25 January 2011

Galatians 1:11-24

"For I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin." (v. 11)


Here Paul provides another account of how he became a follower of Jesus. St Paul was the original poacher turned gamekeeper of the religious world; as Saul he was one of the leading persecutors of the newly-found Christian 'sect', which was making converts of many within the Jewish community. Saul would have a miraculous conversion on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1-9), and become a leading advocate of the Christian faith. However, in the aftermath of his conversion, he faced a huge credibility gap among those who simply did not believe he was a changed man; some thought this was a ruse to expose Christians to the antagonist authorities. 

In our ever-so cynical, trust-averse society, there is much scepticism towards those who claim to have undergone some religious experience, especially a life-changing one. There is also a fear that new converts will become 'Holy Joes/Joannas', or zealots who want to tell everyone about their newfound beliefs. Others may be wary of the convert's sincerity; that they are seeking to elicit sympathy, forgiveness or a better hearing by claiming to be a changed person. Equally, it is difficult not to be mindful of the men and women whose newfound beliefs have led them astray and resulted in all manner of harm. 

There is little doubt that conversion brings about change. It is hard to imagine how a supernatural experience would not result in a plethora of changes. Far from being a negative experience, conversion often results in the emergence of individuals whose newfound faith inspires them to stand up for truth, justice and equality. 

In Paul's letters, which were largely written to Christian converts, he spoke about the importance of having a sound doctrine, imploring believers not to play fast and loose with teachings. This is paramount if new converts are to be balanced, committed believers who are seeking to make a difference in a cynical, suffering world. 

To Ponder

Paul became a Christian as a result of his miraculous conversion on the Damascus Road. What are the advantages/disadvantages of coming to faith like this?

How do we define what is a sound doctrine?

To what does your faith inspire you?

Bible notes author

Richard Reddie

Richard Reddie is an author and researcher, who for three years headed up the set all free project which marked the 2007 slave trade bicentenary. He also worked as an education policy officer for Race On The Agenda (ROTA), a social policy think-tank looking at issues affecting London's Black Minority Ethnic Community.