[I contributed today’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by London Institute for Contemporary Christianity; it’s the last of five in a short series drawing on some exhortations from Galatians 5-6 attempting to reframe new year’s resolutions.]
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. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.
We might well resolve to do the things Paul calls on us in Galatians to do – to stand firm in our freedom, to walk with the Spirit, to fulfil Christ’s law, to do good to all people – but where, when all is done, will our confidence finally lie? For Paul, not in our own achievements or the approval of others, but in the cross of Christ.
Removed as we are from the first-century world, where crucifixion was looked upon as shameful by Jew and pagan alike, it’s not easy to feel the scandal of that claim. And yet, the cross is not something Paul returns to only when he has to, and then in slight embarrassment, but is at the centre of his message about Christ. For it was there that Christ became a curse for us (3:13), delivering us from slavery (4:5). And it is there, Paul says, that our old self has been crucified (5:24), echoing his earlier testimony that he has been ‘crucified with Christ’, and that he lives now ‘by faith in the Son of God’ who loved him and gave himself for him (2:20).
As Michael J. Gorman explores in his Cruciformity: Paul’s Narrative Spirituality of the Cross (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), Christ’s death not only provides the source of our salvation but the shape of our salvation, such that our daily life ratifies our fundamental allegiance to Jesus – as we take up our cross to follow him.
More than this, however, the effects of the cross are cosmic in proportion, reaching beyond individuals to embrace heaven and earth – bringing about ‘a new creation’ no less. Small wonder, then, that whatever privileges might have given grounds for honour for God’s people in the past (circumcision being the specific example here), are nothing compared to what really counts – belonging to the new age that God has begun through the cross of Christ.
And with that comes peace and mercy for the whole family of Abraham, Jew and Gentile alike, to all who ‘keep in step with’ this rule, whose identity is now derived from the new creation God has brought about through the Spirit and in Christ.