As we continue in Paul’s letter to the churches there is an underlining truth that we never want to forget. That truth is…….The gospel is God’s story, not man’s invention. And this is what makes other religious groups, social groups and so on, very upset. Because they hate the suggestion and the dogmatic stand the word of God proclaims that there is only one way to Heaven. But, if Paul watered down or changed the message to fit every persons religious understandings and ideas of what they believe…then Paul would be pleasing men rather than God. That’s why he says “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Gal 1:10.
In fact he would be inviting the wrath of God to fall upon himself as he already stated twice previously. See, this gospel is all about how God by His good grace saves bad people. And as my fellow brother Art Azurdia says “Are you a bad person today then I’m exceedingly glad you are here.” And so am I. Why? For this very reason……. God saves bad people! Our congregation is full of bad people, whom God loves, rescues and extends mercy and grace to……God saves bad people. And by Him doing this! It demonstrates the beauty of His love founded in the gospel. God loves to save the most despicable kinds of people. This portion of God’s letter compliments and affirms that truth. That man did not invent the gospel, it comes from God……and this is the standard in which we are to measure every other religion or philosophy created by man. As one writer said “the gospel of grace is like water: people did not invent it, and people cannot live without it.” Paul begins to explain his conversion in how God got a hold of his life! Though his story is divinely unique, we can see and find similarities to our own conversion. So what do we learn through Paul’s life as he reaffirms his position to the churches as an Apostle and as a preacher of the gospel.
Paul’s conversion involves God’s intervention (v15)
Beginning with the word “But” which is a conjunction word, which is a part of speech that connects words, sentences, phrases, or clauses. This word “but” plays a very important part here! Why? Look what Paul previously said (v12-v14). It holds the same importance when we read passages like Eph 2:1-5 “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” Or Titus 3:3-7 “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”
See, the gospel is a rescue mission and God intervened in Paul’s life and He did the same with the gospel in your life, in my life. “But” is a word of rescue or comfort! For example:
- The Sens thought they could beat the Leafs, but Reimer shut them out.
- I got into a car accident, but no one was hurt.
- He got hit in the face with a puck, but nothing was broken.
- You find out you have cancer, but it can be treated.
- I was on the verge of suicide, but God keep me alive.
God intervened and rescued you and me from danger and destruction. And though Paul’s conversion is divine in the sense God called him to apostleship……your conversion was a divine appointment also He intervened and drew you to Himself and adopted you in His family.
Paul’s conversion involves God’s eternal planning (v15)
“God who separated me” God uniquely chose Paul to Apostleship, as He did when he chose His prophets in the Old Testament. Jer 1:5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations." In Isaiah 49:1 it says “Listen to me, O coastlands, and give attention, you peoples from afar. The LORD called me from the womb; from the body of my mother he named my name." The testimony of John the Baptist, we read “And Zechariah was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared." Luke 1:12-17.
Though we recognize the unique and divine calling of God on Paul’s life, we also recognize that God called us as to be His children through the power of the gospel. As Paul said “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ” Eph 1:3-9. This is one of those wow moments, not just for Paul, but for us as well! Because in Psalm 139:1-4 it says "O LORD, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.”
Think about this as it pertains to Paul! God called Paul knowing he was going to be a rebel for many years and become a persecutor of Christians and a hater of the true gospel. This is amazing….because this goes to show that God came to save sinners. (bad people, despicable people like and me…and even you)
Think about that as it pertains to you! It also shows that God is very patient and has an eternal plan for you and me, just like He did for Paul. Paul’s conversion is great reminder for all of us and the difference Jesus Christ can make in a sinners life. Paul knew that all too well as He told Timothy “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” 1Tim 1:15-16. The gospel is God’s plan to save sinners. His providential plan to rescue you and me.
Paul’s conversion involves God’s gracious calling (v15)
“called me by his grace” It’s the power of God unto salvation and by God’s power he called Paul, just as he called you and me out of darkness. “Called me by His grace” refers to God's effectual call in the sense of His choosing so that one might receive some special benefit or experience (meaning salvation for us but a special duty for Paul to apostleship). God's effectual call was realized on the Damascus Road as it says in Acts 9:1-22. The Westminster Shorter Catechism states "Effectual calling is the work of God's Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, He doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the Gospel." Though we are not called to Apostleship ….God called you and me by His grace… none the less. Rob Morgan said “You have been foreknown from the beginning of time. God has always known in advance exactly what you would look like. He has always known your innermost thoughts, your background, your history, your problems, your struggles, your strengths, your weaknesses, and the course of your life. He has always known His plans for you. With a single glance He knew all about you, long before the earth launched its maiden orbit around the sun. “ God’s calling is powerful! Well, what do I mean by that…….See, God’s calling is much different then how we “well….let say calling our children to the dinner table for supper.” Julie and I can call the kids for supper and they will usually say “Okay, were coming” However that “okay” might take 10 minutes before they start moving towards the dinner table. See, while I can call my children……getting them to move is a different story. But! When God calls you….it’s not in 10 minutes, 30 minutes or hour later! It’s immediately! As God said “let there be light” it was instant, not a million of years…..”There was light” Gen 1:3. When Jesus said “silence” to the storm and the waves…. it was right away! It wasn’t “I invite you to be still, or I hope you will be still.” “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.” Mark 4:39. When Jesus spoke to the grave of Lazarus “Come forth” John 11. He didn’t have to go to the tomb and do CPR first or offer a chant or cast a spell to raise the dead. God’s words, power and authority are what bring life instantly.
If a person asks how did you become a Christian? Respond by saying “God called me by His grace, through the power of His word and the truth of the gospel.” The bible is filled with people just like you and me who have tasted God’s grace….not because of their own goodness or merit; but because of His abundance of grace for bad people. God called us to be a people zealous for His mercy and grace and proclaim that truth to lost people. As Mark Dever said “the church is the gospel made visible.” We are living proof that God can save bad people…..Paul is living proof of that………. it’s all of God and none of man.
Paul’s conversion involves seeing the glory of Christ. (v16)
The wonderful reality of Jesus crucified, raised and reigning was made known to Paul on that Damascus road. Paul previously knew Christian teaching, but he did not accept it. The idea of a crucified Messiah was uncalled for and repulsive to him and the Jews. But when Christ revealed Himself, everything changed for Paul. Now! We need to understand that we never had a Damascus road experience, but if you are a child of God, you have experienced this through the gospel that saves. Eph 1:17-23 says “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” We were blind until God revealed His Son to us through the gospel message. Faith comes by hearing the message…..it doesn’t come osmosis! Why? Romans 10:15-17 says “And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!" But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, "Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?" So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”
How does God remove the blinders? Well, the blinders (before my conversion) are like me trying to do driver’s eyes test without my glasses. I can’t read or guess what’s on the lines because I can’t see! But, when I put my glasses on. I can see clearly to read the numbers or letters that are on the line. See, apart from corrective lens I can’t see anything…no matter how hard I try by my strength or will. The same rule applies for the Christian conversion……apart from the corrective lens provided to us by the Holy Spirit we can see nothing. We desperately need His help when it comes to our conversion to give us sight, to remove the blinders from our eyes. As the scripture says “we see with new eyes”In 2 Cor 5:17 says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” According to this passage! God gives us new eyes to see, new ears to hear, and we feel with new affections and desires. God’s affections and desires. So, rejoice that Christ has been made known to you. The power on Paul’s life and yours is rooted and founded in God’s gospel. The urgency of this letter and the testimony of Paul affirm that truth. If you ever watch sporting events, especially hockey, you’ve seen this scenario, with the exception of curling: a time-out is called, and the players gather breathlessly around the coach. The coach’s words are littered with urgency. He doesn’t smile and he gestures intently at his clipboard. Why? The outcome of the game hangs in the balance. Paul is like this coach on the sidelines. His words are urgent, truthful, straight-forward and a wonderful reminder for you and me this morning.
A reminder that…….. God is the one who intervened into your life and saved you from yourself. God is the one who gave us His Son…the only plan of redemption for sinners. God is the one who pursues us with His relentless grace and called us out of darkness into His glorious light. God is the one who makes this possible for us to see the glory of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not man’s gospel….it’s God’s gospel.