Delivered and Determined.

Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead—and all the brothers who are with me,

To the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. – Galatians 1:1-5 ESV

Paul wrote this letter to believers living in the Roman province of Galatia. The churches there were likely founded by Paul on his first missionary journey, so he had a vested interest in the spiritual well-being of their congregations. It seems that they were under the influence of the Judaizers, a group of Jews who claimed to be Christ-followers but who demanded that all Gentile converts follow the Mosaic law and honor all the Jewish rituals and regulations. These individuals seem to have popped up wherever Paul planted churches and their presence caused much confusion and consternation to the new converts that Paul left behind. And because of Paul’s constant travels, he was left no other recourse than to address this issue through the use of letters.

Because of the vital importance of the content of his letter, Paul opens up with a brief defense of his apostleship. There seemed to be no shortage of individuals who were willing to question or even deny the validity of his claim to being an apostle. After all, every other apostle had been a disciple of Jesus. They had been personally chosen by Him and spent three years of their lives following and learning from Him. But Paul was a late-comer. He claimed to have been appointed to his position as an apostle by the resurrected Lord. Luke records the testimony of Paul as he shared it before King Agrippa:

I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” And I said, “Who are you, Lord?” And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” – Acts 26:12-18 ESV

Paul’s fantastic “Damascus road experience” was constantly coming under question by those who opposed him. They denied he had the right to speak on behalf of Christ as one of His apostles. I am sure they raised questions such as, “Who can verify your claim?” or “How are we to know that any of this ever took place?” They most likely denied Paul’s credentials and raised concerns about his former lifestyle as a pawn of the high priest and his personal persecutor of Christians. But Paul vehemently defended his apostleship in virtually every one of his letters. And this one is no exception. He opens up by describing himself as “Paul, an apostle.” The title “apostle” meant “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders” (“G652 – apostolos (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). It was a common Greek word and was not unique to Christianity. Which is why Paul quickly clarified that he was an apostle “not from men nor through men” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). In other words, he had not been sent by men or had not received his message from men. What he shared he had received directly from the lips of Jesus Himself. Just a few verses later in this letter, Paul will explain, “I did not receive it [the gospel] from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12 ESV).

Luke records that immediately after Paul’s conversion, Jesus had appeared to a disciple names Ananias and told him to go to the house where Paul was and lay hands on him so that he might regain his sight. Jesus told Ananias, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15 ESV).

There was no doubt in Paul’s mind that he was a messenger sent from Jesus. Which is why he boldly claimed that he was an apostle “through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1 ESV). The Greek preposition Paul used is dia and it can mean “by reason of” or “on account of” (“G1223 – dia (KJV) :: Strong’s Greek Lexicon.” Blue Letter Bible. http://www.blueletterbible.org). Paul was not a self-proclaimed apostle, but a God-ordained one, by virtue of the resurrected Christ. His salvation had been made possible by God and his message came directly from God. He will spend the rest of this letter defending not only his apostleship, but the gospel itself, because that was what was really under attack.

Paul’s desire is that the recipients of his letter enjoy the grace and peace of God. He wants them to comprehend the magnitude of the gift they had received. Jesus Christ had given himself for their sins so that they might be delivered from the present evil age. The world in which these new believers lived was hostile. It was anti-Christian and intolerant of their beliefs. Many of them had already suffered persecution for their beliefs. They had been rejected by family members and ostracized from society. They were under constant pressure to give up their faith or simply compromise it. We face the same threat today. But we must remember that we have been delivered from this age. Yes, we are still here, but our future is secure. We have been promised by God an eternal existence in His presence, free from the effects of sin – no pain, no sorrow, no death. Yet as we wait for that day, we are to live as children of God. The apostle John reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is. And all who have this eager expectation will keep themselves pure, just as he is pure” (1 John 3:2-3 NLT).

Paul’s call to his readers will be for them to remain steadfast. He wanted them to remain committed to the truth of the gospel and faithful to the call of Christ on their lives. It would not be easy, but it would be well worth the effort in the long run. Regardless of what they might be experiencing, they were smack dab in the middle of God’s will for their lives.

 

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Living Proof of His Power.

For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake. And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. – 1 Thessalonians 1:4-7 ESV

For Paul, the reality of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit was far from an intellectual argument based on solid biblical proof and human reasoning. It was something he believed in because he had both experienced and witnessed it. At his miraculous conversion, he had received the Holy Spirit and his life radically transformed from that of a rabid persecutor and exterminator of the followers of Christ to that of an avid proponent and promoter of “the way”. What brought about this remarkable transformation? What is through careful study of the Torah? Had he been convinced through the reasoning capabilities of one of Christ’s followers? No, he had come face to face with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. This encounter had left Paul blind. But not only was he incapable of seeing, he was left wondering what all this meant. All Jesus had told him was “rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:6 ESV). Luke, the author of the book of Acts tells us “for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9 ESV). Then Jesus sent Ananias with the job of restoring Paul’s sight. Luke describes the encounter between Ananias and Paul. “And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened” (Acts 9:17-19 ESV).

Along with his sight, Paul received the Holy Spirit, and it was to be a game-changing moment in his life. Most of us think it was his encounter with Jesus on the road that brought about Paul’s radical transformation. But that only left him blind and confused. It was the coming of the Spirit of God into his life that brought about the remarkable change Paul experienced. It was the Holy Spirit who gave him a new direction and motivation for life. Jesus had told Ananias, “he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV). As a result of his reception of the Holy Spirit, Paul went from persecuting Christ and His followers to proclaiming the truth of His claim to be the Son of God. He immediately went to the local synagogue and “confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 9:22 ESV). They couldn’t believe that this was the same man who had once spent his life chasing down and locking up Christians. What had happened?

The Holy Spirit is what had happened. Yes, Paul had met Jesus on the road, but it was the presence of God’s Spirit that brought about his transformation. It was the Holy Spirit who transformed Saul, persecutor of Christians, into Paul, proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So when he told the Thessalonians that he knew God had chosen them, he gave as his proof the power of the Holy Spirit. He said, “our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” 1 Thessalonians 1:5 ESV). I like the way The New Living Translation puts it. “For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurance that what we said was true.” It had not been Paul’s powers of persuasion that had brought about the conviction and conversion of the believers in Thessalonica. It had been the Spirit. Paul told the believers in Corinth the same thing. “I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan” (1 Corinthians 1:1 NLT). Instead, he said, “my message and my preaching were very plain. Rather than using clever and persuasive speeches, I relied only on the power of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 1:4 NLT).

As a result of their acceptance of God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ, the believers in Thessalonica also received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is He who became proof of their conversion and the source of their transformation. As a result, these new believers became imitators (mimētēs) of Paul. That doesn’t mean they simply mimicked what he did. It means they experienced the very same thing he had, the indwelling presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Their lives were immediately and irreversibly changed by the Spirit of God. So much so, that they became examples to “all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia” (1 Thessalonians 1:7 ESV). The Greek word Paul used is typos, and it means “a pattern, a type, a person or thing prefiguring a future person or thing”. It was not so much that the way they lived their lives was an example for other believers to follow. But it was the indwelling, transformative presence of the Holy Spirit that would be the form or pattern that all believers would experience. We are transformed by the Spirit of God. We are sanctified, made more holy, by the Spirit of God. And our lives should be living proof of His power and presence. Others should be able to see His power at work in us and through us. The Thessalonian believers had “turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven” (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 ESV). That was the result of the Spirit of God, not human reasoning or human insight. Our belief in Christ was the Spirit’s doing, not ours. Our transformation into His likeness is the Spirit’s doing, not ours. And our future glorification will be his doing as well.