My hubby has a job that normally requires a degree. However, he is one of those people that started young, came up through the ranks, and learned in the school of experience. He illustrates a quote that I read last night from an unknown source that said, “God does not call the equipped. He equips the called.”
While this is true in the sense that every Christian must learn to serve in the power of God and not in their own abilities or because of their prior training and experiences, our background shapes us. God uses the issues of life, after salvation and before, to fit His plans for His people. Paul is a tremendous example!
Paul was born into a family of Pharisees, members of a Jewish group that were strict about piety and Mosaic law (Acts 23:6). This gave him a firm understanding of both that law and the extensions added to it that were supposed to help the Jews maintain their identity and purity. As righteous as the Pharisees tried to be, this man eventually realized that Jesus was right in saying:
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:4)
When Jesus Christ encountered and transformed this religious man, he realized that everything in his background may have given him claim to think he was approved by God but it did not. Salvation was not by his credentials or good works; it is totally a gift from God . . .
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8–9)
Of all people who might boast about being good enough to please God, the most religious are often the most apt to think that way. Paul was most religious. He had a great deal he could boast about yet he said . . .
Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ (Philippians 3:4–8)
His background did not give him access to God, but his testimony gave him access to people, even people who were like he had been — righteous and blameless as zealous, pious Jews. Paul knew this had no value and because of his previous religiosity, he could tell others who were religious the good news . . .
Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, (2 Corinthians 3:5)
But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it — the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21–24)
This week I told someone I was stubborn. She said, “Not you . . .” which reminded me of a story my sister told me. She confessed a sin to a group of women and they responded the same way . . . “not you” and she said, “They would not let me confess.” I’ve often wondered what Paul’s readers say when they read his words: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
Lord Jesus, Paul was an incredible example of how to live the Christian life, yet he always reminds me that salvation is never by our goodness. We are all in the same boat — sinners who need saving. We cannot make it by our goodness no matter how good we might be — just as no one can swim to Hawaii no matter how strong a swimmer they might be! Your standard of righteousness is far greater than our efforts, even far greater than we can imagine or define. Yet I thank You for Paul. In him You show me and the world that You can save anyone, including a man who once hated Your people and who professed to be justified in that hatred.