A Changed Life (Galatians 1:11-24)

A mosaic of the Apostle Paul in St Isaac’s Cathedral, St. Petersburg, Russia

I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.

For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.

Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.

Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they praised God because of me. (New International Version)

I didn’t ask God for this

Saul wasn’t looking to change anything – except maybe to keep those confounded Christians, the group known as “The Way,” out of his beloved religion. He didn’t wake up one morning, sit on the edge of his bed and say, “Well, now, gee-whillikers, I think I’ll become the Apostle Paul, follow Jesus, and rankle a bunch of my fellow Jews with establishing churches all over the place.”

The only well-thought out plan Saul had was to ensure that Christians stayed away by any means possible. He had quite the turn around by actually joining the Christian movement. (Acts 9:1-19)

From the very get-go of his conversion, the new Paul faced skepticism, doubts, and opposition from both church and synagogue. Christians knew how Saul breathed all kinds of threats against them; so, understandably, they were reticent to receive him, perhaps wondering if it were some sort of ruse to topple the church. If it were not for the insight and encouragement of Barnabas, Paul may not have ever entered the ranks of the church. (Acts 9:26-27)

Paul’s fellow devout Jews were so upset with him for becoming a turncoat that they sought to kill him – which became a theme of Paul’s life – getting rocks thrown at him, whipped, beaten, and left for dead more than once. (Acts 9:23-24; 2 Corinthians 11:24-29)

Although Paul never asked for a dramatic conversion to Christianity, a missionary life, and continual suffering at the hands of others, he nevertheless embraced it with all the gusto of faith God gave him.

So, the gospel that the Apostle Paul proclaimed wasn’t something he sought; it was given to him. God graciously revealed the good news to Paul. For three years, he received it. Considering Paul’s background and former life, we can see why it might not be a good idea for him to hang out in Jerusalem and learn about Jesus.

Arabia is a desert. That is precisely where Paul needed to be in his early life as a Christian. Eventually, the churches and believers came around to seeing the authenticity of Paul’s faith and embraced him as a disciple. Paul is considered an Apostle because he had direct contact with Jesus himself in the Arabian desert.

God called me through the grace of Jesus

That phrase is Paul’s spiritual autobiography in a nutshell. It represents his dramatic transformation — from persecutor to preacher — and gives evidence of the hand of God at work in his life.

The fundamental conviction of being called by God, anchors Paul’s faith story. He tells that story in order to remind the Galatian Church of their own experience of being called by God’s grace.

Paul wrote his letter to the Church to help keep them on the track of grace; they were saved by grace, so therefore, they needed to also be sanctified by grace (and not law). He feared they were being led astray by believers who twisted the gospel for their own ends in order to avoid suffering. (Galatians 6:12)

The question Paul tackled head on was: Do the Gentiles have to become Jewish in order to be Christians? “Absolutely not!” Paul insisted. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love. (Galatians 5:6)

I connected with God, and you can, too

Paul was arguably the most influential Christian who ever lived. He shared his faith story in order to encourage the Galatians to examine their own experiences for signs of God’s call.

How has God called you?

It matters little whether it’s a dramatic call, like Paul’s, or whether it seems mundane, as if you don’t remember a time that you didn’t believe. And everything in between.

The important point is that we all need moments, events, and experiences of life transformation; and God’s grace must be the defining center of our personal and collective narratives.

Grace makes all the difference and is what leads to a changed life.

Once you were separated from God. The evil things you did showed your hostile attitude. But now Christ has brought you back to God by dying in his physical body. He did this so that you could come into God’s presence without sin, fault, or blame. (Colossians 1:21-22, GW)

Almighty God, transform us – not for our benefit, but for the benefit of the world. Do your work in changing us to be the new creation you have called us to be in Jesus Christ.  

Holy Spirit of God, do your sanctifying work in the church and help us to be the Body of Christ – engaged in mission, testifying to our faith, and bearing witness to the presence of our Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Lord Jesus, enable us to surrender the church back to you. It is yours, not ours. Help us lay aside our personal agendas and preferences so we can be fully committed to your calling for us. 

Blessed Holy Trinity – Father, Son, and Spirit – the God whom we serve: Do your work in our world and give to us a vision of transformed lives, renewed neighborhoods, and restored communities – bringing blessings and redemption for the glory of God. Amen.

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