Title: From Terrorist to Evangelist
Text: Galatians 1.11-24
CT: No one is beyond the reach of His amazing grace!
FAS: Speaking about the power of Christ to redeem sinners and build his church, Russell Moore recently (2015) wrote:
The next Billy Graham might be drunk right now. The next Jonathan Edwards might be the man driving in front of you with the Darwin Fish bumper decal. The next Charles Wesley might currently be a misogynistic, profanity-spewing hip-hop artist. The next Charles Spurgeon might be managing an abortion clinic today. The next Mother Teresa might be a heroin-addicted porn star this week. The next Augustine of Hippo might be a sexually promiscuous cult member right now, just like, come to think of it, the first Augustine of Hippo was.
But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so. The new birth doesn't just transform lives, creating repentance and faith; it also provides new leadership to the church, and fulfills Jesus' promise to gift his church with everything needed for her onward march through space and time.
Russell Moore, "Could the Next Billy Graham Be Drunk Right Now?" Russell Moore blog (10-1-15)
God loves to save bad people. He has saved some really bad folks. There have been many saved by the saving power of Jesus. Probably some of you right in here today. Some of you may think, “My testimony is not that powerful. I never sold drugs. I never really did anything too bad.”
But that is where you go wrong. According to God’s scripture, all of God’s people have been rescued. We have been transferred out of darkness into light and have passed from death to life.
I got to experience a place last week where about 40 ladies were being redeemed at an Addiction Recovery Care center. It is a faith-based place that redeems these ladies. All of them testified to us how the place had brought them back to God. We are working to get a place like that here in the county, Nicholas.
All of us are beggars in need of grace. No matter how dull we may judge our own stories, we all are in need of a savior; we are desperate people in need of a savior.
In our text today the amazing, powerful grace of God is on display. Paul gives us a picture of God’s transforming grace by relating his own story, the story of terrorist –turned-evangelist.
Paul was definitely transformed by his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was not just tweaked by it. No sir, he was given a complete transformation. We all need that kind of transformation when we commit to Jesus. Only the gospel of Jesus transforms people from the inside out.
Paul is trying to defend his credibility. Some of his critics thought that he made his message up or simply was passing on second hand knowledge, making his message less believable than other apostles. Paul shows us that he did not make up his message. Jesus gave it directly to him.
[Screen 3] 11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. [Screen 4] 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ (Galatians 1.11-12).
What is clear in these verses is that Paul’s message was derived from God’s revelation, not human imagination. Paul met the risen Christ and received his message from Him.
Man did not invent the gospel. It comes from God. It is therefore the standard by which we measure every other set of ideas and every other religion and philosophy.
We could not make the gospel up. If we were given the power to determine how we could gain God’s favor and a place in heaven, we would make up an elaborate system that emphasized human works.
Why? Because that is our default mode of our hearts, works righteousness. The message of grace—that the work is already done—does not sit well with us. WE want control. This supports the reality that people did not make up the gospel of grace; it came from God.
The gospel of grace is like water: people did not invent it, and people cannot live without it. We are spiritually thirsty creatures in need of the living water of the gospel. As believers we need to keep drinking from the well of grace. Many Christians think they should move beyond the gospel—as if there were something more important than the work of Christ.
No, keep drinking more of the grace; keep working the gospel into your heart. You will be able to tell unbelievers that what they desperately need is not good advice or moral improvement, but the good news from God about a new life in Christ.
I turned on my GPS to get to natural Bridge this last Saturday. We took off just talking away and enjoying each other’s company until it dawned on me we were about to go into Lexington. I had Kathy check the GPS and it had thought I said High Bridge, which was on the other side of Lexington….
Where do you get your beliefs? It is imperative that you get your beliefs from the right source. I was following the GPS but I sure wasn’t getting to the right place. Make sure you are trusting in the right source: Jesus.
Do not trust the law of the Pharisees who tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders (Matthew 23.4).
Instead come to the One who said, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11.28)
Listen to Jesus. Paul presents this message of the gospel, which he got from Jesus himself. Now we have been entrusted with it that we may also pass it on to others.
The Transformation of Paul’s Life.
Paul’s conversion is a good reminder for us all about the difference Jesus can make in a sinner’s life.
1 Tim. 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.
That is how Paul felt about himself.
Galatians 13-14, [Screen 5] 13 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. [Screen 6] 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
We notice first that Paul, like us, was in need of grace. Paul mentions that he persecuted believers. He writes, “I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it.” In other words Paul was terrorist. He approved of the martyrdom of the Christian servant Stephen (Acts 8.1). He dragged Christians to prison (Acts 8.3).
In fact Paul was on his way to persecute Christians further when Jesus knocked him off his ride on the Damascus Road. But that encounter with the risen Christ changed Paul.
Prior to that, Paul’s actions against the church were to put it mildly, extreme. Paul tried to destroy the church. Paul had wanted to stamp out Christianity. He was basically a violent guy before he met the Savior.
Paul’s pre-conversion experience also involved his belonging to the zealous tradition. Paul likely thought of himself as a Pharisee hero. He was definitely someone we would look at and think he is beyond the gospel.
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 men. No conditioned reflex or other psychological device could convert a man in that state. Only God could reach him ---and God did!
Do you marvel at the fact that God saved you? Do you believe He can save the worst of sinners? Behold Paul, a terrorist, turning into Christ’s evangelist. What grace!
His Conversion: God’s Work of Grace
Galatians 15 [Screen 7]
15 BUT when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased
Conversion involves God’s intervention.
The gospel is a rescue mission! God intervened in the life of Paul, and He has done so for all believers. The word BUT is important here. We use it a lot to introduce the good news in certain situations:
-The other team scored a touchdown, but there was a flag on the play.
-I was in a car wreck, but no one was hurt.
-I was at my wits end with this kid, but God changed him.
-I was on the verge of suicide, but God kept me alive.
Conversion is the act in which our stories receive the holy conjunction, “BUT”
Conversion involves God’s eternal planning.
Paul was set apart from the womb. Yet he spent years rebelling against God’s people.
God remained patient during Paul’s pre-conversion.
Conversion involves God’s gracious calling. When we call on our kids for supper, they may say OK, but 10 minutes may go by and they are still not at the table.
God’s call on the other hand is action and God’s word is deed.
When God says let there be light, there is light.
When Jesus silence, be still! It gets still.
No need to say, “I invite you to be still” or “I hope you are still.”
Jesus tells Lazarus to Come Out. Lazarus comes out. He doesn’t have to go in after him and do CPR on him. Jesus word brings life.
If you are a Christian, you have sensed at some point God’s powerful calling. You have sensed that something or someone is dealing with you. How did you react?
Consider that this calling you were given is an act of grace. When we ask how we become a Christian we must simply say, “It was by grace. Pure grace.
Paul was not searching for God. He was God’s enemy at that time. The Bible is full of people receiving God’s grace not because of their goodness but only because of His grace.
Pastor Mark Devor tells the story of how a relative of his called the church a “pit of vipers”.
To which he replied, “ Do you think those outside the church are any better?”
The relative replied “no”.
He said, “Well I don’t disagree with you. We are. And we have got room for one more if you want to slither on in”
We the church, are the company of redeemed sinners, people who have been saved by grace.
Conversion involves seeing the glory of Jesus. God said he was pleased to reveal His Son to me.
Paul had known about Christian teaching before, but he did not accept it. The idea of a crucified Messiah was repulsive to him. But then Christ was revealed to him and everything changed. You may not experience a Damascus Road conversion, but you will have a 2 Corinthians 4.6 experience. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
We all get that.
Paul’s Post Conversion
Galatians 1.16-17, [Screen 8] 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. [Screen 9]
17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
What can we say after knowing of Paul’s post-conversion?
-Like Paul we can say Christ now lives in us.
The mystery of conversion is that after you come to Christ, you are not yourself but you are yourself. There is a new “I”. “I no longer live but Christ lives in me.” You have a new identity and a new source of power.
-We also share in the responsibility of making Christ known to others. Paul said the purpose of his calling was “so that I could preach Him among the Gentiles” v.16.
Notice the purpose clause, ‘So That”.
Paul was not converted for just his own benefit. It came with a commission.
And so does ours.
Peter writes: But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Peter 2.9).
This final part of Galatians text today.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
This text shows us that Paul did stay away from Jerusalem except for a short visit. Thus proving his independence from the apostles. Paul got his message from Jesus and only Jesus.
For us, Paul’s story shows us that God loves to save bad people. No one is beyond the reach of His amazing grace. This message comes only from God. The gospel is not good advice from man; it is good news from God.
CT: No one is beyond the reach of His amazing grace!
Rejoice in the gospel. In Jesus Christ you find what your heart has always longed for.
No other love is this great.
No other hope is this secure.
No other forgiveness is this complete.
No other joy is this deep.
No other peace is this sweet.
All of it is found in the grace of Jesus Christ.
Do you know this fountain?
Come and drink!
Bibliography: Platt, David; Merida, Tony; Galatians-Christ centered Exposition, pp.29-37.