But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (Galatians 6:14)
An Untimely Death
Recently, singer-songwriter Michael Gungor (widely known to the Christian music world simply as Gungor) ignited controversy on Twitter, tweeting multiple statements concerning the place of Christ’s atoning work in the musical worship of the church:
I would love to hear more artists who sing to God and fewer who include a Father murdering a son in that endeavor… if you can’t think of anything to sing to God other than gratitude for taking your shame away through bloodshed, stop singing and look around… Now I certainly don’t mean to minimize the meaning and symbolism of the cross for billions of Christians through the centuries… I simply think blood sacrifice is a very limited and less than timely metaphor for what the cross can mean in our culture.
In his most pointed statement, Gungor said, “that God needed to be appeased with blood is not beautiful. It’s horrific.”
Although there are several things about these tweets that should trouble us as Christians, we ought to recognize that Gungor does get one thing right—that the real meaning of Christ’s death on the cross is untimely from a purely cultural standpoint. After all, God’s wrath being appeased through the blood sacrifice of His Son isn’t exactly trending with society’s elites and their lot.
So Gungor is absolutely correct to suggest that the meaning of the cross would have to be updated or discarded altogether in order for Christianity to become more palatable to popular culture. In fact, he and the apostle Paul actually agree on this—“The word of the cross is folly” (1 Co. 1:18).
However, it’s probably safe to say that the apostle would take issue with Gungor’s suggestion that the cross doesn’t deserve such a prominent place in the church’s worship.
“Not The Labors Of My Hands”
In Galatians 6:14 (quoted above) Paul claimed that the cross of Christ was his singular boast. Unpacking this more fully, he wrote to the Philippians,
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more . . . But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ. (Philippians 3:4b, 7-8)
Why did Paul boast in his crucified Lord over and against all human pretension? For starters, he understood an important reality—that no man can make himself righteous before God by any earthly merit (Rom. 3:10-18; Ti. 3:5). After encountering Jesus on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9), Paul came to see what hymn-writer Augustus Toplady articulated in his hymn Rock Of Ages:
Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill Thy law’s commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Because of this, Paul knew that Christ’s absorption of divine wrath at Golgotha was God’s one way of making the unrighteous righteous. As he said to the Romans, “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all unrighteousness and ungodliness” (Rom. 1:18). And unless sinners find safety in the asylum of Christ’s atoning blood, we cannot possibly hope to escape the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10).
Thus Paul’s boasting about Christ’s finished work stemmed from his understanding that the cross is all we have. It’s our only refuge from God’s just and righteous wrath.
Consequently, this understanding did not lead Paul to write off the cross as “horrific” like Michael Gungor, but to see it as the greatest conceivable emblem of God’s amazing love—“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). On the other hand, we fail to see God’s love at the cross when we think too lightly of our sin. In reality, it is our sin that is horrific, not God’s righteous demand that it be atoned for.
This is why Christ’s atoning work must remain front and center in the church’s worship. When you come to see God for who He truly is, you’ll see yourself for who you truly are—a sinner (see Is. 6:1-5). Thus the cross is all you have. And when that’s the case, you’ll see it as a beautiful gesture of love to be revered, not as something horrific to be dismissed.
Such love was why the apostle boasted unashamedly in the cross, even though his own culture—like ours—found it quite repugnant. As theologian John Stott says, “That which the average Roman citizen regarded as an object of shame, disgrace, and even disgust was for Paul his pride, boasting and glory.” In other words, the fact that first-century Roman culture was offended by the cross didn’t seem to bother Paul. He was glad to boast regardless of what the world thought because he truly believed that Christ crucified is man’s only hope. And when it comes to our worship today, we want to be right there along with the apostle, glorying in the cross.
As we look to the Lord’s Day, we must ask ourselves whether we, like Paul, are making the cross of Christ our only boast. We ought to give due consideration to the reality that those who claim to worship a crucified Messiah must forfeit the right to boast in anything but His finished work. Can you honestly say you’re ready to do that? Or is there anything—personal achievements, self-righteousness, or worldly thinking—you’re holding on to?
To help us think it through, we’ll be learning a new song together this Sunday—Crowns by Hillsong Worship. The refrain of the song states, “All my wealth is in the cross.” And because of what Paul says in Galatians 6:14, we believe that’s a lyric the church should be singing, which is why we’ve chosen this song for LifePoint’s gathered worship.
Below you’ll find a performance video, lyrics, and a link to download the song from iTunes. I pray you’ll learn this song and come ready to sing it with all your heart on Sunday morning.
Regardless of what the Michael Gungors of the world are tweeting, let us never stop boasting in the cross.
There is a hill I cherish
Where stood a precious tree
The emblem of salvation
The gift of Calvary
How is it I should profit
While He is crucified?
Yet as His life was taken
So I was granted mine
My wealth is in the cross
There’s nothing more I want
Than just to know His love
My heart is set on Christ
And I will count all else as loss
The greatest of my crowns
Mean nothing to me now
For I counted up the cost
And all my wealth is in the cross
I will not boast in riches
I have no pride in gold
But I will boast in Jesus
And in His name alone
And when I stand in glory
My crowns before the Lord
Let this be my confession,
My wealth is in the cross