September 3, 2017

Transforming Grace

Galatians 1:10-24 

We saw last week that Paul’s message to the Galatians was under attack by false teachers who were preaching a counterfeit gospel.  This week we’ll see the focus shifts from the message to the messenger.  It is Paul himself who is under attack.  We have a hint of the substance of that attack in verse 10:

For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.  Galatians 1:10

Apparently, Paul has been accused of seeking the praise and approval of man.  We might be curious to know where this accusation coming from.  What has Paul done that would lead anyone to conclude this about him?  If you’ve ever read the book of Acts, it’s hard to see how someone would come away thinking this about Paul.

There is nothing explicit in this passage, however, as you continue reading the letter, it would seem that Paul’s enemies were saying something like this:  Paul, you come in here with your gospel of “grace” but it is missing the law.  Of course everyone wants to hear a message of grace!  But serious believers like us continue to keep the law.  We circumcise our babies.  We don’t eat bacon.  Your gospel just tells people what they want to hear!  You are  people pleaser!

The true gospel can seem too good to be true.  Are we really made right with God only by our our faith in Jesus?  Is there really nothing we can do?  Paul will respond later in the letter saying (I am paraphrasing here) “Actually, if you count on anything besides faith in Jesus, He will be of no value to you at all!”

So if Paul’s gospel did not come about as a way to please man, where did it come from?  He presents three options:

(1) The gospel is a human invention.  Completely made up.  Paul is emphatic that this is not the case.  Read v.11: For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.

(2) The gospel is human tradition.  In other words made up at some point but just passed down from one generation to another.  Read v.12: For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.

(3) The gospel is divine revelation.  This, says Paul, is the origin of “his” gospel.  The Greek word for “revelation” is apokalupsis which literally means “to uncover” or “to unveil.”  (This is the word, by the way, from which we get the English word apocalypse.)

So Paul says I am not making this up and I didn’t get it from any man, I got it directly from Jesus Christ.  The gospel came to Paul through divine revelation.

Now this is where it gets interesting!  Paul could at this point turn to the Old Testament.  He could point how the Lord revealed himself to Moses.  He could make a theological case for the necessity of divine revelation.  But he doesn’t do any of these things.  What does he do?  He shares his testimony.  He makes himself vulnerable and shares how this revelation came about.  His testimony has the same three parts that our testimonies should have as well:  Who He Was, What God Did, How He Is Different.

Who He Was

13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.  Galatians 1:13-14

Paul was one bad dude.  Many of us before coming to faith in Christ, perhaps thought little of Christians.  Maybe we even belittled people of faith.  Paul did more than call people names.  He resorted to violence.  He was responsible for the murder of Christians.  His heart was full of hate.  If he had lived in our day he’d be lighting a torch, wearing a white hood, and going out to terrorize peaceful citizens.  If we lived in Paul’s day, we would say there is no way that guy will ever become a Christian.  He is far too wicked.

What God Did

15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16was pleased to reveal his Son to me…   Galatians 1:15-16

Such is the grace of God.  To take the “worst of all sinners” and use him as herald of the gospel of grace.   The focus here is not on anything that Paul was responsible for.  God set him apart from before he was born.  It was out of God’s good pleasure that Jesus was revealed to Paul.

How did this come about?  Many believe that Christianity is just a matter of understanding and believing the right doctrine.  But before his conversion, Paul certainly understood something of Christian doctrine. He was, after all, persecuting the church.  Why?  He obviously knew something about the gospel.  And yet he was unchanged by it.  Not until this moment, when his eyes were opened was he transformed by the gospel of grace.  He needed the illumination of the Holy Spirit.  Until God opens our eyes, the gospel will bring only information.  Only with the redemptive work of the Spirit does the gospel bring transformation.

How He is Different

…in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

18Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20(In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”      Galatians 1:16b-23

Paul receives the grace of God.  He is transformed in an instant.  And for what purpose?  That he might preach the faith he once tried to destroy.  Paul is a radically new man.  He makes clear in this section that as the gospel was being formed in him, he did not consult with anyone.  He didn’t go and see the other apostles and compare notes.  Paul is clear that the gospel which he preaches came from God himself – not from any man.

It is interesting to note here that Paul did not immediately begin preaching.  What did he do?  He went into Arabia.  It was years before he went up to Jerusalem.  It would be more than 10 years before he would depart for his first missionary journey.  In our day where “success” is measured by how much you get done, it is hard to imagine that Paul waited over a decade before he left for that first missionary journey.  What was he doing?  It would seem he was in prayer with the Lord.  Reflecting on the gospel.  Allowing God’s grace to be formed in him.  This is a powerful word for us who want instant discipleship, immediate results, rapid growth.

24And they glorified God because of me.  Galatians 1:24

Here is how we know Paul’s transformation was real.  People could have walked away saying “Wow, that Paul, he is some fellow!  Amazing how much he has changed!”  But that is not what happened. They walked away glorifying God.  They worshipped Jesus not Paul.  Paul was simply a signpost pointing to the grace of God.  The same should be true of us.

Discussion Questions

  1. What is Paul accused of doing in verse 10?  Why is this surprising?
  2. Paul says that his gospel does not come from human tradition (v.11-12).  Is there a role for tradition in the church or in your life?  How can tradition be a good thing?  How can it turn into a bad thing?
  3. How did the Paul receive the gospel?  How is this an answer to his critics who say that he is just preaching a message that people want to hear?
  4. Paul “defends” the revelation he received by sharing his testimony.  How would you describe Paul’s life before he became a Christian?  Can you relate in anyway?
  5. What happened to change Paul from a destroyer of faith to a defender of faith?  How does this give you hope?  Who are you tempted to “write off” as being too far gone?
  6. How did Paul change after becoming a Christian?
  7. Paul shares in his testimony in this passage.  Are you more inclined to have a theological debate with someone or share your testimony?
  8. Have you ever written out your testimony?  If not, use Paul’s outline: (1) Who He Was (2) What God Did (3) How He is Different to write your testimony.


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