The Mindset of the New Creation
Introduction (vs 11):
I started to think about what I have taken from my study in the book of Galatians, and what I want you guys to take from our study. Then I noticed that what the apostle Paul left for us in these last few verses is a perfect conclusion to his letter, and our study. Here in these verses Paul warns us one last time of the dangers of legalism. And what we see is that the more mature we become as Christians the less worthy we feel to be a child of God. The closer that we get to the real beauty of Christ the more obvious and ugly our remaining sin appears to be. Jonathan Edwards had this to say: “The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires; their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is unspeakable and full of glory, is a humble, broken-hearted joy, leaving the Christian more poor in spirit, more like a little child, and more disposed to a universal lowliness of behavior (Works I, 302).” The warning against legalism is a warning against pride. It is a warning against people who are proud of their growth; speak highly of their spirituality, whose joy in the grace of God is not deepened by the recurrent remorse because of failures to walk by the Spirit. It is a warning against loosing the creature Creator distinction.
The first thing that we see in these verses is that Paul wrote them with his own hand. There is some question as to why Paul wrote with large letters (bad eyes, or bad handwriting). But I think no matter what you think it is easy to see that Paul’s “big letter” writing added emphasis to what is about to follow. Paul took the pen from his secretary to finish his letter. With his own pen he recorded the final exclamation point on his letter to the Galatian churches. In this final exclamation point we will see both the mindset of Paul and the mindset of his opponents, and the principle that separated them. In verse fifteen we will see the point of the entire letter. It is neither circumcision nor uncircumcision that matters, but it is the new creation that matters.
1. The Mindset of Judaizers (vss 12-13):
The Judaizers had two reasons for doing what they did. The First was to make a good showing in the flesh. With this phrase “in the flesh” Paul shifts back to the major discussion of the letter. The Judaizers were interested in themselves. They wanted to give the outward appearance of a godly life. They trusted in their own flesh, and this is the path that they were led down. There is no doubt that Paul had in mind circumcision with this phrase. They had no problem with circumcision because they only had to change the outside. They were interested in the appearance of godliness without being interested in godliness. When we read this phrase, “good showing in the flesh,” it is hard for our minds not to go back to chapter 5. “The deeds of the flesh are evident… and those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” In their teaching they were not at all interested in the Galatians, or in honoring God. In fact, in chapter 4 verse 17 Paul reveals their motives. They swooped in, after Paul left, teaching that the Galatians needed to be circumcised for their own earthly benefit. They were teaching a salvation that comes by works (3:1-5). And why? “So that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Paul may not have even known the names of those who were opposing him, but he sure well knew what they were up to. They wanted to make things easier for themselves. They wanted to compromise the gospel to fit with Jewish culture so that everything would just be easier. If they could just fit Christianity into the culture then there would be no problems, and no persecution. Problem is that when we do this we are left with no Christianity. We lose what makes us Christians. We are trading the great doctrines of Grace for fellowship with unbelievers, and we are caring more of what they think than of what we know that they need. It was really not even Christ who was the cause of this persecution so much as it was the Cross. For a Christ who is a teacher only can well be mixed with Judaism or any other religion. It is the Cross that brings persecution. And the difficulty of the Cross is that it speaks of the necessity of Divine death as the only solution for man’s problem. The Cross of Christ is the great stumbling block for people who do not have the grace to humble themselves before God.
The second reason that the Judaizers were doing what they did was so that they could boast in the Galatians. Let us remember who these people were. They were trophy hunters and they wanted to report mass conversions. They were people led by their own flesh, who taught damning doctrine for selfish motives. Despite teaching circumcision and the law as a means of grace they did not even keep the law themselves. They could not do what they taught the Galatians to do. This should not surprise us. In fact in 3:19 we see that the whole purpose of the law is to point out our need for a savior. In 3:10-15 we see that no one is justified by the law, in fact because no one can keep the moral standards of the law we are all cursed by the law. But Christ has taken this curse upon himself so that through faith we might be freed from this curse. In teaching that we need to go back to law the Judaizers were placing themselves under the curse. And yet, despite their total depravity, they sough to convert the Galatians that they might boast in their own works. They could avoid persecution by boasting, or glorying in, how many converts they had to the Jewish customs. In their own mind their success was tied to the praise of men, instead of their success resulting in the praise of God. The Cross will humble us before God, and men. It is hard to truly understand this in our culture today. After a couple thousand years of being the symbol of Christianity the Cross is looked upon as being noble. However, we must remember that to the NT world the cross was an instrument of death. It would be equivalent to us wearing an electric chair around our necks. And to be associated with the Cross was obscene to the world. We often remember that Christ’s words “except a man take up his cross and follow me he cannot be my disciple.” We must join Christ on the Calvary road to be saved. But we often forget that the Calvary road is where people jeer and spit and laugh. Therefore, no one who is enslaved to the praise of men will join Christ on the Calvary road. What is more important to you, the way that other people see you, warts and all, or your place on your face before the throne of God? The mindset of legalism uses morality as a vehicle of pride, it fears human rejection, and it craves human praise. The mindset of legalism trades the more visible sins for those that are easier to hide from the outside world.
2. The Mindset of Paul (vs 14):
But now let’s look at the alternative mindset which Paul aims to have in himself and to teach to others. Whereas the mindset of legalism is centered around pride, Paul’s mindset is centered around humility. Look at what Paul says: “may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Paul knew who God was, and he knew himself; because of this the only thing that he could glory in was the Cross. That same Cross that was a stumbling block for the Judaizers. The Lorn Cross design was found in a churchyard in a village in the district of Lorn, Scotland. The knotwork running the length of the cross is endless. It symbolizes the eternal theme: the Alpha and Omega – beginning and end in the eternal circle, the very essence of Celtic art. The outer circle represents heaven.This is a beautiful cross that was artistically designed to remind us of the eternal work of Christ. However, it is a far cry from the tree that Christ was hung from. The apostle Paul, quoting Scripture, said that all who hang from a tree are cursed. But why did Christ the eternal Son of God have to be cursed and die on the cross? Paul gives us the answer to that as well. In his letter to the churches in the region of Galatia Paul wrote that “everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law” is cursed. Because man is unable to live up to the perfect standards of God we are destined to a cursed eternity.This is why Christ had to hang on that tree. This is why Christ had to be cursed. It was for us! Our sins had to be punished, and we had to live up to the standards of God. We could do neither; so Christ accomplished both for us. Now when we identify ourselves with Christ through faith we are no longer cursed by our own shortcomings. Instead God looks upon us and see the work of Christ.Let us enjoy the beauty of the Lorn Cross, and be impressed by the artistic ingenuity of the Celts. But do not forget about that cursed tree on which the sin of man was nailed. Marvel at the wonder of Christ’s perfection, and indebt yourself to his grace. Remember if anyone had room for boasting in his accomplishments it was Paul (Phil 3:4-6). Yet he realized that in light of who God is the only thing that he could possibly boast in was the Cross that revealed his sin. As is pointed out in 3:1 The gospel of Christ crucified so completely rules out any other means of being righteous before God that Paul found it utterly incomprehensible for anyone who has once embraced such a gospel to ever think of supplementing it in any way. “For if righteousness comes through the law then Christ died needlessly.” We really are that bad that we needed Christ to dies for us. This is the mindset of the new creation, and it begins with a realization of how bad the old mindset was.
The result of being identified with the cross, by boasting only in the cross, is to be crucified to the word and the world to you. I think that what Paul means by this is something to the effect of: “Since I met Christ the mindset of the world has come to look like a despised, worthless, cursed thing.” And conversely “when the world looks at me it sees nothing very attractive, either.” In 1 Corinthians 4:13 Paul says that we have become the refuse of the world. They are busy with their lives deny their own frailty and the supremacy of God, and there we go again admitting our own frailty and the supremacy of God. Our lives are centered around the very things that the deny. In my cross centered mindset I have become refuse to the world, but in its mindset the world has become refuse to me. Christians who believe in self-denial for Christ’s sake are crazy to the world. They are like dead people- fools at best, and scorned and persecuted at worst. Is it a surprise that the head of the sociology department of a prominent university was quoted slamming Christians as fanatical imbeciles? What he has spent his whole career fighting against we are affirming in our acceptance of the cross. With are identification to Christ we no longer have worldly of fleshly advantages dominate our thinking or living. We must see ourselves for who we are, and God for who he is. We must see ourselves as sinners indebted to the Grace of God. When we do this we can have the same mindset that Paul did, the mindset of the new creation.
3. The Mindset of the New Creation (vss 15-16):
We have talked a lot about this new mindset, but really have not looked at the principle behind it. Here in verse 15 Paul reveals this principle to us. This principle is the focal point for this whole section, and really it summarizes the content of the entire letter. Paul has spent the entire letter opposing the teaching the Gentile converts were required to be circumcised (consequently converting to Judaism). But he has not spent all of this time opposing circumcision in favor of uncircumcision. Paul’s point is that neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters they are just outward acts; it is the inward act of being made a new creature in Christ Jesus that is worth something. All that matters is that a Christian be a new creation and the he or she express this inward work in ways that reflect being “in Christ” and “led by the Spirit.” In other words we need to live as new creatures in the same way that we became new creatures. We need to humble ourselves before God so that we, like Paul, can boast only in the Cross of Christ. And in verse 16 we see that those who walk according to this rule will receive peace and mercy. “This rule” refers to this mindset of the new creation.
Let’s look at the two mindsets one last time. First the mindset of self-exaltation. It desires to make a good showing in the flesh with religious rituals. It craves at the applause of men. But the mindset of Christ-exaltation regards the pleasure of human applause as a pile of garbage compared to the pleasure of knowing Christ. Self-exalters fear persecution, Christ-exalters expect persecution. Self-exalters regard outward works like circumcision (or in our day going to church) as the essence of religious life, Christ-exalters regard an inner new creation as the essence of religious life. Finally self-exalters remove the stumbling block of the Cross by ignoring or despising its implications, but Christ-exalters glory in the cross that splinters and pops the balloon of self-exaltation.
Paul concludes his letter to the Galatians much as he began it, by highlighting his own apostolic authority and warning regarding continued agitation within the Galatian churches. Paul bore the marks of Christ on his body. But he was not wearing a cross, as we might, nor did he have a tattoo. The marks that Paul had in mind were the scars and disfigurements left on his body as the effects of his sufferings as an apostle. He was Christ’s marked man. He received these marks defending the gospel of Christ, just as he did throughout the letter. In a fitting way Paul closes this letter by writing of the grace of God within the family of God.