Whether it was nature or nurture, from the moment we meet him, Paul is a force to be reckoned with. Reading through Acts and his letters, I get the image of someone slogging through thigh-deep water, eyes set for the horizon, pulling everyone along in his wake.
Paul pursed his purpose with passion, seemingly a “boots’ n’ all” kind of guy.
As a Pharisee, Paul was doggedly holy and vigorously righteous. As a Jew, he was genetically entitled and racially superior.
Because the Jews were the holy ones, the chosen, and heirs of the Truth–God’s holy law. And as a Pharisee, Paul was an expert in the law.
Sadly, instead of being a blessing, the law became the focus and eventually a barrier and a stumbling block between God and His people.
However, Christ flipped Paul’s perspective. Yes, the law is important. But its value lies in relationship: a loving God gave the law to his chosen people so that they could demonstrate to the world how to live in right and loving relationship with Him and each other.
Christ demonstrated righteousness could not be inherited through genetics or earned through works. It is the grace of God, the work of Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit that enables relationship for all: Jews and Gentiles alike.
11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”Acts 15:11
This understanding transformed Paul’s identity from “Self-righteous, Pharisaic Jew” to, “Servant of Christ”
With this about-turn, all those who’d been following in Paul’s wake were now confronted by a man on a mission from God:
This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”Acts 9:15-16
But Paul’s previous elbow-buddies didn’t take too kindly to this.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him…Acts 9:23-25
This became the signature of Paul’s life. Everywhere he argued the gospel he caused division. People either enthusiastically absorbed his message, or fervently opposed him.
22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.Acts 20:22-24
Trusted and Loved
Paul may have been born with the propensity for stubbornness, tenacity, and a lethally sharp wit. He grew into a passionate man zealously devoted to what, and whom, he believed. And, transformed by the Spirit, Paul was gifted with the ability to love intensely: the people he suffered for, the gospel he lived for, and his Lord whom he died for.
“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”Ephesians 3:7
Paul turned his heart and tuned his will into the Will of God. All else was secondary.
12 When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”Acts 21:12–14
God empowered and entrusted Paul with the task of taking His message and grace to the world.
I could be wrong, but I suspect Paul did not suffer from low self-esteem growing up as a Jew within the Paradisiacal tradition. His identity was rooted in his genetics and ancestral history, and his righteousness was tied to his works. As such, he saw those outside these parameters as unworthy, impure, and untouchable.
Yet God transformed Paul’s identity and understanding:
- God freely loves all His creation because God is Love
- God’s favour is received not earned
- Righteousness is impossible outside of Christ
- There is no Jew or Gentile in the Kingdom of God, there is “Child of God”
- God enables his children to achieve their purpose by the power of the Spirit
- A life of love and service is the only response to the gift of grace
- In what ways has God transformed your understanding of Him?
- How has God transformed your identity?
- Have you ever suffered persecution for your faith?