Severing Our Love Affairs

Thomas Schreiner, Galatians (Zondervan, 2010), 392:

The cross plays a bookends role in the letter [of Galatians], for just as Paul begins the letter by featuring the freedom won in the cross, so too he closes the letter by underlining the significance of the cross.

Paul’s only boast is in Christ’s cross, by which he is crucified to the world and the world is crucified to him (6:14). The cross and eschatology are inseparable. Just as the cross liberated believers from the present evil age (1:4), so too it crucifies attachment to this world (6:14). The opponents boasted in circumcising converts and took pleasure in external accomplishments because they lived to win the applause of others (6:12–13). They lived for comfort in order to avoid persecution.

The cross severs a love affair with the world and grants a person (by grace!) a desire to boast only in the cross. A new reality—a new age—has begun through the cross, and Paul summons the Galatians and all believers to find their joy only in the cross and to renounce any boasting in human accomplishments.

Paltering with Synergism

Isn’t this so true of the struggle to release our grip on self-righteousness, self-respect, self-affirmation? From P. T. Forsyth’s book The Cruciality of the Cross [page 47]:

“A man needs something to make him confident that his past sin, and the sin he is yet sure to commit, are all taken up into God’s redemption, and the great transaction of his moral life is done. … It is not easy.

Theological belief may not be so hard. But for a man to make Christ’s atonement the sole centre of his moral life, or of his hope for the race, is not easy. Nothing is so resented by the natural self as the hearty admission of man’s native lostness and helplessness, especially when he thinks of all the heroisms, integrities, and charities which ennoble the race.

It is not always pride, it is often a mere natural self-affirmation. It is a native self-respect, which makes him shrink from submitting himself absolutely to the judgment of another. Even in his repentance he does not want to lose all self-respect. He feels he cannot amend the life of conscience, and repair the old faults, without, some remnant of self-respect to work from.

His new shoots must come from the old stump, which must not be rooted out. He is fighting for the one remnant of a moral nature which if he lost he fears he would be less than a man. He does not easily realise what a poor thing his self-justification must be compared with his justification by God, his self-repair beside God’s new creation. He does not feel how sterile the stump is, how poorly his moral remnant would serve him for his moral need, how that recuperative vitality is the one thing he lacks, how absolute God’s grace is, and how complete is the moral re-creation in Christ. He palters with a synergism which is always trying to do the best for human nature in a bargain with God.”

Deliver us from morality

C.S. Lewis:

“…In reality [William] Tyndale is trying to express an obstinate fact which meets us long before we venture into the realm of theology; the fact that morality or duty (what he calls ‘the Law’) never yet made a man happy in himself or dear to others. It is shocking, but it is undeniable. We do not wish either to be, or to live among, people who are clean or honest or kind as a matter of duty: we want to be, and associate with, people who like being clean and honest and kind. The mere suspicion that what seemed an act of spontaneous friendliness or generosity was really done as a duty subtly poisons it. In philosophical language, the ethical category is self-destructive; morality is healthy only when it is trying to abolish itself. In theological language, no man can be saved by works. The whole purpose of the ‘gospel,’ for Tyndale, is to deliver us from morality. Thus, paradoxically, the ‘puritan’ of modern imagination—the cold, gloomy heart, doing as duty what happier and richer souls do without thinking of it—is precisely the enemy which historical Protestantism arose and smote.”

Source: English Literature in the Sixteenth Century Excluding Drama (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1944), 187.

HT: D-Math