Paul Defends His Apostleship
Open Your Bible
Galatians 1:11-24, Joel 2:12-14, Acts 9:1-22
“The gospel is about transformation,” a friend of mine said while standing in my kitchen a few days ago. We were talking about a series of current events in the Church, sad and hard and deeply personal stories that call us to question our place in the current manifestation of God’s kingdom on earth, as all such stories tend to do. His statement hardly revolutionary, nor was it original, but I’ve found it’s been rolling around in my head ever since.
Without total transformation, a turning-inside-out by grace, it can be hard to stand firm in the faith. Every day it feels like I see another domino fall, the ripple effect of false gospels and faulty foundations. I say this full-well knowing that I could be next. Every day I pray for a deeper and greater transformation of my heart. Prayer, Scripture, Spirit—these are my lifelines to a new heart and a closer communion with God. Without them, I’m weak and tired. With them, I am transformed.
As we’ve read through Galatians 1 this week, Paul has been building a case for the rest of his letter using his own story of transformation. First, he identifies himself and his motivation: an apostle through Jesus. Second, he introduces his critique: the church in Galatia has fallen under the spell of a false gospel. Third, he qualifies his critique and message because of his own past and the total transformation he experienced through Jesus.
Paul uses his story, constructing it carefully, to set the stage for the rest of the letter, in which he will challenge false teachers who argued that new Christians had to submit to Jewish law. Paul had been a pharisee, self-described as “extremely zealous for the traditions of my ancestors” (Galatians 1:14). He knew the law. He lived by it and for it.
Then Paul explains his own total transformation as “when God, who from my mother’s womb set me apart and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me” (vv.15–16). Paul became an apostle of Jesus; he knew his Savior, and lived by Him and for Him. God called Paul to Himself, and through the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit, Paul was totally transformed. The same transformation is offered to us by God’s grace.
I love how God calls them to Himself in Joel 2 (harkening back to Exodus 34) where God reveals His character to Moses:
this is the LORD’s declaration—
turn to me with all your heart,
with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
Tear your hearts,
not just your clothes,
and return to the LORD your God.
For he is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger, abounding in faithful love,
and he relents from sending disaster (vv.12–13).
This is the invitation before me this morning: to turn to God, to anchor myself in prayer, Scripture, and the Spirit. Because I can trust God and His character, I can trust His process of transformation—His grace, compassion, patience, and steadfast love.