The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction! But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1.18, NLT)
Those who are trying to force you to be circumcised want to look good to others. They don’t want to be persecuted for teaching that the cross of Christ alone can save. And even those who advocate circumcision don’t keep the whole law themselves. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast about it and claim you as their disciples. As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Galatians 6.12-14a, NLT)
Yesterday we looked at the false cultural narrative the minimizes and even denies the destructive power of Sin, and our inability to free ourselves from its slavery. Today, St. Paul takes up this theme again. He reminds us that those who are self-righteously proud will always ridicule this foundational Christian belief that Christ died for sins just as Scripture said he would (1 Corinthians 15.3). To deny our inability to fix ourselves or even to revel in our brokenness are classic signs of human pride and arrogance (not to mention delusional thinking) that have caused our enmity with God and our life-draining alienation from him. The cross runs against the very grain of America’s religion of self-help.
In the passage above from Galatians, St. Paul gives an example of this kind of worldly foolishness. Forget the context-specific issue of circumcision. What St. Paul is getting at is the foolish belief that we can be seen as right in God’s eyes by the amount of good we do. The more good we do, the more right we are in God’s eyes, right? We don’t need God in the person of God’s Son to restore our broken relationship with God. We can do it ourselves. St. Paul calls that “foolishness.”
No, says St. Paul. There is only one way to end your alienation from God if you are really interested in doing that. Something has to be done to break the power of Sin over us and we don’t have it in our power to do that. Only God can do that. That is why God took on our flesh (or to use the parlance of the NT, God sent his Son) to die for us so that God could rightly condemn our sin in the flesh— those sins we commit that mar God’s image in us and prevent us from being God’s wise stewards of his creation in the manner God always intended for us when he created us in his image—so God would not have to condemn us (Romans 8.3-4). That is why we who believe in the cross of Christ no longer need to fear God’s right condemnation because we are no longer under it (Romans 8.1). For you see, because God loves us more than we can comprehend (in part because our conception of love is at least partially disordered so we don’t recognize real love when we see it) God desires good for us, not evil. God wants us to enjoy life, not die, and this good life can only come about by having a restored relationship with the Father of all life. As long as Sin’s power holds us in its grip so that we continue to act in ways that dehumanize us and keep us hostile to God, the good life is only a pipe-dream. That is why St. Paul resolved to boast about nothing but the cross because only in the cross is our enmity with God ended because Sin’s power over us is broken and we are healed and reconciled. It takes great humility to accept this, a humility that can only come by God’s grace. We are totally dependent on God.
Think of it this way. We are told King David was a man after God’s own heart because David never worshiped false gods. But David, faithful as he was, committed adultery and then murder to cover his tracks, certainly not behaviors consistent with God’s own heart (2 Samuel 12.1-13.25)! God forgave him when David confessed his sins (Psalm 51) as God always does, but that is not enough. The problem of Sin’s power corrupting and infecting even the best of us still remains to prevent us from fulfilling God’s original creative purpose for us as his image-bearers whom God chooses to run his world on our behalf. If we are unable to free ourselves from our slavery to Sin (an outside and hostile power), then we must rely on Someone even more powerful than Sin to free us from our slavery so that we can be the fully human beings God created and wants us to be. God freed us from Sin’s power by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1.29). That’s why St. Paul didn’t fool around with self-help and other forms of human delusion. He saw them as the lies they are.
If you begin to understand this strange truth about God’s power to defeat Sin displayed through human weakness, you are ready to observe the events of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday with a sorrowful but thankful heart, and you will begin to understand why we call that Friday “Good” and not Bad. That, in turn, will prepare you to celebrate a most joyous Easter on Sunday.