WITH THE exception of the Lord Jesus himself, no man in Scripture better demonstrates the forward-looking faith, the expectant hope and the strength of love that should be ours than the Apostle Paul. This man Paul — who described himself as “chiefest of sinners and unworthy to be called an apostle” — we remember as the great apostle to the Gentiles.
Here is an example for all time, both from the human standpoint and the divine. If God could show His grace to Saul of Tarsus by forgiving his sins, He can surely forgive any sinner who repents. That is what Saul (Paul) told Timothy (I Timothy 1:12-16). From God’s point of view, Paul is an example of the limitless extent of divine love.
Saul of Tarsus: Pharisee, persecutor of the church, zealous beyond all his contemporaries — this man became the Apostle Paul. The same Paul then suffered innumerable hardships and persecutions for Christ’s name (II Corinthians 11:23-28), counted all his human achievements as refuse for Christ’s sake (Philippians 3:7-11) and forgave his enemies as the Lord had done and commanded (II Timothy 4:14-18). From the human standpoint Paul is an example of the power of God to change character reshape human lives for good.
What was the key to Paul’s “success” as a Christian? How was he able to live so far above the world, so dedicated to Christ? Sometimes we have made the same mistake as the people of Lystra in thinking Paul was more than merely human (Acts 14:8-15). He was not. Sometimes we suppose his miracle-powers gave him an advantage along this line. From all indications, those gifts brought him into more trials and difficulties (Acts 16:16-24). The answer lies somewhere else.
There are a number of ways to express it, but I believe the secret of Paul’s “success” may be put this way: He was totally convinced that Jesus was God’s Son, that judgment was coming, and that God had forgiven his sins through Christ. His epistles emphasize these truths and his life constantly demonstrated awareness of them. Our space here is too short to do more than mention these themes. Study your New Testament with them in mind and they will leap out from almost every page.
Paul believed fervently that Jesus was the Son of God. This meant that judgment was certain — Christ’s resurrection affirmed that (Acts 17:30,31). But Paul was now ready to face God in judgment! Not through his own perfect life — how far from perfect that life had been, though it had been well-intentioned throughout. Not by virtue of his own complete or absolute understanding of all the thoughts and will of God. Paul knew that even he could only praise God’s -wisdom (Romans 11:33-36). Paul was ready to face God in the righteousness of Christ — that “righteousness which is of God by faith” (Philippians 3:9).
Because Paul was committed to the proposition that Jesus was God’s Son — and to Jesus as God’s Son he sought to obey the Lord in all things. Because He knew that judgment was coming he tried to tell every human being that did not know that fact. And because he realized
his only hope lay in the righteousness of Jesus Christ he was at the same time gentle and firm with others and gratefully confident regarding himself.
Are you totally convinced that Jesus is God’s Son? If not, you will never be an effective Christian. Do you really believe that Judgment is coming? Unless you do, your life will likely be careless in God’s service. Do you understand the good news that you are completely forgiven and accepted by God because of your relationship with Christ? Here is the key to motivation and power in the new life.
Paul was no superman. He was very human. But he was totally sincere in his Christian faith and he was completely committed to it. Are you?