Paul’s letter to the Galatians comes now to its closing remarks. This is the part where many start looking at their watches during a very long conference. Perhaps, some might have gone already thinking that the closing statements are not as important as the body of the message. But this section of the letter is just as God-breathed as the rest of the letter, therefore it is equally important. We need to read it, hear it and study it. So that’s what we’re going to do. Let’s look at how Paul concludes the letter as he magnifies the cross.
Paul introduce the closing statement by saying how he wrote this part of the letter. Normally Paul had a secretary to whom he dictates what to write, and the way he marks the letter for authentication is by writing some parts of the letter himself. That’s why he told the Galatians that this section of the letter was written with his own hand. And by saying that he wrote these last words with large letters, he is giving emphasis on what he has to say. This closing statement is in fact, according to some scholars, an interpretive key in understanding the whole epistle.
Now in order to get a handle on how the logic of this section works, let’s begin with the conclusion in verse 17. Paul said that from now on let no one cause him trouble. The trouble he’s referring to here both in the immediate context(vv. 12-13) and the book wide context(Galatians 1:7; 5:12) is the false gospel of the agitators that tries to lure the Galatians away from the truth. But what I want you to notice is the grounds that he gave for saying that no one should cause him anymore trouble. The last part of verse 17 reads “for I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” But how is that a reason for not causing trouble for Paul? To answer this, let’s ask first what does he mean by brand-marks of Jesus?
This brand-marks has to do with Paul’s suffering for proclaiming the cross of Christ. So Paul is saying that if the Galatian believers were to choose between the agitators and him, choose him because he bears the marks of a true Christian. I get this idea from verses 12-15.
Paul contrasted himself with those who preach circumcision. There are two things that differentiate Paul from them, or two marks so to speak of a person who really belongs to Christ. The first one has to do with embracing suffering, and the second one has to do with boasting.
First, verse 12 tells us that the agitators’ purpose for forcing others to be circumcised is to avoid persecution from the unbelieving Jews. But why would the unbelieving Jews not persecute a person who’s promoting circumcision? Because it is tantamount to saying that the cross is unnecessary, and it doesn’t fulfill the demands of the Law. Or to say it another way, it is a promotion of Judaism, and not Christianity. But not so with Paul. He was willing to be persecuted and even to die for the sake of the cross of Christ, and he did in fact suffer and died a martyr. That’s why in a literal sense he bear the brand-marks of Jesus.
The second mark is about boasting. Verse 13 tells us that the agitators promote circumcision so that they might be able to boast in the flesh. Perhaps because it is much easier to tally how many were circumcised because of their preaching than how many were actually justified. That’s why it says “boast in your flesh”. For every person being circumcised by them, counts as a reason for boasting. Again not so with Paul. Verse 14 tells us that his boasting is in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ alone. Then he explains further that by the cross, the world was crucified to him, and he to the world. Meaning the world is dead to him and he is dead to the world. That is, we no longer have a living relationship with the world. Dead people no longer have any stimuli in this world. Or in the words of Paul in Romans 6:2, “How shall we who died to sin still lives in it?” Then he gave the reason why he would rather boast in the cross and not in circumcision in verse 15. He said; “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but a new creation.” For Paul, both circumcision and uncircumcision belongs to the old creation and in order for the new creation to come, something must die. We must die. The old “I” must be crucified. And all genuine Christians died with Christ on the cross according to Galatians 2:19-20. Paul said “It is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me.” This is why all true Christians will have a mark of boasting only in the cross. If you prick them, they’ll bleed Christ.
So Paul ended with a promise and prayer that those who walk by the rule about boasting only in the cross, or those who have the mark of Jesus will receive peace and mercy from God. Verse 18 calls it the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ought to come to Christ with nothing on our hands, otherwise the cross would be of no benefit to us. We can’t avail of any peace, mercy and grace other than through the cross. So boast only in the cross and let peace, mercy and grace be upon us.