"Living A Crucified Life"
(A New Year's Messsage, delivered Sunday, December 26, 2004 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture is taken from the New King James Version.)
We stand before a brand new year; and at this time each year, I seek something from God's word that will encourage us as a church family to step into a new level of growth in our walk with Christ. And for this reason, I have felt led to the words of the apostle Paul at the end of the book of Galatians.
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I'm convinced that God gave the apostle Paul to us as a flesh-and-blood example of what faithful Christian living looks like in actual experience. He himself believed that he was given to us by God as an example to follow; and he wasn't afraid to say so. He told the Corinthian believers, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Cor.. 11:1). He told the Philippian believers, "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:9). n one of his letters to to Timothy, he said, ". . . For this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life" (1 Timothy 1:16).
If we want to understand the high calling that God has on our life, we must always look first to Jesus. But if we want to see what it looks like for imperfect people like ourselves to turn from our sins and follow the Savior in a devoted way; if we want to see what it looks like for God to transform a sinner and turn him or her into a useful instrument in His hand; if we want to see a living example of the attitudes and priorities and beliefs and motives and aspirations that are to characterize us as followers of Jesus Christ while we walk on this earth, then we must look at Paul - because that's why he was given to us by God.
One of the things that characterized Paul was the central place that the cross of Jesus Christ held in his life. He was a thoroughly cross-centered man. I don't mean by that that he simply valued the cross of Jesus as a symbol to be worn around his neck. I mean that he considered the Savior who hung on that cross - and the sacrifice Jesus made for him there - to be everything to him. Paul considered that when Christ died on the cross for him, he essentially "died" on the cross with Jesus. He no longer sought to live life on the principle of "self" - but now on the principle of the one who died for him. He even says so in the middle of his letter to the Galatians: "I have been crucified with Christ: 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 for me" (Gal. 2:20).
For Paul, this wasn't simply an abstract, symbolic thing. He believed that, in the eyes of God, he was radically joined to Jesus Christ by faith in an act of God's grace - being "baptized" into Christ (that is, placed spiritually into Him in such a way that everything that happened to Christ also happened to him); so that he truly died when Christ died, and was truly raised with Christ when Christ rose from the dead. Paul believed that this was true of all who are "in Christ". It's also true of you if you have placed your faith in Him. Paul wrote, ". . . Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Rom. 6:3-4). Paul considered himself truly crucified with Christ, and now raised together with Him; and so this obligated Paul to live a whole new kind of life.
In many places in the New Testament, and in many ways, Paul expresses the conviction that he was "dead" - crucified to "self" on the cross through the death of Jesus; and that he now lived, no longer for himself, but for Christ. But there's one particular aspect of the "crucified life" in Paul's experience that I want to share with you this morning. It's something that has been much on my mind lately; and I believe it's an example that God is calling us to particularly pursue in the coming year.
It's found in Paul's words near the end of his letter to the Galatians: "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14). In these words, Paul calls us - by his example - to make the cross of Jesus our "boast" in life; and as we do, we see that our relationship with the ungodly values and priorities of this world changes as a result. We see that, having been crucified with Christ, we are now to see ourselves as "dead" to this world, and the world as "dead" to us. We then are to go on, as a result of being gripped by this truth, to live a "crucified life" in the midst of this world.
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Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; I don't want a half-baked Christian experience, do you? I want my faith in Jesus Christ to mean something in the way I live. I don't want to waste my life; but I want to live in a way that's completely different from the way the unsaved people of this world live. I don't want, as Paul says in Romans 12:1-2, to "be conformed to this world". If, as professing believers, our lives are indistinguishable from the lives of people who have no relationship with Christ; if we find that we are simply, passively being squeezed into the world's mold, then how can we prove to anyone that Jesus has really made any kind of difference in our lives? I want to live a life, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, that defies explanation. And I want to be in a church full of people whose lives also defy explanation! I don't want the world calling the shots in my life! I want to be so conformed to the cross of Jesus Christ, that I am dead to this world's evil values and priorities, and it values and priorities are dead to me.
Do you want that? If so, let's present ourselves to the Holy Spirit for instruction, look together at this passage, and be taught to follow Paul's example for us. The first thing I'd like us to consider is the first thing Paul mentions in this verse. Unless we do this first thing, we cannot be different from this world. And that first thing is that . . .
1. WE ARE TO MAKE THE CROSS OF JESUS OUR 'BOAST' IN LIFE.
Let me set Galatians 6:14 in its context. Paul was writing to the Galatian Christians because they were giving in to false doctrine. They had placed their faith in the cross of Jesus Christ for their salvation, and they had trusted that His death had paid for their sins. But they were failing to understand that not only were their sins washed away by the blood of Jesus, but they now stand as 100-percent righteous in God's sight through the life of Jesus. And that's where the false teachers came in.
Some were creeping into the church and teaching these new Christians that they had to become outwardly "Jewish" in order to truly be saved. They taught that it wasn't enough to only trust Jesus to wash away their sins; but that they also needed to now become outwardly conformed to the Jewish laws and customs, and that they needed to observe the Sabbaths and the Jewish dietary laws, and that they needed to keep the Jewish religious ceremonies and rituals according to the law of Moses in order to be truly righteous before God. These false teachers were particularly emphasizing "circumcision" as a sign of their obedience to God's law and of their true righteousness before God. Scholars often refer to these teachers as "Judaizers", because they were seeking to convert these early Christians to a form of Judaism.
And Paul - himself a redeemed Jewish man - fought against this heresy tooth and nail! He didn't give this false teaching one inch of room in the Christian faith. He exhorted the believers, "Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage" (Gal. 5:1). And it was this fight to preserve the sufficiency of faith in Jesus alone that serves as the context of this morning's verse.
Paul spoke of these false teachers and their motives when he wrote,
As many as desire to make a good showing in the flesh, these would compel you to be circumcised, only that they may not suffer persecution for the cross of Christ. For not even those who are circumcised keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh (6:12-13).
The Judaizers emphasized the outward symbol of circumcision as a proof of righteousness before God. They emphasized the externals of religion; and sought to compel the believers to be circumcised as an outward symbol as well. In this way, the Judaizers could "boast" in how they got the believers to conform to their religious rules and regulations, and could avoid the persecution that Paul himself suffered from his kinsmen for his faith in the full sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ.
And it was here that Paul took his stand in opposition to these teachers who boasted in the flesh, and said,"But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Gal. 6:14).
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The Greek word Paul uses for "boast" (kauchaomai) means to "glory" in something, or to "pride oneself" in something. The thing you "boast" in would be the thing you take your stand on and brag about. And notice that both he and the Judaizers "boasted" in something. The Judaizers boasted in the flesh. And this underscores the distinction between himself and them. They boasted in outward appearances - in something that would make them look impressive in the eyes of men. Elsewhere, Paul uses this same word to urge us not to "boast in men" (1 Cor. 3:21); and to set ourselves apart from those who "boast in appearance and not in heart" (2 Cor. 5:12).
But look at what Paul "boasts" in: the cross. Paul makes the cross his exclusive boast. He boasts in the cross and in nothing else. He says, "But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross." He would not let himself boast in the things that those false teachers boasted in. In fact, Paul uses the strongest possible Greek way of expressing this: mÍ genoito; "may it never be!" He makes it very personal: placing emphasis in the original language on himself - "But as for me, may it never be that I boast . . ."
Now, for a man living in Paul's day - and in the midst of Roman culture - the last thing in the world someone would naturally think of "boasting" in would be a cross. A cross was a cursed thing. It was the most despised form of execution that the Romans could have ever invented. It was a thing of great shame. It was an instrument of humiliating death. But Paul makes it clear that he doesn't make his exclusive boast in just any cross, but specifically in the cross of "our Lord Jesus Christ". And to make his boast in the cross of Jesus Christ means that he makes his boast in everything that is involved in the cross of Jesus Christ.
He most certainly means, for example, that he makes his boast in the one who died on the cross. He once said,
. . . Indeed, I also count all things loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:8-11).
But along with boasting in the one who died on the cross for him, Paul also boasted in all that was accomplished at the cross, and all that it implied. He embraced the fact that the cross declared him a sinner in need of a Savior. He embraced the sentence of death for his own sins that the cross affirmed. He embraced the shame and scandal of the cross. But he also boasted in the full atonement for that sin that was accomplished there. He boasted in the redemption purchased by the blood of Christ shed upon it. And he embraced the glory with Christ that the cross would lead to. He embraced it all. He made it all his hope. He took his stand on all of it. It was all his only boast.
And let me ask you; have you made the cross your boast as well? Have you placed your trust in the cross of Jesus Christ? Do you point to it and say - with a sanctified sense of both humility and pride - "That was for me!! It was my sins that made the cross of Jesus Christ necessary; but I have fully embraced it as my only hope!! I am right with God, and am going to heaven forever - not because of anything that I did in the flesh, but strictly on the basis of what Jesus did on the cross for me!! The cross alone is my boast; and whatever else the world may say, may it never be true of me that I boast in anything else BUT the cross of Jesus Christ my Lord!!"
I suggest to you that, if you want your Christian life to mean something in this world, you must come to the point in your life in which you consciously, deliberately, make the cross of Jesus Christ your exclusive boast. You must follow Paul - our God-given, earthly example - and say from the heart, "I am crucified with Christ!"
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But you must also say with Paul, "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 for me." Those who have truly been crucified with Christ must then go on to live a new kind of life in this world - or else the "self" has not truly been "crucified". This leads us to next consider that . . .
2. WE ARE TO LIVE A 'CRUCIFIED' LIFE IN THIS WORLD AS A RESULT.
Paul was our example in this. He affirmed that his boast was in the cross of Jesus Christ; "by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world." The "world", as Paul uses the word here, refers to all that has set itself against God and the message of the cross. The "world" is that system of priorities and values that is fundamentally "ungodly", and that stands in opposition to God and His good will for our lives.
To embrace the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ is to immediately place ourselves in opposition to the values and priorities of this ungodly world system. Jesus once told the disciples,
If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you (John 15:18-19).
The apostle James wrote, "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God" (James 4:4). Similarly, The apostle John once exhorted us,
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it: but he who does the will of God abides forever (1 John 2:15-17).
Paul made the cross his boast in that it was his place of "death to self". And in being crucified on the cross with Jesus, Paul at the same time changed his relationship to the world. It was crucified to him, and he was crucified to it.
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What did it mean that the world was crucified to him? I believe that it meant he was no longer driven by the world's approval. As far as he was concerned, the world was "crucified" - dead! He didn't care what a dead "thing" said about him.
You certainly see this in his behavior. You see it in the fact that he was utterly unashamed of the gospel message - a message that the world considered foolishness. The preaching of the gospel caused him a lot of suffering, and beatings, and imprisonments. But he once wrote these words to Timothy - being in prison when he wrote them;
Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner, but share with me in the sufferings for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began, but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, to which I was appointed a preacher, an apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles. For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day (2 Tim. 1:8-12).
Those are the words of a man to whom the world was crucified; don't you agree?
And what's more; not only was the world crucified to him, but he was crucified to the world.
What did it mean that he was crucified to the world? It meant that the world still had something of its pull - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, the boastful pride of life; but it was no longer the driving force of Paul's life. The world would give out its orders to him and try to press him into its mold; but it would fail. It would no more be the guiding principle in his life than it would over a dead man - because he truly was dead; crucified to it through Christ. Jesus said, "In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).
In what ways was Paul crucified to the world? I can think of three specific ways. First, he was crucified to the world's pull upon him through the lust of the flesh.
The world keeps many people prisoner through the pull of the flesh. Its philosophy is, "If it feels good, do it." That, in fact, has become the guiding principle in life for many. but Paul asserted, "Those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24).
Paul explained this wonderfully in Romans 6:8-14:
Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Rom. 6:8-14).
Does the world still exercise rule over you through the pull of the flesh? Have you yet been "crucified" to this world by putting to death the deeds of the flesh?
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Second, Paul was crucified to this world's pull on him through the lust of the eyes. He was willing to suffer the loss of all things on this earth in order to be fully Christ's.
An attachment to the things of this earth keeps many people prisoner to this world. It's philosophy in this regard, is "He who dies with the most toys wins". Jesus spoke of the foolish man who became prosperous, built up his barns to store his grain, then told his own soul, "Take your ease; eat, drink and be merry." But God told him, "'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:13-21).
The things of this world did not hold Paul prisoner. He was able to have much or little - to be in poverty or to abound. It didn't change him. It didn't rule his soul. He could possess the things of this world as God provided them; but they couldn't possess him. He was crucified to the things of this world; and now, his life consisted in Christ and not in them. He wrote,
If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on the things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:1-4).
Do the things of this world rule over you? Are the things of this world your "life"? Have you been "crucified" to this world by crucifying "the lust of the eyes"?
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Third, Paul was crucified to this world's pull through the pride of life. Many are deeply concerned with how others think of them. They are either ruled by the 'fear of man' or they are driven to become feared by men. They longed to be looked up to and respected in the eyes of this world. The "pride of life" expresses itself in the world's motto: "I did it my way".
But this didn't have a grip on Paul. He was no longer concerned about what this world thought of him. He embraced and proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ wholeheartedly - even though the world mocked it, and rejected it, and persecuted him for it.
There was a time, during one of his missionary journeys, when he was dragged out of the city he was preaching in, stoned viciously, and left for dead. But then, he immediately got up, and marched back into the very city that had just stoned him (Acts 14:19-20). On another occasion, he was on his way to preach the gospel in Jerusalem. There were prophets who warned him that imprisonment and trouble awaited him there; and many in the churches were pleading with him not to go. But Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord" (Acts 21:13). He was not ashamed of the gospel, because he was already "crucified" to the world - and why should a crucified man care what the world says about him?
Paul no longer craved respect and honor from this world. He put it this way: ". . . 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. For it is written: 'I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.' Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Cor. 1:18-20). God has made the wisdom of the world all foolish through the cross; and Paul was crucified upon it, with Christ, to the wisdom of this world.
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Paul lived a crucified life. He serves as our example. But then, we shouldn't be surprised by this; because Jesus taught this to us long ago when He said,
Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel's will save it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels (Mark 8:34-38).
Why does Jesus call us to take up our cross? It's so that we may be crucified upon it to the world. And why does He then call us to follow Him with it? It's so that we may then go on to live a crucified life in the midst of this world for His sake.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ; would you commit yourself with me, this year, to seek before God to live a crucified life in this world?
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