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Paul


Time for a change

How is it possible for a Christian to know whether he is living true to God's will? Satan, the prince of this world (John 12:31), desires Christians to be fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. Doing any of these things would mean we would also be cast out with Satan, thus, not inheriting the kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9- 10). Many a scripture commands the Christian to abstain from the works of darkness. The saint is to abstain even from the appearance of evil (1 Thess. 5:22).

While penning this article, a moment in time comes to remembrance. In a young adult Bible class about five years ago, the discussion of conversion was brought up—namely, how a newly converted Christian can recognize sin in a more noticeable way. Before becoming a baptized believer, something as "small" as a beer commercial with adults laughing and enjoying one another's company may not appear sinful. However, when one begins to study God's word with an unbiased heart and is eventually baptized, those not-so-sinful-looking beer advertisements then become a realization of how much the world glorifies sin. The eyes of the newly converted Christian are opened; he notices more than ever before that sin is marketable and is everywhere. The "aha" moment is when the saved soul understands what it means to be in the world, but not belong to the world.


Saul was blinded by his worldly standards in that he sincerely believed in his heart that persecuting Christians was justified. If anyone knows about being in the world but not belonging to the world, it was the apostle Paul: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," (James 1:19-20). This passage admonishes the saved to check his attitude toward God's word. He is to hear first and not be angry or hostile towards God's word. With this passage in mind, consider the mindset of those who heard Stephen speaking before they stoned him to death: "But they could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he [Stephen] was speaking,” insomuch that men who heard Stephen speak "…secretly instigated men who said, 'We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.'" These men did not stop there but "stirred up the people, elders, scribes, and seized Stephen and brought him before the council and set up false witnesses." This is a prime example of the attitude James teaches against. The church ought not to be enraged and grind its teeth at those brethren who speak the gospel truth.

If anyone knows about being in the world but not belonging to the world, it was the apostle Paul: "Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God," (James 1:19-20).

Before he became Paul, Saul was leaning on his understanding and sincerely believed that persecuting the church was a just action. Saul was known by many as a person who despised believers; people were so comfortable with Saul incessantly wreaking havoc on the church that they trusted him NOT to steal their garments while they laid them at Saul's feet as they stoned Stephen. Though Saul did not physically participate in the stoning of Stephen, his silence was a tacit agreement. Perhaps Paul followed a multitude to do evil. Seemingly after Saul approved of the unjust stoning of Steven, the people undoubtedly gained confidence and approval for their attacks on the saved, as scripture tells us that on that day of Saul's approval of Stephen's execution, there arose a great persecution against the church. And if Saul was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Acts 9:1), the war against Christians would persist. Saul went looking for trouble in that he put forth effort to search for those belonging to the Way so as to imprison them.

It is often said that in order to change, we must fall hard before we can get back up. In a sense, perhaps a literal sense too, Saul experienced this. According to Acts 9, while approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground, Paul heard a voice, and this voice would be one that changed the course of his life from walking the broad road that leads to destruction to walking the path of righteousness that leads to the narrow gate (Matt, 7:13). Long before his conversion, Paul was a chosen instrument of Jesus to carry Jesus' name before the Gentiles and kings and children of Israel (Acts 9:15). Not long after, Paul was in synagogues proclaiming Jesus. He made the transition from a sinner to a saint with swiftness, and those who heard him were amazed that the same man who just days before had been given authority from chief priests to bind those who believed in Jesus was now confessing Jesus as the Christ. It is probably not a stretch of the imagination to say that Paul experienced the blessings of being added to the church straightway after being converted, because those whom he once persecuted were the same ones protecting him from the Jews who plotted to kill him at Damascus (ironically, the same place he was happily trotting to for the express purpose of binding Christians).

As a person who had his eyes opened to sin after his conversion, the apostle Paul, a chosen vessel by God (Acts 9:15), was no longer a man of the world but rather a man of the Word. He stood out among those around him because his new way of life was completely different from his previous manner of living. People who once knew Paul to be a threat to the church now saw him as a witness to the gospel being God's power to save (Rom. 1:16). Paul became an example of how the “chief of sinners” (1 Tim.1:15) can be redeemed.


So how shall a Christian know whether he is living true to God’s way? By cleansing his way; by taking heed according to God’s word; seeking God with his whole heart; hiding the Word in his heart so the saint may not wander from His commandments or sin against God; by desiring to know and do His statutes (Psa. 119:9-12). The apostle Paul himself exhorted the brethren in Philippi to follow his example by doing and thinking on things that are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report, virtuous, and praiseworthy. Consider the Bible as a mirror: If by reading it you come to dislike your reflection, make the changes necessary so that your lifestyle reflects that of a Christian. The apostle Paul says that he would discipline his body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others he himself should be disqualified (1 Cor. 9:27).

Paul, the son of a Pharisee, and one with great authority in his day gave up worldly power and humbled himself so that he might submit to the will of God. As a free moral agent, Paul could have turned away from the faith after experiencing hardships such as being beaten, ridiculed, thrown in prison, and shipwrecked. However, Paul made the wise choice to follow Jesus by denying himself and taking up his cross daily (Matt. 16:24ff). In doing this, Paul endured and did not give up the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12), but rather contended for the faith (Jude 1:3). And because of his obedience to the will of God and taking himself out of the world to fulfill the law of Christ, Paul is spoken of as a great brother in Christ who is now in Paradise, the desired resting place of the saved.

 

By Jewell Michael

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