The Gospel Comes from God: Galatians 1:11-24 (Sermon)
Welcome! If one person were to come to faith in 2022, who would be the most unlikely person in your mind? Would it be Vladimir Putin who governs over Russia? Would it be Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla? Would it be someone in your family or a friend who hates God? Who would be that person? Now, let me ask you this, how might they come to faith? How does the gospel work in one’s life? Today, we are continuing our series in Galatians and get to hear of the most unlikely conversion, which demonstrates how the gospel works.
I have asked M.H. to read for us. Would you stand with me in honor of God’s Word?
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 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. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 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.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. (Galatians 1:11–24)
Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your Word. Thank you for giving us examples of amazing conversions. Thank you for doing the impossible. Thank you for saving souls. You are tremendous. You are kind and gracious. We love you. Now, please comfort us, inspire us, and equip us, in Jesus’s name, AMEN. You may be seated.
BIG BOOK IDEA
You will remember the big idea of the book of Galatians is on the poster. Return to the gospel of grace so you can walk in freedom with the Spirit. We will see this theme develop in the coming months to explore Galatians. So let me repeat the refrain, Return to the gospel of grace so you can walk in freedom with the Spirit.
Last week, Pastor Jeff challenged us to be alert to how we distort the gospel from Galatians chapter 1 verses 6 through 10. He asked us several relevant questions like:
What is it to be a Christian?
How do we understand justification and sanctification?
How might a greater understanding of the gospel impact our lives?
THIS WEEK OVERVIEW
This week, we will see that Paul continued to write about the gospel, how the gospel came from God, not man. In fourteen verses, he told his readers his conversion was proof. Perhaps a more straightforward summary of the main idea is an answer to our original question: How does a person come to faith in Christ? The answer is that faith comes from God. Paul wanted his readers to know that the message of faith came from God. The gospel is from God.
DEFINING THE GOSPEL
Before we unpack these verses, I think I owe you an explanation. So what does Paul mean by “gospel”?
Is it a choral style of music with African American roots? That is not what Paul was getting at.
Is it the first four books of the New Testament: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? That, too, is not what Paul was writing about.
What is the gospel?
Is it being baptized?
Or being a member of a local church?
Or attending church?
Is the gospel about confirmation or an affirmation?
Is it about reading your Bible?
Is it about giving, serving, or being good?
What is the gospel? We hammer away at this question in our membership class. In Greek, the word for gospel means good news. What is the good news? My favorite verses addressing this are 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3 and 4.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day.
In a nutshell, the good news is that Jesus died for our sins. Five words. Jesus died for our sins. What does that mean?
That means that his death forgives all our sins on our behalf if you believe.
That means our guilt is obliterated. It is done. It is over.
We don’t have to live in bondage to sin anymore. We are set free.
We don’t have to fear death from COVID or Cancer or judgment day. If we stoke or linger and suffer in a long-term care facility, if all our money runs out and we live on assistance, if we starve, one day we will not. Our destiny is set. Our direction is sure.
Why? Because of what Jesus did. That is the good news. That is the gospel. Paul clarified this excellent news in Galatians chapter 2, verses 15 and 16. If you have your Bibles, jump a few verses to chapter 2, verses 15 and 16. What does it say? “We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 2:15–16). What does justification mean? God sees us just as if we never sinned. But it is more than that. We are made right with God; we are not just a blank record. How does God accomplish that? He gave up his Son’s life for us. His perfect record is seen as ours. He is our substitute. His blood covers us and cleanses us. He sees us as blameless, spotless, pure, and delightful. Yes, he rejoices over us. Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” His love is greater than a proud parent.
This is the excellent news we remember on the first Sunday of the month. Communion offers us an easy reminder of the good news. The wafer represents Jesus’s body given over to death on our behalf and the juice representing his blood spilled for the forgiveness of sins. His death was a covenant promise he won’t take back or break. So we tangibly enjoy God when we thoughtfully take communion.
These few verses break down in four ways if you are taking notes. (The notes will be on the Sermon Application questions we hand out as well as in the Gems.)
The first two verses are the main idea. The next twelve are Paul’s reasoning.
11–12 - The Gospel comes from God
Why is that?
13–14 - Because Paul was an unlikely convert (Not a sympathizer of Christianity - He was a persecutor of Christianity)
15–21 - Because God converted Paul (Not an Apostle. God chose him before time began)
22–24 - Because Paul’s ministry led to God’s glory (Not Paul’s glory. This message is about God, not Paul)
Paul wanted his readers to comprehend that the gospel is from God, not man. It didn’t come from an outside witness, ethical track record, or ethnicity. Take a look at verses 11 and 12. “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11–12). The message was entirely from outside of Paul. It wasn’t a religious solution to guilt and shame concocted by a shaman or shyster. The gospel was from God.
Today, people try to get a workaround. They distort the gospel, which is no gospel. How?
Think of the various ways people self-medicate themselves from their guilt and shame. (They will find lost of diversions like sports or hobbies to avoid the pain of their sin).
Think of the different ways people seek to live the best life now apart from God.
Think of the effort, money, energy, time, and heart put into finding a solution to life’s problems outside of a relationship with Jesus. Self-help books, recipes, and articles fill the world with answers.
Paul was saying his message was a revelation, not a discovery. It came from God, not man.
Paul argued this because he was an unlikely convert. That is his first reason that the Gospel is from God. How unlikely was he? He had it all, and he was the farthest thing from a Christian you could be. In Philippians, he wrote,
If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4–6)
LUKE’S TAKE ON PAUL
We should note that Paul wasn’t always Paul. He was also known as Saul. Luke described Saul’s life up to conversion this way,
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1–2)
PAUL’S TAKE ON PAUL
Paul recounted his old life:
I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished. (Acts 22:3–5)
Paul was in law enforcement. He was a bounty hunter, and I think he enjoyed it.
TO MEET HIM NOW
What would it have been like to be a follower of Jesus and hear that Paul was coming to town? What if he knocked on your door?
He would be like a litigator suing churches and pastors for counseling and preaching the Word in our day.
He would be like the boss firing one secretly because of faith.
He would be like the spouse making life a 94 car pile-up because of jealousy.
Indeed, in other countries, Paul-like people throw men and women into prison and kill them for their faith. One organization, Open Doors, says thirteen people worldwide will be killed daily for their faith. Persecution happened two thousand years ago, and it still does today.
Look at verses 13 and 14, please.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 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. (Galatians 1:13–14)
The gospel was from God and not a man because Paul was an unlikely convert.
GOD CONVERTED PAUL
13–14 - Because Paul was an unlikely convert (Not a sympathizer - He was a persecutor)
15–21 - Because God converted Paul (Not an Apostle. God chose him before time
The second reason in verses 15 through 17 was that God converted Paul. God was the agent of change, not another Apostle. God broke into Paul’s life like a master locksmith. He opened his eyes, his heart, and his ears. But, ironically, God did that by blinding Paul and stopping him in his tracks.
STORY OF CONVERSION
Luke recounted it this way:
Now as he [Paul] went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. (Acts 9:3–8)
God converted Paul. Look at Galatians chapter 1 verses 15 through 17.
But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 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. (Galatians 1:15–17)
Look at verse 15 again. When did God choose Paul? Before he was born.
PRE-REQUIREMENTS EQUAL NONE
God called him to himself before birth. That is spectacular. What did he do before he was born? Nothing. He didn’t deserve it.
God called him to himself, knowing that he would supervise violence against Christians, against God’s children.
God called him fully aware that he would bank on his effort for decades.
God called him before he repented and trusted in Jesus’s work, not his own.
God converted and chose him despite all that. Not only that, God was going to use him to convert others. Instead of persecuting people, he was going to persuade them. Rather than destroying churches, he was going to plant them.
I often hear dramatic conversion stories like Paul’s and get jealous. Do you? Have you apologized because your testimony is not as crazy or exciting as Paul’s? You might say, “My life is boring. I don’t have a great testimony.” I feel like I missed out. A temptation for some of us to turn Paul’s example of God’s work behind his salvation and forget about God’s work in us. Unconsciously, we think we reasoned our way to faith or were born that way. Our salvation secretly becomes about us. It isn’t. All conversion is miraculous. When we come to the Lord, God takes a spiritually dead person and brings them to life. This is one way we experience #gospeldrift.
Another distortion of the gospel in our day is that our kids or grandkids are not walking with the Lord because of us. We beat ourselves up and feel horrible. Indeed, all of us can do better. In cases where we have sinned, we need to admit our failures and ask for forgiveness, seek to change, and move on. God forgives our sin. Some of us act like his work is not enough. We needed to do something else but failed. This is #gospeldrift.
Another distortion is that if a person listens to another argument, reads another article, listens to another book, they will be saved. If they would only hear this sermon, think about a Bible verse, answer our questions, then they will come to faith. It is certainly possible. But it won’t be because of us. Conversion happens because of God ultimately. So we must be wary of #gospeldrift.
REPENTANCE AND FAITH
So, how is a person saved? By grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. What must they do? Repent and believe. Repentance is a turning from sin to God. So is that repentance and faith work we can boast about? No! Hebrews 12 tells us that Jesus is the author of our faith. Paul tells us, “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9).
SALVATION PLANNED BEFORE TIME
Salvation is not based on anything we have done. God planned it for Paul before he was born, and you as well, if you believe. Paul wrote:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world. (Ephesians 1:3–4)
The only thing we need to do is turn from our sins to God and believe in his abundant grace. So, if you have the will and energy to do this in any small way, consider God working in your soul. It is the Spirit giving you a dose of conviction, a seed of faith, and the ability to work his good pleasure. Friends, God converts. The gospel comes from God.
What do we depend on? Christianity is different from all other religions. It is grace-based. Are we finding our value in something other than Jesus or in addition to Jesus? Are we drifting from the gospel? Do we see any #gospeldrift in our lives? Jesus plus anything is a rejection of Jesus.
The gospel comes from God. Do we subtly think we deserve credit? Did we figure it out? Maybe we doubt we are saved because we are not good enough. We haven’t had a dramatic turn of events. Do you believe in Jesus as your savior? Believe in him alone and be saved.
Grace being our foundation does not mean we live like we are godless. On the contrary, we must follow the law of love because we first have been loved. That is what the second half of Galatians is all about. We are not paying God back.
Paul wrote that he spent only a little time with a couple of Apostles. (After his conversion, he met Peter and Jesus’s brother James.) That is it. He took a while even to do that. Then he went to work. He didn’t take credit or pass it on to another man or woman.
This brings us to Paul’s last reason that the gospel comes from God because God is the one who got the glory.
13–14 - Because Paul was an unlikely convert (Not a sympathizer - He was a persecutor)
15–21 - Because God converted Paul (Not an Apostle. God chose him before time began)
22–24 - Because Paul’s ministry led to God’s glory (Not Paul’s glory)
Look at verses 18 through 24.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas [Peter] and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. (Galatians 1:11–24)
Why did Paul go to such a length to tell us this? Why did he mention the Judean people gave glory to God, not him? Paul was correcting the Galatians because they embraced a distortion of the good news. They were glorifying man's work (circumcision) along with Jesus as the good news.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus plus anything is devastating. It is not good news. However, we must not add or subtract from the gospel. The gospel comes from God. Period. Paul argued this way:
13–14 - Because he was an unlikely convert (Not a sympathizer - He was a persecutor)
15–21 - Because God converted him (Not an Apostle. God chose him before time began)
22–24 - Because his ministry led to God’s glory (Not Paul’s glory)
Do we see the gospel as coming solely from God? I think we can say yeah.
As we dig into this, perhaps we feel like we need to get right with God. The Holy Spirit could be convicting us of sin. God offers forgiveness through Jesus. Each day is a gift of mercy. God calls us to confess sins. He already knows what we have done, said, and thought. However, he invites us to talk to him and express our sorrow. First John 1:9 promises that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Instead of ignoring guilt, we can acknowledge it and embrace the promises of the Bible that tell us we are not condemned but loved.
Jesus paid it all. Let us live a life of repentance and faith in him.
Last week, I read Chuck Olson’s autobiography. He found himself as President Nixon’s hatchet man. He told people that he would run over his grandma to advance the cause. He was at the top of the world and the top of his game. Yet, he found himself empty. He was desperate. He needed help. God met him and saved him. The press didn’t believe him. They thought his conversion was a stunt. Finally, he pleaded guilty and went to prison for what he did for the cause. He lost his law license, but following Jesus and embracing the consequences meant freedom from guilt, shame, and emptiness. God saved that unlikely convert.
ROB NASH 6 YEARS OLD
I was six when God saved me. I never went to prison. I never did drugs. I never persecuted Christians. However, does that make my conversion any less miraculous? No. God used Sunday school and my mom to win my heart. But was it them? No. God used them to speak to me. God saved me by grace from beginning to end. It was a miracle, and if you have faith, it is a miracle too. God brings dead little hearts from the grave to life by the power of the Spirit. Let us praise him.
What is your story? How would you describe God’s activity in your life? God’s not dead. He is alive and well and at work in our church. Will you see him? Will you listen? Will you believe him? Will you give him glory?
Maybe you haven’t had faith in Jesus. Today could be the day of your salvation. If God can save Paul, Chuck, and Rob, he can save anyone. We must turn from our sin and believe. Will you? Communion is an opportunity and invitation.
Let’s pray, and I will share that invitation.
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