+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is January 25, the day the church commemorates the Conversion of St. Paul. Thus, in these words, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy,” we look for God to calm our fearful hearts and to quiet our troubled souls, both regarding those whom we love who are presently outside the fellowship of the church and regarding our own unworthiness to be and to remain a child of God.
Regarding those whom we love, who are presently outside the fellowship of the church, we may well fear that time and their own unwillingness to hear the Gospel have rendered them doomed for destruction. Frankly, it’s a fear that many of us experience nearly every day. After all, we know that God’s word is true. We know there is no salvation outside of faith in Christ Jesus. We know too that
If you find yourself in just that situation, God implores you to hear these words regarding St. Paul and his life before he was brought to faith in Christ. In them is comfort and peace for your fearful heart. Verse 23 of Galatians 1 is really quite remarkable. Paul wrote it himself. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
The passage is remarkable, in part, because it tells us that, early in his life, Paul wasn’t simply ignorant of the Gospel of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, nor was he simply ambivalent toward it. Rather, he was adamantly and fervently opposed to it. In fact, in the early 1st century, he was one of the most feared enemies of Christians being that he traveled from city to city with letters that authorized him to round up Christians to put them to death.
Paul had invested his whole life in the destruction of Christianity, mainly because he believed that it was God’s will that he do so. He was on a mission, if you will. God’s mission!
Ambivalence toward the Gospel is one thing. Adamant rejection of it is quite another. Those we care about who hear and reject the Gospel we fear for the most. And yet, God broke through Paul’s defenses, through the wall of rejection and hatred that he had built around himself. Knocking him to the ground, Jesus confronted Paul with what he was doing. “Saul, Saul, (He said) why do you persecute Me?” In persecuting Christians, Paul was persecuting the Church, and persecuting the Church he was persecuting Christ Himself!
But, God didn’t confront Paul to convict and destroy him! He confronted him to convert him to the faith he once tried to destroy! Here we can throw out any notion that faith in Christ is some sort of choice made by all those who believe. The fact is, if faith in Christ were a choice, Paul would have never been converted and neither would you and neither would I!
Whoever the person is that you pray for, the one who is ambivalent toward the Gospel, or, even adamantly opposed to it, fear not! If they are to come to faith, it will not be of their own doing! It will not be their choice! Like Paul, God can break through their defenses. He can break through the wall of rejection and hatred they have built around themselves. Therefore, let your hope rest in these words of the Apostle himself. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.”
From giving us hope regarding those we love who are presently outside of the fellowship of the church, this passage also has the power to quiet our troubled souls regarding our own unworthiness to be and to remain a child of God.
It is my contention that we have a tendency to look at the heroes of the New Testament, people like Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Peter, Paul and others in a way that discounts their personal struggles. In other words, I think we see these men as called by God in such a way that they all had a singular focus in life, one that permitted them to live above the day to day struggles that most of us face in life. Paul wasn’t married, but Peter was. That said, do you suppose Mrs. Peter (not sure what their last name was), ever told Peter he needed to stay home to work around the house? But, “I’ve got to go with Paul and John Mark!” “We’re planting churches today in Asia Minor!” “It’s gonna be fun and they need me!”
Aside from the external struggles that are a part of all of our lives, the apostles also faced the internal struggles that are common to all of us. Do you suppose Paul ever forgot how he persecuted Christians, putting some of them to death? Do you suppose he ever wondered how someone like him could be called to faith in Christ and then be kept there in the faith he once despised throughout his life?
In Paul’s own words, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve… Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.”
By his own admission, Paul considered himself unworthy to be called an apostle. In fact, elsewhere in Scripture he calls himself the chief of sinners.
“Alas! And did my Savior bleed,
And did my sov’riegn die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?”
“Thus might I hide my blushing face
While His dear cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes to tears.”
Worthiness in the Kingdom of heaven doesn’t begin with us. In fact, it can’t begin with us if salvation is to be by grace through faith in Christ. God’s conversion of St. Paul gives all of us hope in the face of the overwhelming evidence of our unworthiness to be and to remain in God’s favor.
“He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” It’s an amazing passage, one that calms our fearful hearts and quiets our troubled souls, both regarding those whom we love who are presently outside the fellowship of the church and regarding our own unworthiness to be and to remain a child of God! By His powerful word, the preaching of the Gospel, God makes the unwilling, willing and He makes the unworthy, worthy.
“Oh, the height of Jesus’ love,
Higher than the heavens above,
Deeper than the depths of sea,
Lasting as eternity!
Love that found me—wondrous thought!
Found me when I sought Him not.”
In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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