February 10, 2012
Back to Basics
My Former Manner of Life
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Many people I know spend time thinking about the past, and the way they have lived life. Some people have glowing thoughts of the way they were before being born again in the Spirit, while others regret their former manner of life. Today we will read about Paul reviewing his former manner of life, and why he reviewed his past with the Galatians. I often hear people preoccupied with their past, and never focusing upon the present and the future. As a believer, your past should be under the control of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In this passage today, watch how Paul uses his past life before salvation as part of his message to the Galatians. So, today we will focus upon a passage in the Bible that teaches us about how we should look at our past.
For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it;
Former Manner of Life. In Galatians 1:13, Paul looked back at his “former manner of life” (“ἀναστροφήν ποτε”). The first lesson we should learn concerns looking back and how we look back and why we look back. For every believer, we should discern a former manner of life that we turned away from to follow Christ. Personally, I received Christ as young child of five years old, but I still remember the great joy of having my sins forgiven and living in new life with God. I had not yet committed great sins which plagued me later in life, but I do recall the joy of forgiveness. For Paul, he saw a sharp contrast between his present life and his former life. Second, Paul did not try to hide his former manner of life. He discussed it freely with the Galatians, and his old reputation had spread to many areas. You see, God loves to use your former manner of life to His glory. We cannot always anticipate how God will use our former lives, but we know that His plans will glorify Himself in one way or another. Third, no matter what your former manner of life was like before you came to Christ for salvation, you cannot change the past, but you can gain perspective and appreciation for the way Christ brought change into your life by His salvation and the abiding presence of Jesus and the Holy Spirit in your life. In Paul’s case, he emphasized a change in his religious outlook and practice.
Judaism. In Galatians 1:13, Paul recognized the role that “Judaism” played in his former manner of life. Never forget that Jesus was a Jew, sent by God first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. “Judaism” means something particular to Paul. He described “Judaism” as people who “persecute the Church of God beyond measure and try to destroy it.” In Acts 9:21, we read that the disciples in Damascus called Paul the “persecutor” (“πορθήσας”) of the church. In Acts 9:21, the term for persecute describes the entirety and completeness of the persecution. Paul was the “one who has persecuted,” and the term means to sack, destroy, kill and lay waste. Under the power of Jesus Christ, Paul went from being the one binding Christians for persecution and death, to the bond-servant of Christ bound to His service. We should learn from Paul the depth and totality of Christ creating us as new spiritual beings at the moment of salvation. We become new creatures in Christ, with the old things passed away and new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17). We not only see our past before we came to Christ, but we see a different creature of evil. Paul was still a Jew before and after his salvation. Individually, God chose Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, to serve Him, but God did not immediately bring salvation to all the Jews. The Jews as a nation, will always be part of the people of God in terms of national destiny. God has made promises to Abraham and David which God will fulfill in the future. God made national, geographic, and royal promises and that the nation of Israel will look upon Christ whom they have pierced, mourn and repent (Zechariah 12:10). The people of Israel will one day return to the land of Israel, and live under the reign of Jesus Christ in the millennium. In Galatians 1:13, Paul focused upon “Judaism” as the group of unbelievers who sought to destroy the church, and persecute its members, just for their faith in Christ Jesus. As we look at our past, we may see great atrocities, but we should remember Paul. Paul used his past, including its great evil, to glorify God. Because Paul lived in Judaism, he could speak against the evils of Judaism based upon first-hand experience and eye-witness testimony. Paul personified “Judaism” before he came to faith in Christ Jesus.
and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
Advancing in Judaism. In Galatians 1:14, Paul claimed to be advancing in Judaism beyond many of his contemporaries. Paul meant that he excelled in Judaism, and persecuted the church more than his friends and colleagues. As Paul used the term in this verse, Paul meant that “Judaism” was not the true faith of the Old Testament, but a perversion of the Old Testament teaching, which resulted in the Jews not knowing the Messiah when He came. Furthermore, the Jews’ determination to have a righteousness based upon their own works under the Law of the Old Testament only led them into unrighteousness before God, because the Law condemned them as sinners, unable to keep the Law. So, Paul compared himself to the other men of Judaism, and said he excelled beyond them.
More Extremely Zealous for My Ancestral Traditions. In Galatians 1:14, Paul looked at the root of “Judaism.” He traced his behavior to zealous devotion to “ancestral traditions” (“παραδόσεων”). This term for ancestral traditions highlights the problem with supplanting the text of Scripture with the teachings of men. Some Jews held that Moses not only wrote the first five books of the Bible, called the Torah or Pentateuch, but he also delivered oral traditions which were handed down from generation to generation. Judging from the content of those traditions at the time of Paul, they lead people away from God, so that they were opposed to Christ when He came. Remember that Jesus came to His own people of Israel, and they did not receive Him (John 1:11), because they did not know the God of the Old Testament, His Father and Himself, as the Yahweh of the Old Testament (John 8:19). Today, we see all kinds of false teachers adding material to the Bible, because they claim God revealed something to them. All such teaching contradicts the Bible itself, and leads away from Christ and knowledge of God.
When we truly know the power of Christ in our salvation, we gain a whole new perspective upon our entire lives. Instead of living in guilt and shame for past sins, we delight in the power of Christ transforming our lives from sinners to holy ones in Him. We see His power working in our lives each day, delivering us from sin and sinful practices, and enjoying His love day by day. We do not fear our past, but know we have no condemnation from God, and live in peace with Him for eternity. Our past becomes our testimony for Christ and His power. We must always see ourselves as the Bible describes us, and abandon our own sinful images of who we were and are now in Christ. The truth of our lives shines with the glory of God at work in us, when we open our eyes and see the great things Jesus has been doing within us.
So we learn more about evaluating our past from God’s perspective today.
● When we look at our days before salvation, we see a picture of evil in our lives, controlling us and leading us to sin against God.
● When we look at our salvation, we see God delivering us from the power of evil, and creating a new spiritual being.
● When we look at Jesus today, we see Him who has always loved us, and transformed us so that everyone will know about the wonderful change from evil to good in our lives, and how we left the darkness and came into His marvelous light, to live with Him forever as His bond-slave.
Application for Today
As I walk through life today, I want to see my past through the eyes of Jesus, and not from my own perspective of guilt, shame, or longing for the old days. Instead, I know that Christ works in me, and His power will shine from me today. Will you see your past through the eyes of Christ today?