“Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God?” Paul asked last week in our Epistle. “Am I trying to please men?” Both are very important questions for we Christians to continually ask ourselves – especially in our day and age when everyone and their neighbour has a viewpoint on just how we should be. We should be more tolerant. We should be more accepting. We should be more loving, more inclusive, less phobic and a hundred other such things … BUT … not as we define such things through the Holy Scriptures. No, we should be all these things as those who are telling us to be that way would define what that means.
But then that begs the question doesn’t it … Who says? Who defines? Who calls us to be anything? Who do we listen to and why? Getting these answers right make a world of difference, both to ourselves and to everyone around us. Because these different sources also have very different ideals and look for very different outcomes. So which one will it be – Are we called by God or called by men? Who do we answer to?
Who is the source for what we believe and how we act and what we work towards? In our epistle Paul makes a sound case that he had the only trustworthy source. He contrasts the gospel that he preached (v. 11) with the traditions of his fathers (v. 14). And further, he shows where each one leads. Which one will it be?
14And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. At one time Paul would have answered this question with an exuberant faith in the teachings, commandments, and stories of the rabbis accepted by the Pharisees and passed on especially in the oral law. He had worked hard, made something of his life, and proven himself to be better than so many others. He was proud of the approval he had won for his untiring efforts.
But not anymore. For now the source of his calling came from a very different place. 11For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ … 16I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. The true Gospel does not have a human source but is a divine revelation given in God’s Word! It doesn’t seek to please men, but God. It doesn’t seek approval at all. It grants it freely in Christ.
And this basic difference in the source of our calling leads to some startling differences in where one goes and what one does. Paul’s own life illustrates the difference: 13For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. Being called by men means seeking men’s praise and approval. You must always be showing yourself worthy and … this is most often and easily done by attacking others different from you. This meant for Saul, out Pharisee-ing the Pharisees by destroying every last trace of Christ and His church.
Now we see it unfolding daily in the never-ending social justice campaigns to destroy every last vestige of Christian morality in our culture. The race to demonize those who will not accept what they propose as its replacement and the absolute intolerance of those who preach tolerance in others. In order to please one another they invent ever new and bigger bogey-men to bring down for the betterment of us all. And they leave a bloody trail of actual broken lives behind them. The more approval you seek the more enemies you must identify and destroy … but to what end? Who benefits when everyone in turn is destroyed? Who is the one that approves of that?
Luther knew the same pull. As He confessed: Outwardly I was not like other men: extortioners, unjust, adulterers (Luke 18:11). I observed chastity, poverty, and obedience. 51 In addition, I was free of the cares of this present life and was devoted only to fasting, vigils, prayers, reading Mass, and things like that. Nevertheless, under the cover of this sanctity and confidence I was nursing incessant mistrust, doubt, fear, hatred, and blasphemy against God … malice, blindness, contempt for God, ignorance of the Gospel, profanation of the sacraments, blasphemy and abuse of Christ, and the neglect of all the blessings of God …
That is how we were under the papacy, truly no less insulting and blasphemous against Christ and His Gospel than Paul was, and perhaps even worse than he. I was especially bad … I would have been willing—so zealously did I obey the pope—to have provided fire and sword to burn and destroy [the] heretic, if not in deed, then in spirit; and I would have thought that thereby I was offering a high service to God (John 16:2) … This, then, is our great righteousness and valuable merit that bring us to the knowledge of grace: that we have murderously and demonically persecuted, blasphemed, abused, and condemned God, Christ, the Gospel, faith, the sacraments, all pious men, and the true worship of God, and have taught and established the very opposite … Every single one of us was a bloodsucker, if not in fact, then in heart.1
Thankfully there is a better calling. A true and trustworthy source for our life and actions. As Paul tells us: 15But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles,
A human system for being godly and doing the right thing is no substitute for the divine design revealed by Jesus Christ. Listening to what Jesus reveals – what Paul brings from Jesus – is to hear what the Lord God says. It alone is our trustworthy source. For Jesus handed down the way of God’s mercy. Doing some right things is not sufficient because “all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law . . . God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” (Rom 2:12, 16). “The righteousness of God” comes “through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3:22). This is the gospel that Paul brought to the Galatians and he got it from Jesus.
Again as Luther commented: Now if the Gospel is the revelation of the Son of God, as it really is, then it certainly does not demand works, threaten death, or terrify the conscience. But it shows the Son of God, who is neither the Law nor a work … But Christ is the subject 54 of the Gospel. What the Gospel teaches and shows me is a divine work given to me by sheer grace; neither human reason nor wisdom nor even the Law of God teaches this. And I accept this gift by faith alone.2
23They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” 24And they glorified God because of me. And here Paul shows us the difference our source and calling makes. Called by God means serving those different from you – not attacking them. Why? Because they are not so very different from us at all. We are each of us sinners in need of God’s grace. Being called by God means treating others as fellow human beings, not ideological enemies. It includes the readiness to stand firm in the truth and be free with forgiveness. It means building each other up not tearing down. And in the end it means living the kind of life that brings glory not to our self or any men but to God! So which one will it be? Will you take up the calling of men seeking approval, or the calling of your God who approves of you freely for Christ’s sake? Will you live to put others in their place, or take up your place with Christ by serving to His glory? Will you now try to win the approval of men or of God?Which one will it be?
1 Luther, M. (1999, c1963). Vol. 26: Luther’s works, vol. 26 : Lectures on Galatians, 1535, Chapters 1-4 (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald & H. T. Lehmann, Ed.). Luther’s Works (Ga 1:18). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.