Why grace could never be “made up”

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A large part of Paul’s letter to the Galatians comprises arguments for why Paul’s gospel is of God, and not of man. Apparently some had accused Paul of making up his gospel of free grace (Gal 1:11) for the purpose of pleasing man (1:10). Some thought that free, unearned, salvation was too easy! So they figured that Paul was making salvation free in order to win a crowd.

Paul spends the bulk of his letter (1:10-2:21) trying to prove that his gospel is in fact not of man, but actually direct revelation from God (1:15-16).

One of the first arguments that Paul provides, is that his gospel could never be “made up”, because humans are by nature religious. Paul says in verse 14 that he could never think up grace himself, because before he was saved, he was aggressively “advancing in Judaism”. In other words, Paul was too busy trying to work his way to heaven to concoct this concept of grace. He was too immersed in trying to earn God’s favor to think up the gospel of Christ.

And I believe that this is true of anyone. Grace is not a concept that is natural to us. Humans by nature like to build their resumes. We naturally want to work for what we get. To us, for someone to receive what they didn’t pay for, is offensive. And the reason is simple: they didn’t earn it, so they shouldn’t have it.

Grace is by its very nature, is offensive to us. But in fact, this is the way that God has chosen to work. He chooses to love us, not because of any merit within us, but simply because of the lavishness of his mercy. This is what Paul says in Galatians 1:15-16: God “set [Paul] apart before he was born“. God’s love was set on Paul before he had done anything “good” to earn it! God’s love was directed toward Paul before he had even known who God was. This is the nature of grace. It is unmerited love. Grace has no consideration for deservedness or lack thereof. And this is why it is offensive. We want to earn it! We want the credit! Yet grace gives God the credit. It gives God the glory (Gal 1:4). Because God does all the work in Christ to bring us to himself.

Ryken, in his commentary on Galatians, says this of Paul’s arguments:

Not surprisingly, the religions that human beings invent always end up glorifying human beings. There is some law to keep, some teaching to follow, some ritual to perform, some penance to endure, or some state of consciousness to achieve that will bring salvation. One way or another, we can climb up to heaven and reach God.

Christianity is different. What distinguishes it from other world religions is that it actually comes from God. The one true gospel is not man-made, which is why it gives glory to God. The good news of the cross and the empty tomb could come only from God because it is about what God has done to save us through Jesus Christ. It does not teach that we can reach up to heaven; it teaches that God has come down to earth. In Christ, God has entered human history and the human heart.

…As Luther put it, “The knowledge of Christ and of faith is not a human work but utterly a divine gift”

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Paul’s Salvation: Christ Revealed in Me

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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.