How do you respond to Galatians 1:15–16?

“…when God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me…I did not confer with any human being…”

As with Jeremiah (Jer. 1:5), John the Baptist (Luke 1:13–17) and other God-ordained prophets, Paul was aware that God had decided on a unique vocation for him while he was yet forming in the womb. If we refrain from reading into the text a preconceived idea of what “set apart” and “called” entail, but rather simply allow Scripture to define these terms, I believe we will see that this setting apart and calling does not rule out the free will of the agent. Many of the things God plans, ordains and even announces ahead of time do not come to pass, for God has sovereignly created a world in which his will usually isn’t the only variable deciding what comes to pass: people and angels have freedom as well.

God certainly had a unique plan for Paul’s life and he went to great lengths to bring him into the Kingdom (Acts 9:1–5). But as Paul himself suggested to king Agrippa, he could have nevertheless been “disobedient to that heavenly vision” Acts 26:19). Had he done so, God would have raised up a different uniquely prepared servant to bring his message to the Gentiles and we would now know Saul of Tarsus only as an evil persecutor of early Christians.

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