by Mike Ratliff
1 Getting into a boat, Jesus crossed over the sea and came to His own city. 2 And they brought to Him a paralytic lying on a bed. Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralytic, “Take courage, son; your sins are forgiven.” 3 And some of the scribes said to themselves, “This fellow blasphemes.” 4 And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, “Why are you thinking evil in your hearts? 5 “Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, and walk’? 6 “But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—then He *said to the paralytic, “Get up, pick up your bed and go home.” 7 And he got up and went home. 8 But when the crowds saw this, they were awestruck, and glorified God, who had given such authority to men. (Matthew 9:1-8 NASB)
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus who was traveling from Jerusalem with authority to seek out and arrest Christians in Damascus on that very road was quite dramatic (Acts 9). The facts of that conversion were beyond anything any of today’s “Christian Superstars” dare to claim happened to them. Saul was on a horse and as he and his party were approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him, and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Everything changed for Saul and for the Church at that moment. Saul of Tarsus the persecutor and ravager of the Church became the Apostle Paul who took the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. Paul’s conversion was quite dramatic not only in the events of it, but also in that the one who was seeking to destroy the Church and the Gospel became the writer of most of the New Testament and developed via inspiration from God, much of the Doctrines of the Church.
11 For I make known to our brothers, the gospel that was preached by me is not according to man. 12 For I neither received it nor was I taught it from man but through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, excessively persecuting the church of God and ravaging it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many contemporaries in my nation being more abundantly a zealot. 15 But when God, the one who set me apart even from the womb of my mother and called me through his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his son in me that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia and again I returned to Damascus. 18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas and I stayed with him fifteen days, 19 but id did not see the other apostles except James the brother of the Lord. 20 (Now in what things I am writing to you, behold before God, I do not lie.) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and of Cilicia. 22 But I was unknown in person to the churches of Judea which were in Christ; 23 but only they were hearing, “The one once persecuting us is now preaching the faith, which he was once ravaging.” 24 And they were glorifying God in me. (Galatians 1:11-24 Possessing the Treasure New Testament v1)
Just as Paul’s conversion was not his idea nor was it anything he would have ever done on his own, the gospel message he proclaimed as an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ was not something any man came up with either. Paul makes it clear that the gospel message he preached to the Galatian churches when he planted them was not his own message nor was it something cleverly taught him by some men, but was received by him directly through a revelation of Jesus Christ. As we saw in our last post, Only One Gospel Part 1, apostleship was not something just anyone can claim. No, to be a real apostle meant that that man had to have seen the risen Lord Jesus Christ, had to be ordained and sent out by him, and that that apostleship endowed the apostle with the ability to perform miracles according to the will of God and that the apostle had authority and that meant, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he could create Doctrine. That means that God used them to lay the foundation of the Church that Christ and begun to lay, which was, of course, himself being the Chief Cornerstone.
Paul doesn’t back away from his former life as a persecutor of the Church. He admits that he did this more zealous than anyone else. This is why he was given the task of making that trip to Damascus. However, notice that in v15 Paul shows that God used all this in his Sovereign plan. Paul was elect and set apart before he was even born. He was called through the grace of God even though he was opposing everything our Lord was doing in building his church. However, at the proper time, in Acts 9 we read of God knocking Saul off of that horse, and the very next words out of his mouth are, “Who are you Lord?” From that moment on, he is 100% Christ’s man. Saved by grace that he was not looking for nor wanted. Wham, he is laying on the ground and all of that fame and notoriety he had as a Zealous Pharisee was worth less to him than rubbish. Why? He had something much more valuable. God had called him through his grace and was pleased to reveal his son in him that he might preach him among the Gentiles. That is a transformation!
In vv17-18 we are given a glimpse into how long Paul spent being educated by the Lord into the revelation of our Lord Jesus Christ and his good doctrines. It was three years. Notice that he met Peter (Cephas) and James our Lord’s brother, but even here, what he is preaching is not expressed in any way as being under their authority. No, everything he is teaching and preaching is of our Lord and the scriptures he is using to back everything up is what we call the Old Testament.
In v22-24 Paul uses the truth of his incredible conversion to show that the power behind his message to the Galatians is not his own, but is of God who is able to turn even a Jewish Zealot who was persecuting the Church around to one who is now preaching the faith. The church was in such awe of this that they glorified God because of what God was doing in and through Paul.
My brethren, in our time, there are many superstar (some call them rockstar) pastors who are all about wearing the cool clothes and having the cool churches and are all about never offending anyone who is “unchurched” so their “church” can be a church for the unsaved. To do this they have to appeal to the flesh and continue to do so. They can never go deep into the Word of God because to do so would offend those who are of the flesh (the unsaved) and they would leave. Therefore, those who remain, if they are indeed in Christ, are never fed anything from the Word of God deeper than what can be skimmed off the shallow end of the kiddie pool. What that ends up producing are sheep who are biblically ignorant and that means they are easy victims of the culture and our enemy.
In our next several posts we will look much more deeply at the battle Paul was in for the Gospel at the churches in Galatia. In our day, we have the same battles to fight. Many who really should know better believe they have to freedom to “edit” the Gospel to make it more palatable to “seekers.” Others seek to make the whole evangelism/gospel/preaching/salvation thing into a cut-and-dried process with people just making a mental assent or saying a certain prayer with an optional Baptism and that’s that. How does that compare with the conversion of Saul/Paul? How about Lydia and the Philippian Jailor in Acts 16?
Paul used the testimony of his conversion on that road to Damascus several times. Each time, it was to explain why he preached the gospel the way he did and from where is authority to do so came. It was never to say to people, look, believe what I tell you, get saved and you too… You get the idea.
As we serve our Lord in all we do, it is for His glory and Paul is quick to always point that out and uses it as evidence of his credentials. Remember when our Lord Jesus was talking about false prophets in Matthew 7:15-20 he said we would know them by their fruit. I mentioned in that study on the Sermon on the Mount that the bad fruit of false prophet is revealed in that what they teach and preach is not of God and is, therefore, unable to restrain the flesh, while the genuine prophets and teachers of God produce good fruit in that what they teach and preach is of God and is able to restrain the flesh. Along with that, the false prophet may give glory to God lip service, but really is out to glorify self while the genuine prophet or teacher of God always seeks to bring God glory through their service and we see that continually in Paul.
Soli Deo Gloria!