Looking Through the I’s of Paul

In order to enhance my Christian life, I desire to find other Christians who are exemplary in their walk with God. I want to learn from them so that I may observe and hopefully obtain their wisdom and insight based upon their practicalities of victorious Christian living. I am grateful that there are many to whom I can reach out in order to glean their wisdom. Over the years, I have been blessed to gain friendships with college classmates, professors, co-laborers and fellow followers who have remained a part of my life. Without the timely wisdom of these men and women I wouldn’t be the person I am today. Of course, these people are very humble and often deflect their praise to God for all that He has done in their own lives.

In addition to these friends and followers, God has orchestrated men and women in the biblical record to be examples of what to do and what not to do in order to gain and maintain a close walk with God. One example that stands out among many is that of the Apostle Paul. The New Testament contains many details about Paul’s upbringing as a Pharisee, his glorious conversion to Christ, his miraculous missionary journeys, and his faithful testimony of ministry to all he contacted.

It is no secret that Paul desired to transfer his heart of love for God and God’s people into those he met. He taught Timothy, his “son in the faith,” to invest in faithful men who would be able to teach others also (II Timothy 2:2). During a “court hearing” before the Roman ruler King Agrippa, Paul shared his testimony of his receipt of the forgiveness of his sin while travelling on the Damascus road. Paul personally encountered the risen Christ, and it changed his life forever. Paul shared his testimony, and the telling of it was used to convict the heart of the King. Sadly, Agrippa declared that he was “almost persuaded” to become a Christian, but he wouldn’t convert to Christ. In response, Paul made a resounding statement about his desires for Agrippa and others to become Christians and then to become servants just like him:

And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds. – Acts 26:29

Paul’s life and testimony provide a crystal clear example of godliness, the extent and power of which cannot be overstated. Paul’s words live on today so that we may observe and obtain his wisdom and insight. Because the Bible is inspired, we can know for certain that the record of Paul’s life is true and that we can have confidence that such a spirit-filled life is possible.

How did Paul view himself? Throughout the New Testament, Paul makes some amazing statements that leave us with no doubt as to how Paul viewed his life and service. We’ll look through the “I”s of Paul to discover a living model of the Christian character that we should develop.

“I am Persuaded”

For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39

One of the most outstanding characteristics of Paul was that he never forgot his salvation experience on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1-8). Before his conversion, Paul attempted to fulfill the righteous Law of Moses, something he thought he was very good at since he called himself “blameless” in his fulfillment of religious rituals (Philippians 3:6). Paul was a religious man, but his religion did not offer forgiveness. His works did not yield salvation; only the grace of Jesus Christ can offer the forgiveness of sin and the assurance of salvation. Like Nicodemus, another Pharisee with whom Christ met, Paul had to be “born again” or he would never “see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).

On the Damascus road he was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, and he realized salvation was not of works, but of grace. The Law was only a minster of death, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (Acts 13:39; Romans 3:20; John 1:14). Paul’s statement in II Timothy 1:12 indicated that he “knows whom [he has] believed” indicating that Paul had a relationship with the Lord. He no longer relied on his religion to gain salvation. This is exactly what the Lord Jesus intended as explained in John 17:3:

And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.

Is this your view of eternal life? Many people are searching for eternal life, but they don’t understand the biblical meaning of those words. With so many religious organizations and cults stating that their way is the path to eternal life, it is easy to see why so many are confused. There are many people who claim to be Christians, but have never been born into God’s family. Many people are relying on their religious rites (baptism, confirmation, speaking in tongues, etc.), their morals, their comparisons to others (I’m not as sinful as that guy), and many other reasons that offer only false hope. Salvation is not gained by religion; it is offered through a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. Before you can live the Christian life, you must first become a Christian. You must be born again!

“I am Crucified”

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20

Paul was not arrogant because of his usefulness in God’s service. He understood that the power for his life and minister came through only “the faith of the Son of God.” Paul was a model for humility (though he wouldn’t say so himself), and his life bore the record of such dependence upon God. Humility is simply dependence upon God. His life became one of peril and painfulness, yet we see Paul always rejoicing. Paul was often persecuted, and many of his epistles were written from prison including the premier text on joy in the Christian life (read the book of Philippians and count the number of times the word joy, rejoice, or a variant are used). Paul endured more hardship than most anyone could bear (II Corinthians 11:24-30, 12:7-10), but he relied on the grace of God.

How did he graciously receive the bloody beatings from Roman soldiers, endure the suffering from shipwreck, heal from the betrayals of those closest to him, and become strong when he felt so weak? The answer is twofold: Paul was dead to sin and alive to God (Romans 6:11). He had to make a conscious effort to die to the desires of his flesh and to resist temptation (I Corinthians 15:31). In order to do be dead to sin and alive to God, he had to submit to God and live only for His glory (Romans 6:13, James 4:7). Paul presented his body as a “living sacrifice” and considered it his “reasonable service” (Romans 12:1). In Paul’s suffering and his service he left us a living illustration of the suffering Saviour. Just as Jesus died once for sin through crucifixion and now ever lives at the right hand of God, Paul reckoned himself to be dead to sin and made choices that kept him in close fellowship with God.

To be crucified was no laughing matter. It was the torturous humiliation of the cursed person that was hanged upon it. Paul made the decision to nail his desires to the cross in order to get them out of the way of his service to God. Do you make decisions that ensure your fellowship with God will not be broken? Do you deal casually with sin and disregard the grace of God that can help you to overcome the world? The flesh is so strong willed that it must be placed in subjection on a daily basis. Have you died to your lusts? Have you placed your desires in the mortuary? The flesh must be put in subjection to the will of God, but only you can choose to simultaneously “live by the faith of the Son of God.” Remember, “he loved [you] and gave himself for [you].” Paul credited all of his accomplishments to God’s grace when he said, “I am what I am by the grace of God: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”

Paul was a man of humility because he was a man of grace. He received all the grace he needed to overcome the pain, heartache, temptation, and tragedy that he faced. Moreover, he received all the grace he needed to live a life of joyful service to the glory of his loving Lord. Can the same statements characterize your walk with God?

“I am Debtor”

I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. – Romans 1:14

Paul was a man who was blessed with gifts, talents, and abilities that were a result of the blessing of God. Not only did the Lord save Paul’s soul, but the Lord also equipped him for his calling in life. Paul viewed himself as a debtor because of all that God had invested into his life.

It must be emphasized that He was not paying back what he “owed” to God in order to be saved; he was stewarding the abilities which God invested into him. Despite all that he accomplished in his writing and his preaching, his goal was to simply “fulfill” his ministry as he recognized he would never “exceed” the ministry. No matter how hard he worked, he humbly accepted that God was worthy of every measure of service we could possible render to Him.

His debt was to God, but the beneficiaries would be the Greeks, Barbarians, the wise and the unwise. He would spend the rest of his life overseeing God’s investment in the fields of the Gentiles.

For each of us, we have been called and equipped to do what God has purposed for us to do. According to Psalm 139:14, God has “fearfully and wonderfully made” all people. The word “wonderfully” indicates that God created each person distinctly and distinguished from others. Even people who have or acquire some type of disability or limitation have been made by their Creator in a distinct and unique fashion and are still capable of fulfilling God’s will for their lives. God remains involved in the affairs of the individual as evidenced in the teachings of salvation and sanctification. Furthermore, God has before ordained what good works each person should fulfill in his life (Ephesians 2:10). God places a desire in the heart of each individual to seek after and fulfill those endeavors which will bring God the most pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Accordingly, God creates and forms each individual with all he needs to accomplish His will. For example, Jeremiah the prophet was told by God that he was personally formed in his mother’s belly and ordained to be a prophet unto the nations (Jeremiah 1:5). God forms each individual according to His will for his life. Just as Jeremiah was formed to fulfill God’s will, so is every individual today. Within the promises of Scripture, every person can find the hope of accomplishing God’s will regardless of the God-given circumstances or limitations that he must face.

For God’s investment in your life, what life of service to do you “owe” Him? He loved me so much that He died for me; I ought to love Him so much that I live for Him!

Who are the direct beneficiaries of your service to God? Paul’s ministry was to certain people groups. Who can say that they’ve been encouraged by your walk with God? Does your spouse see Christ in you? Do your children see you as a godly person? Are there people who will be in heaven because you’ve shown them the way of salvation in Christ? While we ultimately serve the Lord to glorify Him, Jesus stated that we “should bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain” (John 15:16). There should be evidence that you’ve touched and changed people’s lives for Christ as you walk with God. If this is missing from your life, determine to use your gifts, talents, and abilities to serve the Lord and His people. Paul stated that using his life for the ministry of others was a course that brought “joy” to his life (Acts 20:24). You can have joy as well as you yield your life to the Lord!

“I am a Follower of Christ”

Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ. – I Corinthians 11:1

I was once advised by my pastor that I should “find someone who loves Jesus more than you do.” A prideful attitude would lead me to think that I either love Jesus enough already or that someone who loves Him more would be hard to find. Both thoughts are completely wrong. I am thankful that there are mature men of God who, like Paul, love the Lord Jesus Christ more than I do. The beautiful thing about this fact is that these are the type of people who are willing to mentor me as they model the Christian life. If I am a faithful man, then they will seek to teach me so that I “may be able to teach others also.” Through their mentorship I can continue to grow in my faith. Have you found a faithful man or woman who will pour his or her life into you? Do you have an opportunity to be that someone who can invest in others? As we’ve seen through the “I”s of Paul, we can both observe and obtain godly Christian character by following such godly examples.

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