What does it take to live like the apostle Paul? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
Yesterday, I heard somewhere someone saying about how great it would be to live like Paul. Paul certainly had a great faith and it really transformed his life. He wrote about joy from a prison cell and he dealt with persecution all his life, until in the end he was beheaded for his faith in Christ.
Now I do want to say that when I speak about faith like Paul, I mean faith in what I take to be the biblical sense. Faith is one of the most misused words today. I have written about a true understanding of faith here. Faith biblically is trust in that which has been shown to be reliable. It does not mean belief in the absence of evidence. It’s quite the opposite in fact. It requires evidence.
It’s important to realize Paul is not traveling around the Roman Empire based on what he thinks is a subjective experience or a hope he wants to see fulfilled alone (Though he has had an experience and he does have hope for the future because of Christ), but it is rather because he is because he has seen something in the world outside of his mind that he thinks changes everything about reality.
Years ago, there was a cartoon I watched and one clip advertising said something like “I watched the TV shows. I used to play the card game. Then I found out, this is real.” Imagine what it would mean if the plot of a favorite cartoon of yours was real. How would it change your life? Imagine if you found out that just one fairy tale or Disney movie was a real historical event. What would it change for you? Would you ever see the world the same way again?
Now for Paul, Paul has been a good Jew all his life and has grown up hearing about the hope of Israel, the Messiah, and as a good Pharisee, he has also believed in the resurrection. He has been holding to the Torah all his life. The Law of God is sacred writ for him. He treasures it. He reads it daresay I far more than we’ve ever read our NT. We would not be surprised if we heard Paul had the whole of it memorized.
Paul’s claim is that He saw the risen Christ.
So what did that mean for Paul? “Yay! My sins are forgiven!” No. Paul thought he had a system of forgiveness already that worked quite well. He saw himself as blameless before the law. If you preached Jesus to him because he needed forgiveness, Paul would say “No I don’t! I am a faithful observer of Torah! That reveals that I am justified in the eyes of God!”
Of course, Paul did come to realize and teach that forgiveness is found only in Christ, but that is not why he came to Christ and while that is something that he was teaching an unbelieving world, that was not the main change.
What was it? I’d like for you to think about a work like Craig Keener’s book “Miracles.” Now if you’re the atheist reading this, just take a thought experiment with me. Suppose you undeniably witnessed someone praying in the name of Jesus for someone and then saw right before your eyes that they were instantaneously healed. Let’s suppose it was a condition like blindness or paralysis in fact.
Does your worldview change any at that point?
Now you might not come straight across to Christianity at that point (though I would have no complaints if you did), but I would hope at least you would if you were a committed atheist start thinking “Could I be wrong about something? What would it mean if God has broken in?”
In fact, for those of us who are Christians, we might need to start thinking like atheists more. We need to realize that this is something incredible really. God has broken into our world. There is someone out there in the world and He has spoken. There is more to this universe than meets the eye.
The problem is that we’ve grown up with Christianity so much that its become familiar to us. We know the stories so well that we’ve never found them to be incredible. It can sadly seem natural to us that God took on flesh and that Jesus rose from the dead.
They weren’t natural at all to a first century Jew.
For Paul, to see that Jesus is raised expresses so much that I seriously doubt that I can get it all. It is extremely difficult to begin to think like a 1st century Jew, but to understand Jesus as his contemporaries saw him, we must do this.
For Paul, I can wager some guesses.
First, he sees in Jesus that the promises of God are all yes and amen. God has spoken in Jesus which means that the time of renewal is at hand. The Kingdom of God has begun and it has begun with the reign of King Jesus.
Second, since the kingdom of God has begun its reign, then that means that the eschatological hopes of Israel are being fulfilled. God’s glory is being made known throughout the world. The Kingdoms of this world are to eventually bow the knee to the Kingdom of Christ.
Third, moral renewal will begin. The Law will be written on our hearts and we will follow the moral dictates. Paul is not an antinomian. He holds that there is still a law, but the righteous demands are being made known through the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, salvation has changed entirely. No more does it rely on following the sacrificial system, but it relies on trust in the Messiah of Jesus who occupies the throne of Israel. The Davidic and Abrahamic covenantes both find their fulfillment in Christ.
Fifth, God is in the act of making all things new. This includes even the dietary laws and the sacred days of Israel. Creation is being reborn. The curse is being lifted. Paul would have very well understood the claim of Revelation “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Sixth, in the resurrection of Jesus, we find the death of death itself. Death was the stranger that came into the world and ruined humanity. It has had a hold on most everyone save Enoch and Elijah. As long as death reigns, we have no certainty that justice will be done on this Earth. Since Christ has been raised and is the firstfruits of the resurrection, we have certainty.
Seventh, this means that judgment is coming. God has acted which means he’s not kidding around any more. The time of patience is over. It is now time to repent and get right with God. This motivates Paul even more to preach the gospel.
These are just seven I can think of. I do not doubt for a moment that there are many more, but if these facts haven’t fully gripped you, and to confess they haven’t fully gripped me either, then we will not have the faith of Paul that we so want to have.
Today, I urge you to look at your Christianity differently. Only when you see it as changing the world, can you see it as changing your world.