Churches often ask members to share their testimony in a service or prayer meeting, and here we find the apostle Paul sharing his. In fact, Galatians 1:10 – 2:21 is often called the autobiographical section of the epistle , since Paul is recounting his conversion and early Christian experience.
This is not a rare thing for Paul; we find him talking about his own conversion and experience in Acts 22:2b-21 and 26:4-23. And here, as in Acts, Paul is not sharing his testimony for general inspiration, or to point us to himself. He’s using it to refute the claims of people who want to undermine his message, and he wants it all to point to the God of amazing grace.
As Paul tells us how he became a follower of Jesus—or, perhaps more accurately, how Jesus made him His follower—he’s defending himself from three attacks “some people” (v 7) were making on him and his gospel message.
First, Paul refutes the idea that he came to his gospel message through his own reflection, reasoning and thinking. He recounts that, until his conversion, he was “intensely” hostile to the church and to Christianity (v 13). He wanted to “destroy it”. There was no gradual process of consideration, discussion, revision. There was no way that Paul’s Christian message was the product of his own line of thinking. Rather, it was the exact, polar opposite of where he had been going.
Pre-Christian Paul was so violently opposed to Christ that even watching the faith and certainty of Christian martyrs had no effect on him (Acts 7:54 – 8:1). His experience is strong evidence that his conversion was via direct revelation. As Acts 9:1-9 shows us, the risen Jesus met and instructed Paul directly. Paul did not have simply a trance or a dream. Christ was there in time and space, since even the other men with Paul recognized the presence (Acts 9:7). So Paul became a “capital-A” apostle, like those who were apostles before him (Galatians 1:17).
Second, Paul undermines the claim that his gospel message was derived from others, from Christian leaders in Jerusalem . “I did not consult any man, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was” (v 16-17). There were three years between Paul’s conversion and his first journey to Jerusalem (v 18-19), and even then he did not get instructed by them in any methodical way.
Paul’s repeated reference to the apostles at Jerusalem suggest that “some people” (v 7) were claiming that Paul had simply gotten his gospel message from this “headquarters”. This would enable them to argue: We have also been trained at the Jerusalem HQ. And we know that Paul did not give you the whole story. There are other things you must do in order to be pleasing to God.
Third, Paul shows that his God-given gospel “checked out” with the message the other apostles had received from God. Peter (v 18), James (v 19) and the churches of Judea (v 22) were among those who “praised God” (v 24) for what He had done for Paul, and for the message He had given Paul. He did not receive his commission or message from the other apostles; but his message squared with the one the other apostles received from the risen Lord (Luke 24:45-49).
So Paul’s account eliminates claims like: That’s what Paul thinks—here’s what we think, and it’s just as valid; Paul’s message is fine, but incomplete; Paul’s message is simply his message—it’s not what the church teaches in Jerusalem.
But Paul’s testimony doesn’t only establish his authority as a gospel teacher. It also illustrates some aspects of what the gospel of grace is. In its structure as well as its content, this text shows us that the gospel of grace underpins every step of the Christian life. Paul will keep coming back to it; so should we, in our lives, our prayers, our thoughts, our witness, our preaching and teaching.