Galatians 1:15-16

Sermon preached on October 17, 2010 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2010. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

When I was growing up in the early 60's there were only six teams in the National Hockey League. My father was a big Boston Bruins fan. The trouble was the Bruins were always in last place. They were the worst of the six teams. Only the first four teams made the playoffs and it seemed the Bruins would never even make the playoffs, let alone win the Stanley Cup. But I remember one day in 1962 my father came to me with what I think was the Hockey News magazine. In it there was a picture of a 14-year-old kid named Bobby Orr. He had just signed a contract with the Boston Bruins. This was the first time that I had heard of Bobby Orr, but not my dad. He knew all about him. He followed all things about the Bruins and was really excited that Boston had signed him. He told me that Bob Orr was going to win the Bruins the Stanley Cup. Of course I didn't believe him. I didn't think anyone could save the Bruins. But over the next few years he kept telling me how good Bobby Orr was and how he was going to turn things around for the Bruins. Sure enough, when Bobby Orr turned 18 and started playing for the Bruins, everyone knew that he was something special. In 1970 and 1972 he led Boston to two Stanley Cups. Looking back on it, I'm amazed that my dad knew about Bobby Orr all those years before and placed such great hope in him. It was amazing that it worked out.

In our text we have something like that, only on a much grander and more certain scale. Paul gives a brief history of his life and shows us that his life was controlled by God. One of the very noteworthy things about our text is that Paul states that God not merely knew him from birth, but that that's when He set him apart for His purposes. Paul writes, (Galatians 1:15–16)

"But when God,
who set me apart from birth
and called me by his grace,
was pleased to reveal his Son in me
so that I might preach him
among the Gentiles,"

The great truth we see here is that

God set Paul apart from birth, later called him by His grace and then revealed Jesus in him.

This morning we're going to look at these three thingsPaul's being set apart from birth, later on the Damascus road he was called by God's grace and after that God was pleased to reveal His Son in Him—to conform him to the image of Christ so that people could see Christ living in him—that he might preach Christ effectively to the Gentiles. The point is that God has done them all. It was all part of God's plan.

First, let's look at God setting Paul apart from birth.

Literally, Paul wrote that he was set apart, 'from his mother's womb'. It can be understood to mean, 'from my birth', as the NIV translates it, or, 'from before my birth'. It's not really that important which one you prefer, as the phrases are used almost synonymously in Isaiah 49:1 of the servant of the Lord.

We see much the same thing with the prophet Jeremiah. In Jeremiah 1:5 his calling is described this way. God said to him,

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you
as a prophet to the nations."

God's plans for Jeremiah were formulated before Jeremiah existed. God says that He 'knew' Jeremiah before He formed him in the womb. God determined that Jeremiah was to be a prophet even before he was born. It was then that he was appointed to be a prophet.

Paul tells us that it was the same with him. Martin
Luther paraphrases Paul's words, (Lectures on Galatians)

"When I had not yet been born, I was already an apostle in the sight of God; and when the time had come, I was declared to be an apostle in the sight of the world."

We see this same principle in the messianic prophecy of the servant in Isaiah 49:1–3. He said,

"Before I was born the LORD called me;
from my birth he has
made mention of my name.
He made my mouth like a sharpened sword,
in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me into a polished arrow
and concealed me in his quiver.
He said to me,
'You are my servant, Israel,
in whom I will display my splendor.'"

God called His Servant before He was born and the later equipped Him with the gifts that He would need to display God's glory.

David speaks in a similar way in Psalm 139:13-16. He said of God,

"For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because
I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you
when I was made in the secret place.
When I was woven together
in the depths of the earth,
your eyes saw my unformed body.
All the days ordained for me
were written in your book
before one of them came to be."

David said that all the days ordained for him were written before one of them can to pass. Derek Kidner paraphrases David, (Psalms)

"God not only sees the invisible and penetrates the inaccessible, but is operative there, the author of every detail of my being."

God did that while David was still in his mother's womb. Paul's testimony is much the same. John Calvin writes,

"Before they even existed, Jeremiah had been set apart to the office of a prophet, and Paul to that of an apostle; but he is said to separate us from the womb, because the design of our being sent into the world is, that he may accomplish, in us, what he has decreed.

Now for you Christians,

this should be a great source of comfort for you.

Our text is all about God's great love to us. This love is incredible. It stretches back before you took a breath. Indeed, as we read in Ephesians 1:4–5, it stetches back even before that. Paul wrote about God us and Christ,

"For he chose us in him
before the creation of the world
to be holy and blameless in his sight."

What love God had for you even before we were brought into being. Christian, this love acted upon you by setting you apart while you were in your mother's womb. It wasn't because God saw something good in us. This is made clear in Romans 9:11-13 where the apostle Paul wrote about how Rebekah's children had the same father, Isaac,

"Yet, before the twins were born
or had done anything good or bad—
in order that God's purpose
in election might stand:
not by works but by him who calls—she was told,
'The older will serve the younger.'
Just as it is written:
'Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.'"

So you who are Christians should take comfort, because you are God's chosen. God's keeping you doesn't depend on your worth. God chose you before you had any worth. The reason He chose you was to make you holy and blameless. He will do that. It doesn't depend on your worth. He chose you before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless. Martin Luther wrote, (Luther, Lectures on Galatians)

"Thus Paul abolishes all 'deserving'; he gives the glory only to God, but to himself only confusion. It is as though Paul wanted to say: 'every gift—whether great or small, whether physical or spiritual—that God intended to give me, and all the good things that I was ever to do at any time in all my life—all this God had predestined even before I was born, when I could not think, wish, or do anything good but was a shapeless embryo."

The second thing we see in our text is that

Paul attributes his calling to God's grace.

It referring to his calling Paul takes us to his Damascus Road experience. That's when he was called. How was he called? Paul said that God,

"called me by his grace,"

You'll remember what Paul was doing at the time he was called. He was on his way to Damascus to search for Christians. Acts 9:1–2 puts it this way,

"Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out
murderous threats
against the Lord's disciples.
He went to the high priest and asked him
for letters to the synagogues in Damascus,
so that if he found any there
who belonged to the Way,
whether men or women,
he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem."

Paul was called when he was filled with hatred toward Jesus.

This shows us the basic idea of the New Testament concept of grace.
Grace is undeserved acceptance and love. What Paul is telling us here is that he did not deserve God's favor—rather he was deserving of condemnation. God did not give him what he deserved—but rather looked on him with favor. Martin Luther writes, (Lectures on Galatians)

"Note how diligent the apostle is. 'He called me,' he says. And how? Was it on the basis of my Pharisaism, my blameless and holy life, or my prayers, fasts, and works? No. Much less was it for my blasphemies, persecutions, and oppressions! How then? By His sheer grace alone."

It was all undeserved favor. Martin Luther wrote, (Lectures of Galatians, 26:64)

"The knowledge of Christ and of faith is not a human work but utterly a divine gift."

The reason this should give us comfort is because God's dealings with us have always been and always will be about grace. We never did deserve any of it.

Sometimes Christians can feel that God will abandon them because they're not worthy. They will look at their lives and feel that they're too bad for God, that they can't measure up.

That's all true. We are unworthy. We can't measure up. Jesus told His disciples that. In Luke 17:10 He said to them,

"So you also, when you have done
everything you were told to do,
should say,
'We are unworthy servants;
we have only done our duty.'"

We can't measure up. But it's always been that way. Grace is God's way of dealing with us. It's always been grace, it will always be grace. Take great comfort from this.

The third thing that Paul says about God's dealing with him was that

it was according to God's pleasure that he was conformed to the image of Christ.

God's good pleasure. This is the point that is given priority and emphasized in our text. The Geneva Bible actually gives a good sense of the Greek word order. It says,

"But when it pleased God
(which had separated me
from my mothers wombe,
and called me by his grace)
To reueile his Sonne in me,
that I should preach him among the Gentiles,"

God's dealings with Paul were all about God acting according to His good pleasure.

But before we continue with that, consider what God's good pleasure worked in Paul.

Paul said that,

God revealed His Son 'in' him.

Paul said that was pleased to reveal His Son in him. God was pleased to reveal His Son 'in' Paul. This corresponds to what Paul wrote in Galatians 2:20,

"I have been crucified with Christ
and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me."

Jesus lived in Paul through His Spirit to transform Paul. As we read in Galatians 4:6,

"Because you are sons,
God sent the Spirit of his Son
into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, 'Abba, Father.'"

The point Paul makes in our text is that God was pleased not only to open Paul's heart to the gospel, but to give him His Spirit to transform Paul so that he would be fit to preach the gospel to the Gentiles.

You all know Paul's teaching that
we are to live so that people will see Christ living in us. God gave His Spirit to Paul and the Spirit transformed him—Jesus was revealed in Paul's life. As he preached to the Gentiles, he didn't just preach with words, but his life, the reality of Christ's presence in his life—this gave weight to his words. Paul was sanctified, able to be holy, able to love others—that was part of the reality of God's Son being revealed in him.

Again, this brings us back to the messianic prophecy of Isaiah 49. God said of the Messiah,

"You are my servant, Israel,
in whom I will display my splendor."

Because of Jesus' work, Paul was enabled to follow in His steps. It's like God was saying to all who follow the Messiah,

"You are my servant, Israel,
in whom I will display my splendor."

That's God's plan for you—to display His splendor in you.

But why did God transform Paul?

it was according to 'His pleasure'.

In other words, it was not because of anything in Paul that God transformed him—but it was of something in God—it was according to God's pleasure. It was because God was pleased to do it. We see the same thing in the verses I just quoted from Ephesians 1:5,

"In love he predestined us
to be adopted as his sons
through Jesus Christ,
in accordance with his pleasure and will…"

What marvelous love God has for His people! It is God's pleasure that we be conformed to the glorious image of His Son. Paul was sanctified and enabled to preach to the Gentiles effectively because it was according to God's good pleasure.

What comfort you Christians should take from this.

You have such a wonderful God and His love for you is amazing and astounding.

God's purposes to us are not tied to any worth in us. It's all of God choosing, God setting us apart in our mother's wombs for His purposes for us. It's about God calling us, not because we deserve it, but because of grace. It's about God revealing Christ in us and transforming us into His image—not because we are worthy—but because of His good pleasure.

It's all of God's good pleasure. It's all of grace. It's all of Him choosing us while we were miserable and depraved sinners. Philip Ryken writes, (Galatians, p. 32)

"The one true gospel is not man-made, which is why it gives all the glory to God… it does not teach that we can reach up to heaven; it teaches that God has come down to earth."

How you should praise Him and rejoice in Him!

All the glory for our salvation goes to God. As the prophet Jonah said in Jonah 2:9,

"Salvation comes from the LORD."

Praise Him for your salvation. Rejoice in Jesus! Philip Ryken writes, (Galatians, p. 33)

"Every Christian's story is different, but the story line is always the same. God chose you and called you to faith. He revealed his Son to your heart. Then he gave you a particular place of service."

Lastly, for those of you who are not Christians, this means that

the time of your effective calling may be right now.

You could be one of those that God chose before you were born. We don't know about God's election. You cannot make your decisions on that basis because you don't know.

But you do know about God's calling. He's calling you now. You are to make your decisions based, not on God's election, but on God's commands. God commands you to repent and believe in Jesus. We see that in 1 John 3:23 where the apostle John wrote,

"And this is his command:
to believe in the name of his Son,
Jesus Christ,"

If you do that you'll be saved and it'll turn out that you were indeed chosen before the foundation of the world. Go to Jesus today. Ask Him to save you. Jesus says that if you go to Him He will accept you with open arms. His words, (John 6:37)

"whoever comes to me
I will never drive away."

Go to Jesus now.