PRINCETON CHRISTIAN CHURCH
GALATIANS 1:11-24 24 SEPTEMBER 2023
The story is told of a family from the back woods, who many years ago, made their first visit to the big city.
As they checked into a grand hotel, they stood in amazement as they looked at all the new and impressive things they saw.
While the husband checked them in at the reception desk, the mother and the children stood near the elevators. Now they had never seen an elevator before, so they didn’t really know what it was used for.
While they stood there still wondering what this new-fangled contraption was an old man hobbled towards the elevator and went inside.
The door closed, and a short time later, the door opened again. A young handsome man walked out of the elevator.
Well, the mother stared at the young man and immediately said to her daughter, “Quick, go get your dad. This is some kind of miracle machine that transforms an old man into a good-looking young man. Go get your Dad. We gotta put him in there.”
Wouldn’t it be great if transforming ourselves was that easy?
Well, maybe we really don’t want to be transformed into a different-looking person but think about this: Christianity, life in Christ is exactly that – a transformation – a conversion to a new version of ourselves.
What we know and what we believe about the Christian life is built upon one fundamental truth. You don’t have to stay the way you are.
Our lives will be radically changed by God when we allow ourselves to submit to His will...
When we allow Jesus Christ to enter our lives, to be the Lord of our lives then our lives will never be the same again.
This is where we have to understand that this is: submitting to the will of God is more than being religious. We may be an incredibly good person, but we have not been converted until we have submitted our will to the will of the Father.
Religion is one thing, but conversion and transformation are something else entirely.
So, what makes the difference between religion and true conversion?
1. It is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that brings conversion and transformation.
2. As the Gospel works in our lives, the preferences we held all our lives up to then are overcome. The lifetime of habits has to be assessed and we have to attain a willingness to break those old habits and those deeply ingrained patterns of sin and erase them from our lives.
3. The transformation that comes through the Gospel guarantees that what we were does not determine what we are, and what we will be.
The Gospel is, as the saying goes, a Game Changer. The Gospel changes us. We begin to live differently. Our life begins to move in a different direction.
When we think about all the accounts of conversions to serving Christ, there is none greater than the conversion of the man called Saul of Tarsus.
Saul of Tarsus was raised a Jew. He was trained as a rabbi. He became a violent persecutor of the early Christian church.
He hated Christ and his followers so much that he did his best to get rid of this “new religion.” He saw it as a threat to Judaism.
In today’s terms, he would be labeled as a terrorist. And he his evil deeds in the name of the God of the Bible.
But something happened one day as he walked along the road to Damascus. There was someone else there on the road. That someone, of course, was Jesus.
And we know what happened there. He met Jesus and his life was dramatically and permanently changed. He was transformed from Paul the persecutor to Paul the servant of Christ.
The events of that encounter on the road to Damascus made a life-changing impact on the lives of people and the New Testament contains at least four separate accounts of his dramatic conversion. Those accounts are found in Acts, Chapters 9, 22 and 26. And also, here in Galatians.
Remember last week we talked a bit about the Judaizers. The reason Paul wrote this letter to the churches of Galatia, was because some Judaizers had come into that region and were attacking both Paul’s apostleship and preaching of the Gospel message.
These Judaizers were trying to change the Gospel. And Paul’s message was that “you don’t mess with the message.” The Gospel does not need any changes or amendments.
But the Judaizers wanted to Gospel to appear to be bad news, not the Good News which it truly is. So, Paul’s message now is “Don’t mess with the messenger.”
The Judaizers claimed that Paul’s message wasn’t true. They claimed that he could not be trusted because he wasn’t a real apostle like the original twelve.
So, Paul had to defend himself and his apostleship. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to prove his trustworthiness and authenticity by telling his story.
So, his defense was this from Galatians 1:11 and following:
“I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12)
There are two very important truths in those verses. First, the gospel was not Paul’s idea; it was God’s idea.
Second, because the gospel comes from God, it must be true.
Paul is merely the messenger of the truth. He is not the source of the truth.
Once Paul made that truth known he began to tell his story.
If you have the opportunity to lead someone to Christ you might follow the same pattern Paul used to prove his authenticity – in other words, to give his testimony
Your life before conversion.
How you came to Christ.
Your life since coming to Christ.
Here is how Paul used his testimony to win others to Christ.
I. Paul’s Life Before Conversion (Gal. 1:13-14)
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.
Now, of course, your story, or testimony, may not be as dramatic as was Paul’s, but it still can be a motivating factor in leading someone to salvation in Christ.
Before Paul came to Christ, he was perfectly satisfied with his status as a rising Jewish leader and an avid hater of Christianity.
He had no regrets about his persecution of the followers of Christ, and in fact, regarded it as his service to God.
His religion satisfied him in every way, and he saw no reason to change his behavior.
In Acts 8:1-3, we learn that, as Saul, he went from house to house in a sort of reverse evangelism. The Word says there: “But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.”
Can you see him: “Knock, knock. “Any Christians here?” If the answer was yes, he dragged them out of their homes and had them put in prison.
In Acts 9:1-2 we see that he was “Still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 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.
In his mind, the best way to defeat Christianity was to persecute and kill all the Christians - In his zeal, he had no peer.
Saul was truly a religious fanatic and a zealot. He was a man who hated Christianity and he would stop at nothing to prevent it from spreading.
Paul tells his story this way because he wants us to understand that he wasn’t what we like to call a “seeker.” He wasn’t seeking anything—except more Christians to throw in prison. He had no sense of his need for salvation and no inner voice calling him to come to Christ. It would be hard to imagine a more hopeless case.
Why bother praying for a man like that? He’ll never be saved. We can sum it up by saying he was on a collision course with eternal judgment.
What he desperately needed—but would not admit—was a strong dose of divine intervention.
Paul paints the picture so bleak and black so that the brilliant light of the gospel can be clearly seen against that backdrop.
Not everyone has a story as dramatic as Paul’s, although some do. But what we all have in common is that we were lost in our sin, we were separated from God, and we needed conversion and transformation.
Those of us who have believed, repented, been baptized, and obeyed and received the Gospel have had our sins washed away. We have been forgiven, justified by grace, reconciled to God, redeemed, restored, converted, and our lives are being radically changed.
That’s the wonder and power of the Gospel – it sets us free!
II. Here is how that happened in Paul’s life. (Gal. 1:15-16a)
15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles… (Gal. 1:15-16a)
Focus for a moment on the first word of verse 15- “But.”
All that happened in Paul’s life afterward came because of that one little word and what followed it.
a. Paul was a sinner. But God.
b. Paul hated Jesus. But God.
c. Paul killed Christians. But God.
d. Paul wanted to destroy the church. But God.
e. Paul wasn’t looking for a new life. But God.
Note also the change in subjects.
When Paul talked about his pre-Christian life, it was always “I … I … I.”
He was totally absorbed and focused on himself. Nothing or anyone else mattered.
But when he talked about his conversion, the focus shifted. Now it was God who moved into action and became the focus.
And notice why he did it. Pauk said, “God was pleased to reveal his Son to me. God “set him apart before he was born.” God had his eye on Paul while he was still in the womb. Then while he was a toddler, God was watching his every step. During his teenage years, God kept him in sight.
During the long years of rabbinical training, God was calling him to salvation. Paul didn’t know it. He didn’t feel it. He was totally unaware of it. and in fact, couldn’t see it at all until after he came to Christ.
Then he could look back and see God’s fingerprints in every part of his life.
Can you see that when you look back on your life?
When the time had fully come, God reached down, knocked him down on the Damascus road, and brought him into the Kingdom.
There is an old hymn called “The Hornet Song” and the chorus includes the words “He doesn’t make us go against our will; he just makes us willing to go.” That’s kind of what happened to Saul.
God brought Paul to a place where he had no other good choice, but to freely choose Christ. The truth of the matter is that salvation always begins with and comes from the Lord.
God is always seeking us way before we are seeking Him. And when we say that we have found the Lord, we must remember that if the Lord hadn’t found us first, we never would have found Him. And so, in the end, God gets all the glory for our salvation.
That is certainly how Paul felt as he looked back on his own amazing conversion. Paul knew that he was chosen for a task – to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. He was not chosen for honor and glory, but to bring honor and glory to God, through his service.
And the same is true for us.
III. Paul’s Life After Conversion (Gal. 1:16b-24)
Let’s read a bit further into Paul’s account of what happened after his encounter with Christ.
I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. Galatians 1:16b-24
What Paul speaks about there in those verses is about what he didn’t do. He didn’t immediately go to Jerusalem to be trained by the apostles. And he didn’t start an evangelistic ministry right away. What did he do?
He dropped out of sight for a while by going to Arabia. If that happened to someone today, he would be all over the radio and TV. He would have written a book and appeared on all the talk shows.
But guess what – God had a different plan for Paul. After spending time in Arabia—evidently, in personal study and meditation, he went back to Damascus. Then he went to visit with Peter in Jerusalem
Then he went north to Syria and Cilicia to preach the gospel.
Paul’s point in this section of the letter is to show the Galatians that Paul’s apostleship was firmly rooted in God’s revelation and call and that he was dependent upon God alone for his message and for the authority and power to be an apostle.
None of this must have been easy for Paul. After all, he had gone from being known as a persecutor of the Gospel to now a promoter of the Gospel.
Imagine how difficult it must have been to go back to Damascus, where he was persecuting Christians and the place of his conversion experience.
It must have been hard to go to Jerusalem where he would have been treated with anger and persecution by his former Jewish friends and treated with suspicion by the Christians. They might have been skeptical of his conversion experiences – wondering if it was real or not.
Finally, it must have been difficult for Paul to go to Tarsus, the city where he was born and where he grew up. He must have experienced what Jesus had said, “A prophet is without honor in his hometown, among relatives, and in his own household.” (Mt. 13:57; Mk. 6:4)
So, what had made the difference in Paul’s life?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ had made all the difference in the world.
As it happened, the churches in Judea (which he once terrorized in his pre-conversion days) recognized the amazing change in his life.
And they glorified God because of him. It is obvious that they recognized the power of Christ’s ability to change the lives of even the vilest sinner.
Paul’s life pointed people toward God.
In that light, we might ask ourselves a profound question: Is anyone glorifying God because of you and because of me, because they see Christ in us?
Is my life pointing people toward God?
Here are some lessons we can apply to our lives:
The Gospel comes from God, not from man.
1. This is a vitally crucial point because we live in a world today that teaches that all religions are basically the same, one is as good as any other; we are all going to the same place, and that no religious system can be thought superior to any other system.
We know this, of course, to not be true, but many people accept it as the truth.
Look at Paul’s words again in verses 11-12 pointing us in the right direction.
The gospel is not the result of a vote of approval or the work of a committee. The gospel is based on the historical facts surrounding the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is true because it comes directly from God. Conversion and transformation are miracles that depend on God alone.
God takes the initiative and the responsibility for the offer of salvation and transformation. He has caused us to be able to know him personally.
I think we can agree that sometimes the worst sinners often make the best saints. On the other hand, it is regrettable that some of the worst sinners do not come to Christ, and they remain lost.
Also, there are many great saints of God who were raised in godly homes and never drastically rebelled against the Lord. So, you don’t have to be the worst of sinners to be a great saint.
But God seems to take the worst of sinners and convert them and employ them in God’s kingdom work. When God’s work is done, those same saints of God are a powerful testimony to an unbelieving, doubting world.
The greatest truth, though, is the fact that no one is beyond the reach of God’s love, His grace, His forgiveness, and His acceptance of a repentant sinner.
Surely this is one reason that Paul’s story shows up so many times in the New Testament. If God can save a man like Paul, Then God can save anyone.
That ought to encourage those of us who are praying for friends and loved ones to come to Christ. Often we feel like our prayers just bounce off the ceiling; they don’t reach Heaven. We pray for months and for years with no apparent result. But we must not give up hope, because God is not done yet.
No one would ever have predicted Paul’s conversion. Paul’s heart toward Christ was as hard as any heart could be.
BUT GOD! Those words and that reality are so immensely powerful.
So, we must keep on praying, keep on witnessing, and keep on believing, because we never know what God will do when He will do it, and what a person will allow God to do.
Through the power of the Gospel, God continues to be in the business of changing lives.
Through the Gospel, God is still in the business of rescuing, converting, saving, and transforming men and women who are lost in sin.
There is no case too hopeless for the Great Physician. The words of 2 Corinthians 5:17 are still true:
“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!”