As Paul described his previous life in the first chapter of Galatians, it becomes clear that he was a very religious person yet a terrible sinner! In Galatians 1:14 he writes, “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 was so zealous that, as Richison words it, “He was brutal and bloodthirsty with his religion— infamous for his opposition to Christianity. Religion has a tradition of brutality.” In Acts 22:4-5, Paul elaborated more on his religious zeal. He said, “I persecuted the Way (Christianity) to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.”

Paul goes on in Acts 26:9-11 to confess similar sinful religious zeal. He writes, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Religious hatred drives many great sins. Richison is absolutely correct when he writes, “Religion has a history of brutality. Religious history is full of intolerance and prejudice. We should turn in our religion if it makes us bigoted toward others.”

Then in Galatians 1:15 Paul says, “But…” In the Greek text this is the strongest adversative that can be used. Something radically different is coming: “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace…” Paul, the murderer, was called by God’s grace. Paul had nothing to commend him! He had no righteousness of his own that got God’s attention, quite the opposite. Actually, God chose Paul like He did Jeremiah, who records God’s call on him saying “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you” (Jeremiah 1:5). Richison concludes his comments on this passage by saying, “God chose Paul before he had a chance to show any merit. Paul did not instigate his salvation; God took the initiative. God chose him out of unadulterated grace. No work by Paul added anything to his call. God’s grace turned him around.” If Paul got what he deserved, he’d be burning in Hell. But God gave him grace. God hasn’t changed! He still gives Grace!