Stories are powerful things. We get caught up in our imaginations to other times, places, and possibilities that can inspire us, and even change our lives because of the truths that become real to us.
Each of us is living a story. Paul had a big story, and his story of Christian conversion and calling to be an apostle, is maybe one of the most pivotal testimonies of all of Christian history.
He shares his story with the church at Galatia, not only as a justification as to why he has the right to tell them to listen to him, but more ultimately, as a testimony to the freedom of grace and the transforming power of the gospel, which were the key issues he wanted them to know of in writing to them.
A Vessel Of Grace v. 10-16
There’s no possible way, Paul says, to preach the gospel of Jesus and please men at the same time (v10-11).
One of the marks of a true believer is that they stop looking to please men and only look to please God.
Paul’s salvation was real and the message he shared with them was true, not because he thought it up, or passed on what he had heard from others, but because both his salvation and the message of how everyone else could be saved comes only from God.
“How can we recognise the true gospel? Its marks are given here. They concern its substance (what it is) and its source (where it comes from).” – John Stott
His calling and commission were completely supernatural, so to accuse Paul of manufacturing a ‘cleverly devised fable’ ( 2 Peter 1:16) is not only to charge him with lying, but it also discounts the work and character of God.
Before his conversion, he was fully convinced against Christ. He was so convinced that he violently persecuted any who followed Jesus with the church’s destruction in mind. (v13).
To go from that, to preaching that Jesus is the Son of God and the only way to be saved, is miraculous!
Paul could testify, that in looking back over his life, God had ordained that he was who he was in order to become who God intended him to be.
God never causes anyone to sin ( James 1:13-14). No one will ever be able to stand before God and blame Him for their poor choices. We will, however, if we have believed in Jesus, be able to stand before God and glorify Him for somehow using our lives, as faulty and fallen as they were, and redeeming them for His ultimate purpose and glory.
“The gospel gives us a pair of spectacles through which we can review our own lives and see God preparing us and shaping us, even through our own failures and sins, to become vessels of His grace in the world.” – Tim Keller
From before birth, Paul knows God’s grace was doing something that he could in no way ever make up himself.
This is the amazing grace of God to all who believe in Jesus as His Son and His finished work of salvation on the Cross and His rising from the dead – God has loved us before you were born and destined you to be called to his glory.
That can be a deep theology that many would wish to argue on certain points, but the truth of Scripture is this – you cannot save yourself. God has to step in and show you Jesus so you can receive Him and be saved from the consequences of your poor choices. The only other option is we ignore the grace of God and revelation of Jesus and face the full, eternal consequences for our choices.
Paul accepted this truth of election by grace through faith, and we too, should not be afraid of it.
Paul, along with the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah, know that God gave them a calling from before birth, not only of salvation, but to speak His word, and to do so without shame.
God has prepared something for all of His children to do. If we examine our lives through the lens of grace and redemption instead of the lens of works and self-righteousness, we may well be able to see what He has in mind for us. A big part of that will be telling our story of God’s love for us.
“God revealed Christ to Paul so that He could reveal Christ through Paul. This shows us a critical difference between a mere religious or moral person and a Christian. A Christian has more than an intellectual belief in Christ; they sense a personal relationship. And they know that this relationship is not given to them solely for their own personal comfort and joy. They know they have a responsibility to reveal Christ to others through what they are, do, and say.” – Tim Keller
A religious and moral person is in it for themselves and their own glory. A Christian denies themselves to point others to Jesus.
2. A True, Accepted Apostle v. 16-2:10
Paul spends some time elaborating on his early years as a believer in order to again reiterate that his message was not made up, or an elaborate public relations stunt by the apostles.
When he was first converted and called, he doesn’t consult with any person, and he actually has no contact with the apostles for three years. (v16-17).
Even when he did go to meet them, he only spent time with Peter and then saw James very briefly. It was fourteen more years before he met the rest of the apostles (2:1-10).
They then confirmed his ministry, salvation and calling, but in no way did they force or coerce him into being converted or coach him in what to say.
The men that had spent the most time with Jesus while he was on earth, who knew him better than anyone else, confirmed that all that Paul said about Jesus was true.
They also had no interest in forcing Christian converts to adhere to Jewish law (2:3-5), which again, gives Paul more credibility to speak to the issue he is writing about.
Those accusing him literally had no case at all. Paul and his message were accepted by the apostles. If you reject him, you reject them.
3. A Blameless Man Under the Law v. 13-14
Why is Paul stressing this supernatural Providence in the gospel message – both in receiving salvation and the calling to share it?
We must remember that the key issue that Paul is addressing in all of this is the traditions of men that had been given more authority than the gospel of Christ.
The Judaizers were ironically trying to pit themselves against the greatest Judaizer that ever lived. They were trying to argue the law against the man who was the most preeminent law keeper and enforcer of his generation. If anyone had a reason to be confident of his law keeping abilities, it was Paul ( Philippians 3:4-6).
His record was impeccable, his pedigree was undeniable, his zeal and self-righteousness were beyond compare. To say he was an expert in these matters would be a gross understatement. He was qualified to speak to this topic of salvation by law and works or salvation by grace and divine revelation.
We learn much about Paul here in what he shares about his journey from zealous law keeping for salvation to being zealous for God’s grace and holiness because of his salvation.
Paul’s story shows us also that are two faces to repentance.
We rightly think of repentance as being when we turn to God in faith, and in so doing, we see Him as being far more attractive and desirable than anything else this world offers, so we seek His goodness and beauty by turning away more and more from lifestyles and choices that do not please God, and seek the fruits of the Spirit rather than the temporal pleasures of the flesh.
There is another side to repentance where we not only are called to repent of the wrong things we do, but also of the right things we have done for the wrong reasons. Paul’s law keeping of God’s law was not wrong. His motives for doing so were though. We so often seek repentance of our ‘bad works’ but every now again we need to examine the motives of our ‘good works’. If we are doing them for ourselves, to promote our reputation and glory in comparison to others, our motives are wrong. If we do good works to bring glory to God, and aren’t worried if we never get any recognition for them, we’re on a far better path.
“Paul’s experience proves vividly that the gospel is not simply ‘religion’ as it is generally understood. The gospel calls us out of religion as much as it calls us out of irreligion. No one is so good that they don’t need the grace of the gospel, nor so bad that they can’t receive the grace of the gospel.” – Tim Keller
We can become zealous for things that lead us to persecute others of a differing opinion or conviction and seek their destruction, when ultimately, we are destroying ourselves because we are trusting in something other than Jesus for our salvation or holiness.
Paul shows us that no one is beyond the need for or reach of grace.
What we learn more than anything else from this passage is that the gospel is not come from human beings, but from God.
“The gospel represents a transcendent word from God – a word from above that speaks authoritatively and infallibly to human beings. Hence, the rejection of the gospel amounts to a repudiation of what God himself has communicated.” – Thomas Schreiner
Do you have a story to tell?
“ Paul is a good example to us here. He shows us that we must have the courage to be vulnerable and speak personally about what the gospel means to us…he gets personal to make the gospel clear.” – Tim Keller
Is your journey one that ,on reflection, you can see redemption’s threads weaving through?
Or are you more concerned with discounting God’s work so you can more clearly show your own?
When people look at us, and all we have accomplished in our life and message that we share, who do they give the glory to? ( v24).
We need to tell our story so well, that the only person people have in mind at the end is Jesus.