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An Exploration of Galatians: The Son of God is Revealed to Paul
Galatians 1:13-17 - Belief in Jesus causes radical changes in people
“For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.”
Galatians 1:13-17 NASB1995
Paul now goes into his personal story to substantiate his claims that he was given the Word directly from Jesus and to quell any notions that he is subservient to the church leadership in Jerusalem. After his encounter with Jesus he went away into Arabia, not consulting with other men; he likely visited the large desert-like regions east of the Jordan river, not necessarily the present-day Saudi Arabia, and he then returned to Damascus. Paul’s abrupt change of heart and focus is likely one of the more compelling conversion testimonies in the history of Christianity. I like this description of it from the late William Barclay, a Scottish theologian, from Precept Austin:
It was Paul’s contention that the gospel he preached to men was no carried story and no second-hand tale; it had come to him direct from God. That was a big claim to make; a claim which demanded some kind of proof. And for proof Paul had the courage to point to himself. He pointed to the radical change in his own life.
He had been a fanatic for the law. The law had been his life; it had been the one object of his study to know it; it had been the one effort of his life to keep it. And now the one dominant centre of his life is grace. This man, who had with passionate intensity tried to earn God’s favour and approval, was now content in humble faith to take what God had offered. He had ceased forever to glory in what he could do for himself; and had begun forever to glory in what God had done for hm.
He had been the arch-persecutor of the Church. He had devastated the Church. The word he uses is the word for utterly sacking a city; he had tried to make a scorched earth of the Church; and now his one aim and object, for which he was prepared to spend himself even to death, was to spread that same Church over all the world. Every effect must have an adequate cause.
When a man is proceeding headlong in one direction and suddenly turns and proceeds headlong in precisely the opposite direction; when a man suddenly reverses all his values so that his life turns upside down, there must be some adequate explanation. For Paul the explanation was the direct intervention of God. God had laid His hand on Paul’s shoulder and had arrested him in midcareer. “That,” said Paul, “is the kind of effect which only God could produce.”
Note that if you go and do further research on William Barclay, you will find that he had some heretical views, but he describe Paul’s conversion very effectively in my opinion.
Paul shares his story many times, not just in this epistle. You can imagine that a skeptic listening to his dramatic tale would be inclined to want to know more about Jesus. Just like the stories the other apostles told as the early church developed to garner new believers, their veracity and emotional reactions to what they had seen and experienced brought many to belief. The bold post-Ascension behavior and actions of the apostles (they certainly did not hide) can do a lot to help non-believers first become convinced that the Jesus story is not a myth.
When I was coming back to belief, I read a lot of Christian apologists like C.S. Lewis, who has a marvelous conversion story that unfolded over time, unlike the instant conversion of Paul. My return to faith unfolded over time as well and is still a work in progress. I actually found a nice overview of Lewis’s story on the NC Register, believe it or not. I don’t use a lot of Catholic sources in my research, being a Protestant/reformationist at heart, but this summarized it well and I have extracted key paragraphs (Lewis did not become a Catholic, although many of his dearest friends were):
Despite Lewis’ prominence in Christian apologetics, he was not always a follower of Christ; during his university years, he was an avowed atheist. At Oxford, he often debated philosophy and religion with several Christian friends including J.R.R. Tolkien (best known for The Lord of the Rings trilogy). And those friends were persuasive! “Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully,” Lewis confided in his conversion story, Surprised by Joy. “Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.”
Lewis wrote poignantly in Surprised by Joy about his first steps toward faith, toward confirming the existence of God:
“You must picture me alone in that room at Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all of England.”
So Lewis embraced Christianity, albeit reluctantly. But was Jesus real? His interest piqued by the faith of friends who seemed too pragmatic to fall for a myth, Lewis read the Gospels — and he was amazed to find them believable. The writers, he thought, were too unimaginative to have made the whole thing up; they seemed to truly believe the accounts of Jesus’ ministry, death and Resurrection.
On Sept. 19, 1931, Jack Lewis engaged his friends Hugo Dyson and J.R.R. Tolkien in a discussion of myth. The trio walked and talked all night: Tolkien explaining how myths were God’s way of preparing the ground for the [true] Christian story, and Dyson showing how Christianity worked for the believer, liberating him from sin and helping him to become a better person. Lewis’ stubborn arguments for atheism were demolished.
It took days of ruminating and meditating for Lewis’ conversion to be complete. Lewis himself explained that on Nov. 12, he and his brother Warren traveled by motorcycle to Whipsnade Zoo. “When we set out,” Lewis wrote, “I did not believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God; and when we reached the zoo, I did.”
Paul believes he was set apart by God in his mother’s womb, called through His grace, and God was pleased to reveal His Son in him (Paul) so he could preach to the Gentiles. This statement by Paul veers perilously close to Calvinistic beliefs that believers are chosen. I am not a Calvinist (although I often find the best Bible commentaries among the Reformed church types); I’m not sure what I am these days, because I’m also not a Lutheran anymore. Just like believers in the early days of the Church, I just believe in the incredible and supernatural story of the Son of God coming to Earth to redeem His creation because of His infinite love. I turned around on that broad path to destruction because of His love and am now facing towards the light.
My next devotional continues the story that Paul tells in this epistle about his post-conversion pathway, finally meeting Cephas (Peter) and James and doing early preaching (Galatians 1:18-24).
Heaven on Wheels Daily Prayer:
Dear Lord - Thank you for helping me learn about Paul and the early church through this examination of Galatians. I thank you for the infinite grace and love you have shown me as you guided me back to faith, just like you came to this influential man who persecuted Christians. Amen
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org
The author of the NC Register blog post about C.S. Lewis was written in 2021 by:
Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.
The personal testimony of Bruce Hurt, creator of Precept Austin and its vast archives of commentary and sermons can be found here.