The First of Faith – Galatians 1:23

“They only were hearing it said, ‘He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.’” –Galatians 1:23

Do you have a friend that is so seemingly stereotypical that you actually use his or her name as a replacement for the verb that describes them? I know people who have friends who always try to pull off the most over-the-top events, but they end up royally failing every time. Eventually, they just started using their name to describe when a great plan goes wrong. Like, “Man, you totally ‘Bobby’d’ that surprise party,” except with someone else’s name, because I am awesome. Or maybe you tell someone not to be such a “Bobby,” like this friend’s name automatically makes someone the stalest thing since unsliced bread. You know the term, “Debbie Downer” probably originated from a pessimistic, sorry soul named Deborah. It must suck to be Deborah.

It is strange here how Paul switches out the word “gospel” for the word “faith.” Not only so, but instead of just using a general term for faith here, he includes the definite article with it (“the”) as a means of making this a signpost of Christianity. Dunn states: “‘[Faith]’ had become so characteristic of the new movement to which [Paul] now belonged, that it could function as an identity marker, an identification which was sufficiently distinct to denote and define the movement itself—as equally the talk of ‘preaching Christ’.” The fact that “faith” and “Christ” or “gospel” is interchangeable here speaks magnitudes about the focus of Christianity and what made it different from Judaism.

Faith must have been the major difference between Christianity and Judaism. Before Christ, one had to be Jewish to be one of God’s people, and this came from birth. They had to be circumcised, and they had to then follow the Law of Moses. Now, to be part of the people of God, the Church, one now only has to believe in Christ. This must be what Paul was persecuting before he became a Christian. He was persecuting those who followed this “faith” in Christ. This is why after Paul was saved the Judeans proclaimed: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching THE FAITH he once tried to destroy.”

This is arguably Paul’s first time ever using the word, “faith.” The letter to the Galatians also has the most concentrated use of “faith” in any of Paul’s writings – being used 22 times in this six chapter epistle.

This idea of being saved by faith alone is what the Judaizers were teaching against. They were coming and telling the Galatians they had to be circumcised. They were telling them that accepting Jesus as King by faith wasn’t good enough. Paul is showing that he and the church in Judea stand together on preaching this gospel. This is also showing that at the earliest stages of Christianity, the focus has always been on faith, and not on anything else. Even while Paul was persecuting the church, he was doing so because of faith. Faith is at the heart of the gospel – not the act of circumcision or anything else these false teachers in Galatia were saying.

So how do you see the gospel? Do you see it as a bunch of rules you have to follow? Do you see it as going to church once a week? Or do you see it as following Christ through faith? Christianity is at the foremost about faith – faith in Christ. We don’t follow the Law, we follow the One who perfected it. We assemble as a body and fellowship around this faith. That’s why without faith in Christ, it is impossible to please God (Heb 11:6).

Don’t lose sight of the gospel of faith. Don’t get so caught up in doing the right things that you miss the heart of what it means to follow God. Faith is what it takes to follow. It is central so much to the gospel that the word itself is used in place of it. Remember it, preach it, teach it, and live it.

Preach The Faith.

Sons of Serendipity – Galatians 1:15-16a

But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles…” –Galatians 1:15-16a

A father and son were driving down the road after a fishing trip. During their trip, they were in a car accident. Both the father and son were rushed to the hospital, but the father passed away in the ambulance. When the boy reached the operating room, the doctor walked out of the room. “I can’t operate on him,” the doctor said. “He is my son.” How can this be?!

Paul refers to Jesus as the “Son of God” 15 times in his letters. Every time Jesus is mentioned as the Son, it is in his pastoral epistles. There is no mention of Christ as the “Son of God” in either the prison epistles or the pastoral epistles. Because of this Longenecker asserts that, “… “Son of God” as a Christological title was derived by Paul from his Jewish Christian heritage.” The idea of Christ being God’s son is probably an idea drawn out from Paul’s old life of Judaism. This is important because the men in Galatia who were spreading around false teaching were also Jewish, so they might’ve been using the same words to describe Jesus.

Referring Christ as the Son was also a relational term for Paul. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament states: “‘Son’ describes the bond of love between God and Jesus and hence the greatness of the sacrifice. The title relates, not so much to preexistence, but to the wonder of the saving act. It is grounded in Christ’s passion rather than his exaltation and kingship.” There were other words like “Lord” or “Christ” that could be used to talk about Christ’s kingship. This is specifically talking about Christ’s relationship to God as his Son, sent to save the world. Jesus came as God’s Son in that he was the full representation of God. He was a reflection of God much like many children are walking reflections of their parents.

This is Paul’s logic: If Christ is God’s Son, and Christ is in Paul, then Paul is God’s son. This is why Paul has the privilege to call God, “Abba” or Father (Galatians 4:6). Not only so, but Paul will be saying the same thing about the Galatians later in the letter. To be in Christ not only meant that one was in God’s family, but even more so, that they are viewed as God’s children – his sons and daughters.

The love and sacrifice that God took as a Father to send his Son, and the love and sacrifice that Christ made to offer his life, should remind us just how much God has done to allow us to be part of His family. We are children of God if we follow Christ by faith. Do you see yourself as one of His children? Do you know he loves you? Do you know you are an heir to His promises?

Live today as one of God’s children. Walk as though you are a representative of Him. Just as children are a reflection of their parents, your life is reflective of how you respect your heavenly Father. Represent Him well.

And to answer the riddle, the doctor in the operating room was the boy’s mother.

Flare Jeans and Jeremiah – Galatians 1:15-17

“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 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; 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.” –Galatians 1:15-17

“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.” –Jeremiah 1:5

Have you ever noticed how fashion seems to be cyclical? One fashion that was popular in the past will become stale, but within a couple decades it becomes retro again. Almost everything except the fanny-pack has managed to somehow make a turnaround over the years. Fedoras, flare jeans, Birkenstocks, and Converse shoes have all made their way around the hipster circle of life. Even togas have made a popular fashion surge thanks to the popular 70’s movie, Animal House!

Paul was pretty retro as well. I’m not necessarily talking about his fashion sense, though I’m sure if he were alive today he would totally wear designer jeans with a hip and over-the-top button down shirt! I’m pretty sure that is the uniform for a church planter in America today. Paul was retro in how he was called by God.

Paul uses “Septuigantalism” when talking about his calling from God. This is borrowing wording from the Old Testament to describe current situations in the New Testament. So Paul is talking about not only how his authority is from God, but also how God revealed himself to Paul like He used to reveal himself to the Old Testament prophets. The wording in this passage is similar to the prophet Jeremiah’s calling (Jer 1:5), and also with the proclamation of the servant of the Lord in Isaiah 49 (verses 1-6).

The main thrust of Paul’s argument is that he did not immediately consult with anyone (verse 17). His call and the gospel he preached was his own that he received from God. He, like the prophets of the Old Testament, has a calling specifically from God! He has a mission much like the prophets to proclaim the message of God – the Good News, which is the Gospel. Notice how Paul’s calling is seen as a past event, but his mission is seen as present. “To preach [Jesus] among the Gentiles” is Paul’s past, current, and future mission from God. He might have a calling resembling those of the past, but he has a message that is completely new – a message that Christ has come and has saved the world!

Sometimes we get so caught up on looking for the new coolest thing that we forget what we already have. Coming from a Pentecostal background, I have experienced people who seek the newest revelation, experience, or prophecy from God, but they disregard what God has done in the past. The Bible is our measuring stick. If we don’t see it as the authority with which to filter our experiences through, then we might fall into error. We can have a new experience on old principles! We must make sure our experiences and expectations fall within the framework of God’s Word. Progress is not just movement. It is movement in the right direction.

Remember your calling. Even though you were saved in the past, God is calling on you to act in the present. Bring back the calling that you received in the past to the present. Dust it off like an old pair of flare jeans and wear your purpose with pride.

Puzzle Pieces and Apocalypses – Galatians 1:12

“For I did not receive [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” –Galatians 1:12

Some times I forget how blessed I was to attend the college I went to for my undergrad. Central Bible College was a college with a mission I believed in. And though now it is part of Evangel University, the institution and the people associated with it will always have a special place in my heart. The student body, the campus life, and the faculty made CBC a place where God’s presence was almost tangible.

I learned so much from my professors at CBC. Many of them had spent years on the field as pastors. Many of them, though being credentialed with the A/G, had a very broad education. I could take classes on specific books of the bible, or I could take classes that addressed the practical aspects of ministry. Every professor I studied under were specialists – whether it was Greek and Hebrew, philosophy, or history. I learned to love God so much more, because of what I learned from the professors at CBC.

I might have learned all I know about the gospel from my professors, but Paul learned about the gospel through a revelation of Jesus.

Paul was intentional with his wording in this passage. He wanted the Galatians to be sure this wasn’t a mere “vision” which could be overlooked as only an existential encounter. It wasn’t something that he just heard. He knew it wasn’t something that he received from anyone besides God. This was a divine encounter, where Jesus himself was presented to Paul – not a voice, not a vision, not another man, but a revelation of Jesus Christ.

With the wording in the Greek, this passage can either mean that this was a revelation from Christ (as the agent), or that it was a revelation concerning Christ (the content). Fortunately, Paul goes on from his generalization to explain in verses 15 and 16 that this was a revelation from God the Father about Jesus Christ. If this is the case, then this says a lot about Christ as the object of a divine revelation.

A revelation was something that was almost always used to talk about the end times. We get the word “apocalypse” from this word in the Greek. James Dunn says that, “To describe this event as an ‘apocalypse’ not only underlined its heavenly authority but also implied that it had eschatological [or end times] significance, that is, as the key which unlocked the mystery of God’s purpose for his creation, the keystone of the whole arch of human history.” Paul is placing Christ at the center of history by describing him as the object of God’s revelation. He is the piece that makes sense of the entire puzzle.

If the Galatians understand this revelation to be true and to be divine, then they will understand their place in history. They are in the last days already. God has started his new created order in the resurrection of Christ. For the Galatians to go back to the way things were before the resurrection would be taking a step back. If the Galatians went back to following the Law of Judaism (circumcision, temple feasts, etc.), then they won’t be properly giving Christ the place of divine authority.

Christ is the center of the story.

If Christ is set as the center of Salvation History, is he the center of our lives? We need to; “Live as though Christ died yesterday, rose from the grave today, and is coming back tomorrow” (Theodore Epp). Like Paul we need to recognize Christ’s place in history. It isn’t until we have a proper understanding of who Christ is that we can grasp who we are. We are living in the last days, just as the church was in the first century, and God is calling us to be vessels of this gospel. Christ has come to set the world to rights. He lived, and died. He was resurrected and revealed himself. He is risen!

Do you understand the application of the revelation?

An Apostle Alone – Galatians 1:11-24

With the approach of finals week, there are many different emotions that surge through the average college student. Trust me, I might be out of school, but it has only been a couple of years since I felt the cocktail of stress, anxiety, and exhaustion. I remember the struggle of needing to do work, but being so overwhelmed with everything that I would try everything in my power to get around it. Like most college students, procrastination involved Netflix.

The main warning I give people when heading to finals is not to start watching shows that are incredibly addictive. These shows include; Breaking Bad, Lost, Prison Break, and Sons of Anarchy. Once a student starts watching these shows, they are roped in until the series is completed, and if this addiction starts at finals, it will wreak havoc on one’s GPA.

I found myself getting roped into Lost my freshman year. If you know me, you know I love character development! Lost is one of the most developed shows to ever reach television. Because of that and the need to procrastinate, I quickly found myself filling all of my free time with the popular weeknight drama. The show has this spectacular way of using flashbacks and flash forwards to build up their present plotline. Even despite the “flop of an ending,” no series has been able to emulate the side stories, character development, and universe expansion in Lost.

Paul pays special attention to expanding his universe in the opening arguments of Galatians (1:13-2:14). It seems as though the Galatians knew a little bit of Paul’s life before he was a Christian – that he was a zealous Jew that persecuted the church. What the Galatians didn’t know, and what Paul went on to tell them in this section, is how Paul met Christ through a revelation. It was through Christ and no one else that Paul received his Gospel message. Paul’s conversion from Judaism to Christianity should be held in contrast here to the Galatians, who were in the process of converting to Judaism after already being in Christ. Paul is speaking as someone who has “been there” and “done that.” He is showing the Galatians that he should be mimicked.

Paul wants the Galatians to know that his message wasn’t one that came from anyone else. If Paul’s authority is being questioned, this makes sense. Paul is trying to show that his authority, his calling, and his message come directly from Christ. He didn’t get his gospel from Peter or James. He didn’t get it in Judea. His message was one given to him by the Lord. Just as Paul is setting up his message (as being independent of anyone or anything else), he challenges the Galatians to follow his example. He is challenging them to stop following the false teachers that have come to Galatia. Being independent is their only way to truly become unified again as a church. It is their only way to become unified in Christ.

How paradoxical.

What is the side story of your life? Do people know your story –of how God has worked in your life? Or is your faith personal, constricting the plot of who you are? Telling the story of how God has impacted and changed your life is paramount to your being. It deepens who you are. My story and my testimony point to the work that God has done in my life. It points to Him as the ultimate Figure of praise. It makes me an example of someone to be emulated.

What is the gospel to you? Is it something that you have heard from others, but haven’t discovered on your own? How has God changed your life?

How has God expanded your universe?

People Pleasers – Galatians 1:10

“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.” –Galatians 1:10

It was freshman year, and I was sitting in history class. Like most classes in high school, we weren’t just focusing on history. Teachers always think they are witty that way. This class we were going to be having a debate: a good blend of social interaction, logic, and basic persuasion. What were we debating? Slavery.

When I was younger, I was a little weird (I know crazy, right?). This instance was no different. I would love to play “the devil’s advocate” in situations like this. I figured that being “for slavery” would be the harder argument to establish… but I was up for the challenge. By the end of the class, my side was victorious. Even though I was aware that what I was arguing was wrong, I knew how to spin it the right way. I knew how to warp the opposing side’s arguments. I knew how to play on people’s emotions.

Paul wants to make sure his audience knows he isn’t trying to use emotional measures to reach his goal. It’s like one of my professor’s used to say, “If you can persuade some one into believing something, then some one can persuade them out of it.” Paul might have been using polemic rhetoric when addressing the people, but at the heart of his argument was the truth – not mere emotions.

Paul could also be inferring that the false teachers who had come to Galatia were using the tactic of “people pleasing” to get their way. It shouldn’t come at any surprise. That is how a lot of people are led astray. These false teachers gave them something that they wanted to hear. They were arguing for something that was wrong, but they knew how to spin it the right way. They knew how to play on the Galatian’s emotions.

Sometimes we get so caught up on being “right,” or getting our way that we do whatever we need to do to fulfill our own selfish goals. Are we arguing for what is right, or are we just playing people?

Are we trying to please God or please man?

Excommunicated Emotions – Galatians 1:9

“If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.” –Galatians 1:9

Do you have a friend or a family member who is one of those overly-friendly-never-angry-always-optimistic types? In every situation you have ever been in with them, their ever impressionable emotion has been the one and only constant. It is scary sometimes! Eventually you cynically start waiting for the time to come when some situation or circumstance finally breaks their now annoyingly gregarious outtake on life!..

Just me? Okay.

Imagine you did hit a circumstance like this where this person finally snaps! You would know that they were serious! You would know that if they who are always so calm and optimistic are upset and angry, that the situation they are angry about is truly justifiable!

The term “accursed” is a special word in that it has a vast array of definitions. Luckily for us, we can assume that Paul probably had the Hebrew equivalent in mind when using this Greek word – “anathema.” The Hebrew word, “harem,” means “something which God sets aside for destruction.” It also carries the connotation of something that is to be banned or expelled. Some have even translated this word as condemnation – “damned.”

If that doesn’t make you feel a little uneasy reading, consider that Paul uses this word twice in his introduction. It’s like he is saying, “Let me say this again, in case you missed it the first time.” Paul is using possible exaggeration to express the importance of this situation. Paul, who probably came to the Galatians with grace and love, is now saying that to preach or accept what the Galatians are hearing and accepting deserves condemnation. I’m sure hearing this phrase once was enough to startle the Galatians.

Note that Paul didn’t actually call curses from God on the men who were preaching this false gospel. He went around it with tact, saying that even an angel or he himself would deserve condemnation if they ever preached a gospel different than the true gospel of Christ.

He was willing to call judgment on himself:

That was how much the gospel meant to him.

That is how much Jesus’ redeeming work meant to him.

Does your heart ever break for those who are following a lie? How important is truth to you? How much does the gospel mean to you? Do you correct people who misrepresent God or Jesus or Christianity? What have you done in your own life to make sure you never stray away from the truth? You can read Paul’s urgency, his frustration, and his passion for God in every word he wrote in this letter. Grasping the truth of the gospel meant life and death to him.

How much do you care about the gospel?