F.F. Bruce names his book on the life of the Apostle Paul, “The Apostle of the Heart Set Free.” Bruce, one of the most respected theologians of the 20th century, was profoundly moved by the author of Galatians and “the exhilarating release effected by his gospel of redeeming grace.” Bruce wrote, “Paul’s pre-eminent contribution to the world has been his presentation of the good news of free grace—as he would have put it (rightly), his re-presentation of the good news explicit in Jesus’ teaching and embodied in his life and work. The free grace of God which Paul proclaimed is free grace in more senses than one—free in the sense that it is sovereign and unfettered, free in the sense that it is held forth to men and women for their acceptance by faith alone, and free in the sense that it is the source and principle of their liberation from all kinds of inward and spiritual bondage, including the bondage of legalism and the bondage of moral anarchy.”[1] The message Paul proclaimed of the free grace of God is best seen in his writing to the believers in Galatia.

The first word in the letter is “Paul.” Up to Acts 13:9, The Apostle was called by his Jewish name, Saul. It made him acceptable to his Jewish audiences. His role changed radically when he joined Barnabas and John Mark on the first missionary journey to Galatia. To begin with, the trip was led by Barnabas, who brought his cousin, John Mark, along. Both Barnabas and John Mark were solid Jewish believers. I would argue that they intended to go to the Jews only, but while on the Island of Cyprus, a “Jewish” false prophet attempted to prevent the governor, Sergius Paulus, a Roman Official, from accepting the faith. Then, Paul stepped up and cursed the false “Jewish” prophet with blindness. Sergius Paulus became the first gentile convert under the Apostle Paul’s ministry. It is interesting that after Acts 13:9, Saul becomes Paul from that point on. Some early church fathers think Saul took his gentile name at that time to honor his first convert, who had the same name. But I see it as part of God’s plan to move Paul from a Jewish focus to a gentile focus. Being of the tribe of Benjamin (As we read in Philippians), I’m reasonably sure that his parents named Saul after the first King of Israel. Saul, the King, was head and shoulders taller than most of the men in Israel at that time, making him stand out. It is interesting that “Paul” means “small” or “little.” Maybe that was an intentional change for this proud Pharisee who was humbled, knocked to his knees, and blinded by the Lord. Paul’s blindness led to his salvation, but not so with the “Jewish” false prophet. Instead, it led to the salvation of Paul’s first gentile convert. The Jews who insisted on forcing the Law into the salvation equation were as furious with Paul’s message as the Religious leaders of Jesus who put Himself above the Law. Religious people hated Jesus. Religious people hated Paul. Religious people are violently opposed to a salvation message freely offered to irreligious people.

The second thing worth noting in Galatians 1:1is that Paul calls himself an “Apostle – not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead.” Paul’s apostleship to the gentiles came directly from God. As Rushdoony observes, “Paul is emphatic because there was a major effort to belittle his calling, his teaching, and his person.”[2] This attack on Paul came from the Judaizers who insisted on connecting obedience to the law with salvation by grace through faith. Paul preached a Gospel that put the person and work of Christ at the center. It forced each person to see their sinfulness and their need for a savior. It took God’s divine intervention to get his attention in this hyper-religious Pharisee’s life. It takes divine intervention today as well for religious people to get the truth of the Gospel. Jesus did not come to set up another religion but to destroy all religion. It always takes divine intervention to set man free from the law of sin and death.

[1] Bruce, F. F. 1977. Paul: Apostle of the Free Spirit. Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster.

[2] Rousas John Rushdoony, Romans & Galatians (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1997), 315.