"They Glorified God"
September 12, 2021 Speaker: Pastor Bob Davis
Passage: Galatians 1:11-24
They Glorified God
September 12, 2021
Read Galatians 1:11-24
As we get back into Galatians today, it is important to recognize how relevant and timely it is. The situation of the readers to whom Paul was writing then was different than it is today; however, there are certainly points of comparison that make Paul’s exhortations and teaching right on point for us.
This past week and particularly yesterday there were many events commemorating the 20th anniversary of the losses this nation sustained on September 11, 2001. As much as it was a political attack, it also was a theological attack. It was an attack by zealots opposed to Jesus Christ. It was an attack by those for whom Christianity is intolerable. Yes, it is far too simplistic to limit the reasons behind the 9/11 attacks to the theological aspect; yet it also would be an error and naïve to ignore the theological foundation behind what happened. There is no question that jihadist theology shaped the hijackers’ understanding of what they were doing; jihadist theology that rejected as unworthy to live those for whom Jesus is Lord and Savior.
Theology matters. What we believe matters; whom we believe matters. It makes a huge difference.
The response was swift and furious. The United States engaged Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Now, twenty years later, the United States has withdrawn and the Taliban have resumed control. They are actively imposing Sharia – religious, theological – law on the populous.
We ought not expect things to remain neutral – they never were. Things will not be resolved until Christ returns and all things are put under his feet. Theology matters. What we believe matters; whom we believe matters. It makes a huge difference.
As you recall, Galatians is a letter Paul wrote to churches he had begun in Asia Minor – or what we know today as Turkey. The occasion for his letter was a report he had received that those congregations were being persuaded that Gentiles needed to take on all of Judaism in order to become fully Christian. As a result, some of the Gentiles had submitted to being circumcised and were taking up the observance of Jewish holy days.
Paul’s response was not subtle. This letter was a jolting rebuke for failing to understand the significance of the gospel. For Paul a right relationship with God was only possible as a gift of God through the grace of Jesus Christ. God took the initiative and Christ gave himself to set us free from our sins. God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself. The salutation of this letter makes clear Paul’s position on this, the opening paragraph is like an email in all caps: I AM ASTONISHED YOU ARE SO QUICKLY DESERTING THE ONE WHO CALLED YOU IN THE GRACE OF CHRIST.
Today’s Scripture is a extension of that rebuke in a different form. Here, Paul used his own testimony to illustrate how completely different than Judaism is the gospel. Christ was more than Temple 2.0; in fact, Christ was completely different.
Not of human origin
The key to understanding Paul’s life story is his encounter with Christ. Paul gives us that key right at the beginning of his autobiography. He wants his dear brothers and sisters to know that the gospel he preached was not made up by human beings, received from human beings or taught to him by human beings; rather, it was received by revelation from Jesus Christ.
Paul was convicted that the gospel he had received was supernatural. It was not of human origin. It was given to him through a revelation of Christ.
This is quite a claim. The way to understand how extraordinary is this claim is to imagine Paul as our contemporary: what would you think of a guy who says, “God told me this directly, and you should believe me.”
Do we accept what Paul was saying? Now, please recognize that accepting what Paul has said is different than understanding what he said. Accepting what Paul has said means God is real. That seems like an obvious inference but consider the ramifications. If God is real, it means that God has authority over all creation. It means we have to pay attention to spiritual things.
For many – even Christians – talk of the spiritual reality makes them nervous. We behave as if talk of the spiritual world is appropriate only within its proper place: in church. We can talk about spiritual things safely in church because – well, that is what everyone expects when you go to church. However, as soon as we drive off campus, we are going back into “the real world.” We know that is not true; and yet we often set aside all that spiritual talk in order to get to work on the things we need to accomplish.
Friends, look again at what Paul was claiming, “I received the gospel through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” He was saying, “God is real, and God is personal. He spoke to me.” Paul was saying God is more than a concept, more than a paradigm, more than tradition or a foundational touchstone for culture. God is about more than simply a few positive platitudes and a more moral approach to living. God is about more than being a good person or having a good life. We were created to be in relationship with God. That relationship turned Paul’s life upside down.
How about your life? If you were to look back on your own life, could you see the ways in which your relationship with God made a difference to you? To others?
I think about pivot points in my own life. My story is not nearly as dramatic as Paul’s, but I can see that there have been some supernatural encounters. There are times when I have been acutely aware of God’s presence, God’s intervention, and God’s command. I grew up in a Christian family where going to worship on Sunday was a given. I went to Sunday school and learned the lessons. I remember flannel board lessons with Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. I listened to sermons Sunday after Sunday, week after week, month after month, and year after year. I knew the stuff. God was a subject on which I could converse confidently.
In 9th grade, our congregation had a confirmation class – which was the Presbyterian form of catechism to prepare us to be members of the church. As I was preparing to be examined by the session – the elders who were responsible for the church – I remember being confident that I could pass the test. During that process I had an unsettling restlessness in my soul. I knew that passing the test to please my parents was not the point. I had the sense that I should not go through the motions if I did not really believe what I was saying. I got down on my knees and specifically prayed the sinner’s prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” I specifically committed my life to Jesus. (Now, just to be clear, I do not believe it was any virtue in me that brought me to this conclusion; rather, this was the work of the Holy Spirit in me, bringing me to a place of conviction, repentance, and regeneration into new life in Christ. In other words, it was a gift from God.)
At that age it really did not cost me much. No one was surprised when I passed the examination and made a public profession of faith to join the church. It was expected. Our neighborhood was half Presbyterian and half Roman Catholic. As a result, we had all been through the process. It was what we all did. Even so, I knew I was different, but I am not sure anyone else was aware of any change in me.
Fast forward fifteen years. I had graduated from college and law school. I had a good position with a partnership track in a law firm in Indianapolis. I was active in Second Presbyterian Church. I helped start a young adult fellowship, led a Bible study, taught Sunday school for all different ages, and organized a couple of mission trips and retreats. It was then that the nagging feeling of spiritual unrest returned.
I had an experience on Maundy Thursday where I heard clearly (though I suspect not audibly), “Now I want you to go to seminary.” It was both exhilarating and terrifying, peaceful and upsetting at the same time. It was crystal clear to me that God was calling me to leave law to pursue ministry. This time, trusting that God was real would have a very tangible cost to me.
In the days that followed, I spent a lot of time intensely evaluating whether what I experienced was real or just my mind wandering. I understood Moses at the burning bush, “Um…Lord, are you sure about that? I am not qualified. I know the sin in my life. How can I be good enough?” I knew the answer: “It is not about your being good enough. It is about, ‘are you willing to trust me?’”
It ultimately came down to Jesus’ question to the disciples, “Who do you say I am?” If I believed Jesus was Savior AND Lord – that is, that he was Lord of my life – here was where the rubber met the road. Would I allow him to be Lord of all my life or just as a general principle? Do I obey?
When I finally told some of the staff at the church what I had experienced and what I was thinking, I was surprised by their reaction. “Finally…” a couple of different people said in completely different conversations. “We have known for a long time now.”
How? How could they know about me what I had not yet received? God is real. God is engaged in real life. They could see God working on me even when I was unaware.
I tell you those two stories because I know God is real. I know God is real because I know God.
Knowing God Changes Everything
When we know God is real and we know God, it changes everything. Paul used his own story to make the point. Paul showed them how futile was the Judaism the Galatians were being urged to join. Paul showed how Temple culture was an idol – and how they did not need it at all.
“You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism.” He described how he was a winner within that society. He was better than others. He was more passionate than others. He was more zealous than others. He gained power in Judaism and tried to destroy the church of God.
“But when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles…”
The revelation of Jesus to Paul sliced like a scalpel. What once was important now was not. There was no fulfillment in trying to live up to the law; the attempt to live a holy and righteous life in order to earn God’s favor always fell short. Instead, God revealed to Paul the miracle of the gospel: the grace of a restored and redeemed relationship possible because Jesus fulfilled the law. Now, Paul was living the truth that the relationship with Jesus – and not the law and rituals of Judaism. Those he had discarded. In his own life and ministry to the Gentiles, he was a manifestation of the gospel open to the Gentiles – open without any other requirements of taking on the law of Moses. He did not call for his readers to do anything that he has not done himself. Moreover, Paul did not simply point to the way; he lived out the way of faithfulness to the gospel of Christ.
To go back to Judaism would be to make an idol out of the law.
The Subtle Nature of Idolatry
Idolatry is the worship of any part of creation that is not the creator. We are often unaware of the idols to which we cling. The Old Testament is full of rebukes for those who make, sell, and worship idols. In the New Testament, Paul is the one who encounters community idols in the lands to which he traveled. I have read about these things and thought, “That’s ridiculous. Who would believe these things?”
We are often unaware of the idols we serve. Really?
How about football fans? Stay with me here, because I am going to engage in a little hyperbole in order to make a point. I want to show you how subtle – but powerfully destructive – are idols and idolatry. Remember: idolatry is the worship of any part of creation that is not the creator.
When we talk about what does a church do, we often go back to Acts 2:42: “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, the breaking of bread and the prayers.” Take those as the elements of worship.
Now, apply those same things to football fans. You may be thinking, “I don’t really believe the NFL is going to provide for my salvation,” I suspect that’s true. However, observe the way many people treat their “relationship” with the NFL:
- The Apostles’ teaching. Football fans are every bit as committed to studying the game as are disciples of Jesus to reading Scripture – in many cases, more so. They know statistics. They know theory of the game. They know the history of the game, its heroes and goats, its villains and saints. They know the players. They know schedules. They know their favorite apostles – er, announcers – and they are invested in all the details along the way. Consider their allegiance to idols – er, icons – for their local team. If you were an archaeologist from the 25th century sifting down to this layer of dust, you might infer that many communities have their own gods: people wear hats and shirts, they have flags and banners, worshiping animals (Bears, Seahawks, Rams, Bengals, Eagles, Colts, Cardinals, Ravens, etc.) and gods of war (Patriots, Buccaneers, Raiders, Vikings, Cowboys), to natural or mythic beings (Giants, Saints, Lightning Bolts, 49ers).
- The fellowship. Disciples – er, fans – plan their schedule around worship – er, games. They save up to make an offering (tickets cost how much?), plan where they are going to sit, with whom are they going to go, how they are going to worship (sing, cheer, shout, praise).
- The breaking of bread. Many go to great lengths to get to the gathering venues early in order to break bread together – er, tailgate. Consider the offering they make to support their idol through the purchase of food at the concession stands – paying vastly more than they would outside the Temple – er, stadium.
- The prayers. Watch the last two minutes of any close game. You will see throughout the stands people with their hands folded and eyes skyward, uttering urgent prayers for their team.
We were in San Diego when the Chargers ownership decided to move the team to Los Angeles. The grieving – literally – was profound. People talked about the Chargers being part of our identity. It got to the point that elected officials openly wept at this decision. People acted as if a death occurred. Here’s my point in hyperbole: we lived in a community that offered up in worship to the Chargers this portion of our allegiance in the hopes of something. The NFL sold that culture to us. And, just as they sold it to us as an idol, they took it back and moved it away. That is how idolatry can be subtle and devastating. It is why Paul is shouting for the Galatians to wake up.
The power of testimony
The last thing I want you to see here today, briefly, is the power of a testimony.
By sharing briefly his example, Paul was accomplishing two things: first, he was showing the Galatians by his own life how Judaism was not the answer; and second, he was demonstrating how the power of the gospel is spread. “I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, ‘The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.’ And they glorified God because of me.”
Friends, sharing our story matters. Do not think your story is not significant or dramatic enough. Do not think that your experience of God’s hand in your life is unimportant. It is important.
When we share, we do not know how far that story will travel. Ask Doris Wheeler how far afield were the phone calls she received after sharing her singing voice in praise to God. Ask Dan Skinkis about how people are talking to him about the stories he has related. Think about the stories you have heard from others that have given you strength. Further, think about how I use sermon illustrations all the time of testimonies of people I have not and will not ever meet in this life, and we are encouraged and built up. We glorify God because of their example; so, let others glorify God because of our example.
Here is the tangible application: sharing our story matters. Not everyone likes public speaking; not many like public speaking. We are making it simple. We are recording people starting today – today! – reading a Bible passage and then talking about how those verses made a difference at some point in their lives. It is that easy. We are going to show those in service beginning in the near future. The goal is to build up one another by doing what Jesus told us we would do in the first place: be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (including Carson City and beyond).
Paul used his own testimony to illustrate how completely different than Judaism is the gospel. Jesus was more than Temple 2.0; in fact, he was completely different. In Jesus, God has revealed his great love for us – you and me and all of us together. Because the gospel is true, we do not have to take on other burdens to earn our righteousness.
What we believe matters; whom we believe matters. It makes a huge difference.
We hold onto Christ alone – and he is enough. We have a story to tell, so let’s go out and tell it.
To God be the glory. Amen.
- Do you know God? Again, this is different than “knowing about” God. How would you describe your relationship with God?
- How did knowing God change things for Paul? How has knowing God changed things for you?
- Football fans are an easy target for talking about idolatry. What other idols do you see in world today – which ones have appealed or tempted you? How do you recognize idols? How can you keep yourself from being persuaded away?
- What story (or stories) do you have to tell?
 Walter Hansen, Galatians, InterVarsity Press, p. 40.