The Faith He Once Destroyed
July 16th, 1972 @ 8:15 AM
THE FAITH HE ONCE DESTROYED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-16-72 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, and this is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Faith He Once Destroyed. In these Sunday morning services, the pastor is preaching through the Book of Galatians; and I read now from the beginning of the first chapter:
Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead;)
But 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 the revelation of Jesus Christ,
When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb, and called me by His grace,
To reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him 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 –
almost certainly to Sinai –
and returned again unto Damascus.
And it was only after three years that I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and then abode with him just a fortnight.
And other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord’s brother, the pastor of the church at Jerusalem,
Afterwards I came 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 who persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed.
And they glorified God in me.
[Galatians 1:1, 11-24]
And that text: "But they heard only, That he who persecuted us in times past now preacheth the faith which once he destroyed" [Galatians 1:23].
The tone of the Galatian letter is very polemical, and the reason for it is no less very plain. There were ceremonial teachers who were trying to destroy the faith of the churches Paul had founded in the Roman province of Galatia. They were teaching the new converts that you cannot be saved by trusting Christ alone, but you must also add to that faith certain ceremonial rituals and rites and obediences of the law. And they dogged Paul’s steps wherever he went: in Syria, in Antioch, in Cilicia, and finally in those churches he had founded upon his first missionary journey. It was the battle all over again of the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, where the council of God’s people were gathered in the Holy City to make a decision concerning whether or not one could be saved just by trusting Christ or whether also he must add to that faith certain rites and rituals and ceremonies and kept commandments [Acts 15:5-19].
Now, the attack of these Judaizing enemies of Paul was centered against him personally. They said, "He is not a real and actual apostle; he is a pseudo-apostle, he is a false apostle. He was not one of the original twelve; he never saw the Lord in the days of His flesh, nor did this man Paul receive a commission from the original twelve. His message is not authentic; it does not come from Christ. Nor does he walk in the tradition of the original apostles." So they attacked Paul personally. The letter to the Galatians is in answer to that attack, both against the gospel that he preached and the message that heaven had revealed to him personally.
You might think from this brief background that I have given that when the apostle writes, that he would be apologetic. He was not one of the twelve; but he walked in no succession. He was separate and apart from the original apostles who followed the Lord in His Galilean and Judean and Perean ministries. But instead of Paul being sycophantic, apologetic, you find in his letter no extenuations, there is no rationalization. Rather he seems eagerly willing to defend his separate call and his unique apostleship. He does it with zeal, with avidity, and with great boldness. So he avows of himself three things: first, that his call is independent [Galatians 1:1]; second, that his gospel is independent [Galatians 1:11-12]; and third, that his work is independent [Galatians 1:15-24]. There was no hierarchy, there was no man, there was no church, there was no anybody of flesh and blood who had anything to do with him and his ministry for Christ. He stands boldly alone, uniquely the apostle by revelation. And he avows that in the first sentence: "Paul, an apostle, not of men, neither by men, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead" [Galatians 1:1].
Sometimes in reading the Bible I wonder about the apostle who was chosen to take the place of Judas. In the first chapter of the Book of Acts, the apostles and the brethren met together – now this is before Pentecost, before the Holy Spirit was poured out – and they nominated two men for that apostleship. And the lot fell upon Mathias. And Mathias was numbered with the eleven [Acts 1:23-26]. I have often wondered if that were not men’s choice, the choice of flesh and blood; but the real apostle who was chosen to take the place of Judas is the apostle called Saul of Tarsus, to whom the Lord Jesus appeared on his way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-8]. Certainly that call was from heaven: it was independent of man; it came from God [Acts 9:15-16].
Not only is the call of the apostle independent, but his gospel is independent: it is actually a fifth Gospel. It comes uniquely, separately, and apart from the tradition of the apostles who followed the Lord in the days of His flesh. For Paul writes:
I certify you, my brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man; it is not by tradition. Nor am I repeating things that I heard from Peter and John. Nor am I saying things that I learned in the church. But the gospel which I preach unto you is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it by men, but by direct revelation of Jesus Christ!
The apostles, the original twelve, followed the Lord around Judea and Perea and Galilee for three years. They sat at the feet of Jesus in the days of His flesh, when He walked among men. They sat at His feet for three years. But when the apostle was called, the apostle Paul was called, he went to Arabia, and there for three years he was taught by direct revelation from God the gospel that he preached [Galatians 1:15-18]. It is a fifth Gospel; it is unique and separate and apart. He avows that he received it by direct revelation from Christ in heaven [Galatians 1:11-12].
You can see the uniqueness of the gospel of Paul, in comparing his message and where he learned it, with that of Dr. Luke. When Paul was imprisoned in Caesarea, in the years that he was there, over two years, Luke, who was with him, his companion, Luke went to see Mary the mother of Jesus, and he talked to all of the eyewitnesses. He says this in the beginning verses of the Gospel of Luke [Luke 1:1-4]. And he got documents, anything that was written; and he studied, and he learned, and he listened, and he talked, and he visited, and he wrote down in the Gospel of Luke these things that he heard, and saw, and read. His Gospel is from the eye witnesses and from the documents of that day in which Luke lived.
In contradistinction to that, the apostle Paul says that "The gospel that I preach I received not from the mouths of men, not from tradition of the apostles, not from the witness of the church, but I received it by direct revelation from heaven" [Galatians 1:11-12, 15-16]. It is an independent message. It is a fifth Gospel tradition. It is separate and uniquely set apart. And these marvelous things that Paul reveals in the message that he preaches: he was in Paradise, the third heaven, he heard things unutterable [2 Corinthians 12:2-4]; He speaks of the dissolution of this earthly tabernacle, of its resurrection from the dead [2 Corinthians 5:1]; of the return of our Lord, and the rapture of the church [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17] – all of these marvelous things that are revealed in the gospel writings of Paul. They are uniquely independent; they came not from man, but they came from heaven itself, directly from Christ in glory [Galatians 1:11-12].
Not only was his call independent, and not only was his message, his gospel, independent, separate from that of the twelve, but the work that he did was an independent work: it flowed in nowise in the channel and in the form and the pattern of the original twelve. For example, in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 9 and 10, the apostle Paul will write:
For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
Nevertheless by the grace of God I am what I am: and the grace which was bestowed upon me. . .in that grace I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. I labored more abundantly than they all.
[1 Corinthians 15:9-10]
Were the disciples called Christians first in Jerusalem? No. In Judea? No. In Samaria? No. In Galilee? No. Where were the disciples first called Christians? They were called Christians first under the ministry of the apostle Paul in Antioch [Acts 11:26]. And in that council of Jerusalem it was decided that Peter, James the Lord’s brother, and John would go to the circumcision [Galatians 2:9]. That is, they would follow the tradition of the Jewish people, they would worship in the temple, and they would create what later became known as an Ebionitic church, a Hebrew church. And had that been the whole of the Christian faith, it would have perished under the rubble and the debris of the walls of Jerusalem when the city was destroyed in 70 AD: for the Ebionitic sect of the Christian faith died out completely. But the independent work of the apostle Paul, at the fifteenth chapter in Acts, in the council at Jerusalem, there was given to Paul and to Barnabas the right hands of fellowship that they should go to the Gentiles [Galatians 2:9]. And the independent ministry of the work of the apostle Paul covered the civilized world. And it is the kind, it is the type of the Christian faith and the Christian message that we know today. The work of Paul was independent. He was sent by the Lord to the Gentiles; "When it pleased God to separate me from my mother’s womb and call me by His grace to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Christ among the Gentiles, among the nations of the earth" [Galatians 1:15-16]. And it is that independent stream of the Christian faith that we know, that we receive, and that we follow today.
Now may I expatiate just for a moment on Paul’s own categorizing of this call and message that he delivered from God? Do you notice that he says "in his mother’s womb"? It pleased God in his mother’s womb to prepare him for this heavenly ministry! "When it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb" [Galatians 1:15]; this is not an afterthought of the Almighty, but when the child was conceived God’s purposes were in preparation for his heavenly ministry!
You know you see that so many times in the Word of God. In the ninth chapter of the Book of Romans, for example, Paul will discuss the election of Jacob, of Israel: For in the womb of Rebekah, he says, there were two boys, they were twins; one was named Esau and one was named Jacob. And before they were born the Lord chose Jacob, and said the elder, Esau, shall serve the younger" [Romans 9:10-12; Genesis 25:23]; the sovereign elective purposes of God before the children were born. In the first chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah repeats the word of the Lord, that God had called him from the time of his birth, that God had formed him in his mother’s womb for that prophetic ministry [Jeremiah 1:4-5].
You read that again – this is so oft times in the Bible – you read it again in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke, when the angel Gabriel says, that, "This child," later called John the Baptist, "should be filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb" [Luke 1:15]. And thus it is again in the life of the apostle Paul: when he was born, God formed him for that purpose! [Galatians 1:15].
Am I therefore to believe that when God makes us and creates us in the secret parts of our mother’s body, that when God does that, He does that for a reason and for a purpose, that God has an elective choice and program and plan for our lives? If I can understand the Bible at all, it is just that [Ephesians 2:10]. When you were conceived, and when you were born, and when God gave you a soul and breathed into your body the breath of life, God also had at that time a plan and a purpose for you. And Paul speaks of it here as being from his mother’s womb [Galatians 1:15]. It was not something that happened as an afterthought. It was not something that developed in life; but it was from the beginning the sovereign elective purpose of the almighty God.
Then we find that in the life of the apostle in the days of his training. He said to the Roman centurion, "Sir, I am a citizen of no mean city" [Acts 21:39], referring to Tarsus, the capital of the Roman province of Cilicia; and there was a great Greek university, almost certainly Paul attended that university. He was so conversant with the Greek language and so conversant with Greek literature and poetry. Then he was taught by Gamaliel, the great rabban, in Jerusalem itself [Acts 22:3]. And he was brought up in the tradition of the Jewish faith. He was zealous in it. He was a Pharisee: that is, he belonged to the most disciplined, straightest, strictest sect of the Jewish faith [Philippians 3:5].
Then he gave himself to an illimitable zeal in behalf of the tradition of the fathers. He hailed men and women into prison [Acts 8:3]. And when Stephen was stoned, they laid their garments at his young feet [Acts 7:58]. He persecuted this Way to the death! [Acts 22:4] And having letters from the high priest was on his way to Damascus, to bring back men and women bound, that they might be turned over either to death or to imprisonment because they had found faith and trust and salvation in Jesus Christ [Acts 9:1-2].
It was in the midst of that zeal, that earnest zealous commitment of his life to the faith of his fathers, to the tradition of the elders, to the Jewish religion, it was in the midst of that fervent exposition of the Judean faith, that suddenly, suddenly, without announcement, he didn’t know it, but God knew it; before he was born this heavenly purpose was in the mind of Almighty God. Having not been introduced to it, not knowing it, known but to God, on the way to Damascus there appeared to him above the brightness and the glory of the meridian Syrian sun, there appeared the form, the face, and the figure of the Son of God. And when struck in blindness by the glory of that light, he fell at the feet of that risen and glorified Lord, and said, "Who art Thou? Who art Thou?" And the reply: "I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. But rise, stand upon thy feet; for I have purposed to send thee to the nations of the world, there to witness to the grace and the glory and the hope and the promise of God," for us who are fallen, undone, dying sinners [Acts 26:13-18].
And he says to the King Agrippa: "Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: but beginning in Damascus, in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Syria and Cilicia, and to the uttermost parts of the earth am I preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God" [Acts 26:19-20].
This is the call and the ministry from heaven, placed in the hands of this Saul of Tarsus. Wherever men were, there did Paul preach. On the riverbank, to a group of women in prayer meeting at Philippi [Acts 16:13]; in the agora, in the heart of the great intellectual city of Athens; and up on Mars’ Hill before the Areopagus, the Supreme Court [Acts 17:19-34]; in the ship, battered and beat by a raging wind [Acts 27:21-25]; before Felix and Festus, Roman procurators [Acts 24, 25], and Agrippa, king of the Jews [Acts 26:1-32]; finally before Nero and the Praetorian Guard [2 Timothy 4:6, 16] – wherever, there witnessing to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
And that is our call, and our paragon, and our example. Here is a man who is in the gutter one day, but as he comes to know Jesus, under the shade of a tree, against a wall, anywhere is a good "where" to speak of what Christ has done for him. You need no commentaries, and you don’t need to study Greek and Hebrew to comment and expatiate on the text. "This is a faithful saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief" [1Timothy 1:15]. The carpenter can lay down his saw and his hammer and say that to a workman standing by his side. A blacksmith can take off his apron and lay down his iron tongs and say that to a man who happens to be in the shop. A secretary can speak to someone earnestly and faithfully, working in an office in one of these tall buildings. To someone seated by your side, there can be some good word said about Jesus, and what He has done for me.
"And the grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all" [1 Corinthians 15:10]. That is the high prerogative and holy assignment, the open door and the infinite privilege of the child of God to speak a good word for Jesus.
We’re going to sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, in this balcony round, so jammed and filled, on this lower floor, the press of people, down one of these stairways, into the aisle and to the front, "Pastor, today I’m coming. This is my family; all of us are coming now." Or maybe it is just you. The decision that God shall put in your heart, make it known. Tell God and men and the whole world about it. "I’ve taken Jesus as my Savior, and here I am." Or, "I’m putting my life in the fellowship of the church, and here I come." As the Spirit Himself shall press the appeal to your heart, answer with your life. Make the decision now. "I’m going now. When I stand up, I’m going, right down there at the front." When we sing this hymn of appeal, on the first note of that first stanza, come, come. God is in it. The Lord is for you. The very angels of heaven precede you. This is the glory way: it’s God’s open door into life and into heaven. Come, come, while we stand and while we sing.