“By the grace of God I am what I am”

 

Theremanger-1024x580website2’s a verse that has been on my mind lately, because of Christmas coming and because I just had a new grandson born to me this week, and another grandchild coming within weeks—maybe days.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Gal 4:4,5

But there’s another verse that kept coming to mind also, one that actually says quite the opposite of what we just read about Jesus being born at just the right time— The one about the Apostle Paul being untimely or abnormally born. I guess what struck me was that even the Apostle Paul wrestled with thinking that God’s timing was a challenge to understand and was seemingly bemoaning the fact that he might have been spared a lot that he had to repent of if he had been born again sooner.

 last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.  1 Cor 15:9,10 NKJ

What Paul seems to be missing—at least if we just take that statement at face value— is that it is exactly because of all that he had to repent of, all that he had done in the past that he was ashamed of, that he deeply regretted and was now forgiven of— that the gift of graced that allowed him to be forgiven, was all the more appreciated specifically because he did know the depths of his grievous trespasses. Because he knew how wrong he was and how far he had gone from the truth of God’s word and ways, he was now passionate about that grace and wanted nothing more than to share it with the world.

He saw the light and it was all the more brilliant because of the depths of darkness that had consumed his heart. He was one who had been forgiven much so he loved much. He realized that even though he thought he had a clear cut mission before— to destroy the heretical Jesus followers—he had been hopelessly lost, he had been floundering for years.

Floundering

As believers we’ve all been there. We all floundered for a time, stumbling in the dark, not sure why were are here or where we are going. We may have chosen a path, set our jaw and gone full steam ahead, like Paul before he discovered his purpose, before he had his eyes opened to the truth of Jesus Christ, quite literally in fact as he actually saw the resurrected Lord and was blinded as a result, but later had his sight restored and with that he was given a new life, a new purpose. He discovered his place in Christ. He was born again into the Kingdom, in his words; as one abnormally born.

In Paul’s mind he was chosen last of all the other apostles because he was least deserving. He had been one who, while he was still stumbling in the dark, was actually persecuting the church, seeking with every resource he had to destroy the young church by killing every believer in Jesus if he had to.

Yet in God’s time—in the fullness of time you could say—Paul, by his own admission, worked harder than anyone to spread the good news that had so radically changed his perception and life. He felt he owed it to his Lord, that he had been so lost, so wrong, so evil in his zeal to destroy every last vestige of this fledgling faith in a resurrected Nazarene— that he devoted all his remaining days, facing danger and hardship at every turn, to preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Yet Paul would be the first to say, in fact he said it many times, that he didn’t work so hard to earn his salvation; salvation is a gift, a very expensive gift indeed, but one whose price has been paid by the Lord Jesus Christ and not one we have to earn, we just need to believe and receive. Paul knew that, he was certainly not deserving of anything from the Lord but a good whack upside the head, yet he was given grace and a new lease on life with a clear cut mission and purpose.  Paul worked so hard out of gratitude, not fear— or to earn his salvation.

As he would tell the church at Ephesus:

 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:7-9

Because he had been so lost and so wrong, for so long, Paul could think of nothing he would rather do, no endeavor more pressing or pertinent than devoting himself to spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

Paul had found his purpose, Paul had no doubt now that Jesus had not called him by accident, that what may have seemed untimely or abnormal, was indeed the perfect time because if it had not been for Paul’s years of studying the Torah, all the years of searching for answers, seeking to know and please the God of Abraham, by striving to be perfect in every way as a Hebrew of Hebrews, attaining the vaulted office of a Pharisee— if he had not been so zealous for his faith that he even oversaw the killing of the first Christian Martyr— Stephen—if he had not been so zealous for God’s word, yet so blinded to the very fulfillment of all his promises at the same time— he would likely not have been so Zealous for Jesus and his church.

Jesus came to Paul at just the right time, he who had been born in the fullness of time knew exactly the right time to give Paul his wake up call. Jesus set Paul on a path that would lead him exactly where he needed to be and exactly when he needed to be there— if he hadn’t the world would likely be a very different place today.

Your Call?

What has God called you to do? What did he call you from, what makes you say; “Lord, why did you wait so long to rescue me, to reveal yourself to me?” Actually a better question would be: “What took me so long to recognize and acknowledge you Lord?” Then ask; has the grace extended to me been in vain? Have I used the life he saved me from to shape my future or is it just regrets and heartache— something I am still angry about?

Jesus didn’t mess up, everything came together at just the right time, he put you here, he led you here, he called you and got your attention,  you are where you are on purpose and— if you are not already— God wants to set you on a path and use you to change the world.

10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect.

And by the way, my 4 day old grandson is doing very well, his name is Shane and he weighed in at 6lbs, 13oz. His mother, my daughter, is recovering well also. Praise God!
 

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