Summary: Paul’s past and teachings raised eyebrows and brought persecution, but Paul continued to live his life for the glory of God.
“Validation of the Transformation!”
This past week I have been studying our Scripture for this morning found in Galatians 1:11-24. You can sum up Paul’s intent with one simple sentence: Paul was defending the fact that he had received his message of salvation by grace through faith from God and not from any man.
As I was reading and praying about what the Lord wanted me to share with you this morning the thought came to me that Paul was constantly under attack, he was constantly defending the Gospel. Shortly after his conversion he was feared by Christians who knew about his reputation. He was hated by those who opposed his message of salvation by grace through faith until the day he was executed. Paul was chosen and called by God, but he was reviled and scorned by many in society.
In Acts 8, Saul, the man we know as Paul, was persecuting the followers of Jesus, he was “breathing out murderous threats,” and seeking to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ. Suddenly, as we close Acts 8 and come to Acts 9, Jesus confronts Saul and the maniacal madman becomes a missionary. The most ardent persecutor of Christians suddenly experiences a radical transformation. You would think that the followers of Jesus would jump for joy, put Saul’s picture on the cover of Christianity Today, and secure him as a platform speaker for the next Promise Keeper’s conference in Jerusalem…not the case. Read along with me from Acts 9:26-27 and let’s learn what happened.
26When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. (Acts 9:26-27 NIV)
I can hear the murmuring even now. As time passed and Paul’s life began to show fruit there were skeptics who became believers, but even with the passage of time there were still those who doubted his conversion. There were many who thought what he was teaching was way off track and there were some who wanted to kill him.
Paul’s enemies used all of this ammunition against him when he left Galatia and traveled to other regions to preach the Gospel. When we come to verses 11-24 we find Paul defending his ministry and message. Read along with me.
11I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. 13For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not consult any man, 17nor 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. 18Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Peter and stayed with him fifteen days. 19I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie. 21Later I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they praised God because of me. (Galatians 1:11-24 NIV)
This section of Scripture is so packed with sermons and important truths for you and me that we are going to take two weeks to work our way through it. I want us to spend our first session together taking a look at Paul’s conversion and how meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus radically changed his life forever. It is important for us to understand that what happened in Paul’s life was not a psychotic break, it didn’t come about because of a New Year’s resolution, nor was Paul feeling guilty about what he was doing as a passionate defender of Judaism. He was zealous for the faith of his fathers, but he was misguided, deceived, and flat out wrong.
It is important for us to hear Paul’s story because there are many of us here today who need to meet Jesus on 91st street this morning. We may be zealous about what we are doing, what we believe, and how we live out those beliefs, but we need to know that there is only one way to salvation and it is not on the path of philanthropy or pleasing deeds. The road of “doing-the-best-we-can” isn’t even on the map. “Accomplishment Avenue” doesn’t lead to Heaven. You can live on “Compassion Circle” all the days of your life and never arrive at the Pearly Gates. You may reside on “Sophistication Street” and be quite charming and enlightened to your friends, but live all of your days in the dark. You can be a big shot and live on “Dominant Drive” with all of your powerful friends, but none are powerful enough to turn the key to the Kingdom. There is only one way to salvation and it is by accepting what God has already done for you and me through the life, death, and glorious resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.