Crucified to the World and It to Me
We have reached the end of what might have been Paul’s first letter to any church; and yet, what he taught here about justification by faith was his message from the beginning of his ministry to the end, because it is the central message of the gospel itself. Our Lord has routed the “elementary principles of the world,” the things that bound us—the law and the devil and his host, which brought us into the bondage of sin and death.
He has spent the last two chapters applying this message to life speaking of the works of the flesh which lead to death, and the works of the Spirit which bear fruit unto eternal life. In the last words of this letter, the Apostle utters some truly profound words, “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” (italics added). And this is exactly the life that the Christian is to live, a life that is crucified to the world—its lusts, its pleasures, its desires—that draw us away from the love of God. Christians are people who are preparing for the next world and who desire it with such an intensity that they scorn anything and everything that this world has to offer. Martin Luther wrote these immortal words in his now famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”: “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also; the body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still; His kingdom is forever.”
Paul adds, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” And what is the “new creation?” It is both personal and cosmic. It encompasses the believer himself and the new age that has dawned. As to the believer, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.” The Holy Spirit has birthed us anew through faith in Christ Jesus, made us alive unto God, and is transforming us ever so slowly to be just like the Son. As to the world, it is itself groaning under its subjection to futility awaiting the day of our Lord’s return and its recreation as the new heaven and new earth (Romans 8:19-25; Revelation 21:1, 10). It is on account of the new creation that we may bid this world goodbye AND our sinful selves as we crucify the flesh. Of course we are to minister to the world as long as we are in the body, but we do so as lifeguards on the Titanic rescuing a handful of repentant sinners on a sinking ship—for that is what this present world is—a sinking ship towing its cherished elementary principles, and with no hope of salvation. Paul knew of something better and through faith in Christ, so do we. So be happily crucified to the world, for the world would happily crucify you.