Our Gospel is of God
There were false teachers at Galatia who imposed themselves upon the saints there by pretending that they had their commission from the apostles. In the same deceitful manner they asserted that Paul was not an apostle. They made much of the fact that he was not one of the original twelve. They declared that he had never been acknowledged by them and that he did not properly teach their doctrine. Paul replies to this groundless charge with boldness, declaring that his apostleship was directly from heaven; and that it was therefore authoritative. The other apostles had received their office from our Lord during his humiliation. Paul was called to this office by the exalted Redeemer.
Paul, however, does not content himself with the mere assertion of his apostleship. He goes on to prove what he has said by an appeal to undisputed facts of his own life. He makes this appeal with the greatest earnestness, because these facts touch the recognition of the validity of his message in all future ages. It is not unlikely that he foresaw that the fiercest attacks upon Christianity would be made upon the doctrine revealed in his epistles. Therefore, he labors to show that what he says, Christ says, since Christ is speaking through him.
“It is not strange,” said Spurgeon, “to hear certain dubious people assert – ‘I do not agree with St. Paul.’ I remember the first time that I heard this expression I looked at the individual with astonishment. I was amazed that such a pigmy should say this of the great apostle. It seemed like a cheese-mite differing from a cherub, or a handful of chaff discussing the verdict of the fire.”
In the passage before us Paul is defending his apostleship by defending his message. In this defense we see certain definite characteristics of the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Paul’s object (the Holy Spirit’s object) in this passage is to demonstrate clearly that the gospel of God’s free and sovereign grace in Christ is not of man, but of God. This gospel, which, by the effectual power of the Holy Spirit, completely changes the heart and life of a man in a very brief moment, cannot be of man. Our gospel is of God! By relating his personal experiences, Paul shows that the gospel originates with God alone, is revealed by God alone, and is applied by God alone.
(v. 11) "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.”
Paul addresses the Galatian brethren as “brethren.” Even now, in spite of their deviation, he considers them as members of the same spiritual family, of which he also is a member – The Father’s family (Eph. 3:14).
What a lesson there is here for us. Many are very quick to declare that others are lost, unbelieving sinners, void of God’s saving grace. Such judgment is both harsh and evil. You and I do not have the ability to discern wheat from tares or sheep from goats. Our Lord’s parables make that fact abundantly clear. We ought to always presume that those who profess to believe the gospel of the grace of God, who profess to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, do so. These Galatians had fallen into grievous doctrinal error, error which caused Paul to stand in doubt of them (4:11, 20), just as the Corinthian saints had fallen into very grievous moral and spiritual errors (1 Cor. 1-6). Yet, Paul addresses both the Corinthians and the Galatians as “brethren” and deals with them as “brethren.” He does so without compromise, or pretense, bending over backwards in giving them assurance that his heart embraces them as brethren.
(vv. 11-12) "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ."
Here Paul continues to show, as he did in verses 6-9, that the gospel he preached is the only message worthy of the name gospel, because it is of divine origin. The form of expression used here is very strong. When he says, “I certify you brethren.” He means, “I assure you most certainly. I would have you certain of it. The gospel I preach is not after men.”
The gospel of Christ is not a human invention. It is of divine origin; and its character is divine. The gospel is unchanging and everlasting. It always lays man low in the dust and exalts the triune God. It exposes sin, demands righteousness, and proclaims righteousness as the gift of God’s free grace through the redemptive work of Christ. The gospel is neither good advice nor a gracious proposal. It is neither an offer of mercy nor an invitation to salvation. The gospel is good news, the proclamation of mercy, grace, and salvation in Christ, eternal redemption obtained by Christ for all who trust him. The gospel is the good news of a work finished for sinners, not a proposal of something for sinners to do.
The gospel of free and sovereign grace is of God in its origin. It is not the result of human ingenuity or devising. Righteousness wrought by another and made over to us graciously is a mystery man cannot understand. Redemption accomplished by a divine Surety and Substitute, without human merit, is foolishness to me. Salvation accomplished for us, but altogether outside of us and without us, man can never grasp, except by divine revelation. Our gospel is totally contrary to human thought (2 Cor. 2:14; Isa. 55:8-9; John 1:5). It was devised in the eternal mind of God and brought into being by the sovereign will of God.
Many agree that the gospel is from God in its origin who yet insist that it is of man in its reception. Paul declares plainly that that is not the case. —“I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” Paul did not receive it from his parents by his own will (John 1:12-13), the instruction of Gamalial, or from the other apostles. Without question, he heard the gospel from the lips of a man (Rom. 10:14-17). He certainly heard it from Stephen (Acts 7:58), and may have heard the message preached many times by others; but it was not a man who gave him faith and caused him to believe and understand the gospel he heard. That is the work of God the Holy Spirit alone. He alone commands the light to shine out of darkness and causes the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to shine in our hearts (2 Cor. 4:4-6).
The only way any sinner can and will receive the gospel of Christ is “by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” That is how Paul received it; and that is how every chosen sinner receives it (Eph. 3:3-8). Paul’s conversion was not the exception, but the rule (1 Tim. 1:16). He was the pattern and example of the way God saves his people. It is only by the sovereign, irresistible, illuminating work of God the Holy Spirit that the dark abyss of any man’s soul is enlightened to see and believe the gospel of Christ (Matt. 16:17; John 3:3; 1 Cor. 12:3; Luke 10:21-22). Paul says, “God revealed his Son in me” (v. 16).
(vv. 13-16) "For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: And profited in the Jews' religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood."
Here the apostle relates the history of his conversion. It is not Paul’s purpose here to give us a complete autobiography. He relates only those events that support his vindication of his calling and apostleship from heaven. Thus, his record here, and that recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts (which is a history of Christ’s work through the early church) do not contradict one another. They simply bring to light different events in the life of this man of God.
Paul was not seeking Christ. He was seeking to destroy the very name and memory of Christ. He was a violent persecutor. He persecuted God’s peculiar treasure, his church, desiring to destroy the body of Christ. This became to him, after the Lord saved him, a source of continual sorrow. He acknowledged that he was, in those persecutions, wishing himself accursed from Christ (Rom. 9:1-4). He had been a Pharisee of the Pharisees (Phil. 3:4-7). But, all the while, the Lord God was seeking him. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” The Lord God had separated him as the object of his sovereign love from eternity and from his mother’s womb in providence. And at the time appointed, “when it pleased God,” he revealed Christ in him.
That is exactly how God saves all his chosen. His grace is sovereign, eternal, and irresistible (Jer. 1:5; Lk. 1:15; Rom. 9:10-24). He has a people whom he has chosen before the foundation of the world to be his own peculiar objects of love (John 15:16; Eph. 1:3-4, 11; 2 Thess. 2:13-14; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:9). At the appointed time of love, he calls each of his elect by his omnipotent grace (Rom. 8:30). And his call is always effectual. Yes, always (John 6:37-39; 63-65). It is by this omnipotent act of mercy and grace that God reveals his Son in chosen sinners, gives them repentance and faith, and sweetly compels them to come to Christ (Zech. 12:10; Ps. 65:4; 110:3).
It was by that same irresistible power that the Lord God made that former blasphemer a preacher of the gospel (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). Any man who has been called to preach the gospel is made a preacher by the call of God. He is not merely made to want to be a preacher, made an aspiring preacher, or made willing to be a preacher. He is made to be a preacher. I know that it is customary among men to speak of men being called into the ministry before they are actually engaged in the work. But you will search the Scriptures in vain to find an example of any prophet, apostle, or pastor who was called to the work of the gospel ministry who was not involved in that work.
In this matter of the call to the ministry, as in all other things, the customary method is altogether wrong and evil. When men speak of themselves or others being called to the gospel ministry, who are not actually engaged in the work, they put the cart before the horse. In the Word of God no man is ever referred to as being called to the work, until God has put him in the work. The evil of reversing that order is quickly apparent. —Once a man is convinced (or convinces himself) that he is called to be a preacher, he sets out on the relentless pursuit of an office and work to which God has not called him. If he succeeds in his pursuit, the result is disastrous. If he does not succeed in making a way for himself, he is in constant frustration.
“If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work” (1 Tim. 3:10. But let the man quietly wait upon the Lord God to put him into that office and work. Until that actually happens, let him faithfully serve the cause of Christ where he is with joyful contentment. Until a man can serve Christ with joyful contentment as a door-keeper in the house of God, he is not fit to serve in any other capacity. Indeed, if we are God’s servants, it matters not to us where or in what capacity we serve him. “A man’s gift maketh room for him” (Pro. 18:16).
Paul tells us, that once the Lord God had conquered him by his grace and called him to the work of preaching the gospel, “I conferred not with flesh and blood.” He did not consult with men about what he was to do. This was not a matter of arrogant independence, but of faithful obedience to Christ. If we know what the will of God is, to consult with flesh and blood concerning it is an act of disobedience. “Whatsoever he saith unto you, do it” (John 2:5).
In verses 17-24 Paul briefly describes his earliest work and his relationship with those who were apostles of our Lord before him. He did not disregard or seek independence from those faithful brethren. The Lord simply kept him from their immediate influence for three years. He tells us in verse 17 that he spent some time in Arabia, by the will of God, and afterward came back to Damascus. How long he was there, what he did there, what his work was while he was there, we are not told.
Then, after three years, he went up to Jerusalem and spent fifteen days with Peter (v. 18). But while he was there, he had no communication with any of the other apostles except James (v. 19). By asserting this fact, Paul is simply reaffirming the fact that what he believed and preached, and his authority for believing and preaching it, did not come from men, not even from the apostles, but from Christ alone (vv. 20-21). When the other apostles heard what God had done for Paul, they rejoiced, gave thanks, and glorified God for his work of grace in him (vv. 22-24).