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.

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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?

Make it Reign!!!

Has someone ever invited you to go out to dinner with them? I don’t mean on a date. I mean that someone asks to take you out as an act of kindness, offering you community and potentially a free meal. Now, wouldn’t it be pretty shocking of them if the waiter asked if your meal is all on one check, and they turn around and said that you are paying for your own meal? Didn’t their inclusive invitation also include the meal?

Getting asked to go to lunch after church is like the only positive side of being a poor college kid. I think people can see a college kid’s skin become jaundice from the malnutrition brought by cafeteria food and ramen noodles. It would be a travesty if these people took advantage of the power that they knew they possessed. A college kid knows they don’t deserve a free meal, but it would be a let down and a tease to take them out with the expectation that their meal would be paid for and to not pay for it.

In the second half of the fifth chapter of Romans, Paul starts talking about Adam and the Fall. Many people like to think that Paul’s main focus here is on original sin, but really he is talking more of the result of Adam’s sin – death (Romans 5:12-21). Death is something that all people face. Blue Oyster Cult was right that we shouldn’t fear the Reaper – Death will come for us one way or another. And we just thought that they gave us the yearning for “more cowbell.”

I think a problem many people have is that they are afraid of death. That is pretty rational. But I think that the problem is even more escalated in the American Christian community. We want to escape death. The problem with this is that death can’t be escaped. Even before God gave Moses the Law, people felt the affect of Adam’s sin (Rom 5:14). And Death has been personified here as real as the Grim Reaper has in our culture. It is reigning as though it is king (Rom 5:14). And all people must serve him.

At the first part of Romans, Paul also explains this problem with mankind. There has been a deviation since creation (1:18-32). And from 1:18-3:20 Paul only makes one mention of Jesus Christ (2:16 in passing). Paul has been presenting the dark backdrop of the predicament that humanity is in. In Romans 5:12-21, Paul is now driving home the solution to the problem of what was first addressed in Romans 1:18-32. God has offered us the gift of grace through a faithful, righteous, and obedient act – Jesus’ death on the cross (Rom 3:22, 5:19, 21).

These are the high notes that illuminate this dark backdrop of death. It’s as though Paul is painting a masterpiece of cosmic proportions! Death is the dark backdrop of the past, and grace is the light in the foreground! We have a free gift offered to us that is way better in every way than the consequence of Adam’s sin (5:15). One person’s actions brought about death for all people. But everyone’s actions of sin caused God to do an action that would allow them forgiveness and reconciliation (5:15-17)!

We have the opportunity to be put in a right relationship (3:22) – in reconciliation with the Creator, with whom we have numerously offended (5:11). This logic makes no sense! Why would someone offer people who continually wrong Him forgiveness? One man sinned and brought death to many, but, even though many sinned, one man died so that they all could be seen as “innocent” in the eternal court of law!

So, in the end, Death is the kind of friend that invites you out to lunch and does not pay for your meal. Grace is the kind of friend that will go out of their way to bring the meal to you.

Where Death reigns as a king, demanding everything from those all around him, Grace, through Christ, reigns in a way that leads to life. This isn’t a spiritual life. This is the defeat of Death! This is the resurrection of the dead that happens at the end times (1Cor 15). Christ not only died an obedient death that he didn’t deserve, but he defeated death by rising from the dead! This is why death has no sting!

Do you want justification or condemnation? Do you want to live with grace or in sin? Do you choose to be with Christ or with Adam? What do you choose – life or death?

[References: World Biblical Commentary (Dunn), Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Witherington), Paul for Everyone (Wright)]