Studies in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 3: Galatians 1:11-24 (video)
A Changed Life
People’s lives can be changed, even dramatically — but not by the ways most expect it to happen. Some try to turn their lives around by getting more money so they can live in luxury. Others try to become famous or powerful so they can be envied or control things around them. Some become obsessed with health, as if being stronger or free from sickness is all they need to be really happy in life. Some drown their troubles in a constant barrage of music, movies, TV, or video games. Sadly some turn to drugs to help them escape the way things really are, and hide from the problems that depress or upset them. There are those who become so zealous about political and social causes that they imagine that by promoting certain laws or by showing some sort of compassion they’ll feel more successful, and might even earn God’s favor.
But none of these really changes the person on the inside. They often find the same unsatisfied soul — inescapably still there within.
But when God changes people, it’s a dramatic transformation on the inside first. He changes what they are, not just what they feel, think, or do. Those are the results of the inner change.
Change was sweeping through the lives of people around the Mediterranean in the first century. Christianity was advancing, and transforming both individuals and communities. It wasn’t the first time God moved that way, and it wasn’t the last. But the fulfillment of God’s promises by the work of Jesus Christ in that First Century was a radical advancement in our understanding of what really transforms us.
Paul’s letter to the Galatians had to do with resistance to that Christian message. The churches there were facing problems stirred up by opponents of the true Gospel. From the outside the church, there were political and pagan leaders who didn’t like the message of Christianity. It was having an influence that weakened their control over the people. Some Jews didn’t like to see Christian-Jews accepting Gentiles as God’s people without requiring circumcision. The historian Josephus confirms that these groups became fierce persecutors of the Christians.
At first, the man we know as the Apostle Paul was among the Jewish attackers. His becoming a Christian presented a serious problem for these opponents of the Gospel. His careful reasoning from the Scriptures pointed out their misunderstanding of the Bible. His obviously transformed life was evidence that was hard to discredit. So they often focused their attack on the Apostle Paul in particular.
They didn’t understand what Christianity was really about. They didn’t have redeemed eyes to see the power of God at work. They saw the struggles believers went through not as growth but as a weakness.
There were problems from within the new Christian churches too. As the truth of God spread, ideas in the churches had to mature. Some thought that when Paul corrected errors he was changing God’s message. They attacked his Apostleship by denying his special authority from God. They tried to discredit him by implying that he got his authority from the Jerusalem Apostles, then that he turned against them, and got into arguments with Peter and James.
Some were confused by false rumors and by Paul’s teachings about God’s law. These distortions were confusing the members of the churches.
In this next part of his letter to the Galatians Paul answered back. Galatians 1:11-12 begins his explanation and warning.
11. But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man.
12. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.
God was the source of Paul’s message and Apostleship. He wasn’t instructed in it by human teachers, and he didn’t get his authority from Jerusalem. It came by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.
The story of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was well known, though not always understood. The great persecutor of the church became its primary promoter. It was one of the top news stories of the day. Paul evidently told about it often in his visits to local congregations.
Paul clearly evidenced a dramatic change in his life because of God’s work of grace.
13. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.
14, And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.
Paul was reminding them about his former life as a persecutor of the church:
In the early days of the church, a Christian named Stephen was put to death for his faith. Acts 6 tells how his message about Christ was misunderstood by the Jewish leaders. They accused Stephen of being against God’s Temple, and against the teachings of Moses. They said in Acts 6:14, “for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs which Moses delivered to us.”
The same false accusations were being made against the Apostle Paul which is why he wrote Galatians. But back in the time of Stephen, when Paul was still known as Saul of Tarsus, Paul was a supporter of the attacks on that first Christian martyr.
Stephen’s defense to those who wrongly accused him is recorded in Acts 7. He traced the long history of God’s covenant, and showed that Moses and the ceremonies of the Temple predicted the coming of Jesus Christ. He pointed out how many of the Jews and their ancestors had repeatedly defied God’s actual teachings.
He clarified his support for Moses and the Temple. Jesus didn’t come to eliminate what God said was true, right and good. He brought the promises of the law to their fullness. He told them that their Temple worship had become corrupted from what God originally said it should be. It was Jewish abuses that brought God judgments down on them in the past — and will again.
But they still didn’t understand what Stephen was telling them, so they stoned him to death for what they understood as attacking their historic beliefs.
Acts 8 tell us about that man named Saul of Tarsus. He supported the attacks, and the killing of Stephen. He persecuted the church relentlessly, and tried to silence the message of Christ. Though he was trained by the great Rabbi Gamaliel he’d misunderstood God’s law, what it actually represented, and it’s teachings about the Messiah.
Then Acts 9 tells about the conversion of Saul, whom we know as the Apostle Paul. Before that, his zeal was for the traditions and customs that distorted God’s law. But in Christ he came to defend God’s teachings as they were originally intended.
When he wrote this letter, these same distortions that had confused him before his conversion, were now troubling the Galatians.
The change in Paul was caused by God’s work of grace in his heart.
15. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace,
16. to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood,
17. nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
18. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days.
19. But I saw none of the other apostles except James, the Lord’s brother.
20. (Now concerning the things which I write to you, indeed, before God, I do not lie.)
It wasn’t the influence of the Apostles that transformed him. Paul didn’t go to consult first with any the church leaders in Jerusalem to be indoctrinated by them. After his transformation by God’s grace, he went to Arabia then returned to Damascus.
It was three years later that he went to Jerusalem to see Peter for 15 days. It wasn’t men. It was the same God who gave him physical life, that gave him spiritual life through Christ. God’s call of grace brought him to know Christ, then called him to declare Christ to the Gentiles. Since he was directly called by the Savior, this made him the last of the true Apostles. This wasn’t a cult conversion where the Apostles brain washed him. The only other Christian leader he saw then, was James, the Lord’s brother.
The churches were amazed when Paul came proclaiming the faith he once attacked.
21. Afterward I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia.
22. And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.
23. But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.”
24. And they glorified God in me.
You can imagine the uncertainty of the persecuted believers at first. The one who had legal orders to arrest and abuse them came to church on Sunday!
They had only heard the reports, but hadn’t actually seen these things for themselves. But he came and showed them the change few thought was possible. That former persecutor had without question really changed. Now he promoted what he once tried to destroy.
It was like the change in that old sea captain and slave trader John Newton. He not only became an opponent of slavery and an Anglican minister, he fully credited it all to God’s Amazing Grace – which became the title of the famous hymn he wrote.
When the people met and got to know the converted Saul of Tarsus, they glorified God for what was seen in Paul’s life.
It’s a fact — God changes people. Paul wrote about this often in his letters which became books of the New Testament Scriptures.
2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
Galatians 6:15, “For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.”
Ephesians 4:24, “and that you put on the new man which was created according to God,in true righteousness and holiness.”
Colossians 3:10, “and have put on the new man who is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him,”
These are just some of the passages where Paul tells about the change Christ brings about. It’s all there, explained by the Bible in the power of the Holy Spirit. Compelling evidence of the power of God.
The Gospel of Christ isn’t just a theory or cultish fad. It’s a fact that fits with what God had promised and said all through human history.
Real change doesn’t come by deciding to be different. It’s not our determination, intelligence, up-bringing, or kindness that transforms us. It’s a supernatural work of God that does what we can’t do.
We’re different when we’re regenerated by the grace of God. Our lives should clearly show the work of the Gospel. Others should be able to see it at work in us. It’s not going to be perfect, but there should be a fundamental change in attitude and values. People should see the evidence of change in us. They may not understand the change right away, and might attribute it to other causes. So, it’s important that we obediently explain what God has done.
The change is a work of God’s grace. It implants an inner confidence in the promises of the Gospel. We come to trust that God is reliable and has done and always will do what he says. We accept that his ways are always the best ways — even when human wisdom prefers something else.
Our deliverance from guilt, and the promise of eternal rest in glory, were secured for us on a cross about 2000 years ago. Before that, it was determined eternally by the love of God, not by the things we do ourselves.
Our failures to be conforming to Christ-like behavior take place because we trust in the wrong things. Redeemed Christians might think they can reform themselves by determination, but that can’t work. They imagine they can better use what God entrusts to them if they put their own needs and interests first, but that never works either. They think they can squeeze in a little time for God in their lives, and that will be enough. The fallacy is — it’s not your life! You were bought with the price of Christ’s life. You now belong to him, and that’s a very good possession to be.
We can rest confidently in our Savior, and let go of those deceptive delusions. God calls us to put off the old ways, the old man, and suit-up in the new man. We can live joyfully in Christ, and be a shining light to those around us, regardless of our past or present. We can be a blessing to others and a servant of God by simply living with a full confidence in the Savior, and obediently trusting his teachings.
There’s no secret formula, or special work we have to do. It’s all been done by Jesus Christ, and it’s applied by the living Holy Spirit. By trusting his promises, we can discover a change that transforms us into joyful children of God. It will make us hungry to know his word better. It compels us to want to live for his glory. It assures us of our eternal place in the family of God.
(The Bible quotations are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.)