Boasting in the Cross

Sermon by Ed Hartman on Apr 28

Galatians 6:14

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Would you please be seated and take your Bibles and turn with me to Galatians chapter 6. As you’re turning there, I’m going to take a moment of personal privilege; you can call it a pre-application. An application of our study this evening is going to be reflected in this card that I’m holding here. It’s in the pew racks in front of you. I have to take every opportunity to talk about mission that I get when I’m up in front of you, so here’s my opportunity.

We base our mission giving on mission pledges. Because we support so many missionaries, church planters, campus ministers, evangelism, discipleship workers, interns for RUF, we have to be very careful to not overspend what this congregation tells us that they will provide for us to distribute. I realize that in this past mission conference, as great as it was - and it was a lot of fun; it was thrilling - but I realized after the fact that we did not talk a great deal about money. Because to do everything we talked about doing is really expensive. And I’m highlighting that because at this point two months after our mission conference ended, we are still about 100 mission pledge cards fewer than last year at this time, and a couple hundred thousand dollars less than last year at this time. And what that means is that if that doesn’t correct, our mission committee will have to begin deciding whom will we not support this coming year that we used to support. It’s that important that you turn in a mission pledge card.

You might be thinking, "Look, it's been two months since the mission conference and I didn't turn one in right after, nor the week right after. And well, two months later, it's going to be kind of strange if now I turn in a mission pledge card." In response, I would say, "By all means, turn one in." And you can fill one out during the evening service and just hand it to an usher as you leave. Or on your phone, the church app has a very easy way to make a pledge. But it's really important to help our mission committee and session know, "Here's what you have to work with as you invest in the spread of the kingdom."

I said that's an application, a pre-application of our study this evening, and it is because, from the time we began with the call to worship we've been talking about boasting, we've been praying about boasting. One of the ways you reflect what you're boasting in is by looking carefully at what you're investing toward. Your mission pledge is a boast, not before men, but it's a boast before the Lord saying, "The cross of Jesus Christ is so precious to me that I want to expend myself toward the spread of the Gospel and others coming to know this Redeemer that I have come to know and treasure myself." There's my pre-application. You'll see we'll end there anyway.

Galatians chapter 6. This is the last paragraph of Paul’s letter. For simplicity's sake, we’re going to read and study just one verse, verse 14. I’d encourage you to memorize it. It’s that important to your life. Paul says:

“But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

Let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Father, by Your Holy Spirit, would You please illumine our boasting and then reorient our boasting so that what is most precious to us, what we declare outwardly or even subtly and inwardly, make it to be the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ and change our lives in the process. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

At the very outset, I’d like to say that all of us are boasters. This is not an anti-boasting sermon. Actually, God created, He designed you to be a boaster. I’ll unpack that in just a moment. But Paul says it this way. “But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” He’s stating it negatively. Stating it positively would be just like this: “I want to boast only in the cross of the Lord Jesus. I want my boast to be singular and I want it to be in the cross.”

We celebrated Easter last Sunday, we went through a magnificent Good Friday here in the sanctuary, celebrated the resurrection, and then we kind of moved on. And I was struck with this by remembering that about 280 million Orthodox Christians across the world are celebrating Easter today because they don’t use the Gregorian calendar like we do; they use the older, Julian calendar. And so the way they determine when their Easter is runs on a different timetable than ours does. And so today, Orthodox Christians all over the world are saying, “Christ is risen!” and the resounding response is, “He is risen, indeed!” And yet next week they’ll be where we are today, having gone past Good Friday, Easter, and now we’re wondering what’s next.

You see, it’s really easy to look past the cross and devalue the cross. It’s actually one of the things that Paul warned against in 1 Corinthians chapter 1. He said, “Christ sent me to preach the Gospel not with words of human wisdom, lest” - here it is - “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.” So there it is - the cross can either be power in your life or the cross can be emptied of its power. What makes the difference? That’s what I’d like us to unpack this evening and it all comes down to boasting.

So two questions I’d like to explore. Number one - What does it mean to boast? Number two - Why boast only in the cross? Again, we’ll be very straightforward and practical.

What Does it Mean to Boast?

If you look at the word “boast,” you find a rather negative definition. It says, “to speak with exaggeration and excessive pride especially about one’s self; to speak vaingloriously, to puff one’s self up in speech.” That sounds like something we should not do, right? It sounds pretty self-preoccupied. “Oh, look at me.” That’s what we think boasting is, right? And it can be. But if you look at what Paul is writing in this passage and about the thirty-five other times that Paul uses this same Greek word that we translate “boast,” you realize he has something very different in mind. The Greek word is καυχάομαι. It’s also translated in other places in the New Testament, same word, as “exalt” or “rejoice” or “glory to glory in Christ,” or “to take pride.” Over thirty-five times, just the apostle Paul uses it and other Biblical writers use that same verb to talk about boasting, rejoicing, exalting, glorying in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Boasting and Our Identity

John Piper recently wrote a book, last year it was published, on preaching. And the book is titled, Expository Exaltation. Or using the original language, “Expository Boasting.” You realize when a preacher stands in this pulpit he’s actually boasting in the one to whom this Word points. We’re all about boasting when we come to worship. Piper writes in his book, “Exulting or boasting is central not just to preaching but to the way you live your Christian life.” You see, the way we boast actually articulates and defines and celebrates our identity. It celebrates what we value, what is precious and infinitely dear to us.

A few examples. We boast in our kids, don't we? Most of us as preachers are going to talk about our kids. It's the easy thing to talk about and we delight in talking about our children from the pulpit. We boast in our accomplishments. We boast in our relationships. You've been around people who name drop. They talk about these important people with whom they have a relationship. We boast about our plans. We boast about the trips we've taken or are going to take. We boast about our athletic ability. We boast unashamedly on our resumes - the schools we've attended, the grades that we've earned, the awards, the accolades, the positions we've held, responsibilities we've carried out, the experiences we've had, the colleges we identify with. We boast in the t-shirts or the hats we wear, about exotic places we've visited or prestigious golf courses we've played, competitions we've been involved with, exclusive experiences that we've had that maybe nobody else has had. We boast more quietly in the brands of clothes or things we possess or the cars we drive or the jewelry we wear, the restaurants we frequent, the house we own, the control we have over our pets. The list goes on and on.

We boast on our social media, don't we? I mean think about Instagram. When's the last time you posted a picture in which you didn't look great or exciting? I mean nobody posts pictures that makes them look fat or unattractive or dull! It's always exciting. "Look at me! Wouldn't you like to be me?" Or Twitter. You have got 140 characters to show how witty and insightful you can really be; or now 280 characters. You have double the opportunity to show how witty and insightful and clever you can be. We're boasting in almost everything that we're doing.

Boasting and the Fall

Why? Because God designed us to boast and the fall has ruined our boasting. Because boasting is a way of delighting in what is most valuable. It is a way of celebrating, praising, rejoicing in what is most valuable. Boasting is the primary way we establish and live out our identity, our allegiance, the things that we treasure. Boasting announces who we claim to be. It's the way we affirm and enjoy that identity. Boasting is how we visibly attach to what's most precious to us. If there's something in your life that is absolutely most precious to you and you don't ever talk about it, there's a serious question about whether or not it's all that valuable to you. The fact is, God created us to be boasters.

We think about it from the perspective of Revelation 19:7 - “Let us rejoice and exalt” - there’s that word “boast” again, this time translated “exalt” - “Let us rejoice and exalt and give Him the glory for the wedding supper of the Lamb has come.” Or 1 Corinthians 1 verse 31, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.” You go to the first question of the Shorter Catechism which asks, “What is the chief end of man?” Answer - “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” That is to say, to boast in God and to delight in that boasting; that’s our chief end. God designed us for this purpose. This is who He made us to be. And that’s at the core what worship really is. Psalm 34 verse 1, David says, “I will bless the Lord at all times. His praise will always be on my lips. My soul will boast in the Lord. Let the afflicted hear and rejoice. O magnify the Lord with me and let us exalt His name together.”

Boasting and Worship

You see, when we worship, we’re actually boasting. And if you’re not boasting in the worth of the one you’ve gathered to celebrate, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not actually worshipping. Has that sunk in? If you come into this place thinking, “Boy, I sure hope I get something out of that today,” you’re really not intending to lend your voice to the congregation that boasts in the worth of the Lamb. I mean think of all of the angelic hosts gathered around the throne who are celebrating and singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who is slain!” They’re talking about worth. They’re boasting in the worth of the Lamb. And what you’ll discover is that what you boast in will define you and shape you and it will either imprison you or it will absolutely free you. This is why boasting is so important, not just in worship, not just in preaching, but in all of life. This is why God says in Jeremiah 9 - our call to worship started here - “Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts, boast about this: that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth for envies I delight, declares the Lord.” You with me so far? Boasting is central to who you are, God designed you to be this way, and boasting is central to worship.

Boasting is Comparative

And here’s where it gets tricky. Boasting, by nature, is comparative. One thing is more valuable to me than another and therefore I boast in this over against this. Quick story. When my daughter, Katie, was five years old, she spent the night with her grandmother whom she calls, even to this day, Gamie. Well Katie and Gamie finished dinner and they cleared the table and they were getting ready to do dishes and Gamie pulled a chair up to the sink for Katie to stand on. And Katie watched as Gamie pulled off her wedding ring and her engagement band and put them in a small bowl next to the sink. And so Katie did the same. She pulled off her ring which she had only gotten that day when her Gamie put a quarter in the gumball machine and let Katie turn the dial and out popped this plastic bubble. And you know what was inside - this precious plastic ring with this plastic clear stone. And Katie thought it was magnificent! So when she saw Gamie drop her rings into that bowl next to the sink, Katie thought, “Well I need to do that as well!” And she pulled off her ring and plopped it in. And no sooner did her ring hit that bowl but her hands went to her face and she said, “Oh no, Gamie! How will we ever tell them apart?”

Twenty years later, my daughter Katie, when a young man from northern New Jersey got down on one knee and held out a sparkly gold ring with diamonds and sapphires on it and asked her to become his wife, I assure you Katie knew the difference. You see, boasting is comparative. What was a boast-worthy plastic, twenty-five cent ring became cheap and irrelevant when compared to a diamond ring given to her by the young man who promised his lifelong love to her. Boasting by nature is comparative.

Or think about it this way. You’ve seen those cars that have that white, oval sticker on the back with a number that says 26.2? You’ve seen that, right? You know what that means. It means that the driver of that car has run a marathon, which is 26.2 miles, and they’re pretty proud of that. But think about this. If everyone in the United States regularly ran a marathon, would anyone put that sticker on the back of their car? Of course not, because it would be ordinary. Boasting - you put a sticker on the back of your car when you’ve done something that not just anybody has done. This is really valuable compared to what everyone else has experienced.

Here's the point. When Paul says, "May I never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I to the world," what he's saying is, "There are all kinds of good things in my life, but compared to this, the cross of Jesus Christ, none of them is boast-worthy. Only this is boast-worthy."

Why Boast Only in the Cross?

So onto the second question - Why boast only in the cross? Think about the man who wrote those words. Paul could have very easily and convincingly boasted in Gentiles converted. I mean there were a lot of people he led to faith in Christ. Paul could have legitimately boasted in really important Gentiles, Roman officials coming to faith in Christ through his ministry, through his being imprisoned. Remember he said, "Those of Caesar's household greet you," in one of his letters. He's saying, "Important people in Rome are your brothers and sisters in Christ because of my faithfulness in ministry." He could have boasted in that. He could have boasted in churches planted. There are a lot of them. He could have boasted in missionary journeys completed and all the things that he experienced in the process. He could have boasted in apostolic authority by which letters he wrote would become the text from which people would preach for millennia onto today. He could have boasted in all of that, yet he says, "God forbid. May I never boast in any of that compared to my boasting in the cross of Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world."

Tells the Whole Truth

So there's the question - Why? Why this singular boasting in the cross? I can think of two reasons and we'll unpack them. One, only the cross tells us the whole truth about our identity. Where you went to school, the fact that you're a Bulldog and graduated from Mississippi State, that's great, but if that's the entirety of your identity that's a pretty fragile identity that you possess. And you may be a physician, you may be an attorney, you may be a school teacher, maybe a stay at home mom, you may be a janitor, you may be any number, but if that's the core of your identity it's a very fragile, loseable identity. Isn't it? So Paul says, "May my only boast be in the cross." Why? Because only the cross tells us the whole truth about our identity. On one level, the cross declares that our sin is not like a speeding ticket or like a shoplifting charge. Actually, it's like an act of treason and terrorism against God. The cross declares that our spiritual condition is not like a headache but like stage four cancer or maybe even better, a dead body. That's what the cross declares to us. John Stott once wrote this. He said, "Every time we look at the cross, Christ is saying to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.' Nothing in all the world cuts a person down to size like the cross. At the foot of the cross, each of us shrinks to our true size."

So yes, the cross tells us how bad our condition is, why it needed something that radical as a brutal, gruesome death of a sinless Lamb of God, the sinless Lamb of God to put us back right, it tells us how bad our condition was but it also tells us the price tag, the lengths to which our Rescuer was willing to go to demonstrate our Father’s love for us, His own love for us, how committed to His own glory He is, how determined He is to restore us and to lead us to boast supremely in Him. The cross tells us the whole truth about our identity - how bad things really are and how amazing, how immeasurably huge is the love of God for us in Christ.

Now put those two together. I read an article about a man whose name is Dale Riffle. He lives in West Virginia. The article was titled, "Pig Rescue." In the 1980s, there was a certain pet that became very popular- they were the Vietnamese potbellied pigs and people were buying them left and right. They were advertised as being really intelligent, extremely trainable, and you could litterbox train them or you could housebreak them and people were spending thousands of dollars to buy these Vietnamese potbellied pigs, not at all realizing that these pigs weren't just pygmies - they were advertised as never getting more than 40 pounds - actually these pigs would grow as big as most any other pig; they grew upwards of 300 pounds and they were aggressive and they were really hard to housebreak! And so a lot of people ended up getting either as gifts of purchasing these Vietnamese potbellied pigs and all of a sudden they realized, "I don't know what to do with this!" And so Dale Riffle had someone just say, "Here, take this pig!" And he thought, "Cool." He had a place with some acreage and he kept it and the next thing he knew someone else gave him their pig and then after that someone else gave him a pig and before he realized it, he eventually had 200 pigs on his property, all no longer wanted Vietnamese potbellied pigs. He was quoted as saying, "We're all on earth for some reason, and I guess rescuing pigs is my lot in life. I love these pigs!"

Now it begs the question - How could anyone in his right mind fall in love with a bunch of overgrown pigs? Of course, you know where I'm going with that, right? How could a holy God set His love on self-centered, ungrateful, openly rebellious, hardhearted wandering people, pigs, like you and me? This is what takes us back to the Gospel of the cross and why Paul says, "May I never boast except in the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." The cross tells us the whole truth about our identity, both how bad our condition is and how deeply our Rescuer and Redeemer actually loves us.

The Means to Change

The second reason Paul boasts in the cross is the cross is the means by which God changes us. He doesn’t just rescue us once at the very beginning, but the cross is the ongoing, the central means of the ongoing change that He is determined to complete in our lives. The cross not only tells us the truth, but it constantly calls us to respond to the truth as an instrument of what the cross has always been. The cross has always been an instrument of death. It is a means by which we die to self and learn to live to another.

The cross, for example, confronts our pride. Philippians 2, Paul says, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.” The cross confronts our will. Jesus says in John 6:38, “For I have come down from heaven not to do my own will but to do the will of Him who sent Me.” Third, the cross confronts our independence. First Corinthians 6:19, “Do you not know that you are not your own? For you were bought at a price” - the price of God’s own Son executed on the cross - “therefore, honor God with your body.” Fourth, the cross contradicts our self-sufficiency. Jesus very clearly said in John 15, “I am the Vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in Me and I in him, he will bear much fruit, but apart from Me” - you know how it ends, right? “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.” The cross confronts our self-sufficiency. Finally, the cross confronts our affections. Galatians 5:24, “Those who belong to Christ have crucified their sinful nature with its passions and desires.”

See, here’s the thing. Without a cross, there is no resurrection. And I suspect that if you’re like me, you’re praying that God will intervene in places in your life that feel like death right now. You want Him to show resurrection life and power, to do what Paul said in Ephesians - that He would do “immeasurably more than all we can ask or imagine.” Or as Isaiah 64 says, “O that You would rend the heavens and come down and do awesome things that we do not expect.” We want Him to show us resurrection life and power. Don’t we? But look, the prerequisite to resurrection is death and all the places that feel like death.

You’ve heard me say this before, but it bears mentioning again. It’s entirely possible that some of the things you’re asking God today to remove from your life or change about your life - your relationships, the place you work, what’s going on with your children, your parents, your health, your financial situation - God may have very well sent you that place that feels like death, that brings the experience of the cross to your life, so that He can show you the resurrection life and power that you’ve been longing to experience. Does that make sense? This will be the rest of our lives, won’t it? The cross alone tells us the whole truth about our identity and the cross is the means by which God is going to continue to change us. And He won’t let up. He’s not going to take His foot off the gas. He is determined, as Paul says in Philippians 1, “He is faithful and He will carry to completion the good work that He has begun within us.”

"May I never boast," Paul says, "except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world." Why does he end it that way - "through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world"? Well, think about it this way. When we lived in Romania I had a young man who was a city councilman, great friend, and he met this young lady who was really, really attractive, way out of his league, but he began pursuing her. And they began dating and he began relentlessly talking about marriage. And finally she agreed to marry him and he was so excited. He loved this girl - couldn't stop thinking about her, couldn't stop talking about her. Everything was all about this girl. Until she lost interest and broke off the engagement and said, "No, I don't think so. Not me and you. I'm out." She moved to a different country to make sure that the relationship was broken off. But you know, my friend, he never broke it off. Every conversation he and I had she would come up. Every holiday, he would send her cards and flowers. Every trip he took he would try and find a way to end up in that country to go see if he could see her.

It was a really sad scenario because here’s one person who had completely cut him off, and here’s my friend who is still longing for reattachment. As far as I know, they never got back together again. How different it would have ended had she said to him, “Our relationship is over,” and he said, “Yes, our relationship is over. I’m no longer interested in you. I’m no longer thinking about you. I’m no longer desiring you. I’m no longer pining after you.” It would be a mutual cutting off of the other; each cutting off the other.

That’s the imagery that Paul is using here. “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.” You see, what God is doing in the process of making us boast in the cross is He’s changing our affections. He’s reminding us of the comparative worth of all that is ours in the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ so that we avoid what Paul warns against - that the cross is emptied of its power and instead we find the life and the power of the cross steadily at work changing us and making us into the image of Christ. So we boast in the cross even when, maybe especially when the cross brings to us experiences that feel like death.

One last image that pulls all of this together. Back to John Piper’s book on Expository Exaltation. He makes this comment that I find really helpful. This is why the singularity of this boast is critical, not just for Paul but for all of us. Piper writes, “For redeemed sinners, every good thing and every bad thing that God turns for good was secured for us and comes to us only by the cross of Christ.” Here’s what he’s saying. There is no blessing, there is no comfort, there is no promise made to us in the Bible that comes to us apart from the cross. The cross is the bottleneck. It’s the hinge on which everything else swings. I mean think about it. Even Old Testament promises and assurance, Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” Do you realize that’s not yours except through the cross? None of the Old Testament promises even belonged to those who wrote them apart from the Redeemer in whom they were placing their hope actually coming and fulfilling His God-ordained design. Every promise, every blessing, every hope, every comfort, every encouragement that’s in Scripture comes to us only, only through the cross.

And Piper says this is based on the logic of heaven. He points to Romans 8:32 and says when Paul made this statement he was setting for us one of the most important truths of the Bible. “He who spared not His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also along with Him freely give us all things?” Meaning God has done the most important thing. He’s done the hardest thing. He has given us His most precious relationship, He gave up His Son, and if He’s given up the most greatest gift then how could He possibly hold back on any lesser gift. That’s the logic of heaven.

The way it works is very simply this. Apart from the cross, do you know what you and I get? Wrath and condemnation and judgment and banishment and that's all we get. Without the cross, that would be all that would be ours. None of the Old Testament promises, none of the New Testament promises would be ours apart from the cross because without the cross all we would get would be wrath and wrath alone. And because of the cross, all the promises, all the encouragements, all the blessings are blood-bought, cross-won promises, blessings, comforts, and encouragements. This is why Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:2, "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified."

One last picture and we’re done. Most of you know about my friend Andrew Allen. He is the church planter who planted the only PCA church plant in the entire state of Alaska. I met him three years ago and have been going back and forth to Redeemer Church helping, preaching there, encouraging, helping structure some of their leadership dynamics. Most of you know that Andrew was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer two years ago and has been fighting the fight of his life. For a while it looked like the Lord was going to heal him, and yet this past Friday, just two days ago, I received this message from his wife. She said, “Andrew lay in my arms last night and he drew his last breath at 11:19 Thursday evening, April 25, 2019. The last enemy of death has visited our home. Though my heart is broken and my sorrow is overwhelming, Andrew has crossed over Jordan and is now rejoicing, alive and in the presence of his Creator and Lord, Jesus Christ. Only his body remains here and sleeps, awaiting the resurrection, awaiting his change.”

How does a young woman with a three-year-old little girl, newly carrying the label “widow,” how does she write those words hours after her husband has stopped breathing? Answer - she’s boasting only in the cross because she knows that the promises of Scripture are blood-bought and cross-won. And that, more than anything else, defines us, it shapes us, it frees us and it draws us in. We’ve sung the hymn, “When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of Glory died, my richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.” The second verse of that hymn is based on the verse we’ve just studied. “Forbid it Lord that I should boast, save in the death of Christ my Lord. All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them all to His blood.” Would you join in prayer with me?

Father, You have designed us and created us to be boasters. Would You please forgive us for boasting in a thousand things that we think are meaningful and precious? Would You forgive us for being angry because You have either withheld or taken away from us some of the things that we used to boast in or wish we were still boasting in and now are angry or withdrawn or sullen because in Your wisdom You’ve taken them away? Would You shape within us hearts of worship that boast only in the cross because we recognize the logic of heaven, every blessing, every promise comes to us only because of the cross. Make us people known by our boasting, but by our right boasting. We ask that in Jesus’ name, amen.

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