Galatians: Paul’s Calling

Today’s reading is Galatians 1:11-24Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

When we lived in London I used to work for a church leader called Paul Cowley. He is a man who has come a long way in his life from humble beginnings in Manchester. His parents were both alcoholics and he didn’t have much of a childhood, he just used to go to the pub with them.

Paul’s story of conversion is one from deep darkness to light. It is told in his autobiography…Thief Prisoner Soldier Priest. Paul was once a nasty piece of work, a hell raiser but he was utterly transformed like the apostle Paul was by the gracious gospel of Jesus. Paul Cowley now preaches the gospel all over the world when he used to steal, lie and womanise. He was on a path that led to destruction but meeting Jesus changed his life.

This is similar to the story of his life that the apostle Paul refers to in Galatians…

Paul the apostle was a difficult man. He persecuted Christians and we know from Acts that he approved the death of Stephen, holding the coats of the men who stoned Stephen to death, Paul was so angry at the Jesus people he wanted to get rid of all them, dragging them into court when he could. In his own words, “violently” persecuting the church and trying to destroy it.

Paul shares his story here so eloquently you can almost see the story happening in front of you… we see this young man so passionate and zealous hating anyone that stood against the faith he believed in for the traditions of his fathers.

My friend Paul Cowley and the apostle Paul were both radically changed by the gospel.

How is it that these words change people’s lives?

Paul tells us in verse 11 that this is not man’s gospel. Paul received it from Jesus himself but for each of us the gospel is actually the power of Jesus. We were not saved because someone shared their faith with us… we were saved because the gospel of Jesus impacted us… in Alpha at the moment I am not trying to persuade our guests with fancy footwork why Jesus is real and why they should believe. I don’t try and argue into them 6 unquestionable facts or bamboozle them with story after story of God’s miracles in my life. I am trusting that when they hear the gospel their hearts will be softened and they will respond to God.

Some will bow the knee to Jesus and some won’t but it’s God’s business who he is drawing and calling. Our job is to put on the best Alpha we can and let him do the rest.

Paul tells us that God had set him apart before he was born… if it’s true for him, it’s true for us… we are set apart by God.

Now we don’t all have the same calling exactly as the apostle Paul or Paul Cowley but we do have good works that have been prepared for us to do and telling people about Jesus is some of our role in fulfilling the Great Commission to make disciples of all nations.

When I was younger I had dreams to earn lots of money, buy a nice house, meet a nice man, have kids. My actual life has been much more varied and exciting than I thought although I never made loads of money or bought a house… I did however live and work in the inner city, make friends of people of all nations, reach out to the physically poor with the love of Jesus, live in Tenerife and go to Oxford University to study theology. If I had been without Christ I think I would have a list of littered relationships behind me, possibly a serious alcohol problem, my character would have been much more flawed with a lot of anger and bitterness and I can’t imagine that my mental health would be up to much. God has helped me so much. The life I could have led that would have followed a path of bitterness and destruction was replaced with a path of faith, courage, peace and fun.

I wonder what is it that is different about you now than the you that you would have become if God hadn’t chosen you? What might your life have been like without Christ in it?

For some of us we shudder, the alcoholics, or spouse beaters or immoral people that we could have become are not the people we want to think about. For others of us it might be small things, that dishonest decision you were tempted to make at work and didn’t, that affair you might have had, but didn’t, that gambling or porn addiction that started to take you… that’s not to say that the battles we face aren’t still raging , we all have struggles and issues. I heard a testimony recently of someone who became a Christian but carried on seriously gambling for 10 years before he was able to break through… the Lord is working on us bit by bit… hopefully you are aware of your sin and how the devil continues to try and trap you back in your old life…

But the problem is that you can’t be trapped back in your old life because that old life is gone.

the you, you once were has disappeared. He or she is an old creation… you are now a new creation and you can like Paul say… I was once this… you may display some of the behaviours of your old life but I can assure you, if you are in Christ then you are a new creation, a new you.

Richard Pendlebury recently shared his testimony at Alpha and this is a man who is fully aware of what he was and what his life would have looked like without Christ. I think he used the words, “I’d probably be dead by now if I hadn’t become a Christian.” What a blessing to everyone that he isn’t.

You may not be able to look back on a moment of conversion but if your life now is the same as it would have been without Christ then perhaps you should question if you really have grasped the gospel?

Then we get that moment of change in Galatians 1:15Open Link in New Window BUT

How many of us have experienced that BUT in our lives… we were going along fine, living our lives, muddling along with what we believed about life and then there is a pinnacle moment a BUT…

But then I went on Alpha or but then I went to a carol service and heard about Jesus… but then my father died and I questioned life… but but but
Paul’s was “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…”

Let’s just pause there for a moment… if this is true for Paul, it is also true for you right… so according to this God set you apart before you were born

You are chosen, hand picked by God himself to be a disciple and this is something you can enjoy and remind yourself when you remember the past… you were once in the dark but now by the grace of God you are in the light. You have been part of God’s plan since before you were born…

When he “Called you by his grace and was pleased to reveal his son to you.” (1:15-16)

There are some things here that really excite me. The first is that it gives God the creator of the universe pleasure to reveal his son to you… WOW

How do we give God pleasure? By letting him reveal his son to us.

Before you knew Christ what were you?

For some of us we were blessed enough to grow up in Christian homes and we followed the Lord from our youth but for others of us we weren’t… we have a past… things that we did ways we lived that we perhaps are ashamed of

BUT as we see here in v. 15 it was God who set Paul apart before he was born that also set you apart before you were born…

Paul said that they said of him…
“He who used to persecute is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”

What do they say about you? What does your family think about you and your faith? Are you the one who can be relied on with a judgemental Christian outlook or do your family secretly confide in you when things get tough? Do people who don’t share your faith ever ask you to pray? What does the outside world think of your faith? Are you ever bold or brave enough to ask them?

I did and I was interested to see who answered and what they said and also if they made other comments about faith. One girl said this:

Gaby, I feel you walk the walk and talk the talk. My biggest issue that keeps me from joining any denomination are the Christians who go to church on Sunday, but you see them treating others cruelly, then criticize the non believer for not following Jesus.

Our walk is a signpost to others. What do they say of you? Do you tell them what you used to be like and how Jesus has changed you? Sometimes we’re ashamed of who we were so much we prefer not to tell but Paul has no such scruples. Paul tells us what he was like before no holds barred.

“And they glorified God because of me. “ How could this be true of your life?

Only God can reveal that to you. What have people got to glorify God about because they know you?

Paul the apostle, Paul Cowley, Richard Pendlebury, Gaby Doherty all profess to have lives that are totally transformed by God. You too may agree. If you don’t perhaps you would like to have that experience. There’s no magic wand of a transformed life. When we turn to Christ we are instantly justified and made right before him but the sanctification of our lives, the living out new patterns and being transformed more and more into the likeness of Christ takes a bit longer! But as we become more like him people will glorify God for the changes in us and the people we have become.

Lord God,

As we turn to you, perhaps for the first time perhaps for the 10,001 time we also you to cleanse us from our sin, remind us that in you we are a new creation. Help us to remember what we were but to glorify you in the people we are becoming as we become more like you. Help us to trust you with ourselves and our lives so that others will glorify you because of the changes they see in us.

Amen.

Questions to discuss or think about

Do you know people whose lives have changed dramatically because of becoming a Christian? Who are they and how did they change?

Please fill in the blanks…

I was once _______________ but now I am _________________.

Who were you before you became a Christian and who are you now in Christ?

How has Christ’s gospel changed you?

What have people got to glorify God about because they know you?

What is it that you do that only you can do that in it people see God’s work in you?

There will be a video version of the service.

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