In Galatians 1:15, Paul tells us about his miraculous salvation experience, in which God “set [him] apart before he was born, and who called [him] by His grace, (and) was pleased to reveal his Son to” him.
This, to me, is one of the most eloquent explanations of Paul’s own salvation. The reason is because in this small sentence, Paul pulls back the curtain, so to speak, and gives us a glimpse into the saving work of God. It was a work of revelation that led to saving apprehension.
First, God, for his sovereign purpose, chose Paul for special use as an Apostle even before he was born. As Luther once said, that even “when Paul was not born, he was an apostle in God’s sight”. Indeed, Paul was God’s last apostle, to be sent on mission to the Gentiles — we know that Paul truly took this calling to heart (Rom 15:15-16). Then, after this sovereign calling to apostleship, God drew Paul by his grace unto salvation. This drawing describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit, convicting, willing, enabling us to see our need for the gospel. It is interesting that in Acts 26:14, as Paul described his testimony to King Agrippa, he says that he had stubbornly “kicked against the goads” of God’s drawing grace (emphasis mine). “Kicking against the goads” is a term used to describe a stubborn sheep who refuses to be led by their shepherd. Paul, even under God’s gracious calling, was pushing against it, warring against the truth of God’s Son. And yet, we know that God won him over, breaking Paul’s abstinent will. Finally, Paul says that after God drew him by his grace, he was pleased to reveal his Son to the apostle.
What does Paul mean when he tells us that God the Father revealed Jesus to him? In what way did God reveal his Son to Paul? Of course, in Acts 9, Jesus himself appeared to Paul, even blinding him. But in this verse, Paul says that it was God the Father who revealed Christ to him. In what way was Christ revealed? In the Greek, the phrase Paul uses is literally, “God was pleased to reveal his Son in me”. Because of this, some have suggested that this revelation was God’s saving work through Paul’s missionary ministry. But I’m not sure this is not what Paul is getting at.
Kenneth Wuest, a New Testament Commentator, says of this verse, “the revelation of which [Paul] is speaking here was an inward one, apprehended by the spiritual senses”. I love this. When God sought to save Paul, he revealed Jesus by making him real to Paul’s own spiritual senses. God revealed Jesus, making his saving work tangible and necessary (1 Tim 1:15). It was this revelation that changed Paul’s understanding of Jesus as the leader of a small fringe movement into Risen Lord and Savior (1 Cor 15:17). It was through this revelation that Paul truly came to realize and understand Jesus as the Messiah foretold of his Old Testament (Rom 9:4, Gal 3:16). It was this revelation that made Paul declare that all of God’s promises find their “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). It was through this revelation that Paul realized God’s plan to have both Jew and Gentile as one people in Jesus (Eph 2:11-22). It was in this revelation that Paul realized Christ as the second person of the Trinity, God over all (Rom 9:5). It was through this revelation that Jesus’ righteousness was made to be of more value than righteousness from the Law (Phil 3:2-11). Commenting on this verse, Luther says well, “this is a kind of doctrine not obtained by study, hard work, or human wisdom, nor by the law of God, but is revealed by God himself”.
This revelation was one of spiritual apprehension, in which Paul, in a saving way, truly tasted and delighted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the same type of revelation we need, to see and know who Christ truly is, that we might partake of his righteousness, not having a righteousness of our own. It is a kind of tasting of the character and work of Christ in such a way that propels us into saving faith. This is indeed, what stubborn sinners need, a revelation of Jesus in us.