We’ve been working through the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Galatian churches and we’ve seen him present the true Gospel of Jesus against those who would distort it. And he makes the case that the gospel he preached he received by revelation from Jesus and not from the other apostles. It was important for Paul to establish this so that the Galatians could have confidence in what they believed. This was the subject of the previous post. Paul continues to make his case with some astounding autobiographical statements that bear closer examination. In verses 12-24, he relates some facts about his life before his conversion and after. But here I want to focus on just two really interesting verses within this autobiographical section and what we can learn from them.
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. (Gal 1:14)
They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. (Gal 1:23, 24)
Paul reviews his pre-conversion life as a strict Pharisee, excelling in his pursuit of righteousness through the Law and going so far as to persecute Christians. But the statement that caught my attention was, “so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” His concern, his driving force was simply to protect man-made traditions. He doesn’t even claim to be zealous for God’s truth or Moses’ law. No, it was about the traditions.
I had to ask myself, what “traditions of the fathers” have I held onto, perhaps too tightly, instead of to the gospel? Do I have a pet theology that I hold on to? Or have I swallowed whole the particular traditions of a particular denomination or church group? Or perhaps it is a certain end-times scenario? Has defending my position become more important than presenting the Gospel of Jesus? I’ve been thinking a great deal about this and I would encourage you to ask yourself the same questions.
From pursuing the traditions of the fathers, Paul makes the transition to his conversion – to the time God “was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Did you catch that: God took the initiative to reveal the Son). The reaction among the Christians he had been persecuting was nothing less than astonishment and wonder – “they glorified God because of me.” The change must have seemed miraculous to them. And indeed it was. Paul the persecutor was now Paul the preacher. Paul the destroyer was now Paul the disciple. There was no rational, natural reason for Paul to turn from Judaism to Jesus. There would be no convincing a man like Paul that the gospel was true. And there would be no way that Paul would simply accept a man-made story. Paul’s conversion had to be God’s doing. Everyone recognized that this was a remarkable, unexpected event that only God could pull off. It was a miracle. He was not convinced or persuaded by man but by God. God gets all the credit and Paul gets none. This is the true mark of the Gospel, that God always gets all the credit, all the glory, all the praise.
I don’t have a dramatic conversion story like Paul’s. I suspect that few of us do, but it doesn’t matter what our story is. What matters is that God took the initiative to reveal His Son to us. He pursued us even when we weren’t looking for Him, even when we didn’t care to look for Him or even when we were deliberately running from Him. I don’t want people to be impressed with my skills, knowledge or wisdom. I want people to glorify God because of what they see in my life and recognize that it is just as much a miracle as Paul’s turnaround.