LOOKING TO PRAISE AND WORSHIP JESUS THE CHRIST, THE SON OF THE LIVING GOD. 18 No man has ever seen God at any time; the only unique Son, or the only begotten God, Who is in the bosom [in the intimate presence] of the Father, He has declared Him [He has revealed Him and brought Him out where He can be seen; He has interpreted Him and He has made Him known].

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Paul's Gospel

12I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17To the King of ages, immortal,invisible,the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. - 1 Timothy 1:12-17 [ESV]


In Matthew 23 Christ describes the Pharisees as traveling land and sea to make a single convert, and that when a Pharisee finally makes a convert, the convert becomes twice as much a son of hell as the Pharisee who led him to that end ever was.

Ouch.

Paul, as you likely know, was not only the son of a Pharisee (c.f. Acts 23:6), but a Pharisee himself and was so entirely zealous a Pharisee that he personally led a one man persecution-marathon against Christianity. If your garden-variety Pharisee was a considered by Christ to be a son of hell, how much more a son of hell was someone like Paul who persecuted the early church?

We see therefore that Paul's description of himself as the foremost of sinners was not entirely hyperbole. Yet the account of Paul's conversion leaves us staggering under the truth of what Paul is saying here. See the reason Paul gives for his conversion? He says that it was because he was the foremost of sinners that Christ showed mercy on him. Do you see the flow of Paul's thought here? Christ came to save sinners, and if you doubt that you need only look to Paul whose conversion experience demonstrates loudly that salvation is not given to those who merit it by their own righteousness, but rather Paul's own salvation demonstrates that it is given as a gift to sinners, for only a fool would dare to argue that Paul was seeking Christ on the Damascus road... Paul's point is that his own salvation proves the character of Christ - for in saving Paul Christ put His own perfect patience with sinners eternally on display.

Paul wasn't fretting about whether or not he was "chosen" - his Damascus road experience was clear testimony enough, not only to him, but to us as well. Paul was chosen, his relationship with Christ began not as an initiator of his own faith, but rather in response to Christ's initiation. In Paul's experience, as well as in Paul's theology - God initiates faith, not man.

What we see here in this passage is that even though Paul was a sinner, and not merely a sinner, but a sinner who was by design and deep conviction a man entirely opposed to Christ and Christianity, even though Paul was as far from Christ as a man is likely to get in this lifetime - yet in a single moment on the road to Damascus, even this greatest of sinners was not hindered by his sin in coming to Christ, and especially, was by no means helped along the way by his own understanding of righteousness.

Paul knew and taught that we cannot take credit for our justification, that we cannot take credit for the faith that led to our justification, and that we cannot even take credit for the circumstances that gave us the opportunity to extend faith - that is, Paul understood that salvation is -all- of grace. That from beginning to end God decides whom He will show mercy upon, and that this decision by no means depends upon a person's worth or a person's initiating decision - or else Paul could not have been saved, for Paul was certainly not worthy by virtue of his great sin to receive salvation, and Paul was by no means the initiator of his faith, being about as far (at the time) from initiating a relationship with Christ as any man could ever be.

Paul's gospel was by no means Pelagian or SemiPelagian, it was all grace, yet what was orthodox has become repugnant, and what was heresy is now embraced. Men are offended by the idea that God chooses whom He will save by grace through faith. They picture all men as being equally deserving of salvation, when the right picture is that of all men being equally deserving of damnation. From their perspective, God cannot choose whom he will show mercy upon, because he must show mercy to all or he is "unfair". Thus they prune God down into a god who fits their understanding. They embrace an image of God wherein God is trying to save everyone, but can't save anyone unless the person does the right thing by coming to God in faith.

I hope you can see that were that the case, Paul could by no means have come to God in faith, because his own testimony teaches us that Paul was not coming to God in faith, nor in good works - but was in both running as fast as possible away from God IN THE VERY MOMENT that Christ came to him.

Whatever else Paul was, he was absolutely not SemiPelagian or Pelagian and by no means imagined that salvation followed the error of the Arminian scheme, whether in whole or in part.

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6 Comments:

Blogger mark pierson said...

"He says that it was because he was the foremost of sinners that Christ showed mercy on him. Do you see the flow of Paul's thought here? Christ came to save sinners, and if you doubt that you need only look to Paul whose conversion experience demonstrates loudly that salvation is not given to those who merit it by their own righteousness, but rather Paul's own salvation demonstrates that it is given as a gift to sinners, for only a fool would dare to argue that Paul was seeking Christ on the Damascus road... Paul's point is that his own salvation proves the character of Christ - for in saving Paul Christ put His own perfect patience with sinners eternally on display."

Powerful! Yes! Glory to The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit - Our triune God for His glorious salvation!

November 13, 2007 6:47 AM

 
Blogger Even So... said...

Right On!

This text is of course entirely consistent with Paul's other thoughts on the idea, such as Galatians 1:11-16...

November 13, 2007 10:00 AM

 
Blogger jazzycat said...

The semi-pelagian is forced to admit that in Paul’s conversion, God’s powerful intervention was the cause without which Paul would have never become a believer. This means that God either shows favoritism in bringing some (Paul, etc.) to salvation or HIS intervention is the method used to bring everyone that is saved to salvation. The so-called “fairness argument” they appeal to is faulty on many fronts such as the conversion of Paul. Fairness would be leaving everyone dead in their sins rather than having mercy on whom he will have mercy. That is sovereign grace.

November 13, 2007 12:19 PM

 
Blogger donsands said...

"because he must show mercy to all or he is "unfair"."

Or, God must allow each and every person decide, -on neutral ground- to believe, or to believe.
They, the non-reformed crowd, would say, Paul could have said, "no I will not believe". But he believed,-on neutral ground, where there is no good, nor evil, just neutrally deciding.

This was a good post. Very well said, and encouraging; and most of all it gives God all the credit He is due. He saves. Jesus came and saved Saul, and changed his name to Paul, and chose him to suffer many, many trials, which Paul rejoiced in for His Savior.

November 13, 2007 12:25 PM

 
Blogger donsands said...

"to believe, or to believe."

Man, "or NOT to believe", that was supposed to be the question.

November 13, 2007 12:27 PM

 
Blogger Daniel said...

In order to get email follow-up comments to work I have to comment...

November 13, 2007 4:15 PM

 

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