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.

Brevity of Before – Galatians 1:13-14

“For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 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

Every action movie has an, “I didn’t think it mattered,” moment. The main characters are in a bind. They are being chased by the “bad guys,” and all seems to look hopeless. The star male and female turn to one another, and then the female kicks a bad guy in the face! Before the male even has time to be surprised by this, the woman takes the assailant’s weapon, does a forward summersault, and shoots the rest of the men chasing her and her soon-to-be romantic interest. The man looks shocked as the woman still has a look of focus not seen yet in the film. He turns to her and asks where she learned to shoot like that. She responds, “I was in the military for some time and served overseas before becoming a [job that has nothing to do with the military]. I didn’t think it mattered.”

Obviously it did.

Paul spends the next chapter of Galatians talking about his life up until the time he met the Galatians. This is a pretty lengthy section, talking about Paul’s former life of Judaism, his call from God, his travels around the Roman world, and more. Though this section is pretty lengthy, Paul only focuses on his life prior to Christ for two verses. Luke spends more time in Acts talking about Paul’s life of Judaism than Paul does here! There must be some reason why Paul doesn’t think it mattered.

Paul might think this doesn’t matter, because the Galatians already know his testimony. This would make sense since Paul was a growing figure among the church. Paul also was the one to originally tell the Galatians the gospel, and with the story of Jesus, he probably shared some of his own story as well. To stop the redundancy, Paul probably abbreviated his former life to focus more on his ministry since becoming a Christian. The Galatians only knew Paul’s life before he knew Christ, but they are oblivious about everything that happened since he became a Christian. This is why Paul spends so many verses on his early ministry and very little on his life of Judaism.

Paul is also showing that his focus isn’t on his former life. His focus is on the gospel and how it affected his life. If he spent time on his life of Judaism it might cause the Galatians to think that there was something glamorous about it. It might give them an excuse to follow Judaism. Paul is trying to disassociate himself from the political side of his ethnicity. So though he is ethnically Jewish, he no longer practices Judaism. He is now a follower of Christ.

So, in a sense, his life before his encounter with Christ doesn’t matter. If Paul were to focus on that, it would take the focus off of Christ. He wants to make sure the Gentiles know that Christ is the one whom surrounds their faith. He is the one that changed Paul’s life, and Paul wants him to be at the center. Paul says enough to let the readers know he was a serious and a devout Jew. Nothing else mattered.

Too often I hear Christians give their testimonies, and they spend almost all of their time talking about life before Christ. It is almost like they are trying to relive their old life. Amidst the story, they forget to share the purpose of the story in the first place – Christ. A testimony that doesn’t talk about the transformation that occurred when they met Jesus isn’t a testimony at all. It is just a story.

What is your testimony? How has God changed your life for the better? What doesn’t matter anymore? Share your testimony. Remember who you used to be, but focus on who you are now. Focus on what God has done and is doing in your life today.

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?

A Family of Faith and Flesh – Galatians 1:11

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.” –Galatians 1:11

This past Thanksgiving was the first one where I was completely away from my family. Though I have only been home to Ohio twice in the past six years, while in college I had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving with my sister, brother-in-law, and his family in Missouri. Now, being at a new place (with my nearest family member nine hours away), I knew it wouldn’t be possible for me to spend Thanksgiving with my family. I was seriously prepared to eat macaroni and cheese, sit alone, and watch TV all day. What happened instead was a pleasant surprise.

A family at church invited me, and my roommate Kevin, and his dad to their cabin in the Adirondacks for the weekend. Thanksgiving was a holiday where all of their family came together. I had the privilege of not just hanging out with this great family, but I also got to meet aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. There were almost twenty people there for the meal, and thirteen people crammed in the cabin for the weekend. It was the perfect break I needed amidst a hectic time of the year.

Right after Paul spends a considerable amount of time accusing the Galatians of deserting the gospel, he starts his next section by calling them “brothers” (or “brothers and sisters” for you politically correct folk out there). Right when the Galatians were probably starting to fidget in their seats, Paul points to his motive behind writing them. Of course it was because he cared about the truth of the gospel being proclaim, that is obvious. But if the reader forgets that Paul is writing the Galatians out of love, then the tone of the letter will not make sense. It will seem as though Paul is a ranting child and not a man concerned for the welfare of his family.

Just as the Galatians start to wonder if Paul is abandoning them, he reminds them that they are his family. They are “brothers” – not of flesh, but of faith. To be family isn’t just something one is born into for Paul. This is a theological claim. The Jews believed that one was part of the people of God by birth. To be in God’s family, one had to be born into it. Paul is calling them brothers, because he is reminding them that they have nothing to prove. They are already in the family of God. They don’t need to get circumcised. They don’t need to listen to the false teachers who have come in.

They are welcomed into the family of God by faith in Christ. This is the part of the gospel they have forgotten.

When I showed up to this family’s cabin, I didn’t expect to be welcomed in as one of their own… but I was. Even though I have only known these people for a few short months, they invited me to be a part of their family. We had devotions in the morning. We played board games in the afternoon. We watched movies at night. I even got to wield my first firearm! By the end of the weekend, I felt like I was a part of them. I felt like family.

Do you see your brothers and sisters in Christ as actual brothers and sisters? Do you hurt when they hurt? Or do you just shake hands with whoever is sitting near you during the weekend service? God is calling us to be united in him. He is reminding us who we are. We are a family. This isn’t just your church family. This is everyone who is in Christ.

What can you do to help your family? Maybe it is welcoming someone to dinner. Maybe it is helping someone find a job. Maybe it is praying for a brother or sister who has a loved one in the hospital.

We are a family.

We are the family of God.

We cannot be a house divided.

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?