The Call of God (1:11-24)
Galatians is a letter written by the Apostle Paul to several churches that he had planted a few years prior in the region of Galatia. Since his last visit, some false teachers came through the region teaching a different gospel. Not only did they preach something that was untrue, but they challenged Paul’s apostolic authority in order to undermine what was true. Paul cut right to the chase replacing his typical section of thanksgiving with a rebuke. After making it clear that there is no other gospel, Paul explains in this passage how he was called to preach the one true gospel.
Why should the Galatians trust Paul’s gospel as opposed to the gospel they heard from the Judaizers? Why should we trust Paul’s gospel? Paul shows how the gospel is both objective and subjective. It contains unchangeable doctrinal truth as well as an experiential component.
The objective nature of Christianity does not allow for radical shifts in doctrine. The Bible is unchanging. The gospel was delivered “once for all” (Jude 3). This is counter to our postmodern context which suggests that we all have our own realities and it is judgmental to challenge someone else’s “truth”.
On the other hand, there is an equally essential component to Christianity that is subjective and experiential. Paul’s testimony shows that Truth and experience are united. If transformed lives testify to the truth of the gospel then our sanctification is critical. Has the truth set you free or do you remain enslaved by sin? Paul doesn’t claim perfection, but he has clearly been changed.
Read Galatians 1:11-24
Paul talks about his life before, during, and after conversion.
How Paul Received the Gospel (11-12)
Paul opened the letter with an argument for the divine origins of his apostleship (1). Here, he argues for the divine origins of his message. His primary claim is that his gospel came directly from Jesus. Paul had just said that he did not “receive” the gospel from any man. Rather, the gospel came to him in the person of Jesus Christ.
Our God reveals Himself. He truly exists. Atheists like to argue that belief in the Christian God is no different than belief in unicorns or the flying spaghetti monster. They mock Christianity and the Bible as absurd fairy tails. But one major flaw in this argument is that of revelation. Unicorns and flying spaghetti monsters are figments of someone’s imagination.
The idea of the Christian God might sound absurd to some, but He has revealed Himself to us through Scripture. Some suggest the stories are fabricated, but the claims of Christianity could have been verified by anyone at the time. Rather than the church being disproved, it grew exponentially.
Why doesn’t Jesus reveal himself like this today?
Hebrews 1:1-2 Long ago, at many time and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…
God used to speak through prophets, but now he speaks through his Son. His Son spoke to the apostles who recorded His word for us in the New Testament. But, God does not reveal himself to everyone. He remains hidden to those who are spiritually blind and deaf. That is why the Father must draw them (John 6:44). In fact, worldly wisdom is actually a hindrance, not by design, but because of the fall.
I grew up attending church. I went faithfully every week but if I had it my way I would’ve stayed home, especially when the 49ers were playing! That all changed in 7th grade. I went to summer camp at Hume Lake and finally understood the gospel. I grasped the reality and consequences of my sin. I had heard the gospel numerous time before, but something finally clicked that week. I repented and placed my faith in Jesus.
There are a lot of misconceptions about “receiving” Christ. At the very least, it must involve a recognition of Jesus. Maybe you’ve heard of praying the “sinner’s prayer” or “accepting Jesus Christ into your heart.” That language does not come from the Bible.
Paul’s conversion story never mentions him praying or having a hole in his heart that could only be filled by God. Christian jargon can be misleading. There are several ways in which someone might receive the gospel, but it will always involve the recognition that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for them upon the cross, and that He rose again proving He was who He said He was. That is the objective baseline Truth of Christianity.
Requiring a specific action or formulaic language to receive Christ can lead many into a false sense of hope. Those who do that action or say certain words will find security in that. They will trust in their past action, while living their present lives in unbelief. But the gospel doesn’t call us to make a decision and leave us unchanged. The gospel is not something you accept and then move beyond, it reforms the way you live and think.
And that’s exactly what happened to Paul…
How Paul Lived Before His Conversion (13-14)
Two things characterized Paul’s life before his conversion:
- Persecution of the church (13): In Paul’s former life he went from house to house searching for Christians, and dragging them into prison (Acts 8:3). He wanted to “destroy” the church. Paul was not “seeking” to be saved, he was the exact opposite. He was not exploring Christianity, he was attacking it. If you’ve ever met someone committed to breaking down your faith, you know how difficult it is to change their mind. No matter how clearly you present the gospel, salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit. If Paul could be transformed, anyone can be transformed.
- Progress in Judaism (14): Paul provides his resume in…Philippians 3:4-6…If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.Paul trusted in these things. He thought he would find acceptance with God through his accomplishments. Paul did not see his sin. As a devout Jew, he knew all about the prophecies of the Messiah, but he assumed is was not Jesus. It couldn’t be. Instead of a throne, Jesus hung on a cursed cross.
In other words, there was nothing in his background that prepared him to view Christianity favorably.
The gospel transforms people. Testimonies of dramatic change can be a powerful witness that cannot be ignored. But there is a danger in putting too much emphasis on this. Some will respond to the gospel purely to change their lifestyle. If change is the primary motivation for coming to Christ, people will be disappointed. They will be like the seed that sprouts up for a short time, but is eventually choked out by the weeds and thorns. It is also true that people can change without the gospel.
Likewise, too much emphasis on the change that is required might imply that every Christian should look and act a certain way. We might conclude that a person who struggles with besetting sins does not have the Holy Spirit. We might make certain behaviors a litmus test for Christianity.
Even still, those who receive Christ will change. In various ways and to various degrees every true believer experiences transformation. Some change is obvious, some change is subtle, but no one remains the same.
That’s the power of the gospel in conversion…
How Paul Was Converted (15-16a)
Paul alludes to Isaiah and Jeremiah in these verses. “The Lord called me from the womb” (Isaiah 49:1). And, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you came out of the womb, I sanctified you. I appointed you as a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).
Paul compares his own calling to that of the prophets. He saw the apostolic ministry as the culmination of the ministry of the prophets. They were the last line of prophets to witness to God’s covenant faithfulness. And just like prophets, their preaching calls people to repent and believe.
Notice how Paul transitions from speaking of his work (13-14) to God’s work (15-16). One of the ways you know that you are beginning to understand the gospel is when you recognize that your actions are wholly dependent upon God’s work in you. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16).
Paul affirms that God does the work of salvation:
- He sets us apart
- He calls us by his grace
- He reveals his Son to us
God does the work from beginning to end! Those God foreknew will eventually be glorified (Romans 8:29-30). We are converted “not because we loved god, but because he loved us” (1 John 4:10).
At the same time, this does not remove your responsibility from the equation. Every one of us must receive the gospel. But one of the ways you know that you have received it is when you recognize that even your ability to receive it is a gracious gift from God.
Paul’s story has been duplicated many times since. Some of the most prominent Christian apologists despised Christianity before their conversion (e.g., C.S. Lewis, Nabeel Qureshi, Peter Hitchens). When we realize that God calls and reveals, we understand that no one is beyond the reach of the gospel.
For many of us, the calling of God came when we weren’t expecting it. There came a point when you began to see things clearly. That itself was a work of God. Even though you might have heard the gospel before, you finally understood it. Job testifies, “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (Job 42:5).
We’ve considered Paul’s life before conversion. And we’ve seen what happened at his conversion. Now let’s see…
How Paul Lived After His Conversion (16b-24)
Remember, Paul is trying to show the Galatians that the gospel message he preached to them was not passed down to him by any man. He did not receive the gospel from the apostles, making him subordinate to the other apostles. His message came directly from the risen and ascended Lord. His message was not altered in any way.
First, Paul went to Arabia where he seems to have spent three years studying and preaching. He would have had plenty of time for solitude with the knowledge of his conversion experience, a copy of the Old Testament, and a newly realized understanding that it speaks of Jesus Christ. This is another mark that you have met Jesus. He remains real to you even when you are alone. Between gatherings you desire communion and fellowship with God.
So these three years were Paul’s seminary experience. Paul is showing that both his gospel and his apostolic commission were independent of the influence of any man.
Second, Paul went up to Jerusalem where he spent fifteen days. His purpose was not to receive the gospel from Cephas (Peter). Fifteen days would not have been enough time. He simply went there “to visit Cephas…” He wanted to meet him and get to know him. Plus, much of his time there was spent preaching (Acts 9:28, 29).
Finally, Paul went to the regions of Syria and Cilicia. Through all those years, Paul never met the churches in Judea (23-24). The next time Paul visits Jerusalem is fourteen years after his conversion (2:1).
In Acts 8 we don’t read about Paul, but we read about Saul, the name he was called before his conversion. Saul persecuted the very church Christ died to establish! Think about that. He was quite possibly the most prominent persecutor of Christianity after Christ’s death and resurrection.
The response from Christ was swift and sure. He destroyed Saul. He destroyed Saul’s pride. He destroyed Saul’s purpose. He destroyed Saul’s mission. Ultimately, he destroyed Saul’s life. Everything he knew and lived for was destroyed.
But what he received in its place was beyond compare. After working all of his life to gain an appearance of righteousness above his colleagues, Paul would say it was rubbish in comparison to the righteousness that comes from Christ, a righteousness that can never be lost. He received everlasting life. He received a gospel to preach. Jesus Christ won Paul’s affections and changed his world.
None of this was deserved. It wasn’t at all expected. He was even predisposed to reject it. But what happened? He received it. He left his old life behind as soon as he met Jesus Christ. God’s setting him apart, calling him, and revealing Christ to him overcame Paul’s natural resistance. And it changed the way he saw everything from that point forward.
Saul should’ve been killed, but he was given life instead. Saul was bent on destroying the church, but instead God made him one of its pillars.
Do you see yourself in this story? Although you probably don’t persecute the Church like Paul, you need conversion just as much as he did. Do you recognize the work of God in your own life? If not, today is the day of salvation. Do not wait another second! Turn to Christ without hesitation! Your experience won’t be exactly like Paul’s, but you must know that you are a sinner and you must believe in Jesus Christ.
If you have received Christ then give God the glory for the work that He has done. Seek to know Him as he is revealed to you in his word. Add to your conversion the adornments of a transformed life. It won’t always be quick and dramatic. But it must be there. None of us received an apostolic commission like Paul, but all followers of Jesus Christ have been commissioned by him. Go and make disciples! Be about the work of the kingdom wherever you are.