Free to Change * Galatians 1:11-24
We live in a world of change opportunities. Browse the internet or magazine covers in the store or book titles on Google, and you will encounter hundreds of offers to change: a better marriage, be better parents, be a better you, lose weight, be happy, gain muscle, get a Beach Body, remodel your home…
One of the great freedoms we receive in Christ is the freedom to change. So many people feel that their life is “stuck” where they are:
- Past failures that hamper us and CONTINUE to define us
- Past efforts that discourage us and ATTEMPT to limit us
- Past fears that haunt us and THREATEN to torment us
- Past relationships that trap us and TRY to restrict us
Our own mind can tell us that trying to change is futile. A new book called Chatter written by a neurologist deals with the internal conversations we continually have with ourselves that can severely hamper us. We get trapped in ‘stinkin thinking;’ cycles of bad memories discourage us; wounding words spoken by parents or those in authority still influence us.
We have tried to change before, and it didn’t work. Our past distorts our present. Our fears raise their heads. Lies permeate our thoughts. Why make the effort? Maybe even people close to you tell you it’s useless… or you’ll always be
But the Gospel brings us freedom and power to change! And no greater example of that freedom to change exists than in the testimony of a former Jewish rabbi named Saul of Tarsus, or as we most commonly know him, Paul the Apostle.
One of the things we learn as we hear Paul’s heart and story, is the power our testimony has to impact other people. While your story may not be as dramatic as Paul’s was, (actually few are), it is still your story. You need to know that more people will respond to the Gospel by your testimony than by your efforts to argue or reason someone into a decision. People will reject your arguments. They cannot ignore your testimony, and the way that following Jesus has affected and transformed you.
In the Book of Revelation we read, And they have overcome by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. (—Rev 12:11)
Paul wrote later in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that “If any one is in Christ they are a new creation…old things have passed away and behold, all things have been made new.” In the passage in Galatians 1, Paul begins telling us his testimony of how he knew this was true.
TEXT. Galatians 1:11-15
The Origination of Paul’s Message
a. Not from man.
b. Began in God
The conversation that spurs Paul sharing something of his life’s experience was a challenge to his authority as an apostle. By definition, there are no “new” apostles. An apostle was a person who had spent time with Jesus on earth, who walked with Him and followed Him, and who then encountered Him in His resurrection.
The apostles, by the way, were younger men. It is thought that Peter was probably the oldest, and he was just about Jesus’ age which puts him in his early 30’s. Paul may have been a little older, but probably not by a lot.
But the early Christians knew and respected these men. They had walked with Jesus and were eyewitnesses of His ministry for three years! An apostle was one “sent out” with a message. The word “apostle” literally means “sent one.” They were apostles of Jesus, sent with His message of hope into the world. (Acts 1:21-26)
Apostles, however, were not limited to the Christian community. The Jews also had their own apostles, sent with messages into various settings and situations as they were authorized by their leaders. This maybe helps us understand Paul’s early statements that he was an apostle sent, “not from men, but from God.” (Gal 1:1)
That opened the door for him to explain how it was that he could consider himself an apostle sent from God rather than from men. The Jewish legalists were undermining Paul’s credentials and credibility with the Galatians by challenging his apostolic claims. And so the claim that his message “was not from man…but by revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1:11-12).
The Conversion of Paul
Paul’s grace story is truly dramatic and amazing. It is not, by the way, normal. It is not to be used as a measuring stick to evaluate the genuineness of our conversion. Paul was changed from a terrorist into an apostle. We cannot imagine the depth of change that had to take place in Paul’s life.
a. Our need of grace
We all need grace to change. Paul was a fervently religious man. As we learn elsewhere, he was a member of one of the most radical and highest ranking groups in Judaism. And he took his God, his religion, and himself very seriously. His testimony is the example of a person running headlong in one direction, being confronted, and then turning and going in the opposition direction.
He “persecuted (forced into silence) the church.” Even those who didn’t know Paul personally knew of his reputation. Let’s imagine for a moment, that Osama bin Laden was still living. And not only living, but still wreaking havoc through acts of terrorism. Then one day, something incredible happens to him in the desert. He has a vision of the resurrected Christ, and then he disappears for some time.
A couple of years later, we get a flyer that says, “The former terrorist, Osama bin Ladin would like to come to your church and share his incredible testimony of miraculous transformation.” This man, fervent and fanatic for the religion of Islam, who took countless thousands of lives of American people in the name of Allah, now wants to come and preach to you about Jesus. Would you trust this?
Your reluctance was the same reluctance people felt about Paul. They knew him as Saul, the fire-breathing Jesus-hating rabbi who had been authorized by the Jewish authorities to kill, imprison, torture, and harass believers…and he did it zealously and proudly. He believed he was serving God as he did this.
But now, he comes as Paul an apostle of Jesus Christ, preaching peace and love and mercy and grace and forgiveness of sins. People didn’t want to let him forget what he once was. The reality is, he never forgot. And for some, we can’t let go of what we once were. The deeper our sin, the greater our gratitude for the grace of God. We know how much we needed to be forgiven.
For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Corinthians 15:9–10)
Jesus said, “He who is forgiven much, loves much.” Paul was forgiven much. He needed grace, and found that grace given freely in Jesus.
b. God’s offer of grace
But this fervent, Jewish rabbi who was living and breathing hatred for all things Christian and who wanted to destroy anything remotely connected to this renegade Jesus, was changed by God’s grace. “But God, who caused me to be born, called me by His grace…”. “To reveal His Son in me….”
When God calls us, it’s not like you calling. You can call your children to the dinner table, and they can say “just a minute!” And in just a minute they still aren’t there. “Ill be right there…” Or you can call someone you need to talk to and get put on hold. You know what I mean.
But when God calls, you don’t say “just a minute.” It stops you in your tracks. The call and the deed are simultaneous. The strength to do what He calls comes.
What stopped Saul, the angry and violent rabbi in his tracks, was a vision of the risen Christ just outside of Damascus. Acts 9 tells us it happened in the middle of the day, the risen Lord appeared to Saul. As we understand it, only he saw Jesus…none of those with him. The appearance and power of the resurrected Jesus knocked him to the ground, and He said, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting ME?”
And because of that encounter with Jesus, Saul came away a new person with a new mission and direction in his life. He was transformed…changed by the grace of God. This is probably an opportune moment for me to ask you: Has your life been changed by the grace of God? A few thoughts occur to me from this:
Gospel Driven Change
- When we wrestle with God, God wins. Perhaps, like Paul before he met Jesus, you are fighting against God. Maybe the idea of the existence of a God bothers you. Perhaps Christian people annoy you, and you really don’t know why.
Maybe you’ve given up on the idea of following Jesus because you’ve been hurt by the behavior of Christians or by a church. And all of this has left you disillusioned about the claims of the Bible. And yet, something inside you wants it to be true, wants it to be real. You feel empty or just feel alone in the universe.
- When we lose the battle, life begins. My life began; my transformation began on the floor of my youth pastor’s home midnight, Dec 26, 1974 when I finally surrendered to God’s call in my life. I walked out his door a different person that I was when I walked in. I was changed by the grace of God. My doubt, my confusion, my rebellion, my pride, my sin fell off of me like chains.
- When new life begins, a testimony emerges
i. Not a sermon—just talk
ii. Not complicated—be simple and clear.
iii. Not an argument—just tell your story (“Can I tell you…”)
iv. Not long—be brief. Two-three minutes. (All the useless stuff on insta) 1 billion registered users on Instagram in 2020
v. Not confusing—be logical (before Christ, conversion, life since)
vi. Not about you—glorify God! (v 24)
People aren’t coming to church to become Christ followers…they are being touched by your story…your testimony…your witness to them…the life you’re living. SHARE YOUR STORY! You work where they are; you live where they do; you go to school with them.
- When transformation comes, change is not always quick but it is real
Gritty hope. Endurance…
i. The unlearning curve. Paul had to rethink his whole life! “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind…”
ii. Time in obscurity (14 years, Gal 2:1). Obscurity is a great location for a degree in following Jesus. Our day of instant notoriety for some who were famous before coming to Christ is not healthy. I’m suspicious of any leader who hasn’t spent time in obscurity.
iii. Taught by Jesus, not by men. Learn to read the Bible