Paul is writing this letter to the churches in Southern Galatia. This is the area of Pisidian, Lystra, Iconium, and Derbe. The Galatians had first heard the gospel and received it from the ministry of Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey. But not too long down the road, Paul received reports that a group of false apostles, which we call "Judaizers," had been trying to add to the solitary work of Christ and faith in Him alone for salvation. They told this group of Gentile believers that Jesus had begun the work, but they had to finish it through their adherence to the law, particularly to circumcision. Now confusion reigned. Paul was not going to turn these young converts over to the Judaizers and their false teaching. So in the face of attacks upon his apostolic authority, and ultimately, attacks upon the veracity of the gospel which Paul preached, he opens his heart to explain why the gospel he preaches is indeed the true gospel of Jesus Christ.
Chapters 1 and 2 are a defense of both Paul's apostleship and of the gospel which he had proclaimed. Chapters 3 and 4 expose the theological error of Judaism by turning back to the Old Testament law, demonstrating that it was neither intended, nor able, to accomplish what the Judaizers promised. Finally, in chapters 5 and 6 Paul explains how God has made provision for holiness through the grace of the gospel.
Paul's opponents charged that he had thrown out the requirements which had been historically laid upon Gentile proselytes to Judaism. Now, he was preaching that Gentiles could be saved apart from Judaism by mere faith in a Jewish Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. They claimed that he acted not out of integrity, not out of necessity, but out of a desire to gain easy converts who would be indebted to Paul, and who would look upon him with favor. They were saying that Paul was a man pleaser:
Galatians 1:10 (NASB) For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
Paul's defense begins with the word "still" in verse 10. It was not that he had begun to be a man-pleaser since his conversion, but that he had ceased to be so.
Galatians 1:11 (NASB) For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
A.T. Robertson's Word pictures says, "not according to man" means: "Not after a human standard, and so he does not try to conform to the human ideal." Paul's gospel did not fit the standards which men would apply to it to test its believability. That means that men would naturally think it to be foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18).
What Paul is saying here is that the gospel was not created in some committee room, it was not created by some zealot who decided we needed another religion. In fact, no person could have conceived of this. And the reason we know this is by what every other religion on the face of this planet has devised since the fall of man.
Do you realize that every religion that has ever been conceived has had some form of works oriented approach to God? Take all the major religions of the world, outside of true Christianity, and you will find that each of those religions demands some form of working your way to heaven, as they perceive it.
Let's take Buddhism. Though classic Buddhism differs from the Western brand of Buddhism in this country, the major component still involves reincarnation. The whole concept of reincarnation is that what you do in this life determines how your next life will turn out. Your good works versus your bad works determine where your future lies.
Islam - the one book which defines Islam is the Koran. The Koran rejects the notion of redemption, someone else paying your debt on your behalf; salvation depends on a man's actions and attitudes. However, tauba (which is their understanding of repentance) can quickly turn an evil man toward the virtue that will save him. So, Islam does not hold out the possibility of salvation through the work of God, but invites man to accept God's guidance.
We could go down the list of hundreds, and more likely thousands, of different religions ranging from modern day cults like Mormonism; to Jehovah's Witnesses; to all of the popular New Age beliefs and religions like the Unity church, Christian Science, Catholicism, along with the more bizarre like witchcraft and Satanism. Every one of these religions promote a form of good works to reach the goal of each respective religion, whether that's reaching some form of heaven or some form of utopia here on earth. There is no other religious belief in existence which places our eternal future squarely on the shoulders of a gracious God who does for us what we could not do ourselves. This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion.
Had Paul proclaimed a gospel that was according to man, it would have been permeated by works-righteousness, as is every humanly devised system of religion. Man's sinful pride is offended by the idea that only God's mercy and grace can save him from sin, and he therefore insists on having a part in his own salvation.
Galatians 1:12 (NASB) For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
Paul says, "I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it." This means that his message was not something that some man communicated to him, and which he accepted and began to propagate.
How many of you can give the name of the person who was responsible for sharing the gospel with you? Somebody shared the good news with us, that is how God ordained it to be:
Romans 10:13-14 (NASB) for "WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED." 14 How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?
This is how God has ordained the Gospel be shared, person-to-person. But in Paul's case, it was different. God dealt with Paul directly, one-on-one.
Paul says, "I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ." This revelation can be seen in a two-fold fashion. First, it is a revelation that came from Christ. We know this from the record given in Acts nine, which describes Paul's conversion. Without any premonition or warning, a blinding light struck Saul of Tarsus, and a voice spoke to him from out of heaven. "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting," our Lord told Paul. In that moment and the hours and days to follow, Jesus Christ revealed Himself and His saving work to Paul. Ananias did not give Paul this saving revelation, but it came from Christ Himself. Just as the apostles, who followed Jesus for three years, received revelation directly from Christ, so did the apostle Paul.
Also, when Paul received the gospel, "through a revelation of Jesus Christ," he was implying that the Lord was the very object of his revelation. He did not understand who Jesus Christ was, even though he surely had heard the crying testimonies of those whom he persecuted. Jesus Christ, in His glorious Person and saving work, was a mystery to Paul. Then the Lord opened his eyes and clearly revealed Himself to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road. But we must understand that Jesus Christ was not just a historical figure to Paul. He saw Him as a living Person in all of His glory as the God-Man, the Mediator between God and men, and the King at whose feet we bow in humble obedience. It was a personal revelation of Christ. From that point on, Paul was a different man. It is from that same point, when Jesus Christ reveals Himself to us as God in the revelation of the gospel, that we are different people as well.
Today, each one of us also receives truth directly from God. But it no longer comes through visions or dreams or any other form of personal revelation; that ended when the Bible was completed. We receive it entirely through the written word of God.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NASB) All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.
How can we know that the Bible is really a revelation from God and not man?
First, we know that the Bible is reliable, accurate, and trustworthy as an ancient document. We know this because the text itself is reliable (we know this from the study and comparison of ancient manuscripts). And we know this because archaeology has consistently confirmed and supported the Biblical record and has never contradicted the Bible. People, places, and events in the Bible are repeatedly verified by archaeology.
Second, we know that the Bible is unique, and special among all books ever written. It is unique in its continuity, being written over 1600 years, over 60 generations, by more than 40 authors, on three different continents, in different circumstances and places, in different times, different moods, in three languages, concerning scores of controversial subjects; but it speaks with one united voice. It is unique in its circulation; being the most published and popular book ever. It is unique in its translation; being the first book translated, and having been translated into more languages than any other book. It is unique in its survival; having survived the ravages of time, manual transcription, persecution, and criticism. It is unique in its honesty; dealing with the sins and failures of its heroes in a manner quite unknown among ancient literature. It is unique in its influence; having far and away a greater influence on culture and literature than any other book in existence.
Third, the Bible is a book of predictive prophecy, literally fulfilled. For example, there are some 300 prophecies concerning the Messiah that were exactly and literally fulfilled by Jesus, such as His birth at Bethlehem, His manner of death and burial, and so forth. Another example is that the Bible describes the rise of four successive world empires (Babylonia, Persia, Greece, Rome) with such accuracy that all critics can do is claim that the passage was actually written after the events happened.
Fourth, the Bible is a book that has profoundly changed the lives of millions, irrespective of their race, class, era, sex, locale, age, or social status.
In the end, believing the Bible is from God is a act of faith. But it is a act of intelligent and informed faith, not a leap of blind faith.
Now Paul supports the fact that he received his gospel from God Himself by sharing who he used to be:
Galatians 1:13 (NASB) For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it;
The idea of "beyond measure" is that he went to the limits. He was a 100% sort of guy. He did nothing half-way. In this case, he hunted and pursued (the meaning of the Greek for persecute) those who were part of the body of Christ. Then for good measure, he said he tried to "destroy it" [the church]. The term comes from the realm of soldiers ravaging a city and bringing it to ruin. That was Paul's passion in life. He would do anything to ravage the little congregations of believers scattered throughout Palestine.
To help us understand this, turn back to the book of Acts, chapter 8. I want to walk you through a couple of passages just to understand the intensity of how deeply Paul hated the Christians. In chapter 7 of Acts, Stephen is stoned to death because of his faith in Christ. Chapter 8 picks up from there:
Acts 8:1-3 (NASB) And Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. 2 And some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. 3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
Now look at:
Acts 9:1-2 (NASB) Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
It goes on to tell his conversion experience. He was on his way to Damascus in order to persecute, bind, and haul back Christians when he had this magnificent conversion experience.
Notice what Paul tells the mob of Jews that were trying to kill him:
Acts 22:3-4 (NASB) "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God, just as you all are today. 4 "And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,
One other passage, in Acts 26 in Paul's own words, he describes before King Agrippa who he was before his conversion. In a sense, he is making the same case in Acts 26 before the king that he makes in Galatians, that is: How do you explain this radical transformation in his life?
Acts 26:10-11 (NASB) "And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 "And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
He goes on and talks about his conversion experience. These Judaizers would have been very aware of Paul - who he once was and his role in Judaism. They would have been aware of his passion to destroy the Church. Paul is simply saying, "How do you explain the radical change, if I did not have an encounter with God Himself?" Everything that Paul believed in terms of the law, the law's ability to save, what he had worked for, what he had merited, and what he could boast in, he said, "I had to count it as rubbish."
Philippians 3:7-8 (NASB) But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ,
The change could not have been more radical. What did Paul stand to gain? He was at the top of the charts in terms of Judaism, and he lost it all. His fellow Jews hated him; they tried to kill him. The Christians were so afraid of him that they did not want anything to do with him. In 2 Corinthians 11, Paul describes all the things that he has been through in order to preach this Gospel of grace:
2 Corinthians 11:23-27 (NASB) Are they servants of Christ? (I speak as if insane) I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.
He goes on to talk about more. What could possibly explain why the apostle Paul would move from the level of Judaism, comfort, pride, and everything that he had, to give it all up in order to proclaim a message that had cost him so dearly - if it wasn't for the fact that he had a personal encounter with God Himself on the rode to Damascus? That is the point Paul is making. There could be no other possible explanation, other than God Himself who knocked him to that road and said, "Paul you are wrong; you cannot be saved through the works of the law; it is a gift of grace." That was the changing point in Paul's life and message.
Paul tells his story this way, because he wants us to understand that he wasn't what Christians today like to call a "seeker." He wasn't seeking anything - except more Christians to throw in prison or kill.
At the heart of Paul's passion to persecute and destroy the church was his ambition in life to be the best follower of Judaism possible.
Galatians 1:14 (NASB) and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
His advance in Judaism is described by a word meaning: "one who is blazing a trail." That was his pursuit in life, blazing a trail where those his age (contemporaries) had not the courage to go. He was an "enthusiast" for Judaism. He lived for his religion.
The conversion of the apostle Paul was about as likely then as is the present possibility that Osama Bin Laden will become an avid ally of the United States and a personal friend of President Bush. In other words, the likelihood of Paul becoming a follower of Jesus Christ was so extremely remote that he appeals to his conversion as evidence of the fact that his gospel is "not according to man."
Paul's appeal to his historical experience was designed to demonstrate the fact that his message did not come to him by or through a human instrument. This is a critical element in Paul's letter to the Galatians, because the theology of his message has been brought into serious question in their minds. It is first his intent to show that he was preaching the same message as the other apostles, and then to show that he could not have been doing so if he had not received that message supra-humanly.
Now, Paul's experience did not prove that his gospel was the truth, but it did prove that he got it supra-humanly. The gist of Paul's argument in Galatians 1:11-2:10 is that he was preaching the gospel long before he had any contact with any who could have taught it so thoroughly to him, and that when his message was brought into scrutiny, it was vindicated before the entire group of apostles in Jerusalem - and that without his ever being humanly instructed in its content.
Let me ask you a question: "Was Saul interested in becoming a Christian?" "Was he a seeker?" How many ways can we say, "No"? That was just his point in verses 13-14. He wanted the Galatians to understand that there was not one bone in his body that had an interest in Jesus Christ. He was perfectly satisfied with his own religious practice and saw no need for the message of the gospel. He was comfortable being zealous for all of the ancestral traditions found within Judaism.
Some people think that Paul was under conviction by the time he was on the Damascus road. He had seen the godly Stephen, and others he had persecuted, so that his conscience was smitten. He was mulling over the claims of Christianity and came to the place of finally deciding this was for him. But the text shows otherwise! Paul was doing everything that he could to stamp out Christianity and destroy the church. And he was doing it for the Lord; or at least he thought he was. His motives for destruction were pure in his mind. Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ was the last thing Paul would have considered on his own!
Do you realize that none of us are any better off than Paul? We do not have inclinations toward godliness apart from Christ; instead we have inclinations to run from God. We will battle everything we can to keep away from God:
1 Corinthians 2:14 (NASB) But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
Who is the natural man? The word "natural" is from the Greek word psuchikos, and it communicates the idea of: "being controlled by the flesh." Its full meaning can best be seen from its usage in Jude:
Jude 1:19 (NASB) These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, [psuchikos] devoid of the Spirit.
The natural man is the unsaved man; he does not have the Holy Spirit. Romans 8:9 says: "...But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him."
Two things are true of the natural man. First of all, he does not "accept" the things of the Spirit of God. The word that is used here for "accept" is a word used for receiving guests. His attitude toward spiritual things is like your attitude toward an unwanted guest visiting your home. This man does not welcome the things of the Spirit, because he considers them foolish. Secondly, the natural man cannot "understand" the things of the Spirit. He can't know them, because they are spiritually discerned. The word "appraised" is a legal term that was used for a preliminary hearing, and it came to mean: "scrutinize, to examine, or make a judgement." The natural man has no capacity to spiritually evaluate these things, because he does not have the Spirit of God. The natural man is like a man trying to pick up a radio station with out a radio receiver - he cannot do it. He does not have the equipment to receive spiritual things, because he does not have the Holy Spirit. The Bible clearly teaches that until a person has been regenerated by the Spirit of God, he has no capacity to understand God.
John recorded a pertinent discussion between Jesus and Nicodemus in:
John 3:3 (NASB) Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
The word "see" here could be translated "understand." Being born again is synonymous with regeneration. Regeneration is affected by God without means. Most people think that the means of regeneration is the Word of God or faith. But regeneration is a direct act of God upon the spirit of man, because the Word of God cannot mean anything until a man is born again. Truth cannot be the means of regeneration, because we were blind and could not see the truth, deaf and could not hear the truth, dead and could not respond to the truth. Truth cannot be the means of the new birth when the natural man cannot receive the things of the Spirit. The increase of light will not enable a blind man to see; the disease of the eye must first be cured. So must a man be regenerated by the Spirit before he can receive the truth. Regeneration is solely a work of the Spirit, and that's why we pray for the lost. Regeneration is a direct act of God upon the spirit of man. It is a spiritual resurrection.
So Paul tells us of his past history in Judaism, and then he says:
Galatians 1:15 (NASB) But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased 16a to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles,
Many commentators try to explain this as God choosing Paul while he was still in the womb. Is that what Paul is saying? Let's test you Soteriology. When did God choose Paul?
Ephesians 1:4 (NASB) just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love
God chose all the elect in Christ before the foundations of the world. Do you know what that means? Before man was created, before he sinned, before you and I ever came into existence, from all of eternity, God chose us as objects of His love, to spend eternity in His presence.
That is amazing. Some people think that God, after creating man, was taken by surprise when man sinned, and then our Lord went to plan "B" to fix this problem. No, that's not what our Sovereign God did. Before anything came into existence, He chose us. He knew us by name, if you will, and then purposed that in time He would send His Son to redeem us, so that we would be with Him.
We weren't chosen because of some future event concerning our faith. Remember, this salvation is a "gift" from God in which none of us can boast. We were chosen already in Christ before the foundation of the world. If God chose us based on what He would see us doing in the future, then that would not be considered a Sovereign choice. In fact, that would be no choice at all since we were the ones who determined how He would act.
In that case, He would simply be reacting to something He saw us do. That could hardly be considered predestination, or choosing us before the foundations of the world. We aren't ultimately chosen of God because we will believe. We believe because we were chosen by God.
So what does Paul mean when he says, "But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother's womb"? I think that Young's Literal Translation helps us understand this verse:
Galatians 1:15 (YLT) and when God was well pleased -- having separated me from the womb of my mother, and having called me through His grace
Paul is saying it was God Who separated him from his mother's womb. Why does Paul say this of God? What is his point? His point is that God was responsible for his physical birth. It is true that his father and mother made certain decisions in their physical relationship with each other that set the physiological factors into motion, but the fruit of the womb is the gift of God - not the automatic result of sexual interaction. Thus, Paul sees himself as physically born by the action of God.
Then, Paul also says of God that He "called me through His grace." To what does this refer? It refers to the event which occurred on the road to Damascus. It refers to the time when Paul was brought to a saving knowledge of Jesus as the Christ. It refers to his spiritual birth. It seems apparent from the way Paul ties this thought to his former one, that what he is speaking of in this verse is the matter of his two "births"; one which was physical, but of God nonetheless; and one that was spiritual, that was also of God. The question remains, however: Why does Paul say these things of God?
He pushes his readers away from their legalism by his words of testimony concerning himself. He was not the only one whose physical birth was accomplished of God; theirs was also. He, likewise, was not the only one whose spiritual birth was accomplished of God by grace; theirs was also. And, if grace brought it to pass, their actions of obedience did not.
There are modern Galatians today like those then who want some of the credit for their salvation. Some boast that they were "God-seekers," so God saved them. Others boast in their good works. Others boast in their baptism, walk down an aisle, church membership, etc. There are even some who admit that salvation is by grace, but it is by faith and, they say, "I did the believing." This is the most subtle form of Galatianism for it couches the legal nature in the "right words of Scripture." How was it that they believed? Was that believing a work of the flesh apart from the energy of the Spirit, or was it the reaction of a persuasion by God that they could not resist?
Paul was irresistibly convinced in the midst of his antagonism - like all true believers are.
What woman is there that can stop birth from happening even if she desires greatly to end the pains? If she cannot start the process, nor stop it, can she be credited with effecting it? Thus, Paul says that it was God that separated him from his mother's womb. The point is, since God is the author of the principles of physiology, He is the responsible party in the matter of physical birth.
Likewise also, Paul, who links the first birth and the second in these verses, would have us to understand that though salvation is "...by grace through faith..." (Ephesians 2:8), the faith itself is not the independent response of man to grace, but, rather, it is like the contractions of the woman - the divinely built-in part of the process that leads to birth from above. As the woman can no more begin or stop the contractions by the strength of her will, neither can man believe apart from the active persuasion of God.
Paul's faith in the light of this confrontation can only be understood as the outworking of the persuasion of God. If Paul believed out of his own energy, he could claim to have effected his own spiritual birth, but since God persuaded him with a persuasion that could not be denied, he attributes his new birth to the "gracious call of Him Who separated him from his mother's womb."
Note that when we were born, we had nothing to do with our first birth. We didn't ask to be born; we didn't accept our parents. It was entirely an action of God. He worked through our mother and father to bring the baby forth. God determines our sex, our skin color, our talents, our everything.
The same holds true regarding our second birth. We had nothing to do with it. We couldn't because, the Bible says, we were dead in our trespasses (Eph. 2:1). God calls us by His grace, not by any works that we have done.
With a man who has no interest in Christ or the gospel, other than trying to get rid of it, it should be clear that only an intrusion from above could transform such a person. Just in case we think we are better off, and that we are better people than Paul, consider that Paul did everything strictly for the glory of God. His motive was for God. He was fanatical in his strict observance to the laws of God. Yet, he was still lost in his sin, without any hope of being reconciled to God. Only God's intrusion into the darkness of his life would bring him hope. That same intrusion is our only hope as well.
The Greek text actually begins with the phrase, "But when He was pleased who had set me apart out of my mother's womb...." Paul's emphasis was upon the "pleasure of God." That is, he understood that his hope of eternal life came because God was pleased to intrude upon his life in a display of sovereign mercy and grace. His stress in salvation was not upon what Paul himself had decided, but upon the gracious intrusion of a benevolent God, who takes pity upon unworthy sinners. Here was a man who had no desire for the gospel; no love for Jesus Christ. His mind was consumed with his passion to destroy Christianity. Yet the mercy of God came to him, intruding upon his life without Paul's permission, and bringing him into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.
We can argue that God is not fair to intrude upon our lives. But I guarantee that you will never find Paul saying that! He understood that if God had not intruded without Paul's permission, he would never had known the saving power of Jesus Christ. And neither would you. In your lost state, you have no more desire for the Lord than a dead Lazarus had for being raised from the dead. Lazarus had no thoughts or cries for being raised from the dead, but Jesus Christ intruded upon his tomb and called him forth to life. Even without you realizing it, when you come to saving faith, you too have been called to life from the dead.
Let me wrap this up: in verses 11-15 Paul is defending his apostleship and the gospel. Paul says that the gospel he preaches is not "according to man" but is a result of the revelation of God. He proves this by sharing his testimony. Paul's appeal to his historical experience was designed to demonstrate the fact that his message did not come to him by or through a human instrument. The gospel that Paul preached was given to him from God Himself, it is the only gospel that saves. It is a gospel of faith alone in Christ alone. To preach any other gospel is to bring upon yourself the judgement of God.
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