Amazing Grace is more than a song – it’s a reality for all who have accepted Christ as their savior. If you need a reminder of how God does amazing things through unlikely people, Paul offers himself as an example. In the below lesson, we’ll examine Paul’s testimony from Galatians 1:10-24. Enjoy!

GALATIANS CHAPTER 1 VERSES 10-24

God’s Amazing Grace

Churches often ask members to share their testimony in a service or prayer meeting, and here we find the apostle Paul sharing his. In fact, Galatians 1:10 – 2:21 is often called the autobiographical section of the epistle, since Paul is recounting his conversion and early Christian experience. And here, as in Acts, Paul is not sharing his testimony for general inspiration, or to point us to himself. He’s using it to refute the claims of people who want to undermine his message, and he wants it all to point to the God of amazing grace.

Counter Claims

As Paul tells us how he became a follower of Jesus—or, perhaps more accurately, how Jesus made him His follower—he’s defending himself from three attacks “some people” (v 7) were making on him and his gospel message.

First Refutation

First, Paul refutes the idea that he came to his gospel message through his own reflection, reasoning and thinking. He recounts that, until his conversion, he was “intensely” hostile to the church and to Christianity (v 13). He wanted to “destroy it”. There was no gradual process of consideration, discussion, revision. There was no way that Paul’s Christian message was the product of his own line of thinking. Rather, it was the exact, polar opposite of where he had been going.

Pre-Christian Paul was so violently against Christ that even watching the faith and certainty of Christian martyrs had no effect on him (Acts 7:54 – 8:1). His experience is strong evidence that his conversion was via direct revelation. As Acts 9:1-9 shows us, the risen Jesus met and instructed Paul directly. Paul did not have simply a trance or a dream. Christ was there in time and space, since even the other men with Paul recognized the presence (Acts 9:7). So Paul became an apostle, like those who were apostles before him (Galatians 1:17).

Second Refutation

Second, Paul undermines the claim that his gospel message was derived from others, from Christian leaders in Jerusalem. “I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was” (v 16-17). There were three years between Paul’s conversion and his first journey to Jerusalem (v 18-19), and even then he did not get instructed by them in any methodical way.

Paul’s repeated reference to the apostles at Jerusalem suggest that “some people” (v 7) were claiming that Paul had simply gotten his gospel message from this “headquarters”. This would enable them to argue: We have also been trained at the Jerusalem HQ. And we know that Paul did not give you the whole story. There are other things you must do in order to be pleasing to God.

Third Refutation

Third, Paul shows that his God-given gospel “checked out” with the message the other apostles had received from God. Peter (v 18), James (v 19) and the churches of Judea (v 22) were among those who “praised God” (v 24) for what He had done for Paul, and for the message He had given Paul. He did not receive his commission or message from the other apostles; but his message squared with the one the other apostles received from the risen Lord (Luke 24:45-49).

But Paul’s testimony doesn’t only establish his authority as a gospel teacher. It also illustrates some aspects of what the gospel of grace is. This letter, in its structure as well as its content, shows us that the gospel of grace underpins every step of the Christian life. Paul will keep coming back to it; so should we, in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts, our witness, our preaching and teaching.

Amazing Grace: Who Paul Was

Paul was a man who had done many terrible things. He had “intensely … persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it” (v 13). By the time Jesus met Paul on the Damascus road, he had killed many innocent people. He was on his way to arrest and imprison more.

And yet Paul was also a man who had done many religious deeds. He had spent years seeking to live according to the Jewish customs and traditions. He says that he had beaten almost everyone of his own generation (“of my own age”, v 14) at being zealous for moral righteousness (v 14). And yet it had not made him right with God.

It’s not just about keeping the rules!

Up until this point in the book, we have not been told the nature of the teaching of “some people” who were “trying to pervert the gospel” (v 7); here is the first hint. Later we will see that they were encouraging the Gentile Christians to become full converts to Judaism, and to keep all the Mosaic laws of diet and dress, including circumcision (2:12; 3:5; 6:12). But Paul is saying: I’ve already been there and done that! You cannot make yourself acceptable to God by the most zealous and detailed following of moral, ethical, or cultural codes.

Before conversion, Paul was a great religious rule-keeper—and he knew it. And yet, despite all this, he was not only saved by Christ, but also called to be a preacher and leader of the faith. His testimony is a powerful witness to the beating heart of Christianity—the gospel of grace.

Grace is the free, unmerited favor of God, working powerfully on the mind and heart to change lives. There is no clearer example than Paul that salvation is by grace alone, not through our moral and religious performance. Though Paul’s sins were very deep, God invited him in.

No one is so good that they don’t need the grace of the gospel, nor so bad that they can’t receive the grace of the gospel. Paul was deeply religious, but he needed the gospel. Paul was deeply flawed, yet he could be reached with the gospel.

Amazing Grace: What God was Doing

As he looks back, Paul can now recognize that God’s sovereign grace was working in his life long before his actual conversion. When Paul says God “set me apart from birth,” (v 15) he means that the grace of God had been shaping and preparing him all his life for the things God was going to call him to do.

This is astonishing. Paul had been resisting God and doing so much wrong (see Acts 26:14), but God was overruling all his intentions and using his experiences and failures to prepare him first for his conversion, and then to be a preacher to the Gentiles (v 16). The Old Testament knowledge; the zeal; the training; the effort he was using to oppose God and His church (v 13)—all were being used by God to break him and to equip him to be God’s instrument for building His church. God had been working all along to use Paul to establish the very faith he had opposed (v 23).

The gospel gives us a pair of spectacles through which we can review our own lives and see God preparing us and shaping us, even through our own failures and sins, to become vessels of His grace in the world.

So why did all this happen? Why did God choose, prepare and then call Paul, the proud persecutor of His church? Was it because Paul was in some way, in any way, pleasing to God? No, it was simply because God “was pleased” to do so (v 15). God set His loving grace on Paul not because he was worthy of it, but simply because God took delight or pleasure in doing so. This is how God has always worked. As Moses tells God’s people Israel in Deuteronomy 7:7-8: “The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you.”

God does not love us because we are serviceable; He loves us simply because He loves us. This is the only kind of love we can ever be secure in, of course, since it is the only kind of love we cannot possibly lose. This is grace.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Do you ever find yourself thinking you deserve God’s grace? What prompts you to think this way?
  2. How does the gospel of grace free you from pride and from guilt?
  3. In what ways can you see how God worked in your life before your conversion, to equip you to serve Him after it?

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HOW HAS GOD’S AMAZING GRACE STRUCK YOU RECENTLY?

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The above content was pulled from God’s Word for You, a set of expository guides with a flexible range of applications. Acclaimed author Tim Keller, author of the Galatians volume, has this to say about the series:

God’s Word for You can enable you to READ a portion of Scripture, getting you into the meaning of the text. They enable you to FEED devotionally, and also to LEAD… teaching the Word of God in your church or Bible study. However you use them, my prayer is that they would engage your mind, and stir your heart.”

Timothy Keller

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2 Comments

  1. Albert L Wade Jr Reply

    I had surgery in September of 2020, removed a massive Hiatal Hernia. That left me with nerve discomfort around the middle part of my body. As being in the hospital, because of a test, I had severe coughing fits. That again created a hernia in my groin. That was taken care of in February of this year. The pain, the discomfort went on for months. I had been through many days at a time where the pain was nearly unbearable. I had a mentality that put me in a dark place. I was a miserable man. This was tough on my wife as well. She was my rock though. At times she became my whipping post. Angry, lashing out, she put me in my place. Making me come back to reality. I got a thought one day, something inside told me to pray. I did that, asked for healing, come into my life. The Lord was my savior, I excepted him as so. I prayed every day. I lost everything about God and spiritual ways of thought.

    I was trying to get back in the right mind of spiritual ways before the surgery. I had depression for years, lost my ability to be spiritual, writing, reading, it stole that from me. As the years went on, medication, I was getting better and wanted to find my spiritual path again. The time it took to get back to some thought of writing and reading was long. I still needed to find God though. Then the surgery and the darkness. Everything I gained was lost. That one prayer changed my life. Within two weeks I was referred to a pain Doctor. There, I found out that the medication taken was not being taken correctly. With time and the direction of the Doctor, my life was improving. I now pray every day, try to get back to spiritual thinking, writing as much as possible. I read more about God, my spiritual path, and gaining more internal direction for the Lord to be brought in my mindset, I am more spiritually-minded.

    This was from one prayer. What gave me that thought? How did I get to this point in such a short amount of time? I got back belief, faith, and the word of the day, hope. The Lord brought me to this point. I am so grateful for His grace upon my soul. Hopefully, my continuance comes each day, gaining more of His lessons and teachings through reading. Thanks for your posts, I enjoy them and get much help in understanding my spiritual ways.

    • Michael Potter Reply

      Albert, thank you for sharing! I shared your story with the rest of the Olive Tree team and we were very encouraged. Please keep telling your testimony to others because it’s amazing how God brought you through. God bless!

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