As Paul closes his letter to the Galatians, he sums up his entire letter, in a way, in Galatians 6:11-14.
In this entire letter, Paul has been trying to contrast the difference between the true gospel, and a false gospel (Gal 1:4-10).
The reason is because there were some false teachers who had come in, and were preaching a gospel of “Jesus-plus-something-else”. Essentially, these false teachers were saying, “Yes, Jesus helps you get saved, but you must also work for your salvation. You must also earn it. You must do something to earn your stay“.
And Paul was writing to combat this false gospel, with the true gospel, which says that the only reason Christians are saved is because of Jesus plus nothing else. Jesus is a Christian’s only hope.
And at the end of his letter, in Galatians 6, Paul wants to finish by pointing out the ultimate difference between a false and the true gospel. In other words, what is at the heart of a false gospel verses the true gospel? What is at the foundation?
And in essence, what Paul says is that the difference between the two is what you boast in. Or, to say it another way, what is your ultimate security? Where is your ultimate worth found? Where is your identity and self-image found?
Paul says that the ultimate “boast” of a false gospel is found in what you do. He says in verse 11, that the false teachers only desired to “make a good showing in the flesh”. And what he means by this is that the false teachers believed that their entire worth, their boast, was in what they did. They believed that all of God’s love was predicated and conditioned on something that they did. And so their entire mission was to make a show. Their whole goal in life was to do well, to make themselves look good on the outside. To follow all the rules. To be a “good” Christian person. And they did this, because their gospel said that their entire worth was bound up in it. Their entire destiny was tied up in how good they acted for God. If they did well, God would accept them. If they did bad, God would be upset with them. Their whole identity was founded on that.
In contrast, Paul says that the ultimate boast of the true gospel is in what Christ has done. Paul says in verse 14, “but far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”. And what Paul means by this is that the true message of the gospel says that a Christian’s worth is not bound up in what they do. If it were, every person would be doomed to hell, because “by works of the law no person [can be] saved” (Gal 2:16).
Instead, a Christian’s entire identity is tied up in what Christ has done on their behalf. For the Christian, God’s love and acceptance for them is no longer based on what they do. It is no longer based on whether they are good or bad. It is no longer based on how holy they are. Rather, the security of the Christian is based solely on how holy Jesus is. It is based on the perfect work of Christ. Because in the gospel, Jesus obeyed where we should’ve obeyed, and was cursed where we should’ve have been cursed. And because of this, Jesus’ identity is our identity. And so, the Christian’s boast is found in the cross, and in nothing else.
Tim Keller, from his commentary on Galatians, expounds on this, saying:
Ultimately, Paul says, the heart of your religion is what you boast in. What, at the bottom, is the reason you think you are in right relationship with God?
If the cross is just a help, but you have to complete your salvation with good works, it is really your works which make the difference between your being headed to heaven or not headed to heaven. There, you “boast in your flesh” (v. 13), your efforts. What an attractive-sounding message: to be able to pat yourself on the back for having reserved a place for yourself in heaven!
But if you understand the gospel, you “boast” exclusively and only in the cross. Our identity, our self-image, is based on what gives us a sense of dignity and significance — what we boast in. Religion leads us to boast in something about us. The gospel leads us to boast in the cross of Jesus. That means our identity in Jesus is confident and secure — we do “boast”! — yet humbly, based on a profound send of our flaws and neediness.
… [The gospel leads me to realize that] I am saved solely and wholly because of Christ’s work, not mine. He has reserved a place in heaven for me, given freely to me by him. I “never boast” — I take no credit for my standing with God — “except in the cross”; what Christ has done is now something I “boast” in.
Where is your boast? Where is your security? Is it in Christ alone, or in something that you do? The difference is the difference between the true gospel and a false one.