In the Apostle set for today we read the following from St. Paul:
“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. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.”
St. Paul is writing against a sect in the Church of Galatia that is trying to make Gentile (non Jewish) believers observe all the rules of the Laws of Moses, here specifically circumcision, in order to be saved. St. Paul, himself a Jewish convert with many Gentile friends and co-workers, fought hard against what he saw to be a return to a religion of law rather than grace. Such sects were not uncommon in the early Church notwithstanding the Council of Jerusalem which we hear about in the Acts of the Apostles which had said that no Gentile believer should be required to fulfil the whole of the Mosaic Law. In Christ, grace, the unmerited compassion and saving power of God, had come in the flesh, had come with no need for the minutiae of Torah observance in order to make people holy. The Law remained the gold standard for Christian living but in its fundamental guiding principles for a Godly life, not a burdensome system for micromanaging people’s lives, still less a prerequisite for salvation itself. The Law was a tutor to guide human beings, not a substitute for the powerful grace of God by which and only by which human lives could be transformed, working alongside of course human repentance and ascetic effort which made the work of grace possible in human lives.
So for St. Paul and for the whole Church the cross of Christ was the only boast of those who called themselves Christians, not the works of the Law which could not and cannot save. The Law rather condemns us and becomes a curse through our sin, the corruption in which we have become mired through death, itself a consequence of the transgression of our forebears in Eden. Our Lord Jesus Christ therefore dies on the cross, accepting voluntarily our curse laid upon Him by ourselves, that is by our sin which indeed caused his death. The devil did not know of course that the death of Christ was the death of the Deathless One, God Himself. This is the mystery of our faith, the boast of the Cross. Christ becomes what He is not, sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) and voluntarily submits to something that belongs not to Him, death, in order that the power of sin and death might be broken in and by his glorious resurrection.
Perhaps I can explain this quite simply by saying that nothing can be conquered except that which is fought against personally, hand to hand, face to face. God, therefore, had to come in the flesh in order personally to fight against and gain victory over our mortal enemies; that is the devil himself, his angels and all his wickedness. This demonic activity is manifest in the world by human and angelic rebellion against God together with their offspring, sin and death. This is essentially a single corruption to which many humans sadly fall prey.
Those, however, who with St. Paul “boast in the Cross” boast in something that GOD has done for our salvation, something that we could never do. Show me someone who has conquered sin apart from Christ and I will call you deluded or a liar. No person is without sin, save Christ Himself who knew no sin and who therefore could be victorious over its power. Show me someone who has defeated death apart from Christ and I will unmask the treachery of the devil himself who thought he could cheat death, as well as not a few Californians who think that they can freeze themselves into a future without disease. It is simply not possible.
Only Christ God is victorious over sin and death. All the others, Mohammed, Moses, the Buddha, Guru Nanak, Vishnu … no one comes close. We boast, therefore, not in ourselves as if observing the Law or indeed performing any religious rights could save us. No, we boast in the cross of Christ as St. Paul says: “by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” Now this is a very interesting and compelling phrase because it tells us much about how we should live our lives in the shadow or rather the light of the cross.
How is it that the cross is the means by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world? The world has been crucified to me by the cross because it stands in judgement against the world. The King of Love reigns from the cross, Christ Himself. His reign is the reign of Universe Creating power and that power is the power of Life Giving Love. Against such a holy banner, the banner of the cross, all kingdoms of the earth, all kings; all empires, all emperors; all governments, all institutions of governance bow down, willingly or unwillingly as impotent and empty, naked before the Naked One. For the believer the cross shows that we follow a King who is above all others and against whom there is no comparison.
The implications of such first loyalty to the Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for the sheep are contained in the second part of St. Paul’s saying: “and I to the world”, that is I have been crucified on this cross with Christ to share in his resurrection. Under absolutely no circumstances must we struggle free from that cross and follow any other King. The world and all its pompous pretensions and fallen ungodliness must remain forever dead to me, for, my King lives. The only sure way of keeping the world dead to me is by daily sacrificing my life to follow Christ; not only carrying my cross but mounting it and remaining impaled on it. How else are we to understand fasting, repentance, confession and love other than by taking up and remaining on the cross of Jesus Christ? No, otherwise this is not possible. This remains our boast, the cross of Christ by which we are saved and not by any work of the Law against which we stand justly condemned. However, there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus and Him crucified for grace has come. Let us never then surrender this precious gift. Though they kill us in the body, they can never take from us the glory of the Kingdom of God; only we can do that, God forbid!