Pentecost 3C, Sunday June 9, 2013, St Petri
Galatians: Living the Gospel week 2
No Other Grace
11 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being. 17 I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus.
18 Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem to get acquainted with Cephas[a] and stayed with him fifteen days. 19 I saw none of the other apostles—only James, the Lord’s brother. 20 I assure you before God that what I am writing you is no lie.
21 Then I went to Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was personally unknown to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 23 They only heard the report: “The man who formerly persecuted us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they praised God because of me.
If you have ever heard a testimony in a church gathering somewhere, you might recognise this part of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians. He recalls God’s grace at work in his life.
He is doing this to refute some claims that people in the Galatian churches are obviously making against him (1:7, “some people”).
A Message from God himself: Paul tells his story to refute the notion that he came to this one gospel of God’s grace by his own reflection and reasoning. No, this one gospel of God’s grace given freely to unrighteous people for the sake of his Son Jesus Christ received by faith in him came to Paul not by human origin but by divine appointment and power(1:11). Acts 9:1-9 shows us that the risen Jesus met Paul face-to-face.
Not to Please the ‘heavies”: Paul also refutes the claim that his gospel message was derived from other people, from Christian leaders in Jerusalem (1:16-17). In other words, Paul is no mere mouthpiece for the establishment or person who has not got the brains to come up with a great message!
Not a different gospel: Very importantly, Paul also says that his message is in line with those respected leaders in the church and what they also received from God. His message is “apostolic”; it is consistent with all of the capital “A” Apostles (1:18-24).
So, Paul establishes his credentials and his message as being authentic and faithful to God. But it also reveals something about the very nature of the gospel itself.
The Gospel – Grace!
The gospel is grace, grace, grace! Paul’s own story of how he was found by Jesus on that Damascus Road and what happened in his life to enable him to be such a instrument of the gospel was pure grace. Paul was an enemy of the God and the gospel of Jesus and the church. He actively set his heart on resiting, rebelling against and destroying the gospel at the local level. And yet, God found him, called him, enlightened his mind and heart and called into his community of grace and gave him a special call to be an “apostle” or “sent one” to non-Jewish people all over the known world! Now that is grace!
All of Paul’s learnt knowledge of Scripture, worship practice, understanding of family and community equipped him for his life’s calling. God was with him all along, even if he did not acknowledge this or understand it.
Gospel ‘Glasses’ for living
The message here is that the gospel enables to view ourselves, our past experiences, our skills and understanding through a different set of glass – the glasses of faith in God’s grace given in Jesus. Through the grace of God that has come to us in our baptism we can see that God has been with us all along and he has been shaping us for our calling in life – our calling to be his ambassador where he has placed us in the many tasks we do every day.
The grace message here is that God does not love you because you are particularly serviceable or useful of gifted; he loves you because he loves you. His love is our solid foundation, our solid security, our authority to live the gospel of his grace.
The Gracious life?
So what does this life in God’s grace actually look like? God rescues us from our lostness, our ignorance, our pain, our trouble, our rebellious heart and built in problem of seeking our well-being in anything and everything except where our life is truly found – Jesus Christ. But then his grace shapes our day and our inner selves and our relationships.
Gracious living is a realtionship: God revealed Christ to Paul so that God could reveal Christ through Paul. Being a Christian is much more than some intellectual agreement with God or “lifestyle choice”. It is a relationship with the living God! And this relationship is never just for the individual to keep but for the individual Christian to share.
Gracious living takes time alone and time together: It also clear in Paul’s journey that the grace of the gospel of Jesus needs time to sink in and to become part of our very character and world-view. Paul seems to have had a 13 year “quiet time” with God (1:17-18)! Not that he was tucked away in some cave in a cliff or sitting on a high platform out in the Arabian Desert for all of that time. Arabia was full of thriving cities as it is today! But the grace of God shapes us into people who “sit in it”. “
Solitary time with God is fundamental to the Christian life; but the Christian life is not a solitary one” (Tim Keller, Galatians is for you, 2013, p 32)
Yes, we need to spend time in quiet aloneness with the Lord regularly, but like Paul, we need the solidarity, instruction, accountability and unity (1:18) in the gospel message we are living together.
No need to “people-please”
Paul has begin this whole section of his letter with verse 10, “Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God?” The answer? “No, you are trying to please God!”
Living in the amazing grace of God poured out upon us lavishly by faith in Jesus Christ removes that human need to please people. The grace of the Lord replaces that “man-pleasing” spirit in us that seeks to win endless approval of others for what we say and do or don’t do, with a spirit of servanthood to Christ.
We live not trying to win his approval but live in his approval.
God calls us, loves us, “graces us” in Jesus → we respond in serving him
The gospel frees us from seeking approval of others to responding to God’s gracious love for us freely and fully as we give time for the gospel message to sink deeply into our lives and then work together in the gospel with other “sent one” with whom we work, rest and play.
In the end Paul says he shares his story of God’s grace overtaking his life and continuing to shape his not because he has a big ego (to please people) or because that is the way he always wins them over, or for any other reason than an encouragement for the Galatians churches to not lose Jesus (1:6).
Paul’s story encourages us to tell our story and tell it for the same reason – to encourage others in the gospel of Jesus. He shows that telling our gospel story does take courage – the courage to be a little or a lot vulnerable as needed.
• Do you ever find yourself thinking you deserve God’s grace? What prompts you to think this way?
• How does the gospel of God’s grace free you from pride and from guilt?
• In what ways can you see how God worked in your life to equip you to serve him now?
• How could you live your life so that people would respect and praise God more because of you?
• How are you most tempted t fear people and seek others’ approval?
• What would change if, in these moments, you lived to please God who is already pleased with you?
• How committed are you to spending time quietly in God’s word…to spending time with other believers….to spending time telling others your story of God’s grace? What would help you live this gospel life more fully?