We all love a good story. We love a story where the underdog rises above all odds and comes out on top. You know, like the 1980 Winter Olympics where the US Hockey Team made up of amateur college players defeating the Powerful 4-time Defending Gold Medal Russian Team, made up of professional players. You remember that famous call by Al Michaels’ “Do you believe in Miracles? YES!!”. We also like the feel good stories where somebody overcame incredible odds of survival where they should have died, only to survive. There was even a TV series made about it, “I shouldn’t be alive!” Maybe it’s like Aron Ralston who in 2003 was rock climbing in a Utah Canyon when a boulder dislodged, pinning his hand between the boulder and the canyon wall. For 6 days he fought dehydration and hypothermia only to amputate his own forearm in order to free himself. We love these stories. But honestly, we don’t think they can be our stories. We’re too “normal”. But let me tell you up front and at the risk of telling you my main point in the introduction, if you have a relationship with Christ, you have a story. A story that is much greater than the 2 I just shared. A story that far exceeds “normal”. You have a “new life” story. You were in fact dead, but are now alive. Instead of thinking about “our story”, we instead think about “other people’s” story. The reality is, God has placed you, in the circle of influence that you are in, in order to reach them for Him. Take our missionary brother in Tanzania that we shipped Bibles to. He is in a place reaching people that we are not able to reach. Don’t underestimate your ability or your sphere of influence in reaching people for Christ. So, what’s your story? As we come back to the book of Galatians, today’s message is not going to fill much like it.
Galatians 1:10-24 (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. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 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; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus. Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him fifteen days. But I did not see any other of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; but only, they kept hearing, “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they were glorifying God because of me.
It seems as though we have caught Paul in mid-thought, and we have. So just as a way of brief review from last week.
Last week, we saw Paul began this letter addressing is apostleship as well as addressing the churches in Galatia regarding their abandonment and desertion of the Gospel of grace through Christ crucified and replaced it with a works-based gospel that was perverted and leads to death. Paul also reprimanded those who were trying to agitate the church and add all of these other components to salvation and told them that anybody, including himself, who tries to do that will be destined to destruction and condemnation. Do you remember what those people were called? Judaizers….. Look at it this way. Suppose you have a vacuum sealed container. If air gets inside of it, is it considered vacuum sealed any more? Of course not. That’s what Paul is saying. We have the Gospel that is the finished work of Christ crucified on the cross and salvation is in Christ alone, through faith alone, by grace alone. Anything else is not the Gospel at all. It’s a false gospel. Paul is reminding them that Christ came, once and for all, to pay the penalty of sin. It’s important for us to remember that we’re not a sinner because we sin. We sin because we are a sinner and that’s what Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross paid for.
Billy Graham often said “I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, He died on a cross, He rose again, and He asked us to repent of our sins and receive Him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins.”
He preached that same message all throughout his ministry. You will hear that same message all throughout our time in Galatians because that message is preached all throughout not only the book of Galatians, but throughout the entirety of Scripture.
So today, we continue with Paul as he is addressing the churches in Galatia.
Paul was being accused of trying to “appeal to people” by preaching an “easy Gospel” of grace alone and the Judaizers said, yea, but you also need to adhere to the Jewish law and customs. And by “easy Gospel”, those Judaizers were saying that grace was just an easy gateway into a lifestyle of sin without penalty. There were no “rails” to keep them on track. After all, the Jews had all of their rules to “keep them in line”. Paul was being accused of preaching a gospel that “appealed to people so that he could win their favor”. I read this quote from John McArthur “By nature, people pleasers are not martyrs.” Remember last week, we talked about “Being alert” and “Being all in”. One of the subtleties that we have to watch out for are those who only talk about the “love of God” without warning about the “wrath of God”. Or those that only talk about the “grace of God” but only as a means of not being accountable to God or repenting when we stray from God. Remember that when we come to Jesus, we get all of Him. That includes his total distaste and hatred for sin. We often classify our sin based off of our view of its severity. As David Platt says, “the issue is not how we classify the sin, but the issue is with the one we have sinned against, an infinitely Holy God.” So yes, Christ is Love and yes, Christ is full of grace, but as a part of His character, we cannot only take His love, without also receiving His view of sin.
So Paul lets them know, straight up, without any apology, that he in no way is trying to please anybody. If he was, he could not be a servant or a bond-servant. A brief word about being a bond-servant. A bond-servant is someone who has been freed, but chooses to remain a slave to their master. Paul uses this word to characterize his relationship to Christ, in that Christ freed Him, but as a result, Paul recognized Christ as His Lord and Master and he was to be obedient to what His Master called Him to do.
Once Paul clarifies that, he takes us on a journey. This journey is really his testimony. He’s going to tell us what his life was like before Christ, at redemption, and then life after entering into a relationship Christ.
1. Life before Christ
This is an important recognition because this is each of us. None of us are born Christians. None of us are born as being in a relationship with Christ. We are all born as sinners (Psalm 51:5). Each of us has a life before Christ. If you’re not a Christian, this is your current life. Paul starts out by saying, this gospel, is not man-made. It is God-made. A change took place that only God could have done.
Paul takes us back to Acts 7 and 8 when he was known as Saul. Paul talks about how he not only persecuted the church, but persecuted it beyond measure. At the end of v. 13 we see what his ultimate goal was.
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;
Persecuting is one of those ideas that we talk about in church, but we often mis-understand. Because of the privileges that we experience here in America, we often confuse persecution with inconveniences. When we look at Scripture and when we look at other peoples and countries around the world, like the ones we pray for each week, we see actual persecution is much more severe than inconvenience. It often involves, isolation, disownment, being ostracized, imprisonment, and often death. So back to Paul, Paul’s goal (when he was Saul and before Christ) was not only to persecute the church, violently, but to destroy it entirely. The ESV renders what what Paul was doing as violently persecuted. The destruction that is mentioned here has the idea of ravage, overthrow, to sack. He wanted to stop it’s progress and it’s purpose. Interestingly, the Greek word that is used is only used in the New Testament to describe that which Paul was doing in an attempt to try and stop the work of the church. We can think of this in our modern terms as a religious terrorist. One who is trying to stop the work of Christianity. The work that the church was doing was proclaiming the Good News of Christ. There have been countless efforts all throughout Scripture and even today to destroy the church and its work of the spread of the Gospel. But let’s be encouraged, that the church will not be stopped. “The Church” will not be destroyed. And the message of Jesus Christ will not be silenced and that should bring us great encouragement, hope and strength. It should also convict us and heighten our awareness for Scriptural obedience and Gospel proclamation because there are many “false Gospels” out there and they want to get into the church.
We look at Paul’s motivation in the context of the entire verse, that is his Judaism, him being a Jew was his driving force. In v. 14, Paul talks about his life of Judaism. He was brilliant and zealous in learning all about the traditions and the Law. In Philippians 3:4-7 Paul talks about how strictly he followed the law. Paul was trained by Gamaliel according to Acts 22, who was the most respected rabbi of the time. Under his teaching, it’s very possible that Paul even had the Torah, the first 5 books of the Old Testament memorized. That would be Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. Do you remember reading through those when we read the Bible in 90 days? Who’s signing up to memorize Leviticus? We would say that Paul followed everything to a “T”. It’s important to note though, nothing about how well he did all of that redeemed him. In fact, it brought to light how wretched he was. If the law could redeem, Paul would have been the poster child for it. But yet, everything in Paul’s former life was contrary to the “grace of God”. He had no concept of salvation by grace through faith. Instead, it was all works. It was all what “he could do”.
John R. W. Stott says “Now a man in that mental and emotional state is in no mood to change his mind or even have it changed for him by man. Only God could reach him and God did!”
2. We are in His Story
Paul was going about his day like he normally would, but God intervened. In Acts 9:4-5 on the road to Damascus, Jesus appeared to Saul (Paul’s name prior to being redeemed by Christ) and asked him why he was persecuting Him. Saul responds, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus responds with “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting”. Just in this one verse, we hear something that is very important and encouraging. That is, Jesus is a personal God. Jesus knows us by name. We are not some number or just another warm body. There are over 7 billion people in the world and Jesus knows you by name. Jesus comes to us directly, through His Holy Spirit. God had plans for Saul even before he was born. This is important because it shows us this very important point.
a. We are not outside of His reach
When Paul was not a believer, God still knew his Name. We often think and some have even said “Yea, but you don’t know what I’ve done”. Guess what? You’re correct. I don’t, but God does and He knew that going to the cross. There’s no sin that you have committed or will commit that He’s not aware of and where His sacrifice on the cross and the blood that He shed has not covered. The offer from God is that you don’t have to leave here the same person that you walked in as. He wants you and desires you to leave a different person. And that message is for all of us. When the Holy Spirit steps in and draws us to Him, calling us to a relationship with Him, it’s not based off of anything that we have done, are doing or can do. It is solely based off of what He’s done and because of His grace. You might say, well I’m already a believer in Christ. And I would say, that’s great. But I would ask you this question. Are you walking in obedience to His Word? Are you following Him obediently? As we had talked Wednesday night in our video Bible study of James, obedience is not this negative penalty for being a Christian. As Matt Chandler said in our James study, the “Thou-shalt-nots” are not God trying to take but God trying to lead you to something that’s going to bring you more joy than your idea of what’s going to bring you joy.” Obedience is not a burden we carry, but instead leads to a full-life. If we are not walking in that obedience, His desire is that you repent, turn away from that disobedience and turn to Him. But watch what happens when He comes to us, drawing us to Himself. This almost seems like an awkward transition, but it’s not.
b. God is pleased to reveal His Son
So why did God reveal His Son to Paul? In vs. 15-16 we find the answer.
Galatians 1:15-16 (NASB) – But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood,
God revealed His Son, so that Paul would go and preach to the Gentiles. Our english translations doesn’t render the power of v. 16 very well and we don’t feel the impact of these words. In the Greek though, when God revealed His Son to Paul so that Paul would go and “preach Him”, what is meant is so that Paul would preach the Gospel, the Good News, the “euaggelizō” or the “euangelion”. Notice it doesn’t say so that he could go to heaven, although that is true. It says so that I would go and preach. So think about that for just a moment. When Christ entered Paul’s life, he totally and radically transformed it. One who once was known as Saul the persecutor, became known as Paul the preacher. So God was pleased to reveal Christ to Paul through His grace, but He also had a purpose for Paul. We see that purpose in that Paul was to go and spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, the heathens, the non-Jews, the us. Paul, a devout, by the book Jew. One of the elite ones. Instead of going to “his people”, God sends him to those that are not like him. Those that the Jews themselves despised.
God does not bring any person to salvation whom He does not also send out into His service. He does not call us into relationship so that we can become comfortable, cozy and safe. We come in so that we can be sent out. Is that not what Christ commanded in Matthew 28 and Acts 1? So once we enter into this relationship, God has big plans for you. And that leads us to my last point.
3. We have a story
We often think that our story or our testimony is boring. Let me be very clear. As I shared in our introduction, when you come into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ, your story is not boring. We think that if our life wasn’t “bad” before we came to Christ, then we really don’t have anything to share. We often think because if we went to church since birth, we don’t really have an engaging story. You should praise God that you were fortunate enough to be brought up in church so that people could share with you about Christ and teach you His truths and what it means to be in a relationship with Him early in your life. However, for someone who has always gone to church, it can be very easy for them to think “going to church” is what actually redeems them, because it’s all you’ve ever known. You being here, does not establish your relationship with Christ. Before Christ, you were of the living dead. What I mean by that is without Christ, you had no hope, no future, and no life, regardless of whether you were at church every time the doors were open and the lights were on or not. If you have not entered into that personal relationship with Christ, if you’ve not come to that point where you have admitted that you are a sinner in need of a Savior and placed your trust in Christ crucified, then you are nothing but a walking corpse. Before Christ, we were dead. But when Christ came into your life, you became a new creation. (2 Corinthians 5:17) You have new life. You have eternal life. Where there once was hopelessness, there is now hope. Where there was once darkness, there is now light. Folks, that story is not boring. See, we measure our “story” based off a worldly “interest level” and what’s appealing to “the world”. We think that if our story is not “inspiring enough”, they’ll never place their trust in who Christ is. If our story is anything but who Christ is and the change He made in our life, then we’ve missed the point. When Paul was redeemed, it became all about Christ and the work that Christ did. Paul then went out and proclaimed the message of Christ crucified.
As a result of Paul sharing, did you hear what those churches said about him? Look at Galatians 1:23:
Galatians 1:23 (NASB) – “He who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
But notice what they said he was preaching. He was preaching the faith, not the works. Faith in what? Christ alone, just like we saw last week. Paul is a new creation. He is not who he once was. But catch this in verse 24: “the churches that were testifying about Paul, they were IN CHRIST and glorifying God”.
Because Paul was pointing them to Christ, God was glorified. Oh that that could be said about us, that we are a church who is “in Christ and glorifying God” and pointing people to Him. How do we do that? Let’s take a couple of steps back for just a moment. Paul spent time with God, getting to know Him more, understanding Him more. Nothing can replace time spent with God. How do we get your understanding of God? How do we learn more of His character? How do we seek guidance in our life by Him? Do we get it through the inspirational quotes on facebook? Do we get it through listening to music? Do we get it through friends? Do we get it through our one hour that we spend here on Sunday? Those others things can help us. But those other things are someone else’s understandings, not our personal experiences with God. Let me be very clear, NOTHING can take the place of spending time with Him and His Word. The SS teachers in here can testify to this. It’s a lot of work to prepare a SS lesson (unless you cram on Saturday night, not that anybody here would do that). But in preparing for those lessons, it is an amazing time of digging into the Scriptures, watching how the Scriptures come alive, and seeing the consistency all throughout Scripture. The more we study, the more we are forced to confront those areas of our own life that are not in alignment with what the Scripture says and what God commands.
As we spend more time with God, an outflowing of that is recognizing how unworthy we are to have been the recipients of His grace. As we recognize our position before God, we can’t help but to worship Him for who He is. I asked the group Wednesday night, Is our time together here on Sunday an outpouring of our time spent with Him throughout the week? Is the time we get to worship corporately a highlight of our week? Do we miss the fellowship and the worship when we are not able to be a part of it? As we worship Him, we bring glory to His Name and we reflect His Glory to a lost world.
In just a moment, we’re going to stand and sing. I’m going to ask the deacons to come up front so that you will know that there is someone here you can talk to and pray with. We’d love to talk with you to help you understand more about what it means to have a story.
Look up here for just a minute. Christ paid the ultimate sacrifice on the cross for your sins and my sins. That sacrifice was the giving of His very life. By His sacrifice on the cross, a way was made for you and I to enter into an everlasting relationship with Him, but our sin separates from Him. We can try as hard as we can to be good, but we can never be good enough. We can never try hard enough. That seems hopeless and is counter to our culture. Guess what? You’re exactly right. Look at Paul. Remember when he was Saul? He was the “cream of the crop” if you will. But all that he did could not earn him salvation. We must come to a point of recognizing that we are wretched sinners in need of a Savior. We must turn from our sinful ways, place our trust in the sufficiency of Christ through faith, believing that He came to earth, lived the perfect life, died on the cross and rose again. Through that, we can enter into a personal relationship with Christ.
Maybe you are already have entered into that relationship with Christ, but you’re week is not filled with time with Him, it’s filled with other things. Maybe you can’t remember the last time you spent alone with God. Or maybe, you’re just going through the motions and there is no zeal in your relationship because your sin is separating you from the relationship He desires to have with you.
But you see, once you enter into that relationship, Your story doesn’t end there. On no my friend, you see….It’s just the beginning.
Is there something in your life that you are allowing to stand in the way of “your story”? Is there something in your life that is preventing you from being who Christ has commanded you and led you to be? Christ is drawing you back to Himself. Turn from your sins in repentance. Seek His forgiveness. Let Him do what can only be done by Him.
Let’s stand, as we sing, you respond.