Why do you believe what you believe? How do you know what is true? What guiding principles govern your approach to decision-making? Do you believe whatever your parents told you? Whatever your college professors taught? Maybe you are governed by inner hunches and feelings. Maybe you don’t know what to believe
Our study of the New Testament book of Galatians helps us to explore these questions. After beginning the book by declaring his purpose to defend the gospel, the Apostle Paul then seems to take a long detour in 1:11-2:10. He talks about how he came to faith in Christ, where he lived after his conversion, his two trips to Jerusalem, and his various interactions with other Christian leaders. At first glance, it appears that the Apostle is rambling – that he has lost his train of thought. But on closer examination, we can see that Paul is telling these stories for a purpose. He is establishing the authority behind the ideas he teaches.
Paul’s authority is neither human tradition nor personal feelings. His authority is the word of God. In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul writes, “For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”
This is a bold claim. How do we know that what Paul was saying is true?
Paul gives two forms of evidence for the divine origin of the gospel. First, he talks about the dramatic change that occurred in his own life. He was formerly a hater and persecutor of the church. He despised the gospel message and wanted to stamp out the name of Christ. But the gospel changed him. Gal. 1:23 says, “They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." Such radical change can only be accomplished by God. No man-made message could ever do that. Therefore, Paul says, “...he who had set me apart before I was born ... called me by his grace, [and] was pleased to reveal his Son to me.” (1:15-16) The gospel’s divine origin could be seen in his changed life.
The divine origin of the gospel message could also be seen in the way it was revealed to Paul. Paul and the other Apostles had virtually no interaction with each other for many years. Yet they found themselves preaching the same gospel message. It was a message that had never been heard by anyone before – that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. The consistency of their teaching, despite the absence of any effort to coordinate their message, pointed to the fact that they had all received it from the Lord. The Jerusalem Apostles were possibly taught the gospel by Jesus during the days after his resurrection before he ascended to heaven. Paul received the gospel through supernatural revelations from Christ that took place later. But the important point is that, independently of each other, they all received the same word from God.
We should be alarmed today to hear any preacher say, “I have been specially appointed by Jesus to receive doctrinal revelation directly from God.” The reception of that kind of revelation was unique to the Apostles. What makes a preacher’s teaching authoritative today is the extent to which it reflects the teaching of the Bible. In fact, according to Galatians 1:8, if even an Apostle or an angel were to depart from the pattern of biblical teaching, his doctrine should be rejected.
Preacher’s today should not be seeking new revelation from God. They should rather heed Paul’s words to Timothy in 2 Tim. 1:13-14, “What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.”
So what authority governs what you? The Apostles and the Protestant Reformers taught us that we are to be governed by one authority alone – Scripture, the Word of God.
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