Aspects of Calvary - Part 2
Stephen Fellowes, Skibbereen, Ireland [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
The Cross of Christ in Galatians
The subject of the cross of Christ is dealt with largely in the Epistle to the Galatians. Distinction is to be drawn between the term ‘the death of Christ’, which relates to my salvation, and the ‘cross of Christ’, which denotes my condemnation. In other words, His death fits me for heaven, but His cross finishes me with self and earth. The cross is a judicial concept. As far as Christ was concerned it was the judgement of man upon Him, and in relation to me it is the judgement of God upon all that I am in Adam.
And so, as we look at the cross, we will find that it is the most challenging subject in all the word of God. It searches me, it strips me of all my pride and vanity, and it speaks to me of one who paid the ultimate price to make me His own.
Paul, writing to the Galatians, places emphasis on the cross because there were those who refused to let go of Judaism; those who were seeking to bring the believers back under the law and erroneously teaching that Christ’s work was insufficient in itself. The law was designed for man in the flesh, which is the very thing to which the cross has put an end. Thus, the law is superseded. Stoney said insightfully, that ‘a Galatian is really a Roman who has gone back from Romans chapter eight’. 1 Having been delivered from the curse of the law, they were putting themselves back into bondage. Paul tersely sums up the gravity of this false teaching by saying, ‘if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain’, Gal. 2. 21.
I want to think of the cross as a barrier from four different standpoints.
1 The cross stands as a barrier between me and my sins – it saves
When the Galatians heard the gospel, the message they heard was unmistakably clear. Paul states, ‘before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you’, Gal. 3. 1. It was as if ‘Jesus Christ crucified’ was posted up for a public display right in front of them; they could not miss it. Why then were they turning away from this truth and going back to the legal system that gave them nothing but condemnation and bondage?
This is a timely reminder of the definition of true gospel preaching; it is a clear presentation of the cross-work of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘we preach Christ crucified’, 1 Cor. 1. 23. Do we? Of course, we should preach sin and the reality of eternity, but the essence of the gospel is a presentation of Christ and the infinite value of His sacrificial work. The Jews stumbled at the concept of a crucified Saviour and the Greeks counted it foolishness, but ‘unto us which are saved it is the power of God’, 1 Cor. 1. 18.
Paul poses the question, ‘if I yet preach circumcision, why do I yet suffer persecution? then is the offence of the cross ceased’, Gal. 5. 11. The very fact that he suffered bore testimony to his exclusive proclamation of the cross of Christ. He would never have suffered for preaching circumcision which brings in man and gives place to the flesh. Hole put it nicely when he said, ‘the cross puts no honour upon man’! 2
Thank God we can glory in the cross, knowing that it was there that the great question of our sins was forever answered!
‘Blest cross! blest sepulchre! blest rather be
The Man that there was put to shame for me!’
2 The cross is a barrier between me and the law – it liberates
This strikes at the core issue in the Galatian Epistle. Adherence to the law was being added to faith in Christ. It has been said that ‘Christ supplemented is Christ supplanted’. How true this is; to add in any way to Christ is to say He is insufficient, and thus His unique glory is lost.
Christ’s work on the cross has ‘redeemed us from the curse of the law’, Gal. 3. 13. It is important to note that this verse is referring to Jews, with Gentiles introduced in the following verse. We have been set free from the slave market of sin and placed upon the grounds of freedom, so let us ‘Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage’, Gal. 5. 1. We have, in fact, died to the law, this death having been accomplished by our crucifixion with Christ, Gal. 2. 19, 20.
The law applies to the natural man. That is why at the outset of this Epistle Paul states that Christ ‘gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world [age]’, 1. 4. The natural man is at home in the world and its systems and is thus bound by the law which governs his earthly existence. However, if Christ has delivered us from this age, then the law can no longer apply to us. How perfect are the scriptures – hanging the key at the door to unlock the message of the letter.
3 Thirdly, the cross is a barrier between me and my self – it subjugates
We read, ‘I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’, Gal. 2. 20.
Note the five-fold use of the personal pronoun ‘I’ in the verse and the three truths that are to be learned in relation to my person:
a) The condemned ‘I’
‘I am crucified with Christ’; when He was crucified, I was identified with Him and all that I was in Adam in my natural state came under the sentence of the judgement of God. I have been judicially put out of sight. In Romans, Paul writes of the importance of ‘Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him’, Rom. 6. 6. We will never progress in the Christian life until we have a full and proper understanding of what happened to ‘the old man’ at Calvary; it is vital when it comes to living for God’s glory, as Paul goes on to show in Romans chapter 6.
b) The changed ‘I’
‘I live; yet not I’. Physically, I am still very much alive, but I am a different person; salvation has transformed me. The man who once lived according to the natural manner of the world is gone and, in my baptism, I have told everyone that my old self has gone; the ‘big I’ is no more! What a change salvation brings! Let us not be guilty of watering down the radical, life-changing power of the gospel. Doubtless every new convert needs time to grow and develop in divine things, but there must always be a clear and definite change in the life of all who profess Christ as Saviour.
c) The consecrated ‘I’
And now, ‘Christ liveth in me’, and I live my life trusting in Him, conscious that He is no less than ‘the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me’.
This should stir my heart to willingly and devotedly give myself for Him in a life consecrated to His honour. The very fact that He loved me and gave all to secure my eternal salvation should be enough motivation to live for His glory. A true realization of ‘himself for me’, will always lead to ‘myself for Him’!
4 The cross is a barrier between me and the world – it separates
We have already thought of the world as ‘this present evil world’, Gal. 1. 4. Its evil was manifested fully in the crucifixion of Christ where the heart of man was fully told out, and, as those delivered from it, we should consciously walk apart from it.
May our hearts concur with the apostle when he says, ‘God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world’, Gal. 6. 14. John Douglas from Ashgill, Scotland used to say that ‘Paul turned this world into a cemetery and moved through it as a corpse’.
As we gather together these teachings of the Galatian Epistle we discern that, as Paul looked at the cross, he saw three things upon it. He saw his Saviour who met all his need as a guilty sinner, he saw the world who crucified his Saviour and he saw himself under the sentence of death, judicially removed from before the face of God.
If I keep the first vision clearly before my soul, it will keep my heart bowed in worship and adoration for the one who paid so much to save an unworthy sinner like me. The second sight would keep my feet in a path of separation, walking far apart from this world which gave my Saviour a cross; and the third sight of my natural self upon the cross will keep my mind informed as to my true position before God, no longer in Adam but in Christ with all that such a glorious truth embraces.
‘When I survey the wondrous cross
on which the prince of glory died
my richest gain I count but loss
and pour contempt on all my pride’.
1 J. B. Stoney, Readings on some of Paul’s Epistles, Vol. 2, pg. 138. Accessed at, http://www.mcclean.me.uk/mse/jbs/jbs2.html
2 F. B. Hole, 1 Corinthians 1. Accessed at, https://www.stempublishing.com/authors/hole/NT/1CORINTH.html
AUTHOR PROFILE: Stephen Fellowes, originally from Belfast, is in fellowship in the assembly in Skibbereen, West Cork, Ireland. Married to Rachel, they reside in Skibbereen with their three young children. Stephen is active in the little assembly and in gospel outreach work throughout this needy part of Ireland.