Galatians 1:15-17 – 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
How do you speak of your salvation? What words do you use? When you speak of being saved, are you the prime mover? Does your doctrine of salvation focus more attention on yourself or on the Lord?
Just recently, we had a new members class at our church. Eight folks sat with me through an afternoon of looking at our church’s beliefs, structures, values, strategies, and all the rest. In the beginning of that class, we took time simply to get to know one another. The stories of how couples met, how people found their way to Vegas, and past church experiences were fascinating.
Of course, in our discussion, we talked with each other about how each person came to faith. Some had particular moments they could point to. Some had only a season of life that blossomed over time into true trust in Christ. And many in the group included in their story a time when they grew in greater understanding of the gospel they had already received. For many, as they grew, a greater grasp of the powerful working of God that drew them to salvation gave them great hope, peace, and joy.
So, this morning as I was reading Galatians, I found myself drawn to Paul’s words of personal testimony beginning in verse 15 of chapter 1 and the four parts of that testimony that give all the glory to the Lord. Paul, speaking of his salvation and his later calling to ministry, says that God had set him apart before he was born. Like Jeremiah, Paul is clear that God knew him before he was formed in the womb. God not only was aware of Paul’s person, but God chose a path and purpose for Paul before Paul was conceived and before Paul had ever chosen to do anything either good or bad. God predestined Paul.
Next, in his testimony, Paul declares that god called him by his grace. Think here of what you do and do not hear in that. Paul does not give you a big list of the ways in which he investigated the faith before coming to a conclusion. Nor does Paul talk about his willingness to give God a try in order to fix his struggling marriage or to give his waning career a boost. Paul simply says that, by his grace, God called Paul. The picture is not one of Paul set on neutral ground, given two options, and picking the one he liked better. The picture is of a firm, authoritative, commanding, calling voice of God moving Paul from death to life, from lostness into salvation.
Then Paul points out that God revealed his Son. Paul did not know Jesus. If you know Paul’s story, you know that Paul had many of the facts about Jesus. Paul just hated Jesus and the church that followed Jesus. But one day, one single moment, took place that changed Paul forever. Jesus came to Paul. Jesus powerfully took Paul by the soul and changed him. Jesus changed Paul, by grace, out of love, for God’s glory.
Then, Paul says that this also included his life-change and mission. God had set Paul apart, called him, and revealed Christ to him. Once Paul was drawn to Christ, Paul had a new life mission, to preach Christ. Paul was no longer to be a man living for advancement in the Jewish religious ranks. Paul was to suffer for the sake of the gospel that saves souls and truly honors the Lord. Paul was to take the message of Jesus to Jew and gentile alike. Paul was to proclaim that salvation is not to be found in obedience to Jewish laws or participation in ceremonies but only in repentant faith in Christ. And Paul would find joy and eternal reward in doing what God had planned for him since before he was born.
When Paul told his story, he was clear that all glory for his salvation belongs to the Lord. God set Paul apart before birth. Paul can take no credit for that. God called Paul to himself. Again, Paul cannot claim that he did something to make that happen. God revealed Jesus to Paul. That was not the future apostle’s doing. And God changed the newly believing Paul into a powerful preacher, missionary, and author of Scripture. No way would Paul say that he had earned that job.
What about you? Are you saved? How do you speak of your salvation? Does your testimony as you present it include God’s plan for you from before the dawn of time? Do you tell of God grabbing you and drawing you, calling you, supernaturally changing you and pulling you to himself? Do you tell of God showing you the truth of Christ by God’s revelatory power and not by your intellectual wranglings? Do you tell of how God changed you and set you on mission for Christ?
The interesting thing is you do not have to have a dramatic testimony like that of Paul to have this story. Even if you were converted as a young child, this story is still yours. God predestined you to salvation. God called you to want him, moving you by his power. God revealed to you your need for Jesus. And God gave you a mission, to live for him and his glory for the rest of your life.
Think about your testimony. Think about your doctrine of salvation. Be sure that as you tell your story, you know that it is far more about the God who saved you than the you he saved. Give God the glory he so richly deserves. And continue to yield yourself to the mission that God saved you and gave you to accomplish.