We’ve come today to the end of Paul’s letter to the churches in Galatia. Throughout this letter, he’s defended the one true gospel message, which he received directly from the Lord when the Risen Lord Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and transformed his life. And the one true gospel message is the good news that sinners are justified, not by keeping the law, but by faith in Christ the Saviour, who gave himself for our sins in order to rescue us from this present evil age. And he gave himself like this according to the will of God the Father, to whom be glory for ever and for ever.
The false teachers in Galatia, Paul’s opponents, were saying that faith in Christ is not enough. They were saying that faith in Christ is not enough for salvation. They were saying that in order to receive eternal life in the presence of God, you need to believe in Christ, but you also need to keep the law. More specifically, they were saying you had to be circumcised. So, any Gentiles who wanted to receive eternal life had to undergo circumcision. That’s what the false teachers were saying, but their message was not good news, because no one will be justified — that is, pardoned and accepted by God — by keeping the law, because no one is able to keep the law. The law cannot save us; it only condemns us. And Paul explained that the law is like a prison because it imprisons us as sinners who deserve to be condemned. And the law is like a supervisor, with the authority to rebuke us for our shortcomings and failures. And the law is like a legal guardian who treats us as slaves and who orders us about, but who will not lift a finger to help us to do what the law requires. No one will be justified by keeping the law, says Paul, because the law cannot save us; it only condemns us: it shows us our sin and guilt and all the ways we have fallen short of doing God’s will.
However — and Paul went on to make this point — the law leads us to Christ, because since the law shows us our sin and guilt, it therefore shows us our need of a Saviour. And whoever turns to Christ and believes in him is set free from the law’s condemnation and is adopted into God’s family and receives the gift of the Holy Spirit, who is poured into our hearts and who renews us in God’s likeness and enables us more and more to do what the law requires which is to love one another.
That’s what Paul has been saying in his letter to the Galatians.
And today’s passage is the end of his letter. Now, up to this point in the letter, Paul has been dictating his message out loud and someone else has been writing it down for him. This was his customary practice. For instance, if you look at Romans 16:22, you’ll see that a man named Tertius wrote down Paul’s letter to the Romans. But it was also common for Paul to write a few lines himself at the end of the letter. For instance, if you look at 1 Corinthians 16:21, Paul says that he’s writing a greeting to the Corinthians in his own hand. So, everything else was written down by a secretary, but the final greeting was written by Paul himself, perhaps as a way to authenticate the letter and perhaps also to add a personal touch at the end. In the same way today someone who types a letter will sign it at the end to prove who it’s from; and, if the writer knows the recipient, the writer may add a hand-written note at the end as a personal greeting.
Here in Galatians 6:11, Paul took up the pen and wrote the last few lines himself. He refers to his large letters. Some commentators think he might have written large letters because there was a problem with his eyesight. And so, in order to see his own writing, he had to make the letters big. Other commentators say that writing in large letters was a way of putting words in emphasis. Today, if you’re using a word-processor you might put words in bold or italics to emphasis them. When people used typewriters, they used to underline words in order to emphasise them. Or if you’re sending a text message or an email, you might put some of your words in capitals to emphasise them. We have different ways to emphasise or to stress the words we’re writing. And apparently, in the ancient world, one way to emphasise what you were writing was to use large letters. And that’s possible, because these final words are very important, because in these few verses, Paul is once again stressing what he has said previously about the false teachers and their message and about Paul and his message.
Verses 12 and 13
And so, in verses 12 and 13 Paul refers once again to the false teachers. And he refers to them in order to explain why they were saying what they were saying. Why did they say what they said about circumcision and how it was necessary for salvation? Paul explains it for us. And he mentions three things. Firstly, they wanted to make a good impression outwardly. That’s in verse 12. Secondly, they wanted to escape persecution. That’s also in verse 12. And thirdly, they wanted to boast about your flesh. That’s in verse 13.
So, they wanted people to be impressed with them and to praise them. Presumably they wanted to impress the Jews in Galatia by upholding the Jewish law. And then they wanted to avoid persecution. Presumably they wanted to avoid being persecuted by the Jews in Galatia who believed in the importance of circumcision. And, of course, the threat of persecution was very real. After all, we learn from the book of Acts that Paul himself was persecuted by the unbelieving Jews in the cities of Galatia. In fact, after stoning Paul in Lystra, the Jews dragged him out of the city and left him there, thinking that he was dead. Well, according to Paul, one reason the false teachers emphasised the importance of circumcision is because they wanted to avoid being persecuted themselves. Because they were afraid of the unbelieving Jews, they taught that the Gentiles in the churches in Galatia had to be circumcised. And then, they also wanted to ‘boast about your flesh’, says Paul. In other words, they wanted to boast about the number of converts they had made to their false gospel. They wanted to be able to boast about the number of people whom they had circumcised.
And so, there you are. Why did they teach that sinners are justified, not by faith in Christ alone, but by keeping the law? It was so that people would be pleased with them. It was so that they wouldn’t be persecuted. It was so that they could boast about the number of people they had circumcised. In other words, instead of seeking God’s glory, they sought glory for themselves. They boasted about themselves and they wanted people to be impressed with them.
And, of course, Paul points out once again in verse 13 that those who insisted on circumcision did not keep the law. They didn’t keep the law, but none of us is able to keep the law, because we’re sinners who need a Saviour.
Verses 14 and 15
The false teachers wanted to boast about themselves and the number of people they had circumcised. By contrast, look at what Paul says about himself and his own ministry. In verse 14 he says:
May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The false teachers wanted to win the praise of others, but Paul wanted to boast about Christ and to praise him for all that he has done for sinners by his death on the cross. Paul wanted men and women and boys and girls to look away from themselves and to look to Christ the Saviour. He wanted men and women and boys and girls to rely for salvation, not on themselves and the things they did, but on Jesus Christ and on what he did for sinners when he died on the cross. The false teachers said: Do this. In order to have eternal life, you have to do this and this and this and this.
By contrast Paul said: Believe. In order to have eternal life, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ who gave his life to rescue you from this present evil age. And so, wherever he went, Paul boasted about and spoke about Jesus Christ, who is the only Saviour of the world. He boasted about him, because sinners are justified — pardoned and accepted by God — though faith in Christ alone. So, look away from yourself. Look away from your good deeds. Look away from your bad deeds as well. Look away from anything you may have done. And look to Christ and rely on him alone for salvation, because whoever trusts in him is pardoned by God and receives the free gift of everlasting life.
Paul wanted to boast about Christ and his cross. And he adds: ‘through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.’ So, through the cross of Christ the world has been crucified to Paul and Paul has been crucified to the world. And, of course, when Paul refers to crucifixion, he’s referring to the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and his death on the cross. So, by his death on the cross, the Lord Jesus has brought about a separation or a division between two worlds: this old world to which Paul once belonged and another world to which Paul now belongs.
Let’s think about these two worlds. And the first world is this old world into which we’re born. When God made it at first, it was very good. But then Adam disobeyed the Lord; and sin and death entered the world. And so, this old world is now characterised by sin and guilt and by rebellion and unbelief. And this old world is also characterised by death, because everything in this old world dies. If Adam had remained obedient to the Lord, he and all his descendants would have eaten from the Tree of Life to live forever. But because of Adam’s sin, we all sin and we all die.
That’s this old world. And back in Galatians 1, Paul referred to this old world as this present evil age. It’s evil because the Devil rules over it; and those who belong to this present evil age end up doing his will. But this evil age is for the present only; it will not last, but is destined to perish whenever the Lord Jesus comes again with glory and in power to destroy his enemies. And so, this old world, this present evil age, is destined to perish.
And this is the world, the age, into which we’re all born and to which we first belong. It’s the world and the age to which Paul first belonged, because even though he was once a Pharisee and tried to keep the law and to do everything required by the law, nevertheless he still belonged to this old world, because he was a sinner who was destined to perish, along with everything else in this old world.
But when the Risen Lord Jesus met him on the road to Damascus and revealed the good news of the gospel to him, Paul discovered there was a way to escape from this old world and this present evil age. And the way to escape from this old world and this present evil age is by believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins in order to rescue his people from this present evil age. And so, whoever believes in him, whoever relies on him, is rescued from this present evil age, so that they no longer belong to it, but they belong instead to the age to come. Or, as Paul puts it in the next verse of our passage, they belong instead to the ‘new creation’. This old creation is destined to perish, but because of Christ, who died for sinners, whoever believes in him belongs, not to this old creation, but to the new creation, the world to come.
Years ago, Yvonne and I visited the Ulster-American Folk Park in Omagh. It’s perhaps changed, but in those days, you walked around these old houses to show you what life was like in Ulster years ago, before there was electricity and when people still lived in thatched cottages. And then you went into this building; and the interior of the building was set up to look like one of the ports from where people sailed to America. And there was a ship for you to explore to show you what life on board was like. And then, once you’d explored the ship, you went out another door and you were now in the new world. You were now in America and the houses were all different, because they were made to look like the log cabins and houses which people had in America.
In other words, you went from the old world of Ulster to the new world of America. And when we’re born, we’re born in this old world, this present evil age, which is dominated by the Devil and which is plagued by sin and which leads to death. But there’s also a new world to come, where God’s people will live in righteousness forever and forever. And whoever believes in the Lord Jesus, who died for sinners, is transplanted from this old world which is destined to perish to the new world where we will live forever.
And that’s the hope of the gospel, because in the gospel we discover that God sent his only Son to rescue his people from this old world and to bring us into the new world to come. And God the Son rescued us by giving up his life on the cross to pay for our sins. And then, after he was raised, he went before us into the new world to prepare a place for all his people, all those who trust in him as the only Saviour of the world.
Of course, we won’t come into the new world until Christ comes again. For now, we have to wait for it. But if you believe in the Lord Jesus, if you’re trusting in him for forgiveness and for eternal life, then you already belong to the new world to come. You’re already a citizen of it. And God gives you his Spirit to renew you inwardly, so that, while outwardly you’re wasting away, getting older and frailer as the days go by, nevertheless you’re being renewed inwardly more and more, so that instead of living in conformity to this old world, which is ruled over by the Devil and which is dominated by sin, the Spirit of God helps you more and more to live in conformity to the world to come. Instead of living according to the flesh — and do remember the works of the flesh? There was sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, discord, jealousy and so on. Instead of living according to the flesh, you’ll be able to live more and more according to the Spirit, displaying love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control in your life.
And so, Paul was able to say that this old world had been crucified to him; and he to this old world, because by trusting in Christ and his cross, Paul was delivered from this old world to belong instead to the world to come. And that’s not only true for Paul, but it’s true for all who trust in Christ and his cross. Whether someone has been circumcised or not doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter, because when it comes to salvation, when it comes to eternal life with God, circumcision counts for nothing and uncircumcision counts for nothing. The only thing that counts is the new creation and whether you belong to the new creation to come or whether you still belong to the old creation which is destined to perish. And whether you belong to the new creation or not depends on whether or not you’re trusting in Christ the Saviour.
Remember what I said one other Sunday that circumcision represented a religion of salvation by good deeds done in obedience to the law. But Christianity is not a religion of salvation by good deeds done in obedience to the law. Christianity is a religion of salvation through faith in Christ. Christianity is about Christ and what he has done for sinners. And so, you’re not to rely on yourself and the things you do in order to receive eternal life in the new world to come. You’re to rely on Christ and what he did to bring you to God. These days, you won’t be tempted to rely on circumcision, but perhaps you’re relying on something else you have done, some good deed you have performed. But whatever you have done — whether good or bad — doesn’t matter when it comes to being justified and pardoned and accepted by God. What counts is that you’re trusting in Christ. So, will you trust in him? Will you turn to God in prayer and confess you’re a sinner? And will you ask him to pardon you for the sake of Christ who died for sinners? And will you ask him to give you everlasting life in the new world to come?
Verses 16 to 18
That’s such an important message, it’s no wonder that Paul wrote it in large letters. He wrote it in large letters so that everyone would see the significance of this message. Everyone needs to see this message and understand how vital it is, because everyone needs to understand that this old world, this present evil age, is destined to perish. And everyone who belongs to it will perish with it when Christ comes again to judge the world. But by faith in Christ who died for sinners, you’re delivered from this old world, so that you no belong to it; nor will not perish with it. Instead you belong to the world to come; and there you will live with the Lord forever and forever in glory.
Since this is true, Paul is able in verse 16 to pronounce peace and mercy to all who follow this rule as well as to the Israel of God. When he says ‘this rule’, he’s referring to what he’s just been saying that circumcision and uncircumcision count for nothing and the only thing that counts is the new creation. And ‘the Israel of God’ is a way to refer to the church of Jesus Christ, which is made up of believing Jews and believing Gentiles. It comprises all who trust in Christ and who therefore belong to the new creation. And to them, Paul pronounces peace and mercy, because the war with God is over, and peace has been declared on all who trust in Christ for salvation.
And so, is that you? Have you trusted in Christ for salvation? God is still at war with all those who do not believe. He is against them and they will suffer his wrath and curse in this life and in the life to come. But if you trust in Christ, then the war with God is over, peace has been declared, and you can look forward to coming into his presence in the life to come, where you will dwell forever in the new creation.
And if you already believe, then rejoice, because everything I’ve been describing is already yours, because the moment you trusted in Christ, God gave you life in the new creation and he filled you with his Spirit to renew you inwardly in his likeness. All of this is yours. And so, rejoice in God’s mercy to you. And while you go on living in this old world, remember to live your life now as someone who belongs, not to this world which is perishing, but as someone who belongs to the world to come where everything is good.