Friday, November 1, 2013
A Mouthful of Gravel
The Sovereignty of God in the Call and Commission of Paul
If there was ever an individual that could give expression to total depravity it was Saul of Tarsus.
“Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest,” Acts 9:1 Yet he was not unique for the Psalmist writes: “Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one.” Psalm 53:3
The apostle himself later writes: “All have turned away. They have become completely worthless. No one shows kindness, not even one person!” Romans 3:12 and “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,...” Romans 3:23
At this point we might ask ourselves, “How many is all?” And the answer must be: “All is all.” Is there even one of Adam’s race that is outside these perimeters? “Not even one!” Having said this we do recognize that many are capable of genuine altruism - yet no matter the height of the philanthropy, it is still unable to reach the realms of the glory of God. It always falls woefully short and may have the consequence of masking the need for a Savior.
So desperate is our fallen condition that there is not one thing extant in our being that commends us to God. Indeed, until the Spirt of God begins to initiate the process of conversion in our lives we are totally and completely without hope.
There is a term for this system of belief - monergism. According to monergists, all men have an unregenerated human nature, and faith to believe is beyond the power of this unregenerated human nature. All merit is ascribed to the Son - and to the Son alone.
With that in mind what was it about Saul of Tarsus that commended himself to the saving grace of God? We could search high and wide - and indeed wade into the morass of speculation - but still come up with the same inescapable conclusion: nothing! If there was anything exceptional about Paul it would be this: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst.” 1 Timothy 1:15b NIV
Indeed Paul’s election was so unconditional that he would recount it as occurring while he was yet in his mother’s womb: “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother's womb and called me through His grace, was pleased...” Galatians 1:15 It pleased God and God alone to call Paul even before his lungs were first filled with air allowing him to make his first utterance: “that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” Galatians 1:16
Paul himself recalled those things that he might have offered to the Father as evidence of his worthiness of salvation: “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee;...” Philippians 3:5 Yet as he looked back to that climactic day on the Damascus Road he knew that none of these contributed to his election: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7
The calling of God on that day - was limited toward Saul and Saul alone. A friend likens it to the call of God on Isaiah: “He dropped down and ate gravel, like did Saul of Tarsus on his way to Damascus.” The men who were traveling with him heard the sound, but only Saul heard the voice: “The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone.” Acts 9:7 NIV Thus they were without revelation.
Another instance of this would be the raising of Lazarus from the dead. If the Lord had said, “Come forth!” all of the tombs within the sound of his voice would have yielded their occupants - unequivocally. Yet, “He cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth.’” This, that day, was the divine decree: “It's for God's glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." John 11:4 ISV Paul would later write: “that the purpose of God according to election might stand: not of works, but of him that calls.” Romans 9:11 Jubilee Bible
A dear friend recently recounted sharing the truth of Christ with a group of young girls that she was mentoring. As she looked over them, she saw the Holy Spirit moving on one via a tearful face. She prayed with her as the love of God filled her heart and recounted: “Glory to God in the Highest!!! He had prepared this moment just for her!!!”
The modern evangelist may say, “Now to all who are within the sound of my voice the invitation is extended.” Yet it will only be those of whom it is said “and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed.” Acts 13:48b Only these will be gripped by irresistible grace. No where in the conversion experience of Saul do we see him being offered a choice - or an invitation to accept.
This was his commission: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” Acts 9:5-6 The declaration “it will be told you” is a function of the verb to be or I am: "Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" Exodus 3:14 The verb became a noun - this truth continuing on to the incarnation: In the beginning was the Word (Logos - the expression of God in action) John 1:1a.
To those who insist that God will not violate our “free will” and that he gives us the ability to choose or reject Him - I am at a loss. We only become free when we are embraced by the unfailing love of God in Christ Jesus: "So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” John 8:36 And not one second before!
To Ananias the Lord spoke the persevering call of God on the life of the apostle: “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” Acts 9:15-16 Once again the future divine declarative of I Am. When God says He will - He will!!!
Thus confidence was so inspired in Saul of Tarsus - the threat breather, that he was transformed into Paul the bond-servant of the Lord. This heavenly calling would cause him to persevere until the fullness of his time on earth was complete. He would bequeath to his young disciple Timothy this infallible hope: “which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me.” 2 Timothy 1:12 ESV
Paul had not become an automaton - but a son: Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Galatians 4:6
A later hymn writer would pen these same immutable convictions:
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
This progression of thought is aptly summed up here: “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 Geneva Bible Many later versions have: “I live by faith in the Son of God,...” The use of in instead of of is much more than a simple nuance - it is an abounding profundity. The “of” is the very key that unlocks the vastness of this eternal treasure–bringing the light of revelation to the mystery previously hidden. More recent translations declare: “I live by the faithfulness of the Son of God.” ISV
Only by this understanding are we gripped by the following verse: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Galatians 2:21 NIV
This is the total, unconditional, limited, irresistible and persevering purpose of the Father in the Son of His Love. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” Romans 8:29 Geneva Bible
Solus Christus - In Christ Alone
In Christ alone my hope is found,
He is my light, my strength, my song;
this Cornerstone, this solid Ground,
firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
when fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My Comforter, my All in All,
here in the love of Christ I stand.
Stuart Townend and Keith Getty