The Supernatural Origin of Paul's Gospel (Galatians Sermon 2 of 26)
October 20, 2013 | Andy Davis
The Gospel, Conversion, Effectual Call
Pastor Andy Davis preaches an expository sermon on Galatians 1:11-24, and Paul's divine appointment to preach the gospel.
- SERMON TRANSCRIPT -
One of my favorite moments that we have occasionally here in the church, and the elders are talking about increasing the frequency, is when we hear testimonies from brothers and sisters in Christ of various ways that God is working in their lives and their ministries. Don't you love that? We get it every time there is a baptism, and so we get to hear the incredible story of how God brought that man or woman to faith in Christ. We all rejoice in that, sometimes with applause, I think always with applause at baptism, and we praise God for that. Or there will be other times that people will step up and just talk about their ministry. You just heard me pray for Jack. Isn't that incredible? Two thousand consecutive Monday nights. Sometimes on a December 25th, sometimes inclement weather, incredible faithfulness. Jack mentioned, sometimes on his anniversary. I wonder why he brought that up? But just saying what a godly woman Rita was, to free him up to do that ministry, if in fact he went. I don't know what's wise or not. You just need wisdom from God, should I go or not? But for two thousand nights, individuals have stepped up and ministered, and I think that's incredible.
The sharing of testimonies. You see it sometimes at so-called revival meetings, or Billy Graham crusades. You see people getting up and talking about how God brought them to faith in Christ. I just love hearing those stories, don't you? I love hearing of God's faithfulness, whether in converting someone, or using someone in ministry, and you can share in that. For me, it's always seemed to be somewhat of a foretaste of Heaven, of heavenly fellowship.
I think a big portion of our time in Heaven will be going back over redemptive history, and what happened, and talking about it, and listening to it. And we are going be free people at that point. We'll be free from time constraints, free from anxieties, free from pride and arrogance, and sharing stories like that, free from pride and arrogance, and not wanting to really listen to someone else's stories. We're going to care intensely about what God has done in someone else's life, because we will be glorified. We will be free from selfishness, and we will be so eager to hear stories of brothers and sisters that lived in different ages and generations, some perhaps a thousand years ago, and how God used them, and what God did to bring them to faith in Christ. I am so eager for that. We are all going be church historians then, friends. Praise God. You may think church history's a bit of a snooze. It isn't, it's thrilling. Amen? Nathan? It is not a snooze.
You have a testimony right now on that. It's going to be awesome, because it's God at work in other people's lives. And to God be the glory. In my mind, as I begin this sermon today, I want you to go ahead to verse 24, and just look at it. And I just love what Paul says at the very end of the section, end of Chapter 1, "And they praised God, because of me." Isn't that an awesome statement? "They praised God, because of me." Friends, the only way that can happen is with the Gospel of God's sovereign grace at center place in our understanding, that we know it is only by the sovereign grace of God, that anything good happens in our lives. And so it's not, "They praised me for my courage, and my boldness, and my wisdom, and my discerning sensitivity to understanding what the right things were, and stepping out and doing them." No, no, no. "They praised God, because of me." It gives me something to yearn for and something to live for. I want that to be said of me at the end of my life, that other people had cause to praise God, because of me.
And so let us, as members of this church, celebrate sovereign grace. Let's understand that that is what Galatians is all about. But this testimony that we have here in Galatians 1, and that's what it is, this is the testimony of the Apostle Paul, is a testimony unlike any other there's ever been in church history. Paul is a unique individual in church history. His conversion story, his testimony of grace, is different than anyone else's testimony. In some very significant ways, because God had ordained (as he says right in the text), God had willed, even from his mother's womb, even from before the foundation of the world, He had willed to use this man, this Saul of Tarsus, this Apostle Paul, in ways He had chosen to use no one else. And so He brought him though significant things, and transformed him to, God be the Glory, to be an example. And we are going to talk about this from 1 Timothy 1, an example of how if God can save him, He can save anyone. That's really what the story is, but then beyond that, how God chose to use him, to give us much of the theology of salvation that we celebrate week after week.
The other Apostles, God used them as eyewitnesses of the Word who became flesh, eyewitnesses of his glory. They told the stories of his miracles, and were there when He broke the bread, and they were eyewitnesses of his resurrection, and all of that. But it's predominantly through Paul that we understand the theology of all the events. We get the facts through the eyewitnesses, but then we get the theology and the significance through the Apostle Paul. And so God willed for this individual, this Paul, to be raised up and converted in a spectacular way. God showed him visions of Christ, and of the truth that He gave to no one else, and Paul wrote them down, and we still read them today. So what we have here, in the section we are looking at today, Galatians 1:11-24, we have Paul's defense for his apostleship. His defense, even more significantly, for his message. He is defending both his message and his apostleship, and he's going say that both his message and his apostleship were of divine, of supernatural origin. He's defending it.
Now, the attack made by the Judaizers, the false teachers that came in to Galatia. The Apostle Paul, after he was converted was shaped, trained, and prepared by God himself, by Christ himself, to be the Apostle to the Gentiles. And in the fullness of time, at the right time, he went forth on a missionary journey with Barnabas, and he went through Asia Minor into Galatia, in modern-day Turkey, and he was a church planter there. He led people to Christ and he planted churches. But in a shockingly brief amount of time, after he and Barnabas left, some false teachers came in and infiltrated their ranks. They began teaching a different Gospel, which Paul said, and we looked last time, "Is no Gospel at all." A mixture of Christ plus works, Christ plus law equals salvation. A mixture, which ultimately, when it all boils down, the final analysis goes down to self-salvation. A so-called Gospel of self-salvation is no Gospel at all.
So in a shockingly brief amount of time after Paul had planted those churches, they started to turn in their hearts toward a different Gospel, and he's so disappointed, he's so shocked, he's so concerned about them. Later in this epistle, he's going to say that he is in childbirth over them, concerned and laboring for them. And so this section that we're looking at today, verses 11-24, is Paul's defense for his own apostleship, his own life story, his calling. It’s not so much so he can defend himself (we'll get into that), but so that he can defend the message he came to preach, and his right to teach them its implications. That's what he's doing.
I. The Link between the Man and the Message
Paul is one of the most attacked people in history. It goes on even to this present day. The attack on Paul is a timeless attack on the truth of the Gospel. And so these Judaizers were probably saying lukewarm things about Paul. "He's a good man, but he didn't get the Gospel right. He's a second-hander. He's not one of the first frontline apostles. He listened to those in Jerusalem, got it, but he garbled it, he didn't quite get it right. And now, you need to listen to us, we are the mouthpiece of the true church in Jerusalem. We are the ones who are telling you how you must be saved, through the work of Christ on the cross, yes, but also through the law of Moses, mixing those two together. And the Apostle Paul, a nice guy, I guess, but he's getting it wrong." Well, listen, that attack on Paul is a timeless one. It's an attack on the Gospel. It's a attack on our brains. We 21st century Christians need to be sure that Paul was an apostle, sent not from men, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ. And we need to be certain that the things he wrote, the things he taught are true, absolutely true. We need to have absolute confidence that God spoke through Paul.
We need to be sure when we sit down to read Romans, or 1 or 2 Corinthians, or 2 Thessalonians, that everything in there is God's own truth, and be confident in that. And so we have to listen to Paul's defense for his own ministry. Paul is under attack, and his defense for himself and his ministry here, is not because he's on some kind of ego trip. It's not because he's insecure and needs some affirmation or needs some assurance. It's not that at all. It's rather that he's trying to defend his right to teach the Gospel, and the Gospel that he actually did preach there in Galatia, that it was the true Gospel. The Book of Acts is filled with attacks on the Apostle Paul. It's just one after the other. As soon as he moves out, as soon as he comes to faith in Christ, and preaches the Gospel there in Damascus, he's persecuted. He's persecuted in Jerusalem. He's persecuted in Asia Minor, when he and Barnabas go out on that missionary journey. It's just in the Book of Acts, it's just one attack after another. The last eight chapters of the Book of Acts is Paul on trial, in one court setting after another, Paul defending himself against one attack after another.
The same thing happens, though, in other epistles. We see it in 2 Corinthians, how he defends himself from an attack, from what some people called the 'super apostles.' "We're the extra apostles. We're the super apostles." And so they're questioning Paul on this. And so he has to defend his ministry, which he does vigorously in 2 Corinthians. But here he does it in Galatians 1 and 2. He spends a lot of time defending himself. And I think it's because the Lord knew that Paul would be the key new covenant theologian. He would be the key individual, not the only one, now, we learn new covenant theology from John and from Peter and others as well, but he is the key advocate and articulator of the significance of Christ's death on the cross, and his resurrection, and the significance of Pentecost, and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. So he is defending himself, but not for his own sake.
Look at verse 10. He is not concerned what people think about him there. He says in verse 10, "Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God, or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." He's not doing this because he is trying to please people or have people think well of him. In 1 Thessalonians 2:6, he says the same thing, "We were not looking for praise from men, not from you or anyone else." And again in 1 Corinthians 4:3, a very clear statement. He says, "I care very little, if I'm judged by you or by any human court. Actually, I don't even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that doesn't make me innocent. It's the Lord who judges me." The only one I care about is what the Lord thinks about me. Isn't that a strong statement? "I care very little if I'm judged by you or anyone else."
And so the issue here, that we're getting at in Galatians 1:11-24, is the link, the fundamental link between the man and his message. There is a link between Paul and the Gospel Paul preached, the Gospel he taught so plainly and clearly. What he wants to do, look at verse 1 and we're going to compare it to verses 11-12, there's a strong link here. Verse 1, "Paul, an apostle, sent not from man, nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God, the Father, who raised Him from the dead." That's very similar to verse 11-12, "I want you to know, brothers, that the Gospel I preached, is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ."
You see? In Verse 1, he says, "My apostleship came directly from God, from Christ," and then verse 11 and 12, "My message, the Gospel I preach, came directly from God as a revelation of Jesus Christ." So that's the issue. There's a link between his apostleship and his message. "I got my apostleship from God and I got my message from God." To some degree, this makes perfect sense. Now, an apostle is a sent one, a messenger, an ambassador from, let's say, a king to another country, something like that, with an official status to relay a message.
Imagine in the Middle Ages, that some herald shows up in royal regalia, he's got the king's crest on his chest, and he's got a scroll that he's waving, and he calls, "Hear ye, hear ye. All you citizens assemble." Everybody comes together, and he pulls out this scroll, and it's marked with a seal, and he waves it in front of them, and then he breaks the seal, and right before he's about to read the proclamation, someone from the crowd calls out, "That man is an impostor. I know who he is. He's a highway robber. He's probably assaulted the genuine messenger of the king and has taken his clothing. We can't trust a word he says." You see the significance of this, don't you? If the messenger is discredited, then the message is discredited. We can't listen to anything that the messenger says if you discredit the messenger. So that's what's going on here. Paul is proving that both his role as an apostle and his message came from the same source. It came from God. There is authority here, authority and truth. He has a right to preach and teach. He has a right to shape their understanding of the Gospel.
And the key idea here is that God speaks to us through people. He raises up people and gives them the authority to speak his truth. And we see this fundamentally getting established at Mount Sinai, you remember that? That time when God descended in fire and cloud, when the Jewish nation, having been delivered from bondage in Egypt, having passed through the Red Sea, coming to Mount Sinai, they're assembled at the base of the mountain, that the mountain is trembling, everyone's terrified. God descends in fire and cloud, and He speaks in this terrifyingly loud voice, "I am the Lord, your God, who led you out of Egypt, out of bondage. You shall have no other gods besides me," and gave them the Ten Commandments, verbally spoke to them.
"God speaks to us through people. He raises up people and gives them the authority to speak his truth."
The people were so terrified by what they heard, that they pleaded with Moses. They said, "Would you please go up the mountain, go up into the cloud, in the fire, and talk to God, and listen to him, and find out what He wants to say to us, and would you please come and tell us, so that we don't hear this great voice anymore, lest we hear it and die?" And God said, "What the people have said is good. It's a good thing. I wish they would always fear me like they fear me right now." And so Moses became the mouthpiece of God to the Jewish nation. He went up, heard from God, came down, and spoke God's Word, and he then opened up the office for the Jewish nation of prophet, that office was opened up, where individuals would hear the voice of God, and they would relay it to the people of God.
Moses said in Deuteronomy 18, "The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers, and you must listen to him, for this is what you asked the Lord, your God, at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, 'Let us not hear the voice of the Lord our God, nor see His great fire anymore or we will die.' And the Lord said to me, 'What they say is good. I will raise up a prophet like you, from among their brothers, and I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.'" Well, that's the office of prophet. And so again and again, the prophets were raised up after Moses was dead and gone. The prophets came, and they would say things like, "Thus says the Lord," and they would speak, and the people had to listen to what they said, and if they didn't, there would be problems, judgment would come.
Now, once God had spoken through an individual, like Jeremiah, let's say, and he was established as a prophet of God, and the things he said came true, they would come and ask him, "Is there a word from the Lord today?" They wanted to hear from Him, and he was established in the office of prophet, and they recognized him as a genuine mouthpiece of God, and so the Word of the Lord would come, and they would speak. And so the apostles, the New Testament apostles, were chosen out from all of Jesus' disciples to be with Jesus, and to see Him, and to go with him, and to hear his teachings, and have a close relationship with him, and then eventually to be the foundation of the church, humanly speaking, along with the prophets of the Old Testament. And so it says in Ephesians 2:19-20 that, "God's household, [the church, is] built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone."
My understanding is that these mouthpieces of God were eventually the foundation of the Bible. The apostles and prophets, to me, equals Bible, the written Word of God. The apostles and prophets, as they testified to Jesus, that's the foundation of the church. That's what the church is built on. And so the apostles are the link that 20 centuries of Christians around the world have to the resurrected Christ. Their eyewitness testimony of Christ's words and deeds, and especially of his death and resurrection, is foundational to our faith. The authority of the apostles and the truth of their message was essential to the future of the church. Now, as the Lord would have it, He was going to raise up yet another man, this Saul of Tarsus, this Paul, to be an apostle, one untimely born, just handled differently. God had a different plan for him, and shaped him, and molded him, and prepared him differently.
And you think about all that the Lord intended to give us through Paul. Think of all the things you know about Jesus because Paul wrote Romans. Think about all the things you know about spiritual gifts because he wrote 1 Corinthians, or love, because he wrote 1 Corinthians 13. Think about the specific things you know about the end times, because Paul wrote 2 Thessalonians. There are things that you know about God’s activity before the foundation of the world, because he wrote Romans 8 and Ephesians 1. Think of all of the things that God has given you through Paul. And when you get to heaven, go and find him and thank him, alright? And he'll say, "They glorify God because of me. It's because of God that you have anything good through me." But God willed to give all of this truth, this river of truth through this one individual. So Satan's attack on Paul back then, his time-bound attack back then, is actually an eternal attack on the church. Do you see that?
II. Paul’s Main Point: The Supernatural Origin of the Gospel He Preached
Paul has to defend his apostleship, not for his own sake, but for ours, and for the Galatian Christians, so that we can understand. And his main point in verse 11-12 is the supernatural origin of the Gospel that he preached. Look at it again, at verse 11-12, "I want you to know, brothers, that the Gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, rather I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." This is the supernatural origin of the Gospel that he preached. This Gospel is the power of God for our salvation. And as I pointed out last week, it's not just for the beginning of the Christian life, it's for the rest of the Christian life. As Tim Keller put it beautifully, it's not the ABCs of Christianity, it's the A to Z. And so you're going to be under the ministry of the Gospel the rest of your life. You're not done being saved yet. And so you need to trust this Gospel message right on through, right 'til the end.
I love Romans 6:17. We talked about it at the new member weekend a few days ago, and it was just a beautiful time. It’s a verse so rich with doctrine and truth. There it says, "Thanks be to God, that though you used to be slave to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed that form of teaching to which you were entrusted." God entrusted your souls to doctrine. He entrusted your soul to a pattern of teaching and it's for your soul's health that you stay under that Gospel the rest of your life. And so Paul wants you to trust that Gospel right straight through. He wants you to keep trusting that Gospel. Satan wants you to not trust it. He wants to bring doubt, and different thoughts and confusions in, and that he's trying to assault the purity of your understanding of the Gospel. And here in Galatians, he's bringing in this man-made mixture Gospel of works and faith, things that do not go together. And so if Paul's Gospel was defective, it's man-made. But if Paul's Gospel was revealed from heaven, then it's perfect, and it will get you saved. It will finish the saving work in you, right through to heaven. This Gospel can get you to heaven. Praise God for that! It can get you to Heaven! It can forgive all of your sins and it can equip you every moment to fight indwelling sin. If you're entrusted to it, it can get you safely all the way to Heaven, if you keep believing its message. And so he's defending this. The world is filled with man-made Gospels. People are clever. I think they're demoniacally clever, frankly. I think demons are involved. I think Satan's involved, but I think he puts ideas, and thoughts, and visions, and weird thoughts in people's minds, and they come up with new religions.
"If Paul's Gospel was defective, it's man-made. But if Paul's Gospel was revealed from heaven, then it's perfect, and it will get you saved. It will finish the saving work in you, right through to heaven."
I think Islam is ultimately a man-made religion. Mormonism is a man-made religion. Joseph Smith was a con artist, who was a very clever individual, and I think there's a Satanic input, and the Book of Mormon came from it, and it's a false religion, it's a false Gospel. It's not Christianity. I think Buddhism, Hinduism, these things are man-made religions. They're man-made Gospel. It's no Gospel at all. The true Gospel is heaven sent. It came down from heaven with Jesus. It's a message that God, 1 Corinthians 2:7, "Ordained for our salvation, before time began." It's a message that God worked out, if we can use that language of God, He worked it out, Father, Son and Spirit, before the foundation of the world, before time began, and then proclaimed it little by little in the Old Testament prophets. They little by little let out more and more truth. And the Gospel was proclaimed ahead of time, through the prophets, Romans 1:1-3, and Romans 16:26.
This is a Gospel that God announced ahead of time through the prophets. Galatians 4, "When the time had fully come, God sent the Gospel in His Son, Jesus, born of a woman, born under the law." The Gospel is heaven sent. It descended from heaven to Earth. Jesus, in John 6, uses this descending language, "I have come down from heaven." Isn't that powerful, that image? "I have descended. " John 6:38-39 "I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but to do the will of Him who sent me. And this is the will of Him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that He has given me, but raise them up at the last day. " "I descended to raise you up." That's what Jesus said. This is the bread of life that descended from heaven like the manna did. This is a Gospel that is heaven sent. It's not anything that man made up. No one could have made this up. CS Lewis makes this point, "The Gospel must be true. No human being could ever have concocted this. Who would have ever thought of this, this Gospel of sovereign grace, contrary to human merit, by the death of the incarnate Son of God and his resurrection?" Who is going come up with that? No individual could have. This is something that we did not concoct. And Paul says in verse 12, "I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it. I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ."
Now, I'm going to digress. You don't know this, but I'm going to tell you. I'm going to digress from what I wrote here, because I don't really think what I wrote is the best way to say it. I'm going say something a little bit differently. What I do here in my outline here, is talk about how all of us receives the Gospel by revelation. Like Peter, at Caesarea at Philippi, we all have to have Christ directly revealed to our hearts, or we won't be converted. Friends, that's true, but I don't really think that's what Paul is saying here. He's saying, "I'm special," actually. That's what he's saying, "I'm unique. I didn't have the same kind of encounter with the Gospel that average people have." Is there anything wrong with being taught the Gospel by people? No, that's all of us. We should all say, "No, there's nothing wrong.” Thank God, there's nothing wrong. We were, all of us, taught the Gospel by people, but Paul wasn't, not in the same way we are. He got it directly from Jesus. That's what he's claiming here. He's saying in effect, "I am unique." Yes, you have the Gospel revealed to your heart by the Holy Spirit, definitely that's true, but that's off the point of what Paul's saying here. So that outline, put it aside. But truer, yes, in one sense, yes, God revealed Christ to you when you were born again. God revealed Christ to you when you were converted, but God revealed Christ in a special way to this man, Paul. He had a vision of Christ on the road to Damascus.
III. Paul’s Evidence: His Supernatural Conversion
Paul talks about the transformation that happened with this Gospel, this powerful Gospel that came in his life, and changed everything. Look at verse 13 and 14, he said, "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 Jews of my own age, and I was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers." "I was an expert Jew. I was a zealous Jew. I was a ladder-climbing Jew. I was a competitive Jew. I was looking at my schoolmates and I was getting better grades than them. I was better at memorizing Torah than they were. I was the best Jew on Earth." That's about what he's saying. Paul does a lot of this kind of boasting and it's interesting, but it's true. In Philippians 3:4-6, he says, "If anyone else, [any other Jewish, Judaizer-type person,] thinks he has reasons for confidence in the flesh, I have more." Paul does a lot of this kind of thing, "I'm better than you. Alright, I'll tell you what. Let's just lay out our Jewish credentials here. Let's lay them on the table and I win. I win every time, alright?" What is he talking about? He says, [I was] "circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin. a Hebrew of Hebrews. In regard to the law, a Pharisee. As for zeal, a persecutor of the church. And as for legalistic righteousness, faultless."
In Acts 22:3-4, his testimony goes like this, "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in the city, [Jerusalem]. Under Gamaliel, I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers," and here he's actually a little more humble than usual, "And was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” I'll be equally zealous as you. "I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women, and throwing them in prison." Why does Paul talk about how much of an expert, excellent Jew he was? First of all, because he's dealing with Judaizers, they are his enemies in this debate. And he's saying, "I understand what you're saying. I understand the law of Moses as well as you do. I understand where all that leads, so I have the credentials to talk law with you," and by the way, he does it on behalf of those who can't. The Galatians are Gentiles. What do they know about all these, the minutiae of the law? They're overwhelmed. They're intimidated by these Jews, who are coming and saying, "You know nothing of the law. Let me tell you unwashed Gentiles how it is."
Paul steps forward as our champion, the Gentiles' champion, and says, "Look, I understand the law better than any of these people and I know it doesn't save souls. I know it. I'm able to tell you. I ran that race, it doesn't lead anywhere but hell. I considered my righteousness in that old system garbage. Whatever was to my gain, I considered loss, so that I could gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God, and is by faith." He can speak about all these things. He's our expert. Now, the point Paul is making here is, "That's how I used to live. A radical transformation has come to me." How do you explain that? How do you explain what happened to Saul of Tarsus? What explanation can you give?
Well, post-Freud and into our counseling kind of era psych, there are all kinds of people who want to do psychological analysis of Paul. But let's just cut to the chase. Either he was insane or he was radically converted by the Gospel of Jesus Christ. A crazy man. You don't do a 180 degree about-face like he did. It's an astonishing conversion, a powerful testimony, and he's not insane. At one point, they claim that he was, in Acts 26:24, "Your great learning has driven you insane." He says, "I'm not crazy. The things I'm saying are true and they are reasonable." God converted Paul because He had a purpose for him. Look at verse 15 and 16, "But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles." Just stop there. This is an incredible thing. Paul says, "God set me apart from birth for this work. He had been training and preparing me to do this from the time I was born." Actually, if you read Ephesians 1, it was earlier than that. It says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms, with every spiritual blessing in Christ, for He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight."
Before time began, before God said, "Let there be light," God had planned all of this. But Paul just says, "From birth, God set me apart from birth and called me by his grace," and that's an amazing statement, really. An amazing statement. He's saying, "Everything that happened to me before I was converted was part of God's plan for me." Isn't that an incredible statement? He's like, "Well, that was all that rebellion." The time he was hating Jesus, all that time, everything that happened, the way he was born, where he was born, the fact that he was a Roman citizen from birth was part of the package. The fact that he was born in Tarsus, but came to Jerusalem to study under Gamaliel, that was part of it. The fact that he was zealous for the law, that was part of it. The fact that he was an expert in the law. The fact that he was a Pharisee, that he considered his legalistic righteousness to be blameless, that was all part of it. The fact that he was so driven and so ambitious was part of it. The fact that he went after the church and persecuted it. He was there with Stephen.
You know what I think happened? I think Stephen beat him in a debate. I think if you read between the lines, in Acts 6, Stephen was preaching from the Scriptures, that Jesus was the Christ and no one could refute him. No one could resist him or stand up against his wisdom of the Spirit, by which he spoke, and that includes Jews from the synagogue of Freedmen from Tarsus and Cilicia. I think Paul was there. He was like, "I can't beat this guy, Stephen." And so he was just there when Stephen was killed, and he was giving assent to his death. He was excited that Stephen was dying. And then, in Acts 8, he starts to destroy the church, and he starts to persecute it, and he's going after the church, and he's dragging off men and women, and throwing them in prison. But meanwhile, Stephen's points are working in his brain. And the behavior of these men and women, and the children in these Christian homes, and their tears, and their pain, and their deaths, it seems, because he voted against them, he consented to their deaths, and he was in some sense a murderer. In one sense, a murderer, a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and a violent man. And all of this, Paul's saying, "Is part of God's plan for me," all of it. Wow. And why? Because he was shaping him and preparing him to be the apostle to the Gentiles, and to be a trophy of God's grace that stood for all time.
Listen to 1 Timothy 1, "I thank Christ Jesus, our Lord, who has given me strength, that He considered me faithful, appointing me to His service, even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. I was shown mercy, because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me, abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." I love this verse, this one verse, you ought to memorize this one, 1 Timothy 1:15, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance. Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst." Oh, you should memorize that. You should cherish it, whenever you get attacked, or assaulted by Satan, the accuser, or the brethren, and say, "Go back. Yeah, but 1 Timothy 1:15 says, 'Here's a trustworthy saying. Christ came to save sinners like me. Yes, I am a sinner, but He came to save people like me. It's trustworthy and I will trust it. Of whom, I am the worst,'" he said. "But," verse 16, "For that very reason, I was shown mercy, so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display [put on display], His unlimited patience, as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life."
So here's the logic. If God can save Saul of Tarsus, breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples, He can save anyone, anytime, just like that. Just like that. Isn't that awesome? Doesn't that encourage you as an evangelist? Doesn't that encourage you as a missionary? Doesn't that encourage you, as you're praying for lost loved ones and co-workers? God can save anyone, anytime, and that's the point. And he says, "It was God's good pleasure to do it." God enjoys doing it. God enjoys saving sinners. I love what Jesus said in Luke 12:32, "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom." God enjoys saving you. He delights in it. And so his immediate purpose was so that he might preach.
IV. Paul’s Assertion: No One Taught Me This Gospel
From the very beginning of Paul’s ministry, right from the calling, Jesus said, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" "I'm Jesus, the one you're persecuting. Now, get up, and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." Just right away in his conversion, right away, he's given a work. And so he goes to the synagogues in Damascus right away, and he begins preaching the Gospel. Wouldn't you love to have been there that Saturday or whenever that Sabbath was? He goes in there, "Oh, yeah, I know this guy. He's here to arrest all those Christians, weird people from that weird cult," and he opens his mouth and begins proving from the Scriptures, that Jesus is the Son of God.
What a stunned moment. How can we account for this, except by sovereign grace? But after God was pleased to reveal his Son in him, so that he might preach among the Gentiles, he says, "I did not consult any man. I didn't ask anyone. I didn't get trained. I didn't go to school. I didn't go to seminary. I especially didn't go to Jerusalem. I didn't sit at the feet of those who were apostles, before I was. I withdrew at that point. After preaching in Damascus and being let in over the wall in a basket, I went to Arabia." It's a picture of a retreat, maybe even in a desert, like Elijah out in the desert with the ravens bringing him food. Picture that or picture John the Baptist out in the desert, in the years before he began his public ministry. Or picture Jesus being driven by the Spirit out into the desert to be tempted by the Devil for 40 days.
There is Paul in Arabia and he's learning the Gospel. So the things he later wrote in Romans, Jesus taught him those things directly, by revelation. And so he was trained, and he says in verse 19, "I saw none of the other apostles, except James, the Lord's brother," and then he asserts, he said, "I'm not lying. I assure you that I'm not lying. And then I went to Syria and Silesia, and those churches in Judea, they hadn't even heard of me. I wasn't a second-hander who learned the Gospel from the apostles in Jerusalem, and then tried it out in the churches there around Judea. They'd never even heard of me." But eventually, they heard that this man, the very man who used to persecute and attack the Gospel, is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy and they praised God, because of me."
What application can we take from this? Well, how about this? How about come to Christ? How about trust in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins? Amen. The Gospel of God's grace is here for you. That's the whole point of Galatians, is so that you will know that this Gospel, the same Gospel that saved Saul of Tarsus, is here today.
God sent his Son, born of a virgin, who lived a sinless life, who died on the cross in your place, who God raised from the dead on the third day. If you repent of your sins and trust in him, you will be saved. You will be saved. Trust in him. This is a heaven-sent Gospel. And only a heaven-sent Gospel produces worship and glory to God for its converts. "And they praised God, because so-and-so got converted. They praised God, because aunt so-and-so, or brother so-and-so, or sister so-and-so got converted. They praised God, because my boss was converted." To God be the glory. Only by emphasizing sovereign grace will we understand that the worship and the glory goes to God. Let him who boast, boast in the Lord.
"Only by emphasizing sovereign grace will we understand that the worship and the glory goes to God. Let him who boast, boast in the Lord."
I would urge you trust Paul and his writings. Be suspicious of anybody who comes alongside, okay? Paul has written on a lot of controversial issues. And again and again, when you get into these controversial issues, like the role of women in ministry, divorce and remarriage, charismatic gifts, various other things, lots of controversial things, many of them in 1 Corinthians. You may wonder why I entrusted 1 Corinthians to the elders, and then left on sabbatical. No, I wouldn't do that to my friends. Go ahead, preach through all the controversial things, get those cleaned up and I'll return in the fall. But so many of those controversial things were entrusted to Paul. And again, and again, when you start getting into him, you hear some effort to discredit Paul, separate him from Jesus, "Jesus had this view of women and Paul had this view." Again and again, this discrediting of Paul, it's just Satan attacking Paul again. Trust everything Paul wrote. It's the Word of God, all of it.
And then, finally, if I can enhance, enrich your fellowship, let's share testimonies with each other, okay? Let's share how we came to faith in Christ. The elders want to do that more on Sunday mornings. We're going to be doing that with some of the candidates for elders over the next few weeks. Just praise God for what God's done in these men, in their lives. But we're going to have other testimonies of how God has worked in various people's lives. Find out from those that are suffering severe illness how God is being faithful in this time to give grace. Let's do real fellowship with each other. Let's not go down to current events, and to the weather, and all that. Tonight, at home fellowship, share with each other how God has been gracious to you and what God is doing in your life. That's a foretaste of heaven. Close with me in prayer.
Father, I thank you for the Apostle Paul. I thank you for how he defended his calling, how he defended his Gospel ministry. I thank you for the Gospel you gave him to preach, and I thank you for each brother and sister that's here today. God, there's been a burden on my heart this morning, that there might be somebody here today that walked in this place, knowing they're not converted. I want to pray for that person, whether man or woman, boy or girl. I want to pray right now that you would bring conversion by your sovereign grace, just like you did with Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Bring a transformation in their heart right now, that they would look to Christ and him crucified, not trusting in their own works anymore, but looking to Jesus, and finding forgiveness at the cross. I pray that in Jesus' name, Amen.