The Faith He Once Destroyed
July 16th, 1972 @ 10:50 AM
THE FAITH HE ONCE DESTROYED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-16-72 10:50 a.m.
You who are sharing the service with us on television and on radio are now part of our beloved congregation in the First Baptist Church in Dallas. The title of the message is The Faith He Once Destroyed. In these Sunday morning services we are preaching through the Book of Galatians. And this is an exposition of the first verse, and of several central verses, and the last verse of the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the churches of Galatia. He begins: “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead;)” [Galatians 1:1]. Then the eleventh verse:
I certify to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.
For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
. . .
And when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace,
To reveal His Son in me, to preach the gospel of Christ among the Gentiles . . . I conferred not with flesh and blood:
Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
And it was only after three years that I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and then I abode with him but a fortnight.
And of the other apostles, saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother—
the pastor of the church at Jerusalem.
[Galatians 1:11-12, 15-19]
Afterwards I came again into the regions of Syria and Cilicia;
And was unknown by face unto the churches of Judea which were in Christ:
But they had heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
And they glorified God in me.
[Galatians 1: 21-24]
“They heard only, That he which persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which he once destroyed” [Galatians 1:23]. The occasion of this letter to the churches in Galatia is to be found in certain ceremonial teachers who sought to corrupt the faith of the believers in the churches in Galatia. And what happened here in that Roman province, and what happened to these churches that were founded upon Paul’s first missionary journey, was a dog thing that followed him wherever he went. Wherever Paul preached, he fought over and over again the battle in the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. For there were those who said, contrary to the preaching of the apostle Paul, that you could not be saved just by trusting in the Lord. You must add to that faith certain rites or rituals or ceremonies or commandments that had to be kept and obeyed [Acts 15:1-5].
And the sustaining attack against Paul was found in their personal antipathy of him and their criticism of him. They said that he was no true apostle. They said he was a false apostle, he is a pseudo-apostle. They said he is not one of the twelve; he did not see the Lord in the days of His flesh. They said that what he learned, he learned only from others; that he had no authority from Jesus, and certainly no commission from the original twelve; that the gospel he preached was manufactured in his own mind and he had no authentication from heaven.
Now, in answer to that charge, you would think that Paul would have a sycophantic spirit of apology, because he was not one of the twelve; he doubtless had not seen Christ in the flesh; and he had no commission from the original apostles. You would think that he would extenuate, that he would apologize, that he would seek by explanation to defend his gospel and his authority in its proclamation. But when you pick up the Book of the Galatians and read what he writes in answer, you are astonished by its bold and polemical spirit. Actually it seems, as I read the book, that Paul is eagerly awaiting the opportunity to speak of his apostleship and to glory in its independence; that he is truly and gladly and gratefully separate, uniquely separate and apart, from the original twelve. So as I look at this chapter, I can see in Paul’s answer an independence in his call for which he is grateful; an independent gospel that he delivers from Christ Himself [Galatians 1:11-12]; and an independent work that the Lord blessed above that of any other disciple of Jesus who ever lived.
First, his independent call—the first sentence: “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead;)” [Galatians 1:1]. That is, he avows that he stands in no succession. He stands uniquely alone. The message that he delivers is not of men, nor did he learn it of men; but it came to him by revelation from Jesus Christ [Galatians 1:11-12], and this through a separate call to him to the apostleship [Galatians 1:1].
I often think of that election of Matthias to a place in the twelve apostles that we read in the first chapter of the Book of Acts. This is before Pentecost, and the eleven apostles and the brethren in Jerusalem gathered, and they elected somebody to take the place that was vacated by the suicide of Judas. And they elected Matthias [Acts 1:22-26]. But men did that. Flesh and blood did that. I have often thought that the one whom God chose for that place that was vacated by Judas is none other than Saul of Tarsus [Acts 1:15-26]. Men chose Matthias, but God in heaven chose Paul. And he says that that call to an apostleship is unique, and it is of God. It is independent of men. And he walks in no tradition, he learned his gospel from no authority in church, or from among the twelve, but his call came from God Himself [Acts 9:15-16].
Second, he avows that the gospel message that he preaches is from heaven itself, it is not from men: “I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by direct revelation of Jesus Christ” [Galatians 1:11, 12]. It came from His own lips and in His own teaching. That is a remarkable thing, and a miraculous thing, and an astonishing thing, if you pause to look at it. For three years, the twelve followed the Lord around Galilee and Judea and Perea—sitting at His feet, learning of the revelations of the heaven from the lips of the Lord Himself. For three years they did that. And here again, for three years, the apostle Paul, Saul of Tarsus, is in Arabia [Galatians 1:17-18]—doubtless at Sinai [Galatians 4:25], where Moses delivered the Ten Commandments [Exodus 20:1-17] and where Elijah fled to in the days of an awesome depression [1 Kings 17:1-7]. Saul of Tarsus is there for three years after his conversion on the Damascus road [Acts 9:1-18], and there Christ taught him—face to face, mouth to mouth, mind to mind—there the Lord taught him the gospel that he preached. It is literally as though there was a fifth gospel, this one by unique, separate, direct revelation from Christ in heaven. He says that: “For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by direct revelation from Jesus, the Christ” [Galatians 1:12].
To show you the difference in that, let us compare the apostle Paul and what he says with Dr. Luke. The beloved physician was Paul’s companion, beginning on his second missionary journey, and was with him to the day of his martyrdom. And in the two years and beyond that the apostle Paul was a prisoner in Caesarea, Luke took advantage of those two and beyond years and he visited eyewitnesses of the ministry of Christ. He talked to Mary, the Lord’s mother. He talked to all of the people whom he could find who had seen Christ in the flesh. He read all of the documents and notes that were written down. He says all of this in the first verses of his Gospel [Luke 1:1-4]. Then Luke, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, wrote out what he had seen and what he had heard as he talked to eyewitnesses, as he read the documents, and as he visited the scenes of the work, the miraculous work of our Savior. That is the Gospel of Luke.
But the gospel of Paul is in another era. It is in another area. It is in another world. It is not something that he read. It is not a document that he found or perused. It is not a tradition that he is following; nor is it a repetition of a teaching that he got from the apostles themselves. But he avows: “The gospel that I preach, I gained it, I heard it directly from the mouth of Jesus Himself” [Galatians 1:11-12]. It is literally a fifth gospel. It is an independent witness to the truth of God in Christ Jesus. And the marvelous things that are revealed in this gospel that Paul preaches—so much of the New Testament—that in Paradise, in the third heaven, listening to things unutterable for a man to hear, the revelation of the dissolution of this body and our tabernacle made without hands in heaven eternal [1 Corinthians 15:35-58]; the rapture of the saints; the glorious appearing of the Lord [1 Thessalonians 4:13-17]—how many things did Christ reveal to Paul personally? He never learned them from others. Nor did he read them out of other documents. But they came to him directly from Christ Himself. He was taught them by the word of the Lord in heaven [Galatians 1:11-12].
I spoke of an instance of that Sunday a week ago: “For I have received also that which I delivered unto you. That the Lord Jesus the night he was betrayed took bread.” That is even the Lord’s Supper he was taught directly by our Lord. And the words in that Lord’s Supper are things that Christ told him. You do not read them in the four Gospels. They were revealed to him by Christ in heaven: “For I have received of the Lord that which I delivered unto you” [1 Corinthians 11:23]; I neither—I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by direct revelation of Jesus Christ” [Galatians 1:12].
Not only was his call independent, separate; not only was his gospel separate and independent, a fifth gospel, another witness to the truth of the Lord in Christ, but his work was independent. When he wrote to the church at Rome he said, “It has been my dedication not to preach the gospel where another man has preached it, lest I should build upon another man’s work” [Romans 15:20]. But the work of the apostle Paul was in an altogether different channel from the twelve. In the second chapter of the Book of Galatians he describes this Jerusalem conference, at which time James and Cephas—Simon Peter—and John gave him and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship [Galatians 2:9] in the agreement that they—James, Cephas, and John—should go to the circumcision, should preach the gospel to the Jew; but that Barnabas and Saul should go to the Gentiles to preach the gospel to the great, vast, outlying, outreaching nations of the earth [Galatians 2:9]. And that thing happened just like that [Acts 13:1-28:31].
James, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem, the Lord’s half brother—James was a Jew in his worship all the days of his life. And the Christian faith that he followed was identified and was an integral component part of the temple worship at Jerusalem. It is called “Ebionitic” religion, Ebionitic Christianity. And had it remained that when Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, that faith—the Christian faith—would have been buried beneath the rubble and the debris of the walls that were battered down by the Roman emperor Titus. Ebionitic religion died, and it died with James, the pastor of the church, and with all of those Ebionites. But the work that the apostle Paul did—a unique and separate work, an independent work from the twelve—it was blessed of God to the whole Greco-Roman and civilized world. Tell me, were the disciples first called Christians in Jerusalem? No. There they were called “the sect of the Nazarenes” [Acts 24:5]. Where were the disciples called first Christians? It was under Paul’s ministry at Antioch [Acts 11:26]. And out of Antioch did the Holy Spirit guide Paul and Barnabas into the great missionary journeys that scattered the faith over the Roman world. It was a new day. It was a new era. It was a new work. And God blessed it in the unique ministry, and the unique gospel, and the unique call of Saul of Tarsus. And this is the apologia,—the defense of his ministry that he is making here in this letter to the churches of Galatia.
Now may I speak of this in particular as Paul refers it, delineates it, concerning himself? He says, “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace [Galatians 1:15], to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach the gospel to the Gentiles” [Galatians 1:15, 16]. Look at that: “When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace.” There the apostle refers to that inscrutable, un-understandable sovereign choice of God that is made for us before we are born. The apostle is avowing that when he was conceived in the secret parts of his mother’s womb—that in that conception, God purposed this holy assignment and mandate from heaven. Now you would say to begin with, “That is strange. That is unusual.” No, it is found in the Bible again and again, this sovereign choice of God in the birth, in the conception of the child that is to be born. In the ninth chapter, for example, the Book of Romans, Paul is discussing there the election of God, the purpose of God for human life, and he illustrates it by the twins in the womb of Rebekah. There is Esau, and there is Isaac. There is Esau, and there is Jacob, but before they were born, the Scriptures say that God chose Israel—Jacob, and said, “The elder shall serve the younger” [Genesis 25:23; Romans 9:12]. “Even as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” [Malachi 1:2-3; Romans 9:13]; the purpose of God in the conception of the child known in the inscrutable counsels of the Almighty—the choice of God, the plan of God for the human life.
Jeremiah speaks of it. In the first chapter of Jeremiah, he describes that God had called him to be a prophet in his mother’s womb [Jeremiah 1:4-10]. You read of it again as an example in the life of John the Baptist. The angel Gabriel said that the child “should be filled with the Holy Spirit, from his birth, from his mother’s womb” [Luke 1:15]. And here, you have it again: “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace” [Galatians 1:15]. To us these things happen to adventitiously, so peripherally, but not to God. When you were born, there was a purpose and a plan in God’s mind for you. There is an assignment, there is a mandate, there is a calling that concerns you. It is not something that the Lord is surprised with when you turn out to be so-and-so. It is not something that the Lord is overwhelmed with when His blessings are upon you. But these are things that are purposed of God before breath, before the soul is placed in the body; the inscrutable, sovereign, elective choice of Almighty God.
And then the training and the preparation of the apostle all followed in that holy and heavenly channel. In his training in Cilicia, Tarsus the capital city had in it a great, far-famed Greek university [Acts 22:3]. He spoke Greek fluently. He was trained in it. He quoted from the Greek poets [Acts 17:28]. He was familiar with their literature, their culture. All the formative years of the apostle Paul were molded in a Greek intellectual world. Then, lest—from heaven he might be overwhelmingly ambitious for Greek culture and Greek life, which is a very easy to fall into; you cannot help but admire them, their architecture, their poetry, their drama, their philosophy; in fact, the intellectual world today is still overwhelmed by Aristotelian philosophy—lest he fall into too vast an admiration of Greek culture and Greek life, he was sent as a young man to sit at the feet of Gamaliel [Acts 22:3], one of the great seven rabbins of all rabbinical story in history. And he was by Gamaliel, and grew up in the faith of the Jewish religion, a Pharisee [Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5]; that is, one of the most disciplined, straitest sect of the Jewish people.
And not only that, but he gave himself so zealously to the faith, to the Jewish religion, that when this new heresy came—this sect of the Nazarenes—he persecuted it violently unto death [Acts 22:4]. When they stoned Stephen, they laid their garments at the feet of the young man named Saul [Acts 7:58]. And he had letters from the high priest that if he found any of this way, even in foreign cities, that he could bind them and bring them to Jerusalem there to be tried [Acts 9:1, 2]; some of them put to death, some of them placed in prison. Thus, zealously did this firebrand from Tarsus in Cilicia find himself fervent for the tradition of the elders—for rabbinical religion—and bitterly opposed to the Christian faith. And here again the sovereign purpose of God called him from his birth, trained him in Hellenistic culture, sat him at the feet of Gamaliel, the greatest teacher of the Jewish religion; fervent in spirit, a flaming fire for the faith of Jehovah God. And then—and then, in the midst of his fervent persecution of that way, there appeared on the road to Damascus, above the brightness of the Syrian sun, none other than the Christ, God Himself. Blinded by the glory of that light, he fell to the ground and asked: “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He replied, “I am Jesus of Nazareth whom thou persecutes [Acts 9:1-5, 22:6-8]. But arise, stand on thy feet, for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, that I might teach thee how great things thou must suffer for My name’s sake [Acts 9:16], and to declare my name among the Gentiles, to whom now I send thee” [Acts 26:15-18]. And in recounting that experience to the Jewish king, Agrippa II, he said:
Whereupon—wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision:
But showed first unto them at Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then in Judea, then in Syria, and Cilicia, and to the uttermost part of the earth,
The grace and glory of God poured out upon us in Christ Jesus, our Lord.
How faithfully, and with what zeal and dedication did Saul of Tarsus give himself to that gospel of the grace of the Son of God. The Lord said to him: “I will teach him how much, how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake” [Acts 9:16].
Tears were to be his drink. Agony was to be his traveling companion. Loneliness to be his bedfellow. Wherever he went, persecution, stoning, imprisonment, thrice beaten with Roman rods, many times flailed with forty stripes save one [2 Corinthians 11:24-25]. Most of his ministry, practically all of it, spent in dungeons behind iron bars and stone walls. And when finally in his last journey to Jerusalem, and the brethren asked him, he replied:
All I know is that the Spirit witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and imprisonment await me.
But none of these things turn me—
if I may finish my course and preach the gospel of the grace of the Son of God.
“For this purpose, did He call me, that I might make known His name among the Gentiles” [Galatians 1:15-16]. And beginning at Damascus and Jerusalem [Acts 9:19-31], until he was martyred, this was the flaming message of the preached word delivered by God’s servant, Saul of Tarsus [Acts 13:1-28:31].
We have a like commission and a like mandate. We don’t need to be taught Greek and Hebrew to witness to the grace of Christ. We don’t need to read long commentaries that we might be versed and learned in the Holy Word, in order to testify what Christ has done for us. If yesterday, there was a man in the gutter, and today he knows Christ for himself, that man can stand under any tree or against any wall and say, “This is a faithful saying . . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” [1 Timothy 1:15]. Any blacksmith anywhere can take off his apron and lay down his iron tong and tell a farmer whose horse he is preparing for work in the field what Jesus has done for him. Any carpenter can lay down his hammer and his saw and tell a fellow craftsman what Jesus means to him. Any secretary can pause in her typing and tell a fellow clerk what Christ has done for her. Any housewife over the backyard fence can say to a neighbor how much Jesus means to you. This is the fullness of the gospel of the message of God in Christ Jesus. As the apostle said, “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but first to them at Damascus, and Jerusalem, in Judea and Cilicia have I preached the gospel of the grace of the Son of God [Acts 26:19, 20]. And we also can share in that infinitely precious and saving ministry.
This is our Lord’s call to us today, and an especial call to you, to whom the Holy Spirit addresses words of appeal now, answer with your life. Do it now. In a moment we shall stand to sing, and while we sing that appeal, in the balcony round, a family you; on this lower floor, a somebody you, a couple, or just you, make that decision now in your heart. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming down one of these stairways or walking down one of these aisles. Do it now. Make it now. The very angels of heaven will precede you in the way. The Spirit of God will give you strength and courage to reply. Make the decision now in your heart. And when we stand in this moment to sing, the first note, the first word, let it see you step into that aisle and down here to the front. “Here I am, pastor. I give you my hand. I have given my heart to the Lord” [Romans 10:8-13]. Or, “This is my family; we are all coming this morning” [Hebrews 19:24-25]. I cannot say the word, the Spirit does [John 16:7-8]. And the appeal that He makes, answer now. Come now. Do it now, while we stand and while we sing.
HE ONCE DESTROYED
I. The occasion of this letter to the
Ceremonial teachers corrupting the faith of the Galatians church
Sustained the assault by attacking Paul personally
His independent call (Galatians 1:1)
a. Matthias chosen by
men (Acts 1:26)
His independent gospel, revelation (Galatians
1:11-12, Revelation 1:1)
A “fifth gospel”(Luke 1:1-4, 1 Corinthians 11:23,
15:3, Galatians 1:16-19)
His independent work (Galatians 2:9, 11-14,
a. Disciples called
Christians in Antioch, not Jerusalem (Acts
II. Paul expands the declaration
A. Chosen from his
birth (Galatians 1:15-16)
The higher, unseen purpose of God at work (Jeremiah
1:4-10, Genesis 25:23, Luke 1:15, Romans 9:12-13)
Divine providence controlling his training
a. Without peer in zeal
for religion of his fathers (Acts 7:58, 9:2)
B. Confronted on the
Damascus road by Christ (Acts 9:3-6)
The purpose (Galatians 1:15-16, Acts 9:10-16)
suffering and martyrdom (Acts 20:23-24, 1
Corinthians 15:9-10, 2 Timothy 4:7)