11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 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. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 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; 17 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.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. (Galatians 1:11-24)
What we see in this passage is the beginning of Paul’s personal testimony, his story. Paul began this letter to the Galatians by sharing a brief summary of the gospel message. That was verses 1-5. Then in verses 6-10 he expressed his astonishment that the Galatians were so quickly abandoning the gospel, abandoning the grace of Christ. In those verses he began trying to persuade the Galatians to see the truth, persuade them that there is no other gospel but the one he had taught them. That’s where we pick up in our passage today, in verse 11. Paul is continuing this argument. And the way he does so is by telling the Galatians his story.
Personal testimony can be one of the most meaningful forms of persuasion. When you’re unsure about a particular decision, there’s just something so comforting about hearing from another human being who has made that decision before, and who can share their experience with you. That’s what Paul does here. He’s writing to a group of people who are quickly moving down the path of trusting their own good works for salvation. They are starting to put their trust in themselves. And Paul not only tells them not to do that, but he also shares with them what happened in his own life, when he was doing the very thing that they were now starting to do. He shares about what happened when he was striving to earn his own salvation, rather than fully trusting in the grace of Christ.
We’re going to discuss three main things about the gospel from what Paul writes here in Galatians 1:11-24. Three simple things:
- The gospel is about God
- The gospel is from God
- The gospel is for the glory of God
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. (Galatians 1:11)
Paul says that his gospel is not man’s gospel. As I was studying this verse, the question that jumped out at me was, “What is man’s gospel?” Or you could ask, what is the message that mankind proclaims? What message do we as humans buy into, and live by?
If you were to dig down to the heart of all the false religions and false philosophies of living in the world, and you took all of those false ways and threw them together under the big banner, “man’s gospel,” what would that gospel message be? I think, at its core, that message would be that life is about us. That we are the center of the universe. We are the rulers of our destiny. That is man’s gospel.
God’s gospel is about God, it’s about Christ. Paul writes in Colossians 1:28 that it is “Him we proclaim.” Jesus we proclaim. But in man’s gospel, we proclaim ourselves – our own greatness, our own glory. This is one of the fundamental differences between man’s gospel and God’s. Man’s is man-centered, and God’s is God-centered. And these two things cannot go together.
For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. (Galatians 1:13)
A man-centered gospel stands in violent opposition to God. This verse shows us that. It says that Paul, in his former, self-centered life, persecuted the church violently. And by persecuting the church, by violently opposing the church, he was violently opposing God.
In Acts 9:4, when Paul was confronted by Jesus on the road to Damascus, do you remember what the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” He didn’t say, “Saul, why are you persecuting my church?” In fact, lest we think that Jesus misspoke, He actually repeats Himself. In verse 5 Paul responded, “Who are you, Lord?” And the answer is, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
Now, why is it that a man-centered message, a man-centered gospel must be in such stark opposition to God? Why can’t the gospel of man co-exist with the gospel of God? One reason, among many, is that if we buy into a man-centered gospel, then we will be zealous for self-exaltation.
13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 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)
There are three key words in verse 14, that show us the aim of man’s gospel. Those words are: “advancing…beyond many.” Do you see that? Advancing beyond many. This is why man’s gospel and God’s cannot co-exist. The message that we as humans proclaim, the life that we pursue, is one of self-exaltation. It’s all about me, all about you.
If we’re honest, we do want to advance beyond those around us. Right? We want to be better parents than others, better employees, and so on. In some way or another, we want to rise above the rest. But here’s the thing: even if we can manage to do that, to rise above all those around us, that won’t be enough for us. We won’t stop there. If you or I manage to exalt ourselves above the rest of mankind, there will still be one left that we will want to advance beyond, and that’s God. God will be our next target. We will strive to advance even beyond Him. This is what happened to Satan, this is what happened to Adam and Eve, and this is our problem too, if we buy into man’s gospel.
The true gospel is about God. And it is also from God. Let me read verse 11 again…
11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 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)
Now, it must be said that Paul received the gospel in a pretty unique way. None of us, as far as I know, received a direct revelation from Jesus the way that Paul did. We all received the gospel in the normal way. The normal way being, that someone shared it with us. Romans 10:14 says, “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” This is our experience. We believed, because we heard, because someone preached it to us.
For some, perhaps the first time we heard it, we believed it. Or, maybe it took us several times of hearing it. Maybe we sat in church week after week, hearing the gospel preached, and nothing really happened. But then one day, something was different. It hit us, full force, and we were never the same again.
If Paul’s experience is the exception to the norm, and the norm is having someone share the gospel with you, then why did I say that the gospel is from God? Well, it’s because of the example I just gave. A person can hear the gospel over and over and over again, and not be changed by it in the slightest! That can happen, that does happen. We can remain unchanged…until what? Until God does something. Until God miraculously heals our deaf ears, softens our hard hearts, and opens our eyes to see His glory in the gospel. This is where we see that our testimonies are very much the same as Paul’s.
14 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. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me (Galatians 1:14-16a)
I’m going to stop there for now. We see three things in verse 15, and the start of 16, that demonstrate how the gospel is truly from God, not from man.
First, we see election, predestination. Paul says that God set him apart before he was born. And the same is true of us. Everyone who trusts in Christ was first set apart by God, set apart for salvation, before we were even born. Before our parents named us, our names were written in the Lamb’s book of life.
The second way we see that the gospel is from God, is that Paul says God called him, by his grace. You and I may have called on the name of the Lord for salvation, but the only reason we did that, is that God first called us. He didn’t wait for us to clean ourselves up, or prove ourselves worthy to be His. He called us “by His grace.” Despite all the evil we had done, God called us into His family.
Third, Paul says that God revealed his Son to him. This revealing is what Paul mentions in 2 Corinthians 4:6, where he writes…
God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
We trust in and love Christ because the Holy Spirit took the gospel message that we heard, and He made it take root in our hearts. One moment, we did not see Jesus or His gospel as glorious, as beautiful. Maybe we thought we believed in Christ. We had some form of belief, at an intellectual level. But we didn’t see Him as glorious. We didn’t see Him as desirable. But then, by the power of God, light broke forth in our lives. And that light allowed us to see, and to treasure, Christ and His gospel.
All of this is from God. He sent the preacher to tell us the good news. He elected us, before we were born, so that we would embrace the good news. He called us by His grace. And He revealed His Son to us.
These are glorious truths, and they should lead us to praise God, to love God. But all of this focus on God being the one who saves, it may lead some to find an excuse for their rebellion against God. A person might say, “I don’t follow Christ because He hasn’t predestined me to follow Him. Or, if He has predestined me, He hasn’t yet called me. He hasn’t yet revealed the glory of Jesus to me. And there’s nothing I can do about that.” This is a dangerous, and a deadly argument to make. And it’s one that I’m afraid many young people who grow up in the church fall into. On the one hand this argument seems to be backed up by truth. But it’s only a partial truth. The full counsel of God removes any and every excuse that we might have for our sin. Because there are verses, like Romans 10:13, that say “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Galatians 1:15 and 16 do not contradict Romans 10:13. Anyone who calls on Christ, all who humble themselves and cling to Christ, they will be saved. Yes God predestines, but He also gives us choices to make, and responsibility for those choices. So that mankind is without excuse.
The next section in our passage begins in the second half of verse 16. Paul says, “when [God]…”
16 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; 17 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.
18 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. 19 But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. 20 (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) (Galatians 1:16b-20)
In these verses Paul is just further backing up this point that the gospel he’d received was all from God, and that his salvation was all from God. He writes here about how nobody else taught him the truth. He wasn’t dependent on the teaching of others to learn what he learned.
We won’t spend much time on these verses, but I did want to mention one thing, sort of as a side note here. I think we need to be careful that we don’t put too much of our biblical diet into the hands of others. What I mean is, we need to be careful that we don’t become complacent, or passive, when it comes to our personal study of Scripture. Christian friends, and teachers, and mentors can be so helpful. They can help us grow in our understanding of the truth. But even if we didn’t have those people pouring truth into us, we would still have our primary teacher pouring into us. We would still have the Holy Spirit. We learn from Him, through His Word. And since the Spirit is our primary teacher, and the Spirit is with us all the time, we should be self-learning all the time. We ought not be totally dependent on others teaching us. Our main diet of Bible shouldn’t be spoon-fed. Again, teaching from other people is great, and it is an important part of Christian growth. But the majority of our growth will come as we humbly submit ourselves, every day, to the Spirit’s teaching. As we humbly ask Him to open up the Word to us. We shouldn’t be like the people written of in Hebrews 5:12-14. Listen to what it says…
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
The writer of Hebrews says that we should have our “powers of discernment trained by constant practice.” Constant practice. That means we need more practice than just Sunday mornings. Sunday mornings should not be our main time for learning from God.
Each of us have this book. God has laid a feast before us in His Word, and we ought to be feeding on it constantly. Taking time to read it, but more than that taking time to meditate on it, to chew on it. If we aren’t feasting, constantly, on the rich food of God’s Word, then what are we feasting on? What are we seeking to satisfy our appetites with?
The same Teacher that lived within Paul is now living within us. Let’s learn from Him.
The last portion of our text today is verses 21-24. We’ve seen so far that the gospel is about God, that it’s from God, now the last point is that the gospel is for the glory of God. Starting in verse 21, Paul writes…
21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they glorified God because of me. (Galatians 1:21-24)
Think about all the verses that led up to this. Think about what Paul’s told us about how he once violently persecuted the church, and tried to destroy it. And now you have this same man preaching the faith he had tried to destroy, suffering for the faith he had tried to destroy. You have the saints glorifying God because of this same man. Who but God could do this? Every step of Paul’s journey was clearly the work of God. And the same is true for every step of our journeys.
As we consider our own stories, the stories of our lives, the only part we can really take credit for is being idolatrous, proud, God-haters. That’s what we can take credit for. All the rest is God’s. Anything good, positive, godly in us – it is all the work of God. So we give all glory to God. And, in giving all glory to God, we find our greatest joy.
In Isaiah 43, verses 6 and 7, God is speaking, and He says…
bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the end of the earth,
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made. (Isaiah 43:6-7)
The reason why we find our greatest joy in giving God all the glory, is that it’s what we were made for. It’s what we were made for. God is our Creator, and He tells us why He created us. We were made for His glory.
Our whole lives long we can search for a sense of belonging. We try so hard to find our place in this world, our reason for existing. And we find it in God. God designed us to experience the greatest satisfaction in life when we live for Him.
Isaiah 43 was written to a people in captivity. It was written to a people that God was calling out of captivity. We can insert ourselves into this text, because all of us were once in captivity. All of us were once enslaved to our sin. Listen to what God says in Isaiah 43, right before the verses that I just read…
4Because you are precious in my eyes,
and honored, and I love you,
I give men in return for you,
peoples in exchange for your life.
5Fear not, for I am with you (Isaiah 43:4-5a)
God speaks here of giving peoples in exchange for Israel, to ransom Israel, and redeem them. How does this relate to us? Well, in the big picture, our redemption, our freedom from captivity could not have been purchased with earthly peoples. There were no people who could be exchanged for our freedom. No man could have been given to pay the enormous ransom, the enormous price that our freedom would cost. So God became a man. Jesus took on flesh. He came to redeem us. And He gave Himself in exchange for us.
Earlier I read 2 Corinthians 4:6. But I’d like to read it again as we close, because it sums up this idea of the gospel giving all glory to God. It says…
God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Jesus gives us light. Jesus gives us knowledge of God – intimate knowledge, personal knowledge. And in Jesus, in His face, we find the glory of God manifested. There is no good news apart from Him. But through Him we have our freedom.
The gospel is about Him, it is from Him, and it is all for His glory.