Gospel Insights

by Michael Smith

 

Chapter Sixteen

A BRIEF LOOK AT PAUL
AND SOME OF HIS EPISTLES

 

The Conversion of Saul to Paul

Please read Acts 9:1-22.

Saul's conversion was SUDDEN.  He was on his way to Damascus with the intent to persecute the Christians there, when Jesus Christ revealed Himself to Saul in a vision.  Our conversion may also be sudden, or it may be a gradual realisation of Who Jesus is.  God deals with each one of us individually.

From that moment Jesus became real to Saul and he was a changed person.  He repented of his past and started a brand new life.  He was no longer Saul but Paul: the famous apostle who has influenced millions of people during the last two millennia through his mission work and writings.  We too, as Paul, no matter how terrible we think we may have been, can be saved from our past, forgiven our sin, and start a new life in Christ.

Paul was willing to be used by God.  He asked the Lord, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?", and found that God had a plan for his life already mapped out.  The same is also true for us when we let God have His way in our lives, and it is never too late to start on that journey with the Lord all the while we remain alive here on this earth.

Paul then committed his life to Christ by being baptized and began his work for the Lord by testifying to all that God had already done for him.  He shared his salvation testimony with others, he preached Jesus as the Son of God, and bore much fruit for the Lord's Kingdom.  As Christianity is an evangelizing (outreaching) faith, we, like Paul - and the other disciples - are also meant to share Jesus and what He has done for us with those around us.

In time, folk will see more of Jesus' likeness in us and some who hear us and see our lives will also want to be saved.  But it is also true that many will reject us because they are determined to keep God away and out of their lives.  As the Lord Jesus said, He came to cause division, even in families, between those who want to follow Him and those who don't.

In addition to the enormous amount of travelling Paul did to preach the gospel, he also wrote many letters to the various fledgling Christian fellowships, which now form half of the New Testament in the Bible.  Every aspect of his work commenced with a great deal of prayer by himself and the other disciples.  We also are to live a life of prayer, and as we get older and perhaps cannot get around so easily, we can still pray for the needs of family, friends, and neighbours, for the persecuted church, and for national and world events.  We are never too old or too disabled to be used by God if we are willing.

Paul grew in grace, and others could see Jesus in him.  This, of course, was attractive to those who wanted to follow God and His ways, but it also caused hostility in those who were resistant to godly ways so that Paul was severely persecuted in some places [1].  Persecution of true Christians has always happened; the Lord warned that it would, and it will until the Lord returns [2].

And so we may ask, "How real is Jesus to me?  Is He the most important and the most basic part of my life?  Do I want to be with Him when I pass from time into eternity, or not?"


A Brief Look at Paul's Letter to the Christians in Rome

Please read Romans 3:23-25.

Paul's epistles to the Romans, Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians can be summed up as 'Christ in you', describing the resurrection life of Christ in us.  Paul was chosen by God to be one of the chief expounders of the basics of the Christian gospel, and through these letters to the early churches, the Holy Spirit shows us how to discover and explore the deep truths of the Christian gospel together with the experience of knowing and following Jesus Christ in a real and living way.

The theme of Paul's letter to the Christians in Rome is that of God's saving grace which can never be earned, no matter how good we may think we are.  In fact, at the time of Paul's writing, Rome, despite being the centre of a great empire had become a cesspool of every possible foul sin and was wallowing in sordid depravity.

This letter contains nearly every Christian doctrine in some form; every Christian teaching gets a mention here.  Someone called the epistle to the Romans 'The Master Key to Scripture', and here Paul tells us why we need to be saved (or born again).  Until the teaching found in the book of Romans is grasped, we will never really begin to experience the Christian faith in all its fullness.

In Romans, the theme of salvation is explained in its three tenses: past, present, and future.  In the past we were saved when we believed on Jesus and opened our hearts to Him; but that is only the start of our salvation.  In the present we are being saved as the character of Jesus develops in us as we follow Him by faith day by day.  In the future we shall be fully saved when at last we are resurrected to eternal life in our glorified bodies and stand in the very presence of the Son of God, knowing "as we are known" [3].  The three tenses of salvation can also be expressed as three aspects of being saved: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification.

We were immediately justified (past tense) when we believed on Jesus and were, in that moment, born again.  Justification is that righteous standing before God that we receive when we accept the fact of the Lord Jesus dying in our place, as we saw in Chapter Four.  It is the state of being without sin or blemish in God's sight; as if we had never sinned.  It is God's loving gift to us; it is a position we can never, ever earn for ourselves but must simply receive by faith.

The second aspect is sanctification (present tense).  This is the process of becoming daily more Christ-like as we leave behind the ways of the flesh that can never please God, and grow in the fruit of the Holy Spirit [4].  We are to become like a tree that produces ever more fruit pleasing to God and of help and blessing to others [5].

The third aspect is glorification (future tense) which will be the completion of this process of transformation when we are finally resurrected into the presence of Christ in eternity.

If we are prepared to grant the absolute perfection of God in every way - His perfect goodness, love, truth, and judgement - then we can understand that any form of sin or evil must break our relationship with God.  Paul starts his letter by listing many of the gross sins being committed, telling the Roman believers in no uncertain terms that these sins are an abomination in God's sight.  Two thousand years later, we may be more wealthy, more technically advanced, and live longer than most of the Romans then, but the same sins are still being practiced and in our inner beings we are still the same sinners, still in the same need of God to rescue us.  How then, asks Paul, can we, who have deliberately sinned and fallen well short of God's perfect standard, ever approach God or hope to share in fellowship with Him?

Many religions say that if we keep all their rules, laws, and regulations we will get to heaven.  Well, Paul and many others - Martin Luther in the 16th century for example - tried this and found it to be impossible because we are all born with a fallen nature which is biased to do wrong, no matter how much we may want to do otherwise [6].

God also knows it is impossible for us to live a perfect life in our own strength, and the heart of the gospel is that God Himself solves this frightful dilemma by coming to earth as a man in the form of His perfect Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, dying on the cross in the place where we should have been, taking upon Himself all our sins and evildoing, with the result that anyone who entrusts his life to Christ, can now, by virtue of God's own personal act of atonement, be accepted by God.  But we have to accept God's priceless gift by faith for it to benefit us.  If someone gives us a gift of money we will only benefit from it if we accept it and then use it.  Through our faith in what Christ has done for us we are saved from the awful consequences of our sin by His grace.

Being a gift, salvation cannot be earned as payment for any services we've done, and the person who thinks they can get to heaven by their own good works alone is considered 'self-righteous' by God.  Self-righteousness - or what we do for God - will never save us; only God's righteousness - or what He has done for us - can wash away our sin and make us worthy of spending eternity with Him.  Paul states very clearly that all have sinned and that there are no exceptions; we are all eternally separated from God's presence until we accept by faith all that God has done for us through the death and resurrection of His Son Who died in our place.  Some folk compare themselves quite favourably against others, but the gospel message is very clear that we are only to compare ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, and when we do that, all pride in ourselves dissolves and we are humbled as we see we have fallen so far short of His perfect standard, and that He alone is entitled to our absolute and wholehearted allegiance and loyalty, worship, devotion, and obedience.

Once we have accepted God's free gift of salvation, we can live our lives pleasing God and blessing others.  This is not automatic, as we still have our free will and will be tempted at times to give in to our old fleshly ways, but as we allow God's Holy Spirit to work in us, we will be able to let go of our old ways and bear good fruit for God's Kingdom [7].

From chapter 12, Paul discusses exactly how followers of Christ are to live out their new found life, and the words of this chapter are some of the most beautiful to be found in the Scriptures.  He begins, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.  And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God..."

Why not read this wonderful epistle to the Romans; it is as relevant today as it was two thousand years ago - and indeed, always will be.


A Very Brief Look at Corinthians, Galatians, and Ephesians

Corinthians

In his letter to the Christians at Corinth, Paul deals with some of the practical problems with which these believers were battling.  Most of them had come to the Christian faith out of paganism and were struggling to put away some of the pagan practices they had known for so long.  The epistle contrasts the worldly ways of fleshly paganism with the righteous ways expected of believers as they grow in spiritual maturity with the help of the Holy Spirit.  As Jesus said, we cannot follow both the worldly dictates of 'mammon' and the holy leading of God; it is impossible [8].  Carnal and unspiritual living results in the breakdown of our relationship with the Lord, but obedient and faithful fellowship with Him produces a godly holiness.

Galatians

The theme of Paul's letter to the Galatians is freedom.  Shortly after his first visit to the believers in Galatia, they had been persuaded by 'Judaizers' that they could not become proper Christians without first adhering to the Law of Moses (as found in the book of Leviticus).  Paul needed to explain to them that God had designed that Law purely as a 'schoolmaster' to highlight man's guilt, condemnation, and separation from Himself and bring him to the cross of Christ.  The Law itself cannot save anyone; it can only bring death because no man can live up to it, but the cross of Christ brings life.

Paul sums it up for the Galatians in chapter 2: "...a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, ... I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Galatians 2:16-21).

Paul says the Galatians are freed from their past life through the cross of Christ alone, without any need to go back to the law; freed to be used by God to help build His Kingdom and bring glory to Him.

Ephesians

With the letter to the believers at Ephesus comes a change of theme; from 'Christ in you' to 'you in Christ'.  Paul writes here that too many Christians remain spiritual babes throughout their lives, and he wants them - us - to grow up and become mature in the faith.  The status quo, and a 'private' type of Christianity in which we keep our faith to ourselves, are the last things God wants for us.  All the early disciples, including Paul, spent their lives sharing the gospel with others, often at great cost to themselves, and today, just as then, God looks for those who will be committed and bold people of action; people ready to fight in the ever-constant battle against all that is false, sinful, evil, and wicked, and to win others to salvation.  There is no retirement either for the elderly, or 'sick-leave' for the infirm, as everyone, whatever their limitations, can still pray for others in their chairs at home or in their hospital beds!

 

Footnotes

[1]  See 2 Corinthians 11.          [2]  Eg. Matthew 5:10-12;  Matthew 24:9;  Philippians 1:29;  Hebrews 11:36-38.          [3]  1 Corinthians 13:12.          [4]  Galatians 5.  See Chapter Nineteen.          [5]  Psalm 1:3;  Psalm 92:13-14;  Proverbs 11:30a;  Jeremiah 17:7-8.          [6]  Romans 7:14-24.          [7]  Romans 8:1-14.          [8]  Matthew 6:24.

 

 

 

Chapter Fifteen   |   Chapter Seventeen   |   Back to Contents

 

 

Michael Smith 2013