Monday, January 26, 2009

To Conform or Not to Conform

Please read Galatians 1:11-24. "Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist." Wrote Emerson, and many a thinker agrees with him. The English art critic John Ruskin said "I fear uniformity. You cannot manufacture great men any more than you can manufacture gold." The German philosopher Schopenhauer wrote "We forfeit three-fourths of ourselves in order to be like other people. Francis Asbury, first Bishop of the Methodist church in the United States, once prayed at a deacon ordination, "O Lord, grant that these brethren may never want to be like other people." Of course, there is a wrong kind of individualism that destroys instead of fulfills. It is good to meet a man like Paul who dared to be himself in the will of God. But his freedom in Christ was a threat to those who found safety in conformity. Paul's enemies pointed to his nonconformity as proof that his message and ministry were not really of God. In verses 11 and 12, Paul states that his theme his message and ministry are of divine origin. The best way for Paul to prove his point is to reach into his past and remind the Galatian Christians of the way God had dealt with him. Paul flashes on the screen three pictures from his past as evidence that his apostleship and his Gospel are truly of God. First, Paul the persecutor. The words used to describe Paul's activities when he was "Saul of Tarsus" persecuting the church. He consented to the murder of Stephen. The atmosphere that he breathed was threatening and slaughter. He voted to kill the believers. Paul actually thought that Jesus was an impostor and His message of salvation a lie. Then something happened: Saul of Taurus, the persecutor of the church, became Paul the Apostle. How could the Judaizers explain this sudden transformation? Was Saul's about face caused by his own people, the Jews? This would be unthinkable. The Jews were encouraging Saul in his program of persecution and his conversion was an great embarrassment to them. Was Saul's change caused by the Christians he was persecuting? The Christians ran from Paul. It had to come from God. For the Judaizers to deny Paul's apostleship and Gospel was the same as denying his conversion. People have a hard time arguing with a changed life. Second, Paul the believer. God did it. "It pleased reveal His Son in me." God did it by grace. Salvation is by God's grace, not man's efforts or character. God did it through Christ. He had religion and self-righteousness, as well as reputation and recongnition: but he did not have Christ. God revealed Christ to Paul, in Paul, and through Paul. Faith in Christ brought about an inward experience of reality with the Lord. Judiasm was an external religion. God did it for the sake of others. God chose Paul, not only to save him, but also to use him to win others. God did it for His glory. As a fanatical rabbi, Paul had all the glory a man could want: but what he was doing did not glorify God. Man was created to glorify God and God has prepared each person for a specific place of service in the local church. Third, Paul the preacher. He reviews his contacts and shows that there was no opportunity for him to receive either his message or his apostolic calling from any of the leaders of the church. The Gospel was given to the Jew first, and Paul carried the Gospel to the Jew first, after which Paul took the Gospel to the Gentile masses. For this reason God kept him separated from the Jewish ministry being conducted by the Apostles in Jerusalem. The Lord sent Paul to Arabia. He spent the greater part of three years in There. During this time the Holy Spirit taught him. The Bible was his only text book, Paul was the only student, and the Holy Spirit the only teacher. When his training was over he went back to Damascus. The basket incident took place at this time. This was further proof that the Jewish leaders considered Paul an enemy and therefore his experience with Christ was valid. He finally visited Jerusalem. He stayed there 15 days and saw only Peter and James. He then returned home to Tarsus. In light of Paul's conduct, his conversion, and his contacts, how could anybody accuse him of borrowing or inventing either his message or his ministry? Paul did not invent his teaching, he received it. In Paul's day the message of the Judaizers was the Gospel plus Moses. In our day it is the Gospel plus any number of religious things. Dr. Ken Copley is available for counseling, conferences, and local church meetings.

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