Paul’s Apocalypse

Passage: Galatians 1:11-24

Guide for Group Discussion or Personal Reflection

Sermon Overview

In Galatians 1:11-24, Paul shares his personal testimony with the aim of showing that the gospel he now preaches is, in his own words, “not man’s gospel” (1:11). While he is most immediately concerned with refuting false claims about the origins of his message and ministry, and thereby defending the validity of his apostolic calling, his description of his conversion—which he describes as God “revealing his Son” to him—is paradigmatic for how true conversion works in the life of anyone who has believed (1:16). So then, what happened to Paul that created such an extraordinary life?

First, we can simply say that Paul was “created by the gospel”. Nothing that Paul had done in his “former life in Judaism”—no religious zeal, no spiritual knowledge—qualified or prepared him to receive the gospel, nor did any of his previous sins disqualify him—not even “persecuting the church of God violently” (1:13). Rather, Paul was created anew when God, “who had set him apart before he was born, and who called him by his grace was pleased to reveal his son to him”, doing so decisively on the road to Damascus (1:15-16). Paul’s conversion rested on God’s initiative, not his own, and came as a gift to him. His conversion also involved a new ability to grasp all that Jesus had done for him. It was not that Paul hadn’t heard the gospel message before—indeed, he’d heard it enough to persecute Christians for it!—but God had not yet revealed Jesus to him in clarity and glory, in the integral sense of the heart.

There is much to learn here about the nature of conversion, even if our own stories are not nearly as dramatic as Paul’s. Conversion is not about becoming “more religious”, nor about “finding something that works for you”, nor even about “making a choice for Jesus” (in the ultimate sense), because none of that explains what happened in Paul’s life. Conversion represents Jesus making a choice for us, and offering us grace irrespective of our qualifications—and this grace creates our very ability to respond to him. We would do well to ask ourselves: are we as moved by the grace we’ve received as Paul was, resting in it for life and peace? Has our life been radically re-oriented like his was?

The same gospel that created Paul also sent him out. Paul was saved by Christ for a purpose—“in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles” (1:15). Paul’s whole life and calling were “recalibrated” by the Gospel, such that it could later be said of him: “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (1:23). Onlookers to Paul’s life saw his conversion and recommissioning not a reason to glorify Paul, however, but to glorify God: “And they glorified God because of me” (1:24).

Truly, the gospel of the gift of Jesus is a divine intervention that re-orients our whole lives, as it did Paul’s. Have we experienced this?

Sermon Outline:

Paul Was Created by the Gospel (vs. 11-16)

Paul Was Sent Out for the Gospel (vs. 17-24)

Group Discussion & Personal Reflection Guide:

Re-read the passage(s): Galatians 1:11-24

Paul Was Created by the Gospel (vs. 11-16)

1) Re-read Galatians 1:11-17 and meditate on these verses together. Consider:

  • What does Paul mean when he says that the gospel he preached was “not man’s (humans’) gospel?” What would a merely “human” gospel sound like?
  • Why do you think Paul lists the particular aspects he does of his “former life in Judaism” in vs. 13-14? What picture do they give us of Paul? How do they help to clarify what conversion is not?
  • What do these verses communicate about whose initiative conversion is? What does Paul do in these verses? What does God do?
  • Why do you think Paul includes the information that, after meeting Jesus, he “did not immediately consult with anyone, nor did (he) go up to Jerusalem” (vs. 16-17)? How does this bolster his argument that his gospel is “not man’s gospel”?

2) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby mentioned some false understandings that people have today about what it means to become a Christian, for e.g.:

  • Becoming a Christian is about becoming “more religious” or “more committed to our spiritual life”
  • Becoming a Christian is about “finding something that works for us” (i.e. finding a spirituality that we feel helps us practically in the struggles of our life)
  • Becoming a Christian is about learning to “do the right thing”
  • Becoming a Christian is about “making a decision” to “accept Jesus into your heart”?

Have you ever seen these false understandings expressed in someone you know and love (or have you ever felt this way yourself?) How does Paul’s conversion story contradict this? AND: Are there things we do as a church that unintentionally convey false notions of what conversion entails?

3) Paul describes his conversion as having “the Son revealed to him”. In the sermon, Pastor Bobby mentioned that it wasn’t that Paul hadn’t heard the facts about Jesus before, but that he was never able to grasp and rest in Christ at a personal level. Have you ever experienced a time or a season when God was “revealing the Son” to you—that is, taking the information you already knew about Jesus, and driving it home to your heart in new clarity and personalization? What was it like?

4) Pastor Bobby said that though most of us in church know the gospel, there is ample evidence that we have a long way to go in terms of resting in it for life, peace, and joy—and he mentioned just some of the symptoms that we might not fully be resting in the gospel:

  • Being anxious and taking things overly personally
  • Being deeply insecure, and wounded when things don’t go our way
  • Being judgmental, harsh, and critical
  • Being people pleasers
  • Using Christianity as a “means” to get what we really want (politically, socially, etc)

When have you noticed these symptoms, or others, in your life? How might a deeper grasp of the gospel speak into them?

5) Many people who grew up in church understandably feel like they never had a radical “moment” when God revealed Jesus to them, leading to their conversion. Instead, it feels like a gradual process of Christian teaching and nurture over a number of years. Does this kind of testimony invalidate the idea that conversion involves “God’s initiative in deciselvey revealing Jesus to us”?

Paul Was Sent Out for the Gospel (vs. 17-24)

6) Re-read verses 15-16. What did Paul say was the purpose for which he’d received grace? Are you accustomed to thinking of receiving grace for a purpose?

7) Re-read verses 17-24 together. Why do you think God sent Paul “away into Arabia” soon after his Damascus Road experience, and generally limited his time in Judea and the Jerusalem church early on? How did this help to form Paul in the early years after his conversion?

8) In the sermon, Pastor Bobby said that the same gospel that created Paul as a new creation also created him as a missionary, with a task to do. Think back to your own conversion. Was there a time when you became conscious of a certain “mission field” that God was sending to you? What “mission field” is he sending you to now?

9) CASE STUDY: You’re talking to a good friend who is not a Christian. In the course of your conversation with her, she mentions a cousin of hers who “a few years ago became a ‘born-again Christian’”: “It’s not that I’m not happy for her”, she says, “I think everyone should be free to pick whatever religion works for them. And I’m not anti-spiritual. But I could just never picture myself having her ‘kind’ of religion. I noticed she’s cut off almost all of her old friends, and most of her free nights are spent at the church. It used to be easy to have a conversation with her, but now it’s like I don’t even recognize her any more. She’s different than you, though I’m guessing you would call yourself ‘born again’ too? Oh well, to each their own, right?”

Based on this week’s passage and sermon in particular, how might you have a conversation with your friend? What would you want to ask her? What would you want to tell her?

Additional Application Questions

Q) How else would you like to engage with God this week?

Q) How can you tangibly care for those in your community this week, both inside and outside of the church?

Prayer

Spend time praying for yourselves, our church community, the North Shore community, and our nation and world—particularly those most vulnerable.

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