For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 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. 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.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. 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. – Galatians 1:11-24 ESV
Paul will spend a great deal of time in this letter defending his apostleship in order to validate his message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. There were those who were questioning his right to claim apostleship and were attempting to undermine his credibility. But Paul had no doubts about his calling or the commission he had received directly from the lips of Christ. So he provided his readers with a brief history of his salvation story. More than likely they had heard it story before, but Paul probably provided them with some extra added details. He began by clarifying that the message he preached was not given to him by any man. He hadn’t learned it from any human teacher. He had not been led to faith by anybody, but had been personally witnessed to by Jesus Himself. On that fateful day on the road leading to Damascus, Paul had had an intimate encounter with Jesus, the resurrected Christ. He had been struck blind by the very one he had been on a rampage to discredit and whose disciples he had been out to destroy.
The truly amazing thing about Paul’s testimony was the radical nature of his transformation. One day he had been on his way to the city of Damascus in order to arrest any Christians he found there, and then some days later, after his conversion, he was proclaiming Christ in the synagogues.
And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. – Acts 9:19-22 ESV
Even the Jews who heard him preach in the synagogues of Damascus were shocked at the undeniable transformation that had taken place. Paul, the persecutor, had become a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The self-appointed exterminator of Christianity had become its divinely-commissioned defender and proponent. There was nothing that could explain this radical change in his life other than the power of God. Up until that point, Paul had not met a single apostle. He had received no instruction of any kind. He had simply had a divine encounter with Jesus. And then he had spent three years in Arabia. We are not told exactly where Paul went or what he did while he was there. But it is likely that Paul, a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, spent his time reviewing all that he knew in light of what he had just experienced. His understanding of the Word of God was to be radically changed by the new revelation he had received from Jesus. It could be that Jesus did for Paul what He had done for the two disciples along the road to Emmaus when He had appeared to them immediately after His resurrection.
And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV
And after Jesus had left them standing by the roadside, they said to one another,
“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Luke 24:32 ESV
Whatever happened during those three years in Arabia, Paul was to return a dramatically changed man. He went immediately to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter and James. But he did not go to seek their approval or to get their permission. He was virtually unknown to the believers in Jerusalem, but his conversion had become the talk of the town. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23 ESV).
Paul was a changed man. He not only had a new calling, but a new nature. His heart had been transformed. His passions and pursuits had been redeemed by God. Paul confessed that God, “who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:15-16 ESV). Paul’s conversion was God’s doing. His change of heart had been the work of God. And what he preached was the word of God concerning salvation through His Son.
It would seem that Paul’s greatest defense of his gospel message was his gospel transformation. His radically altered life was the greatest testimony to the validity of his message. It seems that far too often, what we proclaim about the gospel is not present in our own lives. We tell others of its transformational power, and yet our lives reveal little of that power at work. We talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, but our knowledge of Him has grown little since the day we first met Him. We can easily tell others about the day we came to faith in Christ, but we have a hard time telling them how we are living by faith on a day by day basis. Paul’s strongest proof for the authenticity of his message was his personal story of life change. The gospel was believable because his life made it visible. The transformative work of God in my life should be the greatest proof of the gospel’s power and veracity.