What Really Counts
Focus: All that counts is God’s new creation.
Function: To affirm the church to participate in the cross of Christ.
Plotline: If I am honest with myself, I like to boast. Paul likes to boast too. For Paul there is a canon, a rule about boasting. And that is Paul’s boast. His boasting is in the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” So we too boast because of the cross.
Canon. Canon is a good word. Most of us brought our Bible, or use one in the pew racks, on our phones, and have several copies at home. The Bible is what we refer to as our canon. The Bible functions for us as our rule of faith. We believe and we confess that Scripture functions for us as the measuring rod of our faith. I believe the Bible is the collected witness of God’s people Israel and God’s people the first Christians. I believe this testimony provides us with a revelation of the wisdom of the community that guides us today. Canon is a good word in that sense and I affirm its use. But that is not how Paul is using the word in our text today.
6:11 See what large letters I make when I am writing in my own hand! 12 It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that try to compel you to be circumcised—only that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. 13 Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh. 14 May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but the only thing that counts is a new creation! 16 As for those who will follow this rule/canon—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.
If I am honest with myself, I like to boast. Now boast is a negative word so I use other words. I can often get away with boasting by calling it bragging. But even then I have to be careful of the context. For example, bragging on my kids is okay. Here is a short list.
- What do people think of me? How popular am I? This is much older than how many “likes” you get on Facebook or how many followers you have on Twitter. Prestige, respect, Doctor Sensing (and in my case I have two of those, so, Doctor Doctor Sensing). And because I don’t want to seem pompous, I casually drop the line into conversation rather than announce it from the pulpit. I live in the competitive world of higher education and tenure portfolios where my boasting is contained in by CV and my portfolio. I will be the chair of the Tenure and Promotion Committee next year. To receive what is due, all the applications will be filled with boasting and evidence of pride.
- Your world might be different than mine so the list for your boasting might be different.
- Financial assets?
- Physical Appearance
- Accomplishments…trophies, medals, certifications.
- Even in the church, folks measure their faith by certain standards. And we boast about our ministries and service. And when we say, “What Counts?” at church, we often do just that, count. We count attendance and we count contributions. I’m the preacher or elder or ministry leader or Bible School Teacher. Titles we take pride in. And like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand…splat! You see, boasting, and we know this, is a foolish game.
- Or here, pushing circumcision on Gentile converts in Galatia has a self-serving motive to avoid persecution for the cross of Christ (6:12-13).
- This is but a short list. You know the list is much longer.
- I like to boast, and yes, like the Galatians, my list is much longer.
Paul likes to boast too. For Paul there is a canon, a rule about boasting.1 What does Paul mean when he says, “And whoever conforms to this canon, peace and mercy be upon them and upon the Israel of God”? Gal 6:16. What for Paul is the rule, the canon that Paul advocates we follow and that will bring upon us the blessing of peace and mercy? Or to frame it another way, “What counts?” When the rubber meets the road? When the chips are down? When you are in a rock and hard place? When you are holding on by thread for dear life, what really counts? The bottom line, is there anything worthy of our boasting? Is there a rule of thumb I can follow about boasting? Paul says, “Yes!” When you clear out all the trees and the underbrush, there remains this truth that counts.
- Paul has two answers in Galatians.
- We have already talked about one, 5:6 The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
- And the second is here in 6:15, The only thing that counts is a new creation. Love and a new creation converge at the cross.
- Paul says by way of contrast, I am not avoiding the cross in order to escape persecution for I bear “the marks of Christ in my body” (6:17).
- Paul holds up the cross as the eschatological event, the turning point of the ages (6:14-15). All history prior has come to this one moment in time, the cross. All history and future looks back to this one moment in time, the cross. The cross is how Christians mark time. àß You start at creation and time rolls down the road through the age of the Patriarchs, Moses and the Law, the Judges and Kings until you come to God’s great intervention. God sent his Son, the incarnation, the Advent of the ages. Jesus set us an example and he taught us about God. Jesus died on a cross, raised the third day, and ascended on high. And the Christ Event, Incarnation to Ascension, is throughout Christian doctrine and in Paul especially wrapped up in that one word, “cross.” And all time from Creation to the Christ Event looks to that central moment in time when Jesus died on the cross. After Jesus ascended, he sat at the right hand of God and reigns over his kingdom until he comes again, the Second Advent. And in between his ascension and his Second Advent, we find ourselves in 2019 in Abilene Texas. And all history and into our future actually looks back to the cross as the central point of how we count time. Before the cross, you look forward. After the cross, you look back. For what counts is the cross.
- And that is Paul’s boast. His boasting is in the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (6:14). So, where is your boast?
- Domician and last Thursday’s lecture and the work with IRC. And this counts.
- Sam’s Place. This counts.
- Deaf Ministry. This counts.
- And your list is longer.
- Why is this your boast?
- Because the Gal 6 boasting is exemplified when Paul expounds upon this theme in 2 Cor. Paul boasts and even glories in the people, the church. But why?
- Because these examples represent new creation realities that emerge by way of the cross.
- Because these examples represent faith expressing itself through love.
- Therefore we boast in the cross of Christ. And our boasting becomes worship and acclamation of Christ crucified. To give true worship by focusing on the cross we become conformed to him and become servants of one another in love. And through the cross by the way of love empowered by the Spirit, we become new creation communities. What counts is love expressing itself through faith. What counts is a new creation. And they count because of the cross of Christ.
- Boasting—The message of the cross destroys all pride, for through the cross the whole world has been crucified. If we are tempted to boast in our wealth or intelligence or accomplishments, we are pursuing a path that leads nowhere. Splat falls the house! We might as well boast in our circumcision for all that is worth. If we boast in our doctrinal, moral, or religious superiority, then we fall into the trap of the Galatians. The cross destroys all such boasting and focuses our eyes upon Jesus, who gave himself up for us. And this is why we boast in the church as an expression of the new creation.
So we too boast because of the cross of Christ. By way of the cross we participate three deaths:
- 2:20 Death of self. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live.
- 5:24 Death to the flesh. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
- 6:14 Death to the world. May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Therefore, Paul’s kanon, the “rule” of faith that we conform ourselves to, is the cross that brings about a new creation within us. And that is all that counts. The bottom line, that is all that counts! Amen.
 Chris Hutson, “The Canon of the Cross,” Leaven.