11 For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And 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.
Paul’s understanding of the gospel is one of complete dependence. He is completely dependent on Jesus for his salvation. According to Paul, the Gospel is something that has been accomplished by the work of Jesus on the cross and not by any works or movement of any man. Indeed, there is no good thing that a man could do to possibly save.
In the churches of Galatia, some were accusing Paul of preaching a gospel that would establish his own righteousness above their own. This accusation embodied a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s own experience and interpretation of that experience. Paul answers the objections by giving a testimony of his own discipleship. He does not focus on his conversion experience or his pre-conversion life. Rather, he briefly mentions those and then spends the bulk of the testimony explaining his own discipleship journey (Paul explains his discipleship from chapter 1:12-2:21, concluding with the famous paragraph that includes, “not I but Christ who lives within me!”).
Paul has spoken the gospel message that Jesus saves by faith and not by works of the law. Certainly, the Jewish leaders would have claimed that Moses had received the law from God and therefore, it was not of man. Yet, Paul went one step further citing that the law was given to man for the purpose of leading men to recognize their need for Jesus. Salvation is not a result of works, nor is it achieved by works of the law. Salvation is a work of grace that is secured solely by God’s hand.
Paul appeals to his readers as “brothers” (v.11). In this simple title, he diminishes the distance that they may have felt from him as a leader. His gospel is not distant nor is it unique to Paul’s experience. His gospel is what connects them as family. It is what empowers their connection as brothers. Through the gospel of Jesus Christ, they have been united as family. Such a connection could only be forged by the creator. Such kinsmen could only be united through super-natural means by a divine designer. We are united in the gospel as family because the creator of all is the designer and sustainer of the gospel itself. This gospel is not “man’s gospel.” If it were man’s gospel, then it could not unite them as brothers.
Paul did not receive the gospel from a man, nor was he taught the truth by a man. He received it from God. A careful reader will note that Paul is not saying that no man had any influence in his own spiritual growth. Rather, Paul is asserting that he did not first learn the gospel from a teacher. He had a miraculous experience (c.f. Acts 9:1-19). Paul’s journey of faith led him to learn from Peter, James, and even Barnabas. However, it was Jesus who met him on the road to Damascus, blinding him and leading him to Ananias. It was Jesus whom Paul first met as Lord. Jesus claimed Paul for Himself and no man could take credit for his conversion. Paul’s conversion was wrought by Jesus.
As evidence of this truth, Paul cites his own history. He explains that he was too busy murdering those who would have taught him the gospel to learn from them. Paul’s life was bound up in self-righteous piety and war on Christianity. He was present at the stoning of Steven, most likely instigating the crowd to murder him (Acts 7:1-8:1). He was ravaging the church and attempting to blot out Christianity altogether. Paul was not merely a Jewish leader, he was the general leading the charge against Christ! So great was his zeal for the law of Moses that he was making a name for himself as outstanding among his peers. Certainly, such a man must have divine intervention in order to bring him salvation.
Such is the nature of salvation for us all. Amidst our attempts at self-righteousness, God intervenes and rescues us from our own wickedness. Like Paul, we all must have a transforming encounter with the Most High. There must be a surrendering of self and submission to Christ. Indeed, the law and moral activity cannot make us clean enough to redeem us from sin. Yet, God has provided a way of salvation to all who believe: Jesus. Trust in Jesus’ goodness to save you. He has come to earth, lived a perfect life, bore the punishment for sin on your behalf, rose from the dead bringing resurrection, and has redeemed those who would believe! Trust Him.