B. Grace-motivated gospel living (1:12-18):
Paul used his own life as an example of grace-motivated gospel living. Though he “was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and injurious,” God still “put him into His service.” Paul’s total transformation reminds us of the power of the gospel to change lives (See Cl 3:1-17).
Paul was “enabled” to transform because of the power of the gospel that worked in his life. God redirected his commitment as a persecutor of the gospel to being a promoter of the gospel. God simply changed the focus and use of his personality assets. His passion was redirected. His life exemplified what he wrote to some disciples in Rome, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rm 12:2).
The faithfulness of Paul (Saul) in his former life as a persecutor was not justified when he said, “I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” His behavior before his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road only identified the type of person he was. Once he was convinced that the Jesus whom he persecuted was truly the incarnate Son of God who was sent to be the Messiah and Savior of the world, then the obsession of his life was changed. His transformation was a paradigm shift of thinking and behavior. “What things were gain to me,” he wrote, “those things I have counted loss for Christ” (Ph 3:7). Therefore, “the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant” in his life because he believed and obeyed the Lord Jesus in the Damascus vision. He once wrote,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am. And His grace toward me was not in vain, but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Co 15:10).
Paul’s personal transformation became a model for the rest of us. All that God did for the world through His beloved Son is the motivational power by which we can transform our own lives. This is the transforming power of the gospel (Rm 1:16). Paul wrote, “For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace that is reaching many people may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God” (2 Co 4:15). The grace of God that worked so profoundly in the life of Paul caused him to abound in the work of the Lord. This begs the question: If there is no service for Jesus in our lives, then do we really understand the grace of God that was revealed through the only begotten Son of God?
In order to understand, we must, as Paul, confess “that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst.” This is the incarnational invasion of God into the world into the flesh of man (See Jn 1:1,2,14). Unless we have this mind of Christ in us, we cannot begin to fully understand the sacrifice that the Son of God made for us (See Ph 2:5-8). Incarnational living as a disciple of Jesus is often terrifying to those who are in the bondage of this world.
The more we begin to understand the incarnational sacrifice of Jesus, the more we understand what true discipleship is all about. However, those who do not seek to understand this living according to the gospel of the incarnation will often establish a legal religiosity by which they can measure themselves according to law. They will often brush aside spiritual growth that is motivated by grace in order to measure with one another their own performance of law. They are as some in Corinth who were “comparing themselves among themselves” (2 Co 10:12). They are as Paul confessed of himself when he was in the bondage of “comparative religion.” He said of himself, “I advanced in Judaism above many of my contemporaries” (Gl 1:14). When we are under grace, there is no “spiritual” competition. There is no “advancing” above one another, for we are all one man in Christ (See Gl 3:26-29).
Here is how some play this game with God: One will legally show up at an assembly of the saints, call for the “opening prayer,” and then legally proceed through a ceremony of “acts of worship.” Once the legal performances of the assembly are over, a “closing prayer” is ritualistically performed, and the “worshiper” has convinced himself that he is right with God. He has satisfied his laws for assembly, and thus he can go on his way having convinced himself that he has performed the law of assembly. But worst of all, he goes away with very little appreciation for the grace of God that can transform his life.
We have discovered that many people are satisfied with religion that conforms to their desires because they are afraid of what it means to live incarnationally after the “closing prayer.”
When Paul wrote to the Christians throughout the province of Achaia, he exhorted them, “Be imitators of me even as I also am of Christ” (1 Co 11:1). The readers of this statement had surely been previously informed of Paul’s former life as a persecutor. Therefore, when they saw that he “obtained mercy” from God, though he was a persecutor of the church, they realized that regardless of how far away from God one might feel he is, grace can extend further.
We must never believe that we have lived so far away from God that His grace cannot find us. If grace could reach and change Paul who specifically persecuted that which he later promoted, then it can reach deep into our hearts and motive transformation. We too can “obtain mercy.” Jesus did this in the life of Paul in order that He “might show forth all longsuffering for an example to those who should hereafter believe on Him to eternal life.”
After Paul had explained these things to Timothy, a doxology was in order: “Now to the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”
[Next in series: March 31]