“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted?
In that case the offense of the cross has been removed…For you were called to freedom, brothers.
Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
With this statement, the apostle Paul hits on the main point of the cross and the reason it is so offensive: it is the only way to be saved. The only way to heaven. There is no other. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Human pride is completely cast out of the equation, because our works cannot get us there. They cannot turn God’s wrath from us. They cannot undo what we have done. They will never outweigh the darkness of our sin and will not close the gap between God and us.
We can’t do it. It’s literally impossible.
But praise God, He knew that, and in love He determined to save. He determined to be the righteousness we could not hope to claim. For as Jesus declared, “What is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).
Salvation can be ours through Christ. The cross is our hope, because Jesus closed the gap. We need only to trust in Him.
But it requires the admission that it is only Him who saves. That we can’t do it. That He is our righteousness, and we can’t earn it.
While this is undoubtedly a hit to our pride and a struggle to release that sense of control, let us see it for what it is: Freedom. Freedom from trying to do it ourselves. Freedom from the weight of failure, as we try again and again to meet a standard that lies beyond our reach.
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified…that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Corinthians 2:1-2,5). It is the power of God that saves us. The power of God that breaks the chains of sin and the weight of legalism. The power of God that holds us fast, in a salvation that we can never lose once we accept it (1 Peter 1:3-5). Because if we think it’s up to ourselves to attain and to keep hold of it, does that not lessen the praise and glory He receives? Does that not reduce the power and urgency of the cross? Does that not take the spotlight off of Christ and make His sacrifice less necessary?
Behold His wounds. This precious and mighty One whose “appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind,” who “was despised and rejected by men…wounded for our transgressions…crushed for our iniquities…oppressed…afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 52:14, 53:3-7). Look upon this One who was pierced for your transgressions, betrayed, beaten, whipped, mocked, and hung on a cross for hours. The One who implored us to come to Him, to learn from Him, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 10:29), enduring the wrath of God in our place so we could know that rest. Wrath manifested not only in the physical pain but in the darkness that covered the earth for the last 3 hours on that cross. Signifying separation. The emptiness and felt breaking of relationship, as God the Father turned away from His beloved Son. “It was the will of the LORD to crush him” because the crushing of Christ was the only hope for us (Isaiah 53:10). And as wrenching as this sacrifice was, “Out of the anguish of his soul [Jesus] shall see and be satisfied,” for this sacrifice provided a way for “many to be accounted righteous” (Isaiah 53:11).
Through the cross, through this sacrifice, we are made righteous. Not through what we do. Paul realized the seriousness of this statement. I left out a verse from his letter at the beginning of this devotion. But reflecting on what Jesus did, perhaps we can grasp why Paul wrote it to the Galatians, why he was so worked up over the false teaching they received that they were still bound to the law and must be circumcised. So I will insert it here in context: “But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”
Paul saw how serious and damaging this teaching was. Because it degrades the cross and Jesus’ sacrifice. It denies His power to save to the uttermost. And it binds believers once again, rejecting their freedom.
We are called to freedom, brothers and sisters! Beautiful freedom, and rest for our souls. So let us not submit again to a yoke of slavery, whether slavery to the legalism of trying to earn our way to heaven and thereby denying the sufficiency of Christ, or slavery to continued sin. As the cross does not set us free to walk in self-righteous pride, it also does not set us free to walk in rebellion; that will not bring our hearts joy or fill us with the fullness of Christ. And it certainly isn’t a mark of the salvation that is ours – if we have truly trusted in Christ and confessed Him as Lord, receiving His Spirit within us who begins transforming us into His image, this should be exemplified in our growing pursuit of Him…if we just go on sinning, have we truly confessed Christ, or have we just said some words that we thought would allow us to live however we want with no consequences?
Love is the mark of those who have trusted in Christ. Love for God and love for others, overflowing from the love that God manifested on the cross and has poured into our hearts with His Spirit. If we are His, and if we are living authentically in pursuit of Him, we cannot help but walk in accordance with His law – because it is written on our hearts, and any misstep stirs conflict in our soul. And His law, it isn’t a list of rules and things we check off a list. It’s love. Love and freedom. We fix our eyes on Christ, we trust in the power of the cross to save us, we rest in the knowledge that He won’t let us lose Him, and we walk forward knowing that He leads us on the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. He gets all the glory, and we get the fullness of joy, because we get Him.