It pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.
Study Text: Galatians 1:1-17
All Christians are "called ones." This basic "call" is to Christ as Lord and Savior (Eph. 1:18; 4:1; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 3:1; 2 Pet. 1:10). But God also calls with a view to "good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Eph. 2:10 NIV). Included in the "good works" is the call to preach. The call of Moses (Exod. 3:4-22), of Samuel (1 Sam. 3:4), of Jeremiah (Jer. 1:4-10), and in the New Testament, the call of the disciples (Mark 3:13-19), of Paul (Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; Gal. 1:15), and of Barnabas (Acts 13:2) are all good examples.
The call to preach must not be confused with the desire to serve as an elder or deacon (see 1 Tim. 3:1), even though the very desire (if noble) is "inspired by God's Spirit." The call to preach must not be conditioned by the need for the gospel, even though we are commanded to "go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). "This goes against the grain of much modern thinking. But in our Lord's day none of the twelve volunteered to follow Christ. They made no application, they completed no forms. On the contrary, it was the magnetic authority of the Lord which compelled them.... For the disciples, the call was the verbal command of the Lord." The call to preach must not be controlled by the church, even though the elders of a local church are expected to confirm the call (1 Tim. 4:14; 2 Tim. 1:6). In the final analysis, the call to preach is the sovereign initiative of God in the life and experience of the one who is predestinated to fulfill that role.
When Paul writes of his conversion experience, he refers to it "as a pattern [a prototype] to those who are going to believe on [Jesus Christ] for everlasting life" (1 Tim. 1:16). Two important points are expressed in this "public display of [God's] grace to a notable sinner." The first is the mercy of God shown to Paul. The word mercy is in the verbal form. Literally it reads, "I was mercied." The second is the call of God. Paul states categorically: "[God] considered me faithful, appointing me to his service" (1 Tim. 1:12 NIV). A quote from Augustine is appropriate here: "God does not choose a person who is worthy, but by the act of choosing him he makes him worthy [translation mine]."
In his Galatian epistle, Paul amplifies the story of his conversion experience to include his call to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. We do well, therefore, to examine the apostle's testimony and lift from his words the universal principles that define and delineate the call of God.
Looking back upon his initial encounter with Jesus Christ he could say, "It pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles" (vv. 15-16). Three important aspects of Paul's testimony call for attention: the nature, the knowledge, and the purpose of God's call to preach.
"It pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb and called me through His grace" (v. 15). The verb separated means "to mark off by bounds." In this context, the word denotes "the divine action in setting man apart for the work of the gospel" (W. E. Vine). In the preceding verses, Paul has been recounting his past life. With heavy heart he has confessed his fanaticism for the Law. In fact, it was because of his unenlightened zeal for the Law that he had become such an archpersecutor of the church. He had destroyed the local assemblies. But in spite of all this, it pleased God to call him into the service of the gospel. Paul could never get over this. It was such unmerited favor and unspeakable grace! Paul could put forth only two explanations for this divine activity.
"It pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb" (v. 15). To the apostle, the call of God was no unpremeditated event. Before time was determined, Paul was in the mind of God. This is the significance of the phrase "separated... from my mother's womb." Before Paul could think, speak, or act, God had marked him out as a chosen vessel to preach the gospel to the Gentiles (see John 15:16).
Centuries before, God "separated" Jeremiah to be a preacher. "The word of the Lord came to [Jeremiah], saying: 'Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I sanctified you;... I ordained you a prophet to the nations'" (Jer. 1:4-5). This was the eternal call of grace to Jeremiah. Warren W. Wiersbe sums it up this way: addressing His prophet, God said, "'You will be what I want you to be, go where I want you to go, and say what I want you to say. I supervised your conception, I consecrated you, and now I am ordaining you.'" Then Wiersbe adds: "If God calls you, believe what He says and obey Him. You may not feel up to it, but your adequacy comes from God, not from yourself" (see Jer. 1:6-9). The call of Jeremiah refutes the idea that the work of God's servants was always provincial (cf. Jer. 25:15-29; 46-51). God is the Lord of the nations, and when He calls, our answer must be: "Anywhere, anytime, any place, I am ready, Lord; send me."
A. J. Gossip tells how Alexander Whyte faced his ordination in his first church. In his message to his people, Whyte declared that "all through time and eternity God had been preparing [him] for this congregation, and this congregation for [him] and, prompt to the minute, He had brought them together." This is a mind-boggling concept—one that we need to recall every time we are tempted to speak glibly about the call of God!
"God... called me through His grace" (v. 15). What was eternal became effectual in Paul's experience when he initially encountered the living Christ. Three times in the Acts of the Apostles (9:4; 22:7; 26:14) Luke describes in vivid detail the nature of this spiritual crisis and call. In chapter 9 he tells us that it all started when Paul saw a face—"As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven" (Acts 9:3). Later Paul interpreted this light as "the heavenly vision" in which "He was seen by me" (Acts 26:19; 1 Cor. 15:8). That appearance was none other than the face of the risen Christ (2 Cor. 4:6).
Then Saul heard a voice—"Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). What a shock these words must have been to Saul! How could he be persecuting the One who was in heaven? And yet, in that moment of destiny, he learned one of the greatest truths of the New Testament: that the Church is the Body, of which Christ is the Head. Later he could write: "Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Eph. 5:23). The revelation of the saviorhood of Christ broke in upon Saul's soul as he knelt in the dust of that Damascan road.
Following this Saul made a choice. He pleaded, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" (Acts 9:6). He owned Jesus as Lord and surrendered spirit, soul and body to the sovereignty of Christ. With that response Saul of Tarsus was converted and called by the grace of God. The eternal call had now become the effectual call. From then on Saul knew himself to be a chosen vessel. He did not consider himself chosen for honor, but for service; not for ease, but for battle; not for life, but for death, in the cause of worldwide evangelization (see Acts 26:16-18).
This is what God has been doing throughout the centuries. Have you heard the call? If so, do not be "disobedient to the heavenly vision" (Acts 26:19). When Jeremiah tried to refrain from preaching, he tells us, "I was weary of holding it back, and I could not" (Jer. 20:9). That should be the experience of every true preacher. "Such an one will have 'a divine commission behind him, a divine summons before him, and a divine conviction within him,' and what more can anyone have or need?"
The second thing that Paul tells us in this amazing testimony concerns the knowledge of God's call to preach. "God... called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me" (vv. 15, 16). Now we come to the heart of things. Those words "His Son in me" are dynamite! They correspond to "Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20) and "God... sent... the Spirit of His Son into [our] hearts" (Gal. 4:6).
"His Son in me" (v. 16). The conscious knowledge of the indwelling Son of God is the indispensable "inner witness" of God's call to preach. It is true, of course, that every Christian can say, "Christ lives in me," and that the outliving of the indwelling Christ is the normal Christian life. But for the preacher, those words "His Son in Me" have far-reaching implications. Preaching is essentially incarnational. If we would be followers of the Prince of Preachers, then all our preaching should be a "fleshing out" of the pattern that Jesus left for us. John records this pattern in the prologue to his gospel: "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.... No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared [exegeted] Him" (John 1:14, 18). Jesus was an incarnational Exegete of the Father. By the power of the Holy Spirit, He revealed the God "no one has seen at any time," in terms that "common people" could see and hear.
In a similar way, we must preach the gospel. All the fullness of the gospel is totalized in Jesus, and Jesus lives in us. As we exegete the Word, in the power of the Holy Spirit, Christ must come through with "grace and truth." This is exactly what Paul says in our text, "His Son in me, that I might preach Him" (v. 16, emphasis ours). He could have written "that I might preach the gospel"; but for Paul the gospel was Christ. So the knowledge of the call of God is inextricably related to the mystery and ministry of the indwelling Son of God.
"His Son in me" (v. 16). As Richard N. Longenecker observes: "The Christological title 'Son of God,' 'his [God's] Son,' or simply 'the Son' appears in Paul's writings fifteen times ('Son of God': Rom. 1:4; 2 Cor. 1:19; Gal. 2:20; 'his Son' or 'the Son': Rom. 1:3, 9; 5:10; 8:3, 29, 32; 1 Cor. 1:9; 15:28; Gal. 1:16; 4:4, 6; 1 Thess. 1:10)." As we study each reference in context, it becomes clear that the title conveys the ideas of power and action. Writing to the church at Rome, Paul refers to "Jesus Christ our Lord... declared to be the Son of God with power" (Rom. 1:3, 4). It was as the Son of God, authenticated by the resurrection, that He could say to His disciples: "As the Father has sent Me [the Son], I also send you" (John 20:21). Throughout His life the Lord Jesus had a strong sense of being commissioned and sent. It is a study in and of itself to count the number of times the two main verbs send or sent are found in the Gospel of John alone. The mission of God was an inescapable imperative to Him. He was forever using the word must. This impersonal verb signifies necessity, obligation, and commitment. It is found most frequently in the Gospels, the Acts, and the Book of Revelation. As the Son, the Lord Jesus could say, "I must be about My Father's business" (Luke 2:49); as the Savior, He could say, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John 3:14); as the Servant, He declared, "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4). Finally, at the end of His life He could exclaim, "I have finished the work which You have given Me to do" (John 17:4). In the light of such a life of dedicated service, He could charge, "As the Father has sent Me, I also send you" (John 20:21). This power and action of the Son of God were inwardly revealed to the apostle Paul. He was a man indwelt and impelled by the Son of God. That is why he could make such statements as "I am a debtor both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to wise and to unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the gospel to you who are in Rome also.... for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!" (Rom. 1:14-15; 1 Cor. 9:16). When we read words like these we are bound to ask ourselves whether we know the power of the impelling Son of God in our lives.
Preachers often ask us to explain the call of God in terms of assurance or conviction. The answer is not an easy one. We are all different in talents, training and temperament; yet one thing is certain: if a man is indwelt and impelled by the living Son of God, there can be no doubt about the call! Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones affirms:
The preacher is a man who is possessed and he is aware of this [emphasis ours]. I do not hesitate to make this assertion. I would say that I only begin to know something about preaching on those occasions when, as it were, I am looking on. I am speaking, but I am really a spectator. I am amazed at what is happening. I am listening, I am looking on in utter astonishment, for I am not doing it. It is true preaching when I am conscious that I am being used; in a sense, I am as much a spectator as the people who are listening to me. There is this consciousness that it is outside me, and yet I am involved in it; I am merely the instrument and the vehicle and the channel of all this.
If that is the spiritual "sense" of the call, what are the biblical "tests" of the call? There are at least five of them that must be carefully and prayerfully considered. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Do I meet the qualifications of a preacher, as set forth in the Word of God? When God called Paul to be a preacher, He clearly delineated what was involved and required (see Acts 9:15-16, 20; 22:14-15; 26:16-18). You cannot study these divine instructions without discerning both the qualifications and responsibilities of a preacher.
2. Have I the witness of the Spirit in my heart that God has called me? The same Holy Spirit who witnesses with my spirit that I have been born of God also witnesses with my spirit that I have been called of God to be a preacher (Rom. 8:14; Gal. 1:15-16; 2 Tim. 1:8-11). As you pray earnestly about the matter, "the sense of call" will either come alive or die altogether. When Paul prayed "Lord, what do You want me to do?" he received the answer.
3. Has the gift of the preacher become evident in my life and service? First Corinthians 12:7 declares that "the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all." The Revised English Bible renders this "In each of us the Spirit is seen to be at work for some useful purpose." This "manifestation" is not human ability alone, but rather the indwelling and directing power of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes the "sense of call" comes through "inferential" means. A set of circumstances will be ordered providentially to bring about a growing conviction that God has called you to be a preacher. This will explain why men who initially followed other professions subsequently become preachers. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen when Jesus called them (Mark 1:16-20)!
4. Has my church recognized and confirmed my preaching gift? First Timothy 4:14 and 2 Timothy 1:6-7 give a significant object lesson in the divine/human recognition and confirmation of a person's gift and ministry in the early church (see also Acts 13:1-4).
5. Has God used my preaching gift to the salvation of souls and the edification of saints? Writing to the Corinthians, Paul could affirm with confidence, "You are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord" (1 Cor. 9:2). Can you point to converts or disciples and say the same thing?
"God... called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles" (vv. 15, 16). The purpose is simple and specific. We are called to preach Christ. Anything and everything else is either irrelevant or merely secondary. To help us understand this important facet of the call of God, Paul employs definitive language. He insists that to fulfill the purpose of the call of God;
"God... called me... that I might preach Him," who is the gospel (vv. 15, 16). Paul's gospel was a direct revelation from heaven. He declares, "I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ" (vv. 11-12). While Paul's experience was unique in this respect, he also was affirming a fundamental fact for all time. That fact is that the gospel is wholly apart from man's philosophical ideas, scientific methods, or religious efforts (see 1 Cor. 1 and 2; Gal. 2:15-16; 6:12-15). The gospel of salvation is by grace alone, in Christ alone, through faith alone. This calls for faithful, fearless, and fervent preaching. Look carefully at the context:
We Must Be Faithful in Our Preaching. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another.... But even if we, or an angel.... preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed" (vv. 6-9). Paul uses a special word to describe those who had so soon changed their position on the fundamentals of the gospel. He calls them "turncoats" because, under pressure of the Judaizers and perverters of the gospel, these Galatians had espoused "a different gospel." With a play on words, Paul scolds them for substituting the real for the false, the orthodox for the heterodox.
Two things must be noted about faithful preaching. The first is that the truth of God always exposes the characteristics of heresy—"I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (vv. 6-7). Commenting on this verse, C. I. Scofield notes: "The test of the Gospel is grace. If the message excludes grace, or mingles law with grace as the means of either justification or sanctification (Gal. 2:21; 3:1-3), or denies the fact or guilt of sin which alone gives grace its... opportunity [to function in our lives], if is 'another' gospel, and the preacher... is under the anathema of God (vv. 8-9)." The second thing is that the truth of God always discloses the consequences of heresy—"But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (v. 8). To preach or propagate heresy has serious consequences. Without contrived diplomacy, the apostle bluntly says, "Let him be accursed [or damned]" (vv. 8, 9). The word anathema was used both in the Old and New Testaments to denote that which is devoted to destruction because of its hatefulness to God. So Paul sums up his condemnation of heresy by saying, "If we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (v. 8).
We Must Be Fearless in Our Preaching. "For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (v. 10). In the light of these solemn words that Paul boldly asserts, the matter of fearless preaching becomes a "must" to the authentic preacher.
We live in an hour when peer pressure—leave alone satanic opposition—tempts us to compromise. Popularity, power, and position are often prized higher than the quality of integrity. If we are called of God, we must face the challenge once and for all. Like the saintly martyrs of the past and the sovereign Master of the present, we must draw a line in the sand and declare with the holy courage of Martin Luther, "Here I stand; I can do no other."
The ancient King Redwald of East Anglia once built a unique sanctuary. At one end was an altar for the worship of the true God, while at the other end was an altar for the worship of false gods. Tragically, the church today is making similar compromises.
We Must Be Fervent in Our Preaching. The Christians of Paul's day were saying, "'He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.' And they glorified God" (Gal. 1:23-24). If we want to find out how he persecuted the church, we have only to look back at verse 13: "For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it." The two words persecuted and destroyed are in the imperfect tense, which denotes continuous action. It describes the fervency and fury with which Saul, "the zealot," devastated the church of Christ. Paul describes these activities to highlight the radical change that had taken place in his life. Now with "sanctified fervency" he was preaching the gospel with such unction that believers who heard him glorified God (see Acts 9:20-29; 1 Cor. 9:16; Gal. 1:23-24)!
There is no other way to preach the gospel if we are going to beat the devil at his own game. We have to pursue him with—in the words of G. Campbell Morgan—"truth, clarity and passion." The old masters called it "logos, ethos and pathos."
Yet the call of God goes even further beyond preaching the gospel.
"God... called me... that I might preach Him among the Gentiles" (vv. 15, 16). It is possible to preach the gospel without reaching the people. This is one of the greatest problems in our evangelical witness today. We have our church services, our radio broadcasts, and our literature programs, but we are not reaching the people.
For Paul, reaching the people was getting beyond religious circles. It is true that he invariably visited the synagogues first, but he was never satisfied with mere religious discussion; his burden was for a lost world. Therefore, he went all out for the Gentiles. Paul makes this clear in the closing paragraphs of his epistle to the Romans. Having solicited the prayers of his readers, he goes on to state, "I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man's foundation" (Rom. 15:20).
A preacher who is satisfied with feeding overstuffed saints, while a pagan world goes to hell, has never understood the call of God to preach the gospel "to every creature" (Mark 16:15). In making that statement, we are not unmindful of the pastor/teacher's responsibility to "feed [the] sheep" (John 21:17; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2-4). Paul's imperative to "preach the word" embraces "teaching" (2 Tim. 4:2-3), but it does not end there. He concludes with another imperative: "Do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:5). Unlike Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8), Timothy was primarily a teacher (1 Tim. 4:13, 15-16); but with this gifting he was commanded to "do the work of an evangelist." Certainly we must edify the saved, but we must also evangelize the lost. Preaching includes both aspects of proclamation. So whether we are in a city pulpit or a city park, we are to "preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. [We are to] convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.... [We are to] do the work of an evangelist" (2 Tim. 4:2, 5, emphasis ours).
It must be clear then that the call of God to preach is not just an evangelical cliche: it is an evangelical charge—with redemptive significance. The nature of the call is intrinsically bound up with the eternal and effectual grace of God. The knowledge of that call can only be appreciated when the indwelling and impelling Son of God becomes a message we have to deliver. The purpose of this call of God is to preach the gospel and to reach the people. Are you fulfilling that divine call or are you missing God's plan for your life? It is sobering to realize that a person can disobey the call and enter heaven "saved, yet so as through fire" (1 Cor. 3:15). Oh, the wastage! Oh, the regrets! Oh, the loss of reward! Face it, preacher, if you are saved at all, then you are saved to serve. The call of God is binding upon you. Make sure that when you stand before the judgment seat of Christ you can look into your Master's face and say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:7).
Jeremiah Whitaker (1539-1654) was educated at Cambridge where, because of his scholastic attainments and Christian virtues, he was held in high esteem. He loved to preach the gospel and had an undying passion for the souls of the people. But the heart of his testimony was, "I had much rather be a minister of the gospel than [be] an emperor."
Likewise, Samuel Chadwick, the noted Methodist preacher, stated: "I would rather preach than do anything else in the world. I would rather preach than eat my dinner or have a holiday. I would rather pay to preach than be paid not to preach. It has its price in agony and sweat and tears, and no calling has such joys and heartbreaks, but it is a calling an archangel might covet. Is there any joy like that of saving a soul? Any thrill like that of opening blind eyes? Any reward like the love of children to the second and third generation? Any treasure like the grateful love of hearts healed and comforted?"
Two thousand years ago, Paul's response to the call of God was capsulized in those passionate words in 1 Corinthians 9:16: "If I preach the gospel, I can claim no credit for it; I cannot help myself; it would be an agony for me not to preach" (REB).
Preacher! What is your response? Oh, to be able to say and sing with Charles Wesley:
A charge to keep I have, a God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save, and fit it for the sky.
To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill;
O may it all my pow'rs engage, to do my Master's will!
Arm me with jealous care, as in Thy sight to live;
And O Thy servant, Lord, prepare a strict account to give!
Help me to watch and pray, and on Thyself rely,
And let me ne'er my trust betray, but press to realms on high.
—Anointed Expository Preaching