I looked into the eyes of the man sitting before me in the radio studio. I was sussing him out. He was thirty-something, with closely clipped moustache and beard. I am naturally sceptical. I worked as a parole officer for long enough to be suspicious of ex-offenders. Darryn Keneally used drugs from age 13 years. By 15 he was an addict. He dropped out of school and became a drug pusher.
Short of $800 to pay a supplier, Darryn had his life threatened. With two friends he decided on an armed hold-up of a convenience store. Darryn drove the get-away car while the other two shoved a gun into the face of a terrified shop-keeper. The armed robbery yielded only $80. Darryn despaired. Three days later a Christian friend gave him $800 to clear his debts. That act of generosity really shook him.
On his own Darryn got out of drug dealing, shifted, and prayed "Jesus, I need your help to get my life straight." He wandered into a church looking for help. The pastor was a capable young minister who knew what to do. He helped Darryn get off drugs cold turkey, introduced him to Christian young people, and led him to commit his life to Christ. Then Darryn posted $100 to the convenience store owner with a letter of apology. He went to a solicitor, then to the police and confessed to the crime. He apologised to the court. The judge was impressed and gave him off a two year suspended sentence. Darryn went to Bible college, trained for ministry, married and now is an associate minister of a large church, runs a large street work program with 50 volunteers working with 400 drug users a week. He is a contemporary example of conversion.
Darryn look at me. He was fair dinkum. He said: "I have a great sense of shame about the pain I have caused my family. But I believe God has used my past to make me who I am now. Because of it, I can relate to these kids and help them." Darryn is in a line of remarkable conversions which have occurred daily since the Apostle Paul's conversion. Paul's conversion underlined his Gospel which was questioned by the people who lived in the area of modern Turkey we call Galatia. Paul's letter to the Galatians clarified the background of his Gospel.
1. PAUL'S GOSPEL CAME DIRECTLY FROM GOD.
As we saw last time, Paul wrote there is only one gospel. But people said: "Why should Paul's gospel be the right one? Why not another gospel? If there is only one gospel, why should we believe it is what you teach?" They didn't know how radically God had changed Paul's life. So Paul stressed the origin of his teaching. If people knew the origin of his gospel they would understand. His Gospel was received by Paul from God. Gal 1:11-12 "I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. 12 I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ."
He denies every inadequate source for his gospel. Paul denies that it was "something someone made up." The crucified Christ and His resurrection would never figure in a man-made religion. Paul also denies that his teaching was "received from any man" by way of religious teaching. The technical words used here are of the process of memorisation by which rabbis passed along rabbinic traditions.
Paul used that verb in this sense in 1 Cor 15:1,3 to indicate that the basic facts of Christ's life: His death, burial, and resurrection, were received by him and passed on intact to his hearers. But that was not the way Paul received his Gospel. Furthermore, Paul adds that he was not "taught" the gospel either. Most of us receive the gospel by being taught it, but not Paul. His gospel was neither the invention of people not the tradition of believers but a revelation from God. The gospel came to him by "revelation from Jesus Christ", a revealing of what had been secret to him personally by Jesus. It was a distinctive experience, paralleled only by the experience of those who were apostles before him.
2. YOU WILL KNOW THIS IF YOU KNOW PAUL'S HISTORY.
Paul indicates that you will know his gospel did not have a human source if you understand his personal history. If you knew his life before his conversion, at his conversion, and immediately after his conversion, you would realise there was just no time when he could have received the gospel from others, particularly the Jerusalem apostles. The very isolation of his life at this period shows the gospel must have come to him directly from God alone." Before his conversion to Christianity, Paul was opposing the church and persecuting it. Phil 3:4-6. Paul was 1 a Jew by birth; 2 a Pharisee by choice; 3 and exceedingly zealous in his persecution of the church and his rigid adherence to the law. In both of these aspects Paul was fanatical. Gal 1:13-14 "For you have heard of my previous way of life in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14 I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers."
No man possessing such characteristics and engaged in such zealous persecution of the church is about to be converted by another or by human testimony. God himself must accomplish his conversion. This is precisely what happened in Paul's case. Paul's Damascus Road experience, Acts 9:1-19; 22:1-16; 26:9-18. was the absolute turning point of his life. You can even see it in the subject of each sentence. Before his conversion Paul himself is the subject. The pronoun is "I." "I persecuted the church", "I was advancing in Judaism." But after his conversion God and His grace is the subject.
There are three things Paul says God did for him. First, God set him apart from birth to be saved and to be an apostle. Second, God called Paul by grace for Paul had not deserved it. Third, God revealed his Son to Paul in a personal and vivid way. For three years after his conversion, Paul was alone in the desert of Iraq, meditating and listening as the Risen Jesus revealed Himself to Paul. The other disciples had spent three years in the company of Jesus in Galilee. Now Paul had the special privilege of being with Jesus for three years in Iraq. Thereafter he would be the greatest missionary in history. Paul, chief opponent of Christianity was now the preacher of what he once tried to destroy!
Paul did not receive his gospel from men before or at the time of his conversion, nor did he receive it from them afterward. He did not consult the Jerusalem apostles, but went instead into Iraq. It was three years later he went up to Jerusalem and met Peter and James for two weeks. His Gospel was authentic because it was revealed to Him personally by Jesus, just as he gave it to the Apostles.
3. PAUL'S EARLY YEARS AS A CHRISTIAN.
Why did Paul go to meet Peter? They talked about Jesus Christ. Paul told his story. Peter his. The two leading apostles, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, and Peter, the apostle to the Jews, became acquainted and encouraged each other. From then on he worked, not in Jerusalem, but far away in what we call Turkey from his home town of Tarsus. Because of this Paul was personally unknown to other Christians. Unknown! It is a striking word to use of the man who, after Jesus himself, has probably influenced the world more than any other who has ever lived. Paul could have been an instant celebrity, but instead, he worked for long years in relative obscurity. It was seventeen years after His conversion that Paul began his famed missionary journeys.
He dropped so completely from sight that he was almost forgotten. The only report heard was that the one who long ago was persecuting the church is now preaching the gospel. So zealous was he to stamp out Christianity that he did everything he could to oppose the early church. He herded up all the believers and imprisioned them. The early Christians feared him greatly.
Then he heard that there were believers in Damascus. So Saul journeyed to Damascus to capture more believers and bring them in chains back to Jerusalem. He and the Temple police were riding on a four day journey when Saul was struck by a violent shaft of light. Like a laser it burned into his brain. He was thrown to the ground. He heard a voice: "Saul, why are you persecuting me?" Instantly he understood. In persecuting the Christians he was hurting Jesus who was alive and truely Cod's Son.
In opposing them he was opposing Him. "Lord, what will you have me to do?" His defiant heart was broken. His persecuting spirit crumbled. The guards helped him up from the ground. He was blind! Feeble, exhausted and blind, he was lead by the hand into the city. The Christians who were trembling awaiting his arrival were suspicious. They thought this some cunning new trick. But one of them, Ananias, heard God speak tell him to go to Saul and heal his blindness. Paul was healed. He repented of his sin. He was baptised, and immediately started to preach that Jesus was Lord.
What a turn-around! Paul was now preaching to win people to Christ when previously he had been persecuting them. His old Jewish name Saul was changed to a new name of Paul. Psychologically, emotionally, volitionally, spiritually, he was different. His mind, emotions, will, spirit, purpose were completely different. He was literally a brand, new person. Later he would say: "When anyone is joined to Christ he is a new being. The old is gone, the new has come." 2 COR 5:17. Paul was different because his beliefs had been enlightened. John Betjeman, the British musician and author wrote:
"Saint Paul is often criticised by modern people who are
annoyed by his conversion, saying Freud explains it all.
But they omit the really vital point of it, which isn't
how it was achieved but Who it was that Paul believed."
Paul's passion was now to convert others. He spent the rest of his life travelling to spread the Good News of Jesus. He cris-crossed the Roman world with the Gospel, establishing church after church in every major city. He laid the ground-work for a new movement that within three lifetimes would see the whole Empire also believing in Jesus.
It is impossible to understand the rest of the life of Paul without understanding his complete turnaround in conversion. Conversion is the key to the gospel over the centuries. Conversion means to be changed completely, it is described by Jesus as being "born again", as coming from darkness to light, from death to life, from Satan to God, of getting rid of an old humanity and putting on a new humanity; of being a new person, of dying to yourself and your ways and rising to life in Christ. That was part of the Gospel Paul preached. He had experienced it personally himself. He knew it was true.
The story of the church is the story of twice born people. Zacchaeus, Matthew, Lydia, Constantine, Francis the sensual who became Francis the Saint; Luther the legalist Monk who became Luther the proclaimer of grace and who turned from working our salvation to accepting it by faith; Wesley the runaway failure who became one of the bravest of all; David Livingstone who opened up Africa; Albert Schweitzer who inspired my generation with his genius and his humble missionary service; Malcolm Muggeridge who turned from being an atheistic critic of the faith to one of it's most able writers; C.S Lewis, the agnostic Oxford Don who became the passionate apologist for Christ; Chuck Colson who knew the power of the White House but found God's greater power in his Watergate prison cell.
You cannot understand the church outside of those who have been converted to Jesus Christ. Conversion lies at the heart of our ministry at Wesley Mission. Have you been converted? Unless there has been a complete change of heart and life then you too should seek to be born again.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE MESSAGE OF GALATIANS: THE BIBLE SPEAKS TODAY. J R W Stott IVPress 1968.
THE EXPOSITORS BIBLE COMMENTARY F E Gaebelein Zondervan 1997
DISCOVERING PAUL G K Moyes Albatross 1986
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