You know what I was like when I followed the Jewish religion–how I violently persecuted the Christians. I did my best to get rid of them. I was one of the most religious Jews of my own age, and I tried as hard as possible to follow all the old traditions of my religion.
I think it’s pretty cool how we can so easily forget this. Paul was the epitome of what Jesus was not. He destroyed the lives of people who disagreed with his religion. He worked with all of his might to appear spotless on the outside, and even perhaps try to feel spotless on the inside. He was Pharisee of Pharisees, and he was a Christian killer. And he wrote half of the new testament. He changed the course of history. God used him to spread the news of His kingdom across the earth. He is the Apostle Paul. Hero of the faith!
But he wasn’t. He didn’t used to be. Somehow he was able to transcend his old life and be embraced in the new. I think a big key to his success there is that he was not trying to accomplish that. He was whacked hard upside the head – a big-time reality check – and his focus became solely fixed on knowing Jesus (Philippians 4). When his focus changed from doing to being, his life did a complete 180.
And now his is remembered as the great apostle Paul. Not for his accomplishments in holiness. Not for his religious zeal. Partly for his writings and missionary work. But mostly for his relationship with Jesus. For the way he understood life as it was meant to be, and lived it with all his heart. He was not a middle of the road kind of guy, eh? And when he finally got his zeal pointed in the right direction, his legacy is the work that God did through him, rather than the work HE was trying to do “for God.”
But then something happened! For it pleased God in his kindness to choose me and call me, even before I was born! What undeserved mercy! Then he revealed his Son to me so that I could proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. When all this happened to me, I did not rush out to consult with anyone else; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to consult with those who were apostles before I was. No, I went away into Arabia and later returned to the city of Damascus. It was not until three years later that I finally went to Jerusalem for a visit with Peter and stayed there with him for fifteen days. And the only other apostle I met at that time was James, our Lord’s brother. You must believe what I am saying, for I declare before God that I am not lying.
Paul seems to think that those he is writing to will not believe his story. Perhaps they, like us, think you must have some sort of training to know what Paul knows. To speak as he does, and teach as he does… he must have had years of teaching. He must have studied under the apostles for a good deal of time and been their best pupil. But Paul assures them, “No!” His insight, his understanding is not from man. God revealed it to him directly. And, coincidentally, it matched precisely what the other apostles had learned in person from Jesus some years back. How about that? 🙂
Then after this 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 now preaches the very faith he tried to destroy!” And they gave glory to God because of me.
The power of a changed life is phenomenal. When you can point to someone and say, “Isn’t that the girl who…” or, “Didn’t he used to…” and then see them living the life God meant for them to live, you can’t help but give God the glory. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” He didn’t mean work hard to do good stuff so that God will get the credit. He meant, love the light God has placed in you – share it. Spread it around. As people see the love in you, the kindness you show toward them and others, they will know something has happened in you. Something you could not have done on your own. And they will give credit where credit is due. They will praise your Father in heaven.
For what was filthy has been made clean. The broken has been restored. The useless has become useful. The trash that was merely discarded has been recycled into a cheaper and more environmentally friendly product. (I put that one in there for my EPA friends…) 🙂
When you see the effects of this relationship with the living Jesus you can not help but be amazed. No amount of trying can hold a candle to the reality of a grace-filled life found in the reality of knowing and being known by him. Not a set of rules or practices, but a true understanding of your calling to be his adopted son or daughter. A true understanding of the love that never quits, and unmerited favor with the King of the universe… who wants us to call him Dad.
When people see that in you, they will give God the glory as well. The old is gone, the new has come… praise be to God.
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