You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion—how I violently persecuted God’s church. I did my best to destroy it. I was far ahead of my fellow Jews in my zeal for the traditions of my ancestors. But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When this happened, I did not rush out to consult with any human being. Nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. Instead, I went away into Arabia, and later I returned to the city of Damascus. Then three years later I went to Jerusalem to get to know Peter, and I stayed with him for fifteen days. The only other apostle I met at that time was James, the Lord’s brother. I declare before God that what I am writing to you is not a lie. After that visit I went north into the provinces of Syria and Cilicia. And still the Christians in the churches in Judea didn’t know me personally. All they knew was that people were saying, “The one who used to persecute us is now preaching the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they praised God because of me. Galatians 1:13-24
You know what I was like. This is the gospel message we should live. Remembering—and reminding others of what we were like. Before.
Paul is looking back at things he would rather forget; things that were who he was before meeting Christ. Before coming to know and follow Jesus. Before his life was changed. And ultimately this is the gospel: being changed by Jesus in ways we cannot change ourselves. Being made whole again, a mending of the broken places. It’s not natural. We would all rather forget who we were before, how we used to act, the ways we used to think and used to speak. We can all look back and see what was—what we were—and usually we cringe.
There is this temptation in me to agree with all of this and assume it doesn’t really apply to me personally. After all, I came to know Christ as a young child. I was sinful, sure. But I didn’t have some dramatic turn around, some amazing conversion for wicked rebellion. I was a kid.
But I know what I was like 5 years ago. I know how I acted ten or fifteen years ago. I know what I was like before. I don’t think this is something that just applies to before we came to Christ, but at any point in our journey towards the Father we can look back and know what we were like before. We should always be able to see places we have grown or ways we have been mended. We should always be able to recognize the ways in which Christ is changing us.
I know the way I was before. I know the times when I thought I knew all the answers to everybody’s problems. I know what I was like when I thought I could do it on my own because I knew the Bible verses to recite. I know what I was like when I was trying to live for the future without allowing God to dig into and clean out the wounds of the past. I know what I was like.
And I know how my behavior has hurt people. I know the way dishonesty and secret-keeping has been damaging to relationships. I know how pride and fear have led me down paths of selfishness and self-centeredness. I know what I was like.
I am certainly not saying I have arrived or I am completely not like that any more. But this road to Jesus and with Jesus is a journey. I’m progressing. I know what I was like and how in so many ways I am not that way anymore. I know how in some ways I’m just not as much that way. I know that he is changing me, re-making me. I know what I was like and still he took me, still he loved me, still he saved me. And continues to.
And they praised God because of me.
I love the way Paul ends this summary of his journey. They praised God because of him. Seeing the way God was working in him, knowing what he had been like, they could see that it was God, not Paul.
This should be us. This should be our lives too. So I’m carrying some questions with me today to evaluate if this is my story as it was Paul’s. Checking to see if there are things I should be surrendering so that it can be me. Would you carry them too?
Am I still living in the same damaging habits God has been calling me out of for some time?
Do I still fall back on the same lies so I can pretend to be someone I am not?
I know what I was like, how am I still like that? How has God changed me in recent years?