Romans – An Exposition of Chapter 1, Verse 1

Verse 1 – Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God

1) Paul

We know that the letter to the Roman Church came from Paul because he begins it with his own name. Who was Paul? Paul was none other than the former Saul of Tarsus who was formerly well known to all Christians as the chief persecutor of the Church. Paul makes this confession himself in his letter to Timothy (I Tim. 1:13; Acts 9:1,2). Pauls widespread notoriety first as an enemy of the Church and then as the builder of the same, provides for the authentication of the letters that bear his name. Everyone knew of Paul in the ancient world, or as he was called before his conversion, Saul of Tarsus. As a resident from Tarsus, Paul was a Roman citizen de jure. This provided Paul with a certain set of legal privileges recognized throughout the Empire that he would draw upon later in his ministry. Being a Roman citizen enabled Paul to a hearing before the Emperor after he was accused of sedition following his public preaching of Jesus to the Jews. These charges landed him in jail, the place where this epistle to the Romans was written.

The importance of Paul in writing this letter to the Roman Church was in the fact that he had been trained in the school of the Pharisees. As a Pharisee, Paul was educated in the law sitting under the renowned teacher Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Because Paul was learned in the Old Testament Scriptures, he was eminently qualified to teach them. But Paul, in his unconverted condition did not understand the true nature of God’s righteousness. In order for Paul to teach the Scriptures correctly, he first had to become a Christian that he might understand the righteousness of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In this letter to the Roman church Paul considered his chief qualification to be that of a Christian. A Christian is one who is the recipient of a righteousness received by grace apart from the law. In his former unbelief Paul trusted not only in his knowledge of the law but in the various credentials he possessed. Paul states these to the Philippian church in his epistle to them (Phil. 3:8-11). Although Paul did not glory in the fact that he was a former Pharisee, he was not remiss to state his personal credentials. However, now as a Christian he did not trust in these any longer.

Paul had been converted to faith in Jesus Christ in a most extraordinary way. As Paul traveled on the road to Damascus to do harm to the Church there, he was encountered by the Lord (Acts 9:1-9). The Lord stopped him dead in his tracks, preventing him from this purpose. Suddenly, Paul was made spiritually alive (Eph. 2:1) and sensible to his lost condition. At the moment of his awakening Paul was made aware that it was Jesus who was the God of Israel. Most significant of all was Paul’s question to Jesus in verse five, “Who are You, Lord?” Whilst dead in his sins, Paul was ignorant of the living and true God. Paul spent his life studying the Scriptures and was for all intents and purposes knowledgeable in them. But so weren’t all of the other Pharisees. Jesus said to a group of them on one occasion “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39). It was not that their minds were not able to comprehend. It was what Jesus said in the next verse. “But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:40). It was their unwillingness to receive the testimony of God’s revelation.

And so it is with all who are spiritually dead as Paul was. A religion that is devoid of knowing the Lord is one which is self-righteous. Knowledge is according to special revelation but it must be received into the heart if it is to bring forth the fruit of faith. The circumstances of the Damascus road experience provide us a true picture of Christian conversion. No one born in sin is willing to come to Christ. It is the Lord who stops the sinner in his way and makes Himself known in the heart. First, the heart must be revived in the new birth if any conception of God and His kingdom is to be understood (John 3:3). The new birth itself is entrance into God’s kingdom (John 3:5). The Lord does do this to His elect; He makes them willing volunteers in the day of His power (Ps. 110:3).

2) A bondservant of Jesus Christ

Paul refers to himself first as a bondservant of Jesus Christ before using any other title he has received. The reason Paul does this in his letter to the Romans is to state what he believes to be the most relevant qualification he has in writing them. Paul writes as a servant of Jesus Christ. This is what Paul is most proud of and wants to say to his readers. Before his conversion Paul was a persecutor of Jesus Christ but now he is a follower. And not just a follower, but Paul uses this term “bondservant” to convey exactly what it means to be a follower of Jesus. A bondservant is a slave who is required to give explicit obedience to One who is being served. In the days that Paul lived a bondservant was one who for whatever reason had become an indentured slave to a master, and was obligated to him by way of perpetual service. A bondservant was required to do whatever was asked of him by his Master without reservation. A bondservant was a servant for life or until his Master had released him from his bondservice. The term “bond” in bondservant signifies that a debt of servitude is owed to the Master. This is indeed how Paul viewed himself as a believer in Jesus Christ.

To be a servant of Christ requires that one have the attitude that Paul here displayed. But even more important, this attitude must be based on the example set by the Lord Himself while here on earth. When writing to the Philippian church, Paul exhorted them to have the same mind of Christ in their service to God (Phil 2:5-7). True bond service is preceded by an attitude of Christ like humility. Paul realized there was a divine condescension involved in the Son of God taking upon Himself human flesh. This meditation should render anyone who is saved with a sense of awe and humility, certainly it did to Paul. But more than that, the fact that Jesus Christ humbled Himself to the point of death as a bondservant, defies natural reason altogether. This is the wisdom of God and not of men (I Cor. 1:18-25). Its fact is made reasonable to us in the gospel. This wisdom along with God’s power is what saved Paul, the gospel of Christ being Gods remedy for sin.

Paul was converted from being a self-righteous hateful Pharisee into a justified Christ loving believer. Following this dramatic change Paul was made aware that it was through faith rather than the law that one receives the righteousness of God. Paul understood that it was the cross that Jesus Christ died on that was the ground of his forgiveness and justification before God. Therefore he gloried in the cross of Jesus Christ, making it his boast (Gal. 2:20). It is this matter of justification by faith which consumed Paul in his thoughts toward the Roman believers. Paul himself would say in his introductory remarks to the Roman church that God’s power in the gospel is in this truth (verses 16,17).

It is living a life of faith which makes one a bondservant to Christ. The faith that justifies a redeemed sinner must also be that which is an operative element in what sanctifies him. This process is the work of God according to His grace in the life of a believer. When Paul was converted on the road to Damascus the second question he asked Jesus was “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). The evidence of grace in the heart of a believer is seen in the attitude of bondservice as it is expressed by Paul in the word’s he spoke to Jesus at his conversion. It shows the dramatic change of heart that took place in Paul when he was stopped in his tracks on a course of sin. Being justified by Gods grace Paul then took on a new purpose in life. This is a life of devotion and duty to Paul’s Lord and ours who died for him at the cross. Paul wanted to see this very devotion accomplished in the saints of Rome.

3) Called to be an apostle

Paul was also called to be an apostle. The word “apostle” means one who is a messenger sent from God (John 13:16). Paul was unique in his calling as an apostle. All of the other apostles until Paul had the distinction of having been with Jesus as His disciples from the beginning of His earthly ministry. Jesus’ ministry began when He was certified to be the Son of God with power at His Baptism, which was witnessed publically by John the Baptist and others (Matt. 3:16,17). Jesus personally called each one of His disciples who would later on become apostles. This close personal relationship to Jesus as a disciple was in fact the first qualification for the office of apostleship. The chief qualification for apostleship however, was in being a witness of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven (Acts 1:21,22). The apostle Paul was unique in that he was not previously a disciple of Christ, nor a witness of Christ’s resurrection while He was on earth, following His crucifixion. Paul was instead a witness of the resurrected Christ as He revealed Himself to Paul from heaven.

This revelation was given to Paul while he was on his way to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9). Converted right there on the road in the presence of his fellow travelers, Paul witnessed and heard the voice of the resurrected Savior, Jesus Christ. Stunned not only by his encounter with Jesus and the subsequent conversion it wrought; Paul was also stunned at the same time by his commission to be an apostle. Not only was the apostle Paul stunned by this event but the disciples he was sent to by the Lord were even more stunned (Acts 9:10-14). Jesus made it clear to Ananias that Paul was a peculiar trophy of His who He would send to be his witness in the world (Acts 9:15). The office Jesus gave to Paul therefore, carried with it His full certification.

The conversion and calling of Paul were nothing less than a display of the incredible sovereignty of God in His electing grace. For God to save someone like Paul, who had determined to stamp out this sect of Jews who were following the teachings of the condemned Rabbi, were completely an extraordinary thing. But for someone like Paul who was a publically known hater of Christ to be placed in such an office as an apostle is extraordinary too. Paul was appointed to this office by Christ to be a representative of His here on earth, having the distinction of penning no less than thirteen of the New Testament epistles (Gal. 1:12). Paul’s epistles contain some of the most incredibly deep doctrinal material to be found in the entire Bible. In fact, the material covered in Paul’s writings form what is really the most essential explanation of God’s purpose concerning not only the New Covenant, but also concerning the His overall purpose for the ages.

Apostleship was a special office with special authority and extraordinary gifts attached to it, not the least of it being the gift of prophecy. As a prophet Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write those epistles which became part of the New Testament canon (I Cor. 2:6-16). As an apostle, Paul journeyed throughout the Roman Empire preaching the gospel and planting churches everywhere. Paul is often called the apostle to the Gentiles, but he preached to as many Jews as he did Gentiles over the course of his ministry. Paul’s zeal to do this in the service of his Lord is what ultimately led to his martyrdom at the hand of the Roman authorities. Several of the epistles Paul wrote were even written while he was confined to a Roman prison, awaiting a hearing before Caesar. These letters of Paul display a total concern for the health and furtherance of the church rather than any concern for himself or the outcome of the events that landed him in this situation. This letter to the Roman Christians was the chief letter of this sort penned by Paul.

Paul’s education outfitted him intellectually for the office of apostleship as is seen in the Letter to the Romans. Yet, at the same time Paul did not consider his academic achievements to be his claim to fame as a rhetorician of the gospel message (I Cor. 2:1,4). Once converted to Christ and seeing salvation as a gift of grace Paul understood the true nature of righteousness. Paul was eminently qualified now to speak on this because of being justified freely himself by the grace of God in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:24). Apostleship carried certain authority with it from Christ as well. Paul states that his calling as an apostle is to put all matters of doctrine straight before the Roman believers. Paul’s authority to write in this epistle originates from the risen, exalted Christ of whose church it is rather than from any man or organization of men. In Romans, just like his other letters, Paul purposes to correct deficiencies in understanding of doctrine. The authority to do this is contained in that title and office of an apostle.

4) Separated to the gospel of God

The term “separated” in reference to Paul’s calling as an apostle is significant for it is in reference to the gospel which he preached. This separation that Paul speaks of is the special commission of the Lord for the ministry. In Paul’s case his ministry was one that was extraordinary in its fulfillment. Certain extraordinary gifts marked this ministry of Paul’s as well as the rest of the apostles. Prophecy, tongues, healings and other associated miracles characterized the peculiar office of the apostleship. Inspiration from God’s Spirit to write what became Holy Scripture characterized this extraordinary office which Paul held too. And yet, even though Paul was separated unto such extraordinary gifts, he himself was an ordinary man just as we are. Paul didn’t receive this honor from Christ because he was somehow more holy than anybody else, although Paul was certainly a holy man. Paul did not receive this high calling because of his intellectual abilities, although they were used by the Lord. No, Paul was chosen of God for such a calling “according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Himself” (Eph. 1:9b).

What exactly does this word separate mean in the context Paul uses? Simply put, the term separated means to set apart unto a holy purpose or calling by God. Christians are separated in this sense too as the Lord’s redeemed. This is why Paul refers to believers as saints; a saint means a sanctified one (verse 7). Separation is a biblical doctrine of great importance. Separation between that which is holy and that which is not has always been revealed to be in the interest of God. Separation unto holiness was the distinction made between those who were God’s people and those who were not in the Old Testament. It is not surprising therefore, that Paul himself quoted Scripture in his teaching of the doctrine to the Christian church (II Cor. 6:16-18). But what does Paul mean specifically when he says separated to the gospel of God? Paul is saying that the preaching of the gospel is the single most important function of his ministry. It is the gospel which is both the wisdom and power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16, I Cor. 1:23,24).

The separation in which Paul speaks here in Romans had reference to his particular calling as an apostle, but it is not limited to that calling exclusively. Since the end of the apostolic era there has been a cessation of those extraordinary gifts, which Paul and the other apostles enjoyed. But the preaching of the gospel is designed by Christ to be performed in every generation until He returns at the end of the age. Separation unto the gospel ministry for the Christian minister today is an ordinary office rather than an extraordinary one. And yet, it contains the very same purpose and power that Paul experienced in his calling as an apostle in his day. Salvation is still the same blessing, according to the same power which the Lord always used to regenerate dead sinners unto life.

Doctrine: Paul introduced himself to the church, not as one who has human prominence, but as one who is in Christ

1) Saul was converted to Christianity (Acts 9:1-8)

Paul was the converted name of Saul of Tarsus. Everyone who is truly converted to Christ receives a new name just as Saul did, due to their being a new man in Christ (Rev. 2:17, 3:12). The story of Saul is amazing. While traveling in an unregenerate state to Damascus, in order to do harm to the Christians there, he was suddenly and miraculously changed when confronted by the risen, glorified Savior, Jesus Christ. This was nothing less than a regenerative act on the part of Jesus, for no man can even see, much less enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again (John 3:3,5). This event serves as a display of the tremendous ability of our Lord to convert even His most vociferous opponents. It, along with other instances of immediate conversion shown in Acts, has also been considered a pattern for this amazing, miraculous converting work of Christ since those days. Certainly, such an immediate and astounding conversion has often taken place in church history at times when God has been pleased to display it to the world.

Conversion, it must be made clear, is the fruit of repentance. Repentance is a complete change from one course of travel in one direction, to a turning and going in another. It is a turning from serving sin and self, in order to follow Christ and serve the living God. This fact has been lost on many at various times throughout the church age. At times the church has devolved into a sort of cultural mentality that says all who are born into the visible institution are necessarily Christians. This sort of thinking is usually attended with notions of sacramental regeneration, as though church ordinances have power to convey life and godliness. Some have entertained antinomian ideas of conversion that it is nothing more than a nod of the head to a set of propositions. With this idea, there is no godly practice that follows those propositions which are said to be the substance of the faith in question. And of course, there are those who attribute mere acts themselves as evidence that conversion has taken place, without any spiritual evidence to corroborate it.

We see in Saul however, a profound change of mind and heart in response to the Lord revealing Himself to him. It is important to note that this change of mind which leads to conversion is not some act of will on the part of a man. It comes about because of regeneration which precedes it. In an unregenerate state of which all men are born, they are the bondservants of sin and Satan. This in no way implies that men don’t have a sense of duty to God, or of the principle of righteousness in their minds. Being in an unregenerate state means spiritual death, but it is an active condition. The activity of sin is a deliberate opposition to God, hence, the service of Satan is performed. But the effects of spiritual death upon men render their minds darkened and deceived as to what they do (Eph. 4:18,19). Unregenerate men deceive themselves into thinking they serve God. Even those who deny His existence does this, for it is a principle of self righteousness for them to do so (Ps. 14:1, 53:1). The darkness of spiritual death renders a man unable and unwilling to see things otherwise. So the service Saul thought to give God in his unregenerate state was actually unto Satan, the god of this world (II Cor. 4:3,4).

Saul was wonderfully regenerated on the road to Damascus. The moment Saul saw Jesus and heard His voice, he was among those of the living (John 5:24-26). The light that shone around Saul was the glorified Savior, whom no man can see who does not have life in him already “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (II Cor. 4:6). Saul’s traveling companions did not see this, because they were left in their sin. They heard a voice, but were unable to discern any intelligible words from it (Acts 9:7). This was not so with Saul. He saw the light, he heard the words, and furthermore, understood them as coming from the Lord (verse 5). Once he was born again, Saul was quickly converted to the Christian faith, doing a complete turn around from his previous position against God. So Saul became Paul, a new man in Jesus Christ (II Cor. 5:17).

Now, we do not seek to imply from this that Paul’s experience of sudden regeneration, repentance and conversion in such a short period of time is the ordinary experience of all Christians. In fact, it most certainly is not. Just as the salvation of the thief dying on the cross next to Jesus was but a single example in Scripture of such an occurrence, so it was with Saul in his conversion. Ordinarily, conversion to Christ is far less dramatic than this one example. For starters, Jesus taught Nicodemus the new birth is something mysterious. Don’t confuse this word for mystical, for it certainly is not. By mysterious, what is meant is that the new birth is something hidden from view, it is an unseen work of God within the soul of a person. It is the work of the Spirit of God, who is Himself invisible. Therefore, Jesus said to Nicodemus “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8).

God imparts the new birth quietly, subtly and completely apart from any means. Most people confuse regeneration with conversion for it is what is seen. Not only is regeneration something not seen, it is not even known when it actually happens. What is known is, at some point, a person who is regenerated becomes aware of God in such a way as never before. They find themselves drawn to Him in Jesus Christ. They find themselves convicted of the message of the gospel that it is good news to them personally. This is why conversion is associated with the word of God. Once a person is regenerate, they have not only life to hear the message of the cross, but a sound mind to discern its meaning, its application to them. They become aware that they are sinners in need of a Savior. Modern day revivalism, and crass Baptist Theology have turned salvation entirely into the Damascus road experience. We see however, but few examples in Scripture of this.

The pattern is the same in every child of God, whether they are converted in a dramatic way, or in a much more obscure manner than that of Saul. It is more accurate to say conversion is the same for all who are saved. Everyone born of God’s Spirit hears the word of God and believes in it. Notice we say believes in the word. There is no such thing as believing in God, or of Christ without believing His word. If one believes the word of God, they are saved. This excludes all external acts of obedience which should follow faith. It is faith that justifies, it is repentance that converts. One follows the other in what is called in Latin, the Ordo Salutis, or, the order of salvation. So Paul did not make some free will decision to follow Jesus. Saul was immediately regenerated and then converted in the Damascus road experience. We see the fruit of regeneration in Paul’s sudden willingness to obey Jesus, when he said “Lord, what do You want me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Every awakened, regenerated sinner does this, no matter who they are, or how in God’s providence they were brought to Christ.

So Paul became “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” Paul was now willing to serve God by serving His Son. This is the only way it is for a Christian. Of course, this is a very narrow statement Paul makes here in the first verse of his Roman epistle. It is not meant to be simply a personal statement in any way. Paul defines his terms immediately for us in this epistle by making such a statement as this. The word “bondservant” means a slave. If someone is a Christian, they are actually slaves. How repugnant this is to a twenty-first century ear! In Paul’s day, talk about crucifixion was considered utterly repugnant, both to Jews and non Jews alike. Unfortunately, in the present day, the word crucifixion has lost its significance. This is a theological term that carries the idea of justice for sin, and a blood atonement by a substitutionary sacrifice with it. The person who is regenerate understands what this means. But slavery is certainly, a word modern man knows, and furthermore, finds abhorrent. Widespread cultural irreligion can try to shake off the shackles of the Christian cross from its vocabulary, but not so with the term “bondservant.”

A “bondservant” is someone who is not free to do as he wishes. For one thing, a “bondservant” is not an enlightened free thinker in any sense of the modern concept. A “bondservant” is someone whose mind is tied to the thoughts of his Master, which in the case of Paul was Jesus Christ. This means to be a Christian, one must submit to the word of God. In Paul’s case we have an extraordinary example of this. Jesus told Paul, exactly what was expected of him saying “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6). Paul submitted to those words as a servant does to a Master. Paul ceased taking directions from the Jewish High Priest, and from the writings of Rabbinical scholars. Now he took his directions from the Lord Himself, according to His word.

Which brings us to consider the chief quality of a servant such as Paul was in Christ. He was humbled “under the mighty hand of God” (I Pet. 5:6). Whereas, Paul was full of himself before as a Pharisee, supposing to do some good deed for God, now he saw himself as an unworthy servant, doing his duty. This new attitude Paul acquired was far removed from the idea of an earthly ruler who is to be served and feared by people. This is the reason Paul refers to himself here at the outset of the epistle as “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” As “a bondservant of Jesus Christ,” Paul was a minister of men, not a ruler. This is the same attitude of all who are born again, converted to the Christian faith. It is an attitude of humble service to the Lord, and to others than themselves. Paul of course, was “called to be an apostle,” and as such, was the holder of a special commission from the Lord. But the word “apostle” means a sent one, which is the same as saying he was sent by Jesus Christ to be a minister of the people of God.

So Paul used these two terms “bondservant” and “apostle” together in his introduction to define the meaning of his commission. His calling in this office was as a Christian, one who was saved by the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is an important thing to understand today. People have always had the tendency to exalt church leaders far beyond their true significance. This is what led to the Roman papacy many years after the office of apostleship was ended. Sinful men love to have the pre eminence over others, as is revealed by the apostle John in a particular instance, with a particular church leader named Diotrophes (III John 1:9,10). The history of the church has been replete with such men as Diotophes. These are men who serve themselves, rather than those whom they are called to serve. Any man like this is completely unfit for the ministry, just as Diotrophes was. But Paul on the other hand viewed his calling as a servant of others.

We have an abundant amount of evidence in Scripture to prove this very thing about Paul. Paul gave himself to God and His people to the point of personal suffering and loss. No sooner did Paul start preaching the gospel than the Jews plotted to kill him (Acts 9:20-25). In one fell swoop, Paul forfeited all the human prominence once his within the Jewish community (Phil. 3:3-7). From the moment he converted to Christ on, Paul was a target of the Jews. Everywhere he went within the Roman empire, trouble followed him. When the Jews would not listen to the gospel, Paul turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-47). So many of them did listen. “And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region.” (Verse 49). But when this happened the Jews became even more incensed against Paul, seeking to stir up everyone to oppose him and the message he preached (verse 50). And so, Paul was thrown out of the city as a troublemaker. More than once, Paul received the same accusation. On another occasion he was arrested, beaten and thrown into prison by the Roman authorities (Acts 16:16-24).

If this were not enough, Paul also suffered the indignity, of being called a fraud, by those who troubled the church at Corinth, so that he had to defend himself to them by naming the things he had suffered on their behalf (II Cor. 6:4,5, 11:23-27). But none of these things deterred him, and why was this so? Because Paul had determined to give himself to Christ as His “bondservant,” even unto death if necessary (Acts 21:12,13). So in the face of many warnings about the Jews, Paul returned to Jerusalem to preach in the temple. As he preached there he was attacked and almost put to death by Jews, until being rescued through arrest by the Roman authorities again (verses 30-32). After his release, Paul was once again in danger about to be killed by the Jews. So once again, Paul was arrested by the Romans (Acts 23:10). This time, he was sent to Rome, where he was eventually martyred by Nero. But this did not happen until Paul spent several years in prison. During this time, he wrote several epistles, including this one to the Roman church.

2) Paul’s credentials as a Pharisee were worthless (Phil. 3:4-11)

The apostle Paul’s service to Jesus Christ as His “bondservant” was the fruit of his salvation we call sanctification. It is true, not all who are saved are called to this kind of service in God’s kingdom, but all Christians are sanctified by faith in Jesus (Acts 26:18). So when someone is separated unto Christ by the gospel, a life of devotion and service will follow, just as it did with Paul. Now there are some in the present time who will argue against necessary duty in the Christian life, as though it were somehow an impediment to salvation. But these should take note from this text that Paul makes no such claim in his assumption of the position of a servant. In fact, what Paul did when he came to faith in Christ was trade one life of devotion and duty for another. This is what all people do as humans, for they live for the pursuit of what they prize.

For Paul, his credentials as a Pharisee were what he had previously lived for. It gave him status and respect by others. To learn the Mosaic law under Gamaliel was equivalent to obtaining a doctorate in the law today. But what does a title like this do for someone, but to make them proud? Paul was once proud of himself as a Pharisee. He thought nothing of harming those who did not believe as he and his elite group of religious men did. So Paul conspired to put Christians to death to stop them, or so he thought, from spreading their doctrine of Jesus Christ. It was his satisfaction that he rid the world of those who spoke contrary to the law, or so he thought. Now those who do this think the world depend on them and their service as purifiers of the public domain. We have them today. Those who espouse their credentials as a matter of human achievement are always willing to rid the world of others not like themselves. We see them in the government, the university and even in the church.

The pride of human status has an intoxicating effect upon people. To be called a Doctor, or a President, or a Reverend, or some other title of learning, accomplishment and authority are what people of the world live for. It is what the apostle John called the love of the world (I John 2:16). People of the world admire each other when they have acquired the right credentials. It brings money, opportunity, and advantage in the world. For religious people such as Paul was, the mere satisfaction of appearing upright was enough. There is a reason why Roman Catholic priests walk around in pompous displays of religious dress, dangling various objects of veneration before their public onlookers. It is the “pride of life” to them. And everybody pursues some sort of credential or another in this life to be proud of.

But when Paul beheld the risen Christ on his way to Damascus, he beheld the profound contrast between the righteousness of God and the righteousness of the world. Whereas before Paul could lay claim to his identity as a circumcised son of Abraham, he now boasted only in the cross of Jesus Christ (Gal. 6:14,15). And why the radical change of heart? It was a matter of a new world view, a new axiom of life brought about by regeneration. Paul was regenerated the moment he saw Christ on the road. Now, as a spiritually living saint, he could see the difference between those things the world views as valuable with that which is of eternal worth, the righteousness of God in Christ. The world and self faded before Paul’s vision of the risen Savior, for now he had a true understanding of God’s will. Circumcision, keeping the law, offering bloody sacrifices upon an altar, all of these were material objects that paled in comparison to the spiritual realities accomplished by the death and resurrection of the Lord.

Paul no longer saw himself as a proud Pharisee, but as someone who has been crucified with Christ (Gal. 2:20). His life was no longer his own but belonged to his Lord that died for him on Calvary. In other words, Paul was dead to himself and that which he formerly loved and alive in Christ in love toward God (Rom. 6:11,13). This is not to say that human achievement such as learning or professional success is to be shunned as inherently evil, by any means. God has a life and identity predetermined for all people. Each person has his place in God’s world, fulfilling His purpose in one way or another. God gives spiritual gifts to His people too, for the service of the ministry in the church (Rom. 12:3-8; I Cor. 12). But God also gives natural gifts and talents to all men. When a person becomes a believer, both their natural talents and the spiritual gifts they receive from God, become the direction they must take in life, concerning their service and devotion to Him.

3) Paul considered himself to be the chief of sinners (I Tim. 1:12-16)

Paul’s new view of himself after his conversion to Christ was nothing less than astounding. No longer the proud Pharisee Paul understood the true nature of sin. As a Pharisee Paul imagined his efforts at keeping the law were sufficient to justify him with God. But this begs the question, was he wrong to keep the law and be punctilious about his religious devotion? The answer to this is no, for it is necessary (Rom. 7:12). What changes by way of regeneration in a person is the principal purpose by which they conduct themselves in the world. Now of course, there are people who simply live profligate lives before they are converted. When these are saved, a new consciousness of the heinousness of their evil course is not only understood, but to be expected. But what about the devoted religionist such as Paul was? We would be remiss to think he rejected every aspect of his former life as a Pharisee after conversion. After all, Jesus said “For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:20). Rather than diminish the righteousness of the Pharisee, Jesus sought to set it in contrast with God’s.

The motivation behind human righteousness is self. Therefore, it is sin. As sin, even the good one does becomes sinful. So when Paul sought to uphold the law, he went about seeking the destruction of others. Paul was deceived. His imagined love for God translated into hatred for his neighbor, in direct violation of God’s law (Matt. 22:34-40). His good became evil for it was motivated by a false principle, not of God but of himself. So Paul describes himself and his former conduct in this way, “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (I Tim. 1:13). Paul blasphemed God by speaking and acting against Jesus Christ and the gospel (Acts 7:54-58). Paul persecuted both Jesus and His people (Acts 9:1-4). Paul was exceedingly insolent toward God (verse 1).

Now this presents us with a question, how was it that Paul did not see this before his encounter with Jesus? Paul was certainly learned in the word of God as a Pharisee. In fact, why didn’t most if any of the Pharisee’s see the truth as it is in Jesus? Paul gives us the answer when he said “because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (I Tim. 1:13). The unregenerate heart dwells in spiritual darkness. Spiritual darkness is ignorance and unbelief. The problem is not an intellectual one, but moral one. This is why Jesus rebuked the Pharisees saying “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” (John 5:39,40). They knew and read the Scriptures, but failed to see Jesus in them, therefore, they were unwilling to submit to Him. And why were they so unwilling? Jesus gives us the answer immediately before this. “And the Father Himself, who sent Me, has testified of Me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. But you do not have His word abiding in you, because whom He sent, Him you do not believe.” (Verse 37,38). They were unregenerate, spiritually dead and unable to see Him in the word.

When Jesus encountered Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul immediately owned his ignorance asking Him the question “Who are You, Lord?”(Acts 9:5). What happened here, but Paul’s heart was changed. He was already enlightened by the truth simply by admitting his ignorance of it. Of course, that is where everyone begins whom the Holy Spirit regenerates. When light enters the mind of man, it is free to submit to the truth which Christ gives His people, showing them the way to God (John 14:6). Even the most punctilious of religious people, will at that point own all of their former goodness as sin. Today, it is popular to parade the juicy details of a person’s former life before a congregation when giving a testimony of faith. Paul’s admission of this sin however, shows that it is a far deeper, and more heinous a thing than any sordid act of gross immorality can convey by itself. It is essentially unbelief that is at issue. This is what damn a person to eternal torment. Conversely, it is belief in the truth that saves and sets men free in Christ, just as it did the apostle Paul.

 

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