Understanding Paul, part 1

Read Galatians 5:22-26

So then, if anyone is in Christ, that person is part of the new creation. The old things have gone away, and look, new things have arrived! (2 Corinthians 5:17 CEB)

St.-Pauls-GrottoWhen asked the question, “who is the most influential figure in the founding of Christianity?”, I think most people would answer that Jesus of Nazareth was. Actually, I would say that the most influential figure in the founding of Christianity is the Apostle Paul. Granted, I do not think that Paul meant for some of his letters to be interpreted as they have been; however, there can be little doubt that it was Paul’s letters and his work as a missionary that sparked the transformation of a little, obscure Jewish sect into the major world religion that it is today. The question is how many of us in the Church actually read Paul, let alone understand him? I just finished a devotion series on the Fruit of the Spirit and I found that, perhaps, some of Paul’s words, allusions and illustrations fall flat for many of us who are far removed from his time and his culture.

For instance, in Galatians 5:22-26, we read about the Fruit of the Spirit. Paul ends his listing of the fruit with this, “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:24-26 NRSV) But what does he mean by this? What does it mean that “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh?” Paul couldn’t possibly mean that the only way to follow Jesus is to be crucified like Jesus was, could he?

In order to understand this, one must understand Paul. Paul the Apostle was born as Saul of Tarsus and was raised as a pious and devout follower of Judaism. He was so devout that he actually studied and memorized the Torah and became a Pharisee. This means that Paul not only knew the Law of Moses and the Scriptures, but he was an authority on them. At first, Saul did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, and he did not agree with the new teachings of this supposed Messiah’s followers. So he hunted them down and persecuted them; however, that would all change when Jesus appeared to Saul and chose him to be an apostle to the Gentiles…meaning that he was to bring God’s covenant to the non-Jews.

Once Paul had that vision, he took his knowledge of the law, his belief in Christ’s death and resurrection, and his personal experience with the Risen Christ to the Gentile world. He preached to them, he lived with them, he built church communities with them and, on more than one occasion, he nearly died doing so. Saul of Tarsus, both metaphorically and spiritually speaking, had died. His hatred for the Christians along with all of his flaws had been, again metaphorically speaking, been crucified or put to death. He was now Paul the Apostle, chosen by Christ to be a servant-leader of the Gentiles.

As far as Paul is concerned, this is true for all believers. We are born and raised by our parents, we have our own desires and things that we want to grow up to be. We begin to live our lives according to what we see to be our future; however, at some point, God appears to us and shows us something greater than we could have ever imagined. When we experience that, we cannot help but be changed. When we experience that we cannot help but realize that the old has passed on and something new has begun. If you have yet to experience this, God is waiting for you to open yourself up to God’s presence. Once you’ve experienced it, there is no turning back and no telling the kind of signs of the Kingdom God will work in and through you!

Being a Christian is more than just an instantaneous conversion – it is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ.” – Billy Graham

Lord, show yourself to me. Reveal your purpose for me and transform me into a new creation. Amen.

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