Paul turned boasting on its head. Paul had learned from the prophet Jeremiah to boast in the Lord (1 Corinthians 1:31 quotes Jeremiah 9:24). Paul’s opponents were boasting in circumcision and outward expressions of Judaism. Instead, Paul offered this humble boast:
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Galatians 6:14, ESV
Jesus did something for us on the cross. He became the once for all sin offering. His death brings life. His death grants forgiveness of sins to those united to Him. Sin and death are defeated in Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. So, Paul boasts… he boasts “in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The humble boast was a scandalous boast. Cicero said that the very mention of the word “cross” should be far from the person of a Roman citizen. The cross was “the most cruel and disgusting penalty.” For the Jew, the scandal was death upon a cross was to be “cursed” (Deuteronomy 21:23).
For the first century world, the cross evoked the emotions that a hangman’s noose would in ours. Clarence Jordan used “lynching” in his Cotton Patch Series for the cross. In explaining his dramatic retelling of the gospel story set against the racial tensions of the South, he wrote:
Our crosses are so shined, so polished, so respectable that to be impaled on one of them would seem to be a blessed experience. We have thus emptied the term ‘crucifixion’ of its original content of terrific emotion, of violence, of indignity and stigma, of defeat.
To the first century world, it was a scandalous boast.
The boast is also transforming. For Paul, the cross is not merely something outside of him. He pictures us all united to Christ in his death, burial, and resurrection (Romans 6). The cross becomes a paradigm… a journey… a daily walk. Paul pictures himself as crucified to the world and the world crucified to him. We are to die on our cross to the lusts and desires of a sinful world because of Jesus. The cross has power to transform.
His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er his body on the tree;
Then am I dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.
–Isaac Watts, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, verse 4