” and “glory” just did not go together. They were diametrically opposed because there was not a more humiliating, shameful way to be executed than the cross. It was considered a great shame to be crucified. It would seem much more logical to boast in your good showing in the flesh, instead of the cross.
I titled this message “The crux of the gospel.” And I deliberately chose that word crux because it comes from the Latin word which meant cross. Today however in the English language crux has come to mean the most important point, or the central point. The cross is the central theme of the gospel. The cross was the fullest expression of the justice and holiness of God. And the cross was the fullest expression of the love of God. The cross is the fullest expression of the sinfulness of man that deserved death. And the cross is the fullest expression of the substitutionary atonement by God for man.
Paul gloried in the cross because he knew that there was no other way that a man could be made right with God. Man could not be accepted by God because he had a mark on his flesh. He could only be made right with God because Jesus died on the cross in man’s place. So the cross is the central theme of the gospel, whereas man’s efforts are the central doctrine of every false gospel.
But there are two other crosses that are taught in vs 14 besides the cross of Christ. The second cross is the cross on which the world died to Paul. He says, “But far be it from me to boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Through which the world has been crucified to me. The world died to Paul. The cross condemns the world. Human reason, it’s condemned by the cross. Public opinion, it’s condemned by the cross. Popular belief, is condemned by the cross. The assured claims of modern science which change rapidly and constantly, are condemned by the cross. The allurements of the world, are condemned by the cross. Making money, being successful, living for pleasure, are condemned by the cross.
So Paul said “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified to me.” Paul no longer is enslaved by the pursuits of the world, the mantras of the world, the approval of the world, the treasures of the world.
The third cross is the cross on which Paul died to the world. He says, ”And I, to the world.” Now, I think that what he meant by that was that the world didn’t think much of Paul. In the eyes of the world, Paul was a loser. He hadn’t accomplished anything that they valued. He hadn’t accumulated any of the world’s treasures. Had he never been converted, he might have gone down in history as one of the greatest Jewish rabbis. He would have received every accolade from the Jewish religious elites. But when he converted, he became despised, an object of ridicule and persecution.
When you die to the world, then you are made alive in Christ. You are made new. You become a new creation. Old things are passed away, all things become new. Paul says in vs 15, “For neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” Circumcision may be a bloody sacrifice of the flesh, but it accomplished nothing in regards to your salvation. It was merely a picture, a symbol of the need to be severed from the flesh that you might live in the Spirit.
But there was a more perfect bloody sacrifice made by Jesus Christ on the cross, by which we are born again in the spirit. And through His sacrifice we are made a new creation. This is the crux of our salvation. Through the crucifixion we must be born again. We must be changed. We must receive the Spirit of Christ in us. To be circumcised or not be circumcised is irrelevant. What is important is that Christ died on the cross for you so that you might live through Him. Through death we are made a new creation.
2Cor. 5:17 “Therefore if any man [be] in Christ, [he is] a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” We don’t make ourselves a new creation; God does it in us. At it’s root, Christianity is something God does in us, not something we do for God.
Then notice vs 16, “And those who will walk by this rule, peace and mercy [be] upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” Those who will walk by this rule of becoming a new creation, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.
The word rule there in the Greek is “kanōn” which was a line or a rod used in construction to make a straight line. So Paul is referring to this new life by the Spirit by whom we should walk. When we walk in the Spirit and not according to the flesh, we will have the benefit of being true.
So as a new creation we are walking in the truth, and the first benefit is that we have peace, we have made peace with God through the cross of Jesus Christ. Christ satisfied the wrath of God towards us by taking our punishment upon Himself. And the second benefit, we receive mercy from God. God struck Jesus so that He might give us mercy. Mercy is not getting what we deserve. And the third benefit, we that are the new creation are the Israel of God. Not those that are circumcised are Israel, but those that have trusted in the sacrifice of Christ upon the cross. We are the inheritors of the promise. This new creation, made from people of all nations, are the true Israel. Gal 3:7 “Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.”
Romans 9:6-8 “But [it is] not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are [descended] from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants, but: “THROUGH ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS WILL BE NAMED.” That is, it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants.” So it’s not circumcision of the flesh that is required, but circumcision of the heart.
But as far as having a mark in your flesh goes, Paul says he has plenty of them. He has the scars in his flesh that testify to his being a son of God. He says in vs 17 “From now on let no one cause trouble for me, for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” These Judaisers, they bear a mark in their body. It’s the mark made by the scalpel. It’s the mark of circumcision. But I bear in my body the brand marks of the Lord Jesus.
When Paul said that, they knew exactly what was meant. He had been stoned. He bore the marks, the scars of his stonings, the scars of the whippings, the fighting with lions, the marks of deprivation which he had suffered for the cause of Christ.
The man who is the servant of Jesus Christ will have the scars. They may not be physical. But they will certainly be mental. They will be the scars that one cannot see, the scars of the scorn and the ridicule that true Christians must always bear. Jesus said if they hated Me, they will hate you. And we that are Christ’s will bear the marks of suffering for His name.
And then Paul concludes by saying, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.” Brethren, that’s a term used for fellow Christians. The Galatians had their faith attacked by false teachers proclaiming a false gospel. But some at least had stood firm and Paul calls them brethren. They were saved by grace through faith, and that not of themselves, not of works, lest they should boast.
Salvation is a gift of God. That’s what grace means. Jesus did all the work. Grace is we receive what we don’t deserve, which is forgiveness and new life. And that grace of God is what sustains us, and keeps us, and supplies all that we need both in this life and the life to come.
Paul said in chapter 2 vs 20 “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 I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”
Have you become a new creation through faith in the cross of Christ? Jesus said, “you must be born again” to enter the kingdom of God. To become a child of God. If you cannot truly say you have become a new creation by the grace of God, then I urge you to call upon the Lord today and ask that He forgive your sins, and give you a new heart, and put His Spirit within you, that you may become a new creation. Salvation is a gift of God. Call upon Him now that He might give you new life through Jesus Christ.