And They Praised God Because Of Me
Key Verse 15-16
“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.”
When Paul wrote this letter to the Galatians he was basically telling them that the gospel truth was at stake. This was one of the most serious issues in Christian history. If you remember in our last passage Paul said something momentous in 1:8-9. Basically he said that whether they or we believe the gospel he preaches or not is a matter of life or death. He boldly declared that anyone who preaches a gospel other than the gospel he preaches— which is what these people were preaching— is condemned to hell. So Paul has a truth to defend. As we said before, this letter is his defense of the gospel. In it he defends his apostleship. His apostleship can be verified as true and authentic, and therefore the gospel he preaches can also be verified as true and authentic. Then any gospel other that the one he is preaching and which others are preaching must be false regardless of their credentials. And that is the bulk of the passage today. Paul states his credentials against their credentials. They may be Jews who have converted. They may have associations with the very apostles who walked with the Lord. But if they are preaching a gospel other than the gospel he received from the Lord, as Paul says may they be eternally condemned.
Look at 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.” These words tell us something about Paul’s personal conviction. He lived as a servant of Christ. How does a person live a life pleasing to God? Paul said that he did not try to win the approval of men nor to please men. He said that he if he did that, he would not be a servant of Christ. It’s true. One cannot win the approval of both God and men at the same time. When a man is after the approval of other people, their acceptance, their recognition, their agreement, their favor, their respect, their gratitude, their reward, it is difficult to win the approval of God. There are many people like this, living their lives, seeking the recognition of others. Even if they claim to be Christians, the tragic result is that in their lives they can never serve Christ. Paul lived to please God. He devoted himself to Christ. That’s because he loved him. Paul understood what Jesus had done for him in the cross. And so he bound himself to Jesus with a bond of devotion and loyalty. Christians who are self seeking or who— like the Judaizers— are people-pleasers do not know Christ nor his sacrifice on the cross. Nor do any who add anything to the gospel of our Lord. They do not have Paul’s conviction in verse 10.
Let’s see about Paul’s defense now. Read verses 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.” In verse 1, Paul had said: “Paul, an apostle— sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.” So what do we have here? We have Paul claiming two things. His first claim is that the gospel is God’s direct revelation to him in person. He sais that the gospel he is preaching is “not a gospel that man made up”, He “did not receive it from any man”, nor was he “taught it”. His second claim of course is his genuine apostleship in verse 1, that he is apostle “sent not from men… but by Jesus Christ and God the Father.” This is all important because this testifies that the gospel he is preaching had come to him directly from the Lord Jesus. This is the same gospel which he preached to the Galatians and by which they repented and were set free from condemnation. They had accepted the gospel message. It is the same message which the Lord himself had commissioned Paul to deliver to the Gentiles when he spoke to him when he arrested him on the road to Damascus and said: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ “Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’” (Acts 26:14-18)
Paul’s apostleship was as authentic as all the other Apostles. He had been personally commissioned by the Lord who visited him personally and called him to deliver the gospel message to the Gentiles. Whatever the Judaizers were had said to these Galatians wasn’t true. But Paul is not satisfied to end his defense here. He continues with his defense.
Read verses 13-14. “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 Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” Now Paul throws in his life testimony— a testimony which seems to have been renowned in the Christian world. “For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism.” In other words, he was no upstart Jew, but a prominent Jew in the Jewish community. He had been a fiercely practicing Pharisee. He was zealous for the Law and the traditions of Judaism and kept them flawlessly. He was advancing beyond many others until he was recognized by the elders. What Paul seems to be saying is that what he once was may well put anyone who claims adherence and loyalty to Judaism or to Jewish customs and traditions to shame. And if that were not enough, he went as far as to intensely persecute the church of God. Actually he went even further than that. He even tried to destroy it. That’s how zealous he was for God and the Law. No one can say that Paul doesn’t understand nor have respect for the Jewish Law and traditions. Nor can anyone say that Paul cannot understand what threat the Christian faith holds for the Jewish religion. He does! He was once one of them, and he fully understands how faith in Christ Jesus justifies men when all the laws and traditions of the Jews could not!
But when Paul persecuted the church of God, he did so out of ignorance. Listen to the rest of his testimony. Read verses 15-17. “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, I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” These words are indeed wondrous. They tell us so many things. Paul’s testimony here is clear. What he was and what he later became could not be but the hand of God in his life. He had been an arrogant murderous man, self righteous and self seeking. He had been brilliant and using his brilliance to advance his self promoting career to achieve fame and recognition. He was serving himself. But he was no longer that man. He no longer persecuted and killed Christians. Rather, he gave up his self seeking career as a prominent Pharisee to become a humble itinerant preacher, and was serving a gospel of grace that is by faith in Christ. He was now laying down his life “to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18) as Jesus had commanded him to do.
How could that have happened? Paul tells us how in these words: “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.” It happened when God, who set him apart from birth, and called him by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in him. That’s what happened, and Paul held on to this till the day he died. There were things in his life that he was sure of, things we also must be sure of. “God set me apart from birth” is the first thing I need to be sure of. God told Jeremiah the same thing: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart.” (Jer.1:5) Psalm 139 makes this very clear. God knows us intimately. This is a truth that we cannot afford to be without. Paul understood that his calling was no accident, that God knew him before he was born and had set him apart.
Paul also knew something else about how his conversion happened. He said: “God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his son in me.” Paul understood that he had been a terrible sinner. He had been a murderous wretched man, deserving condemnation. He had been living a lie. His life in Judaism was full of Laws and traditions and religion seemingly holy. But in reality he knew as all men know in their hearts that they are evil deserving death. What could save them? Paul understood that only the grace of God could save such a man as him. Only the grace of God could change a man such as him. And only the grace of God could call a man such as him. He understood that it was the grace of God that revealed the Son of God Jesus to him, and made him the righteous man that he now was, a man in Christ— and a man for Christ. It is that same grace of God that comes to all of us. We too are saved and called by that same grace.
God is always pleased to reveal his Son to everyone by his grace alone. That is God’s will and pleasure in sending his Son to the world— that everyone may be saved by grace through faith in Jesus. In other words God is not happy to see anyone perish, but longs to reveal his Son to everyone. He wants everyone to know his marvelous grace. He wants everyone to come to Jesus by faith, repent of their sins, and receive forgiveness and salvation to eternal life. That is the message of the gospel he entrusted to Paul. Look again at what Paul says in verses 15-16. “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.” The words: “So that I might preach him among the Gentiles” was God’s charge to Paul to preach the gospel of God’s grace to all people. Paul knew what kind of man he was before— that it was only the grace of God that called and saved a man like himself. But Paul also knew that God’s grace called him for a purpose. God called him to bring the gospel to all people. That is why he preached the gospel to the Galatians who had already come to know the grace of Jesus. Paul was distressed that the Judaizers were now sowing confusion in their hearts, corrupting the beautiful gospel of God’s grace which he received and passed on to them.
To understand Paul’s passion for God’s grace through Jesus, we need to take a quick look at the reason these Judaizers’ motive in corrupting the gospel— their adding something to it. In Galatians 6:12 Paul explains it this way: “Those who want to make a good impression outwardly are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.” Now this is very interesting. Let’s not forget these were professed Christians. But Paul is saying that they are doing this to avoid being persecuted for the cross. Anyone who avoids the suffering or the persecution that comes from the cross does not love the cross. In fact, and in all honesty, those who do not love the cross and all that is in the cross of Jesus hate the cross. Paul is explaining to us something very important here, about his gospel, and about what he had been teaching. He taught the cross of Jesus. He only taught the cross of Jesus. He loved the cross of Jesus because in the cross of Jesus he understood what God had done in and through Jesus for all sinners. In the cross of Jesus, Jesus took upon himself all our sins and paid the price we could never pay. In the cross he delivered us from condemnation, completely erased the debt of sin we owe, and justified us before God. On the cross Jesus said “it is finished”. The work of redemption was finished in the cross. Paul understood that. He clung to that. He preached that. He loved the cross with his whole heart. He defended the message of cross. And he condemned any teaching that dared add or take away from the completed and glorious work Jesus accomplished on the cross. These people may talk about Jesus and the cross. But in reality they didn’t love Jesus nor did the love his cross. They loved their traditions and their ceremonies and their legalisms more than they loved Jesus and the cross of Jesus. We must be very careful that our Christian practices or habits or way of doing things or traditions do not become more precious to us than Jesus and his cross.
Paul ends verse 16 with the words, “I did not consult with any man,” and he goes on to say in verse 17 “nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went immediately into Arabia and later returned to Damascus.” In other words after his conversion, and commission by God, Paul tells the Galatians that he had no contact with anyone from among the Jewish Christian leaders. The gospel he was preaching had been revealed to him by God himself, and he spent some three years before he actually went to Jerusalem for the first time to meet up with the original apostles. It is likely that Paul spent those three years studying the Bible and reflecting in meditation and prayer to understand God’s heart and mind for the world. In verses 18-21 Paul recounts his visit to Jerusalem and his acquaintance with Peter and James the Lord’s brother, whereby he had to leave for Syria and Cilicia. He assures them that he is not lying to them. His point being that he had not been instructed in the gospel by the apostles, and later changed the gospel to something else when he had come to preach it to them. The gospel he had given to them had been the true gospel he had received from the Lord Jesus himself through direct revelation. It is a gospel of truth and of life.
Paul should not have to assure them more. But he is their shepherd and his concern for them compels him to help them unburden themselves from the lies that had violated their hearts. Read verses 22-24. “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.” Even people who had not known Paul had heard that he had once been a butcher and a sworn enemy of Christ and the church. They had once trembled at the mention of his name. But the news about his conversion had also become known. It was a remarkable story unheard of in the Christian world. Saul the Persecutor of Jesus had become Paul the servant of Jesus. He was now preaching the gospel and people were coming to know Christ Jesus because of him. Paul’s changed life had brought praise from those who saw him and heard about him. His new life astonished everyone. They knew that only God could change a man’s heart the way Paul’s heart was changed. Even the churches in Judea who had not met Paul heard of his change and glorified God. The Galatian churches had no reason to doubt his credibility. Rather they too ought to glorify God for what God had done in him and through him. They ought to glorify God for what he had done in and through them as well.
Paul’s words, “’The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they praised God because of me” are very meaningful. They teach us something about the glory of Christ. The glory of our Lord Jesus is the testimony of his people and the very lives that his gospel has touched. A person’s changed life is the evidence of the power of the gospel working to glorify Christ. We, who have been blessed by the grace of our Lord Jesus— our live should be lived as a testimony to his grace— a witness to his glory. As Paul was certain that people praised God because of him, so also when people see a Christian’s life, that life must a testimony to his grace— it must reflect Christ— and the change the gospel of his glory had done on our lives. If a life is not changed— before and after the gospel has come into a person’s life— there is no evidence that the gospel has been truly received into the heart. There is no evidence that the person has repented of their sins, and surrendered their hearts to Christ. The gospel has the absolute power to change our lives— to set us free from sin and darkness— that is absolute! Our lives are changed by the power of the gospel— and the evidences should be many and clear and visible as a testimony to the glory of Christ. We must live day by day as a testimony to the grace of our Lord Jesus so that others can praise God because of us— because of you and because of me. Amen.