For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.
-1 Corinthians 15:9-11
Hello! Another post. I was watching Buzzfeed on being an Instagram fashion star for a week and I realised that I was trying to also create quality content, except that ‘trying’ is the imperative word and I am not trying very hard. I am just slotherious-ing when I feel like it. It is not a job or even a regular pastime. That said, I expect to be uploading a lot of book reviews once my final exams are over! Yay!
This is the second of the series of the Easter Convention. The previous post was about gospel amnesia and how we forget the importance of the gospel in our lives, and instead focus on parts of our lives which are unable to bring us ‘life’. This post focuses on how Paul was once an angry man who persecuted his fellow brothers of the Church, because he did not understand. But through the grace of God, Paul was changed and his life story stands testament that it is possible for all of us to change. There will be another post tomorrow for the service at Expo and a last one on Saturday for the Easter service. I am not evangelising, I just like writing about my experiences. And I would like to believe that I can use my words to create a story about what I am learning in the various parts of my life.
Pastor Tripp started with a question- why would Paul talk about himself in 1 Corinthians 15:9, when he was talking about reminding others about the importance of the gospel and how the resurrection will happen. How would his narrative fit into the historical resurrection of Christ? He spoke about how Paul Tripp, himself, the man who toured the world and wrote nearly 20 books to date, was once an angry man filled with pride. He spoke about how he didn’t see himself as being angry and now he looks back on those days with grief. One day, as he was in the car with his brother, driving back from a Christian conference, his brother asked him a series of questions which made him realise that he has been an angry man and needed to change. He didn’t explain what he was angry about or how it manifested, but he did emphasize that the ‘him’ now is a very different him from the past, and that all that he has done so far might not exist now, if he had not humbly accepted the change.
This is grace– unasked for grace, grace that changes proud people into humble ones, grace that leads demanding people to serve others. The grace of God has the power to change people, to fix human brokenness. I was thinking about how my DG leader was discussing one of the pastors in the church, we were talking about prison fellowship and the topic turned to the people whom God has used to show his grace. The pastor in question spent 10 years in jail for drug abuse, and he is now a very different man. (Although the question about how to integrate ex-convicts into the gated community still remains.)
Pastor T. emphasized that grace is able to rescue you, it is able to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. And that what the resurrection guarantees is not just a future resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is not just eternal life, but also a current resurrection- bringing you out of sinful thoughts and angry deeds, and into the newness of life. I admit that I got a bit lost here because I was thinking to myself, if I am unable to see my own faults and need to be rescued then how am I going to ask for rescue? What exactly do I ask for, is it like a general “hey I know I am faulty somewhere”. It can’t be something obvious like my pride- I am a proud person, I don’t like being seen as stupid, it sounded like it has to be something much more insidious. Or maybe it is my need for autonomy, the need to control everything in my life and to be self-sufficient, because I like relying no one but myself.
I am a strong and independent beagle.
Pastor T. characterized Paul in three ways. Firstly, Paul was foolish. His heart was foolish and he denied the existence of God. He had great power and was able to hurt other people, and he acted like he did not need God. Secondly, Paul was a rebel. Not only was he foolish, he was actively foolish. And thirdly, Paul was blind. He did not, and could not see the danger that he was to himself. On the way to Damascus, had God not spoken to him, I wonder what would he have done (and later regretted). He is deeply convinced that whatever the problems are, it is outside of him. Being spiritually blind is the scary thing because you might remain convinced that because you are passionate, disciplined, knowledgeable and determined, you have it all fixed. But you might be completely wrong about what you think you know.
(On the power that Paul had against Christ and his followers)
But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
-Acts 9:13-14, ESV
It reminds me of Gellert Grindelwald in Harry Potter (the dark wizard that Dumbledore defeated), it was written that he showed remorse in his later years in his cell at Nurmengard. Some of us did things that we now regret because we were self-assured and proud of our own abilities, and woefully ignorant of what is beautiful and wise in other living beings. I am talking about myself and what I did when I was much younger. Did I know that it was wrong? Yes. Did I care that it was wrong? No. Youth commits folly, but youth does not bother about the consequences because she is unable to see so far ahead.
“Grindelwald tried to stop Voldemort going after the wand. He lied, you know, pretended he had never had it.”
Dumbledore nodded, looking down at his lap, tears still glittering on the crooked nose.
“They say he showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard. I hope that it is true. I would like to think he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done. Perhaps that lie to Voldemort was his attempt to make amends… to prevent Voldemort from taking the Hallow…”
“… or maybe from breaking into your tomb?” suggested Harry, and Dumbledore dabbed at his eyes.
-J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
I do very much love Harry Potter.
The central message is this: there is hope that the grace of God will come to us, and it will change us from being the petty, sinful, jealous, anti-social, awkward creatures that we are (I’m talking about myself, again), to something better. The six most important words in this part of 1 Corinthians 15 is “but by the grace of God”. Paul did not know about God, he was not kind to believers in Christ. And he didn’t ask to be rescued, but God decided to show him grace. He later became one of the 12 apostles of the church.
There are two more things that I learned during his talk. The first is the difference between the laws, and grace. Christianity is not just a system of theology and rules, although sometimes I feel that that is all my mom can focus on. Her method is to follow all the rules, and go above and beyond the rules, so that she feels assured of her salvation. If the Bible recommends to fast for one day, she does 40 days. (Although she does drink water, hence she’s still hanging around the house.)
But Christianity at the core is grace and love and hope in the salvation that only God can provide, and as believers we should not look towards the laws and ask the laws to do what only grace can do. Laws cannot deliver you from sin, although it can expose sin. It can separate your actions and thoughts into right and wrong, but it cannot peel back the layers of your heart that you are unwilling to give to God, neither can the laws save you from yourself. Christ did not die for us for us to only learn the laws.
(However, because I just started learning, I don’t really know much about faith or grace. Start small with the laws, but do not look to it as all that I need to learn.)
The second is that grace will not change you overnight, although for some it will. Because our nature is still sinful- one does not get rid of sexual perversion overnight (although this time, I am not talking about myself), although some people do. Being changed is a process, it is something that takes a long time. And staying with that process is important because while God can and will help you if you want to help yourself, if you are an actively resistant person, the process will be much more painful. After all, it’s like dieting. The more you want to diet but also simultaneously resist your diet, the more mental space it takes up, it’s like a double whammy.
We believe- and hope in a rescuing grace. A redeemer who is unlike anyone on earth. Paul was rescued from Paul himself. And Ananias practiced forgiving grace on Paul, when he laid his hands on Paul and said the first word, “brother”.
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight.
-Acts 9:17-18, ESV
When Paul (previously listed as Saul in the Bible, but he later used the version of his name which was comfortable for the Gentiles because he intended to bring the gospel to the Gentiles) was baptized, that was transforming grace, because he later became an avid preacher. And lastly, delivering grace, giving him not just a promise of a future, but also what he needed in the here and now. Although the practical applications are a little murky because so few of us understand (or maybe it is just me) what is the ‘here and now’. I don’t really know how to exist today.
It is good to remember that the grace of God still lives tonight. In our mortal bodies. That while Christ might have died 2000 years ago, his power has not faded away. As Pastor T says, it is hard to estimate the legacy that God produces in us or through us. Lest we forget who we are, and what God can do, let us turn once again to 1 Corinthians 15:9, to understand how Paul’s transformation is an application of grace.
As a pastor, Paul Tripp knows nothing of the lives of individuals who sit in the congregation. But he can still say a general paragraph and bring about silence. It is slightly paraphrased, but the general gist is- you know what you are doing is wrong but you do it anyway. Perhaps you are browsing websites that you have no business to be on, but because there is something that you want to experience. Or gossip, you love to carry a tale, because there is power, but you know that you shouldn’t be doing it. Where is the blindness in your heart? Can you look sincerely at yourself and say, ‘I am more like Paul than unlike him?’
There are many, many parts of life that I wish I could change. But it is so difficult because I have the stubborn temperament of a starved-beagle, with terrible myopia. But “may our celebration of your resurrection be with our confession of our need for grace.”