But Then Something happened!
But then something happened! For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born! What undeserved mercy! Then he revealed his Son to (in) me so that I could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles.” (Galatians 1:15,16 NLT 1996)
Three times in The Acts of the Apostles, Luke records the circumstances of Paul’s incredible conversion when Jesus confronted him on the road to Damascus. The first account was the original experience. The second reckoning was to the mob in Jerusalem and lastly before King Agrippa when Paul was on trial. However, in Paul’s epistle to the churches in Galatia, his own reflection on that same episode was expressed in an entirely different manner. Luke gave wonderful descriptions of the entire historical event detailing many facets of the miraculous happening. Yet when Paul wrote to the Galatians, rather than focus on the historical specifics, he chose to delineate the spiritual realities of his epiphany. Paul wasn’t just presenting his resume’ to the churches in Galatia, he was establishing the spiritual criteria out of which all true believers in Christ were meant to function.
Like so many of the deeper truths of Scripture, one must learn to mine the Word of God. Like precious metals, you won’t find the rich things of God lying around on the surface. You must diligently search them out. Let’s go back now and review the context for how Paul arrived at this particular juncture.
Paul was not intentionally an enemy of God. Quite the contrary, he was fanatically jealous for God and would withhold no effort to defend the Lord and his ways as Paul understood them. He was completely uncompromising in his adhering to all the strict laws, rules, regulations and traditions of Judaism as recorded in the Law of Moses. However, like so many other Jews, Paul allowed all that God had given them—which was meant to point to the coming Messiah—to become the means for their permanent relationship with God. They failed to comprehend how the new covenant was to replace the old:
In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Heb 8:13 NKJV
Miraculously for Paul, it all came together for him in whatever time transpired in that glorious encounter with Jesus that day on the road to Damascus. At one and the same time, he must have seen the reality of all the types and shadows of the Old Testament, and realized God’s forgiveness for all his misguided efforts to protect and preserve the Old Covenant. In other words, Jesus became Messiah for Paul in that meeting-up.
All that Luke could describe in the book of Acts, although very informative, simply delineated the outward circumstances of Paul’s meeting with Jesus. It took Paul’s rendition and interpretation to unlock the inner reality, the spiritual essence of what truly transpired. We will discover in unpacking Paul’s epistle to the believers in Galatia that the ultimate ramification of his encounter was the proclamation of the good news of salvation, a message revealed to him directly by Jesus Himself:
Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.” Gal 1:11,12 NLT
Understanding this, we can readily see why Paul was so exercised in his warnings to the churches of Galatia. If Paul was not the founder of these churches, he at least was the one who watered the seed. Having been originally well received by these churches, his reputation and influence had suffered as a result of the work of Judaizing teachers who convinced many believers to adopt and add to the gospel various aspects of the law of Moses. Much of Paul’s letter is a defense for justification by faith without the works of the law. In countering the Judaizing heresies, Paul attempts to restore in the eyes of the Galatians his apostolic authority as well as encourage their faith in Christ. In accomplishing this, we come to the essence of Paul’s understanding of his meeting with Jesus on that fateful day…
But then something happened!”
In Galatians 1:15,16, we have Paul’s reflection on his Damascus Road experience. He didn’t talk here about the bright light from heaven and hearing Jesus talk to him. He didn’t exclaim over falling to the ground and going blind. Rather, he shared what he learned in the spirit through the extraordinary experience. Paul came away from his encounter with Jesus knowing three things about himself, discovering something of God’s phenomenal workmanship in Christ Jesus, and finally how all the foregoing would give direction and meaning for the rest of his life. Although every person’s experience in how each encounters Christ is personal and unique, the spiritual outcome of everyone’s meeting the Christ, given one’s faithful responses, is the same as discovered by Paul and witnessed to the Galatian believers:
But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles…” Gal 1:15,16 NKJV
The first thing Paul learned about himself was his separated status from the world, his apartness to God for the Lord’s purpose through his redeemed life. The Greek word, translated here as “separated,” carries the following meanings: to mark off from others by boundaries, to limit, to separate, to appoint, set one apart for some purpose. Paul discovered that God had set him apart, marked him out for special purpose and that this would involve placing limits and boundaries on his life. Others may but you may not. He found himself translated from the kingdoms of this world to the kingdom of God. Paul was separated from everything of Judaic law and tradition that constituted earning one’s salvation. The greatest feature of the separation wasn’t from something but unto God for his eternal purpose in and through Paul’s life.
The next thing Paul learned about himself was God’s personal and unique calling on his life. This was not simply a calling to do or accomplish something for God. The Greek word for “call” is kaleo and is rich in meaning. It means to be called forth from something and unto something else. Paul understood he was to leave all that he had been about and that he was destined for an entirely new path in life. Kaleo also means to cause to pass from one state to another. We see this concept illustrated in 1 Peter 2:9 where Peter encourages and affirms the believers through emphasizing their change of state: “…who hath called you out of darkness into his marvelous light…” Paul knew he had become a new creation in Christ and was given a whole new mission and lease on life.
Thirdly, Paul learned that God knew him and purposed his life in Christ even before he was born. Gaining the knowledge of God’s prescience regarding his whole life must have brought to Paul’s mind the prophet Jeremiah:
I knew you before I formed you in your mother’s womb. Before you were born I set you apart and appointed you as my prophet to the nations.” Jer 1:5 NLT
This was not an academic knowing in the minds of men like Jeremiah and Paul; it was an inner reality of substance out of which they ordered their lives in Christ. How might our lives be different, if we like them, possessed the knowledge that almighty God, creator of heaven and earth and all that is therein, has always known us, loved and approved us, and purposed our eternal destiny in Christ Jesus? Might not that be a “But then something happened” moment in our lives as it was with Paul? Knowing, accepting and embracing who we really are in the eyes of God will release us to fully become the person in Christ he died for us to be:
And once we can face before God, who we truly are, we have stepped onto the path of grace that leads to conformity to the image of Christ.” (Richard Foster, Introduction to The Sacrament of the Present Moment)
Paul shared this same thought with the believers in Ephesus:
Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes.” Eph 1:4 NLT
In addition to learning three things about himself, Paul learned something of the way of God regarding the forming of Christ in him. Paul said, “Then he revealed his Son in me…” Being conformed to the image of Christ became a paramount thought and desire for Paul. When writing to the chruch in Philippi, the cry of his heart was expressed this way:
But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be.” Phil 3:12 NLT
Much of Paul’s letter to the Galatians was devoted to countering the corrupt Judaizing teachers who had lured the believers back into incorporating Jewish traditions as part of their Christan belief and experience. With heartfelt concern he pled with them to trust Christ alone:
My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you…” Gal 4:19 NKJV
To every church Paul strived to make known the awesome incarnational reality of the inner presence of Christ. To those in Colosse, he especially stressed this eternal truth to the Gentile believers:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Col 1:27 NRSV
Having learned these things about himself as well as learning something of God’s way in man, Paul then could discover the outgrowth or end for which Jesus met him that fateful day as he journeyed toward Damascus. He was so filled with wrath for the disciples of Jesus that he had obtained documents from the high priest allowing him to seek out, arrest, and bring back to Jerusalem in chains any followers of the Way he could find. But then something happened. In that incredible encounter with Christ, Paul went from being a hater and persecutor of Jesus’ disciples to becoming one himself. Paul’s reaction to meeting Jesus was one of total surrender as seen in his response, “What shall I do, Lord?”
In Paul’s reflection on his experience to the Galatians, he pinpoints the end to which what he learned of himself and of the Lord’s way was leading. It was all about proclaiming the good news of salvation as found in Jesus Christ. Just as God desired to dwell with the Israelites of old that others might come to know him, he forms Christ in us that our very lives might manifest his magnificence so others would be drawn to him with all their hearts. It is our lives, lived out in faithfulness, obedience and surrender, that become the greatest proclamation of Good News we could ever render. President John F. Kennedy once said, “As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
As we contemplate who we truly are in Christ, accepting who God says we really are, as we commit ourselves to follow that path which leads to conformity to the image of Christ, then just maybe we also will have a story to tell whose opening lines begin, “But then something happened!