Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus, called as an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.

Romans 1: 1

This is the opening thought that Paul expresses in Romans, and he states two really big ideas in this short sentence. First, Paul was called by God; the Lord had something in mind for Paul to be doing, and He communicated that something to Paul. Second, in responding to God, Paul was set apart. He was removed from the place in the world that he had previously occupied, and through the miracle of adoption into God’s household, he was granted a new identity and a new purpose in life. Thus, Paul became a distinctly new individual whose greatest mission was to do the will of God.

These same things are true for everyone else who decides to follow Jesus. You and I are also called by God. He has a plan for our lives, and He has given each of us specific skills and granted us certain gifts that He will use in us to answer that calling. Also, God takes everyone who responds to Him, and He moves us out of the view of the world that was ours before and provides us with a new perspective and a new mission within that life. It is not like we are living in some form of fairy tale, however, where the changes happen to us, and we are not really participants in them. God effects the essential change within us by giving us His Spirit; yet, He continues to dialogue with us over the remainder of our lives. He continues to reveal His calling to us, and we are asked by Him to continue to surrender ourselves to being separated from our old lives.

The daily challenge that I face is in listening to God’s call and in humbly giving up control of aspects of my life to Him so that I can respond to that calling more fully. Christ is speaking every day, and He has a mission in mind for us to respond to during each of those days. So, the big questions is this, am I willing to follow Paul’s leading and set aside my own desires and anticipations in order to answer? The gospel calls us into engaging fully in the adventure that is our new life in Christ, and Christ promises the blessing of God’s love, peace, and grace to all who set aside the old life and accept our new being as servants of the King. In Christ, we are each called to enter into that service. Let us follow the Apostle Paul and respond to Christ’s call to leave the world behind and to give up ourselves as servants to our Lord as we respond to Christ’s leading for our new lives in Him.  

In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel.

Ephesians 6: 16-19

As Paul is closing this great letter to the churches that he has poured so much of himself into, he asks them to be praying for him in a very specific way. Paul wants to be bold in the manner with which he proclaims that great eternal mystery that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. At first glance, it does not seem as if Paul is asking for much, for he has been a very bold person for a great many years now. In fact, one might say that the Paul that we see and know from the bible was always bold. Even before Christ forced Himself into the trajectory of his life, no one would have mistaken the young man Paul for a shy and retiring personality. Yet, now, at this final juncture of his life, Paul wants to be held up by others before the Lord as he desires to be bold one last time. 

He seeks out boldness, not comfort or even salvation from his seemingly certain date with an executioner. Paul wants to live out his days by proclaiming life-saving and eternity-giving truths to anyone that he comes into contact with. He desires to do this even with the probability that his actions will hasten his own demise. These are not foolish or rash actions on the Apostle’s part; rather, he knows that speaking out regarding the only true path to salvation is exactly what God has called him to do. Additionally, it is why he has been placed where he is and with the people with whom he is in contact. All of Paul’s day to day life is the result of God’s plan and is an outworking of the Lord’s will. As Paul looks back over the years of his life and considers the places he has been, the people he has engaged with, and the adventures that he has known, I have no doubt that he can see God working in each twist and turn of the journey. Now he wants to finish it all with the words of the gospel of Christ upon his lips and the realization that he was bold to his last breath as his final earthly thought.

Paul was truly unique. God crafted him with a specific intent in mind, and the Lord used him to fulfill those purposes. Each of us is also specifically created by the Lord with intentional purpose and with a plan in place for the ways that we will serve Christ with our lives. Regardless of where we are in our journey through life, whether just starting out or rounding that final turn, Paul’s request for boldness in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ is fitting and appropriate for each of us. None of us will have Paul’s skill, Spirit directed inspiration, and capability to write out explanations of the gospel for the world to read and consider. A few will be gifted with the ability to preach and to speak of these truths before groups and crowds, and all of us are called into lives of service to Christ and within His kingdom. Each of us can be bold in the way that we conduct our days. That is, we can love without reservation, seek justice for all, care about the needs of those that are powerless, and provide the comfort of grace and hope when life has overwhelmed people. We are to live righteously when our culture implores us to do otherwise, and we can bring the glory of the face of Christ into the dark corners of our world so that eternity touches the wounds of the day with its healing balm of grace, love, and mercy. In short, we can enter into the fulfillment of Paul’s final request and live out the gospel of Christ as our bold proclamation of its wonderous and mysterious truth.  

I (Paul) am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and the stability of your faith in Christ.

Colossians 2: 5

We have participated in a neighborhood wide garage sale in the past, and there is almost nothing else that you can do that reinforces just how unstable the value of most of our possessions is that putting them on sale in this manner. We put out for sale a few pieces of furniture that we paid some very serious prices for quite a number of years ago; yet, the concept of deflation of value was clearly driven home when no one was willing to pay even our meager ten dollar asking price for any of them. Actually, if someone had shown any interest, I would have been willing to offer them a three for ten deal, but, alas, there were no takers.

Paul is pointing toward something that made his heart glad, for he could see that the people in Colossae had grasped the idea that there were some things in this life that did hold value. They were showing the sort of discipline that it takes to invest in permanence and in eternity. They were putting their time and their energy into getting to know the Lord more deeply, and they were taking this knowledge and understanding and applying it to the way that they conducted their daily lives. The things that they were buying with their capital were the spiritual treasures that come from a relationship with Christ, and they were growing their investment by putting it to work in their community.

Christ looks at each of us with the same sort of loving pride that Paul expressed when we seek to own the only things that will never be devalued by time, become obsolete or out of style, and that are guaranteed by the highest authority possible to do nothing but appreciate in value. When we seek to know God well and to follow His will fully, we bring the sort of stability into our lives that we will never find anywhere else, and we also touch the world around us with Christ’s promise of redemption. The process of growth in this area does bring to mind one aspect that is similar to that of the garage sale, that is, it is good and worthwhile to get rid of those old aspects of life that no longer are useful or valuable so that the priceless treasures of Christ can replace them and furnish our spiritual homes for the days to come.

In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us.

Ephesians 1: 7

God never wanted people to be held in captivity to sin; yet, He knew that we would place ourselves into that state of bondage. So, the Father planned the way and the means of our escape from the self-devised prison that we were to be held in, and He also made it possible for us to be set free on a permanent basis. Jesus is the Father’s response to both of these needs. He is our source of redemption as He is the means by which we are redeemed. In other words, Jesus paid the price for our release from captivity to sin. This was accomplished in His act of sacrifice upon the cross, and it was sealed by the blood that flowed out of Christ’s pierced body. There is nothing left to be paid in order for our soul’s jailer to release any of us. If we choose to follow Christ, we are granted a full pardon and our parole is effected.

The hard part for most of us comes in the choosing to follow Christ. Why should I do this? What do I gain in so choosing? Is this Jesus even real? These are questions that multitudes of people have asked over the long history of the world. From my point of view, it is all very simple. I know, through faith and by virtue of experiencing life that Jesus is real. The narrative that is written in the Bible is the real and the accurate recitation of God’s engagement with His creation with a particular emphasis upon the Lord’s involvement with humanity. I hold this to be true, not because I have absolute tangible proofs or due to some form of exhaustive research, for I have experienced the presence of God in my life, and I know that the best of the person that I have been and that I am to be is found and made known in the commitment of my heart, mind, and spirit to living in a righteous manner after the modeling and the leading of Christ, Himself.

In the conduct of my life I have certainly placed great demands upon the love and the grace that Christ has poured out upon me. Sadly, I continue to do this to this day; yet, the journey has gotten easier as the Spirit has continued to work within my heart and my mind to bring about an ever-increasing level of understanding of what it means to live as a person that loves others, seeks after justice, and desires to share God’s redemptive love with others. Choosing to follow Christ places each of us on that same journey as the Apostle Paul traveled upon. In so doing we enter into God’s will for us, and we find peace with our Creator in the process. This adventure that Christ takes us on will not be easy as there will be temptations to overcome, an adversarial world to confront, and doubts that grab hold of us and attempt to wrestle our hearts and minds into submission. In all of this I have found that Christ is with me. That riches of grace that Paul mentions and the Lord’s abundant love and mercy are truly poured out upon me in a supply that can be described in no other word but lavish. 

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

2 Corinthians 9: 10

Paul understood working, and he was very familiar with the direct relationship between the effort that a person puts out and the productivity of the day. It would have been easy for him to connect those earthly concepts of labor and result with the world of the spiritual. He was raised in a system where works of various kinds were required and were even essential. Righteousness was not something that came to people without adherence to the system and absent personal, committed effort. Yet, this is not the way that he had learned about Christ, and this was not the way that the Lord had conveyed salvation and a renewed calling to Paul. In Christ, Paul was set free from the compulsion to labor in order to achieve acceptability with God.

In this new freedom, Paul could go into the world around him and live out Christ’s calling without reservation or concern for the propriety of what he did or said. He was able to confront where that was necessary and embrace those who were in pain. He could share God’s word of salvation and healing with people from every corner of the world and from each of its many walks of life. Christ personally called Paul out of service to a form of false god that people had contrived out of the holy foundation of truth that God, Himself, had provided for them. Now this newly formed and sent out evangelist, teacher, and shepherd of souls was out in the world, and he saw opportunity to proclaim truth and life all around him. In order to engage fully in this work, he required an endless supply of God’s grace, love, and the gospel of salvation. That is exactly what Christ gave to him.

This follower of Christ was blessed with all that he needed in order to go into his world and do what Christ asked of him. There was nothing lacking and there was also not a thing that Paul was required to supply out of his own labor beyond a willingness to do anything that Christ asked of him. We, too, are blessed with this same abundance of provision of all that we will need to answer Christ’s call to follow Him into service to God’s kingdom come to earth. Although Paul was sharing an aspect of his own experience in telling of God’s bountiful provision, he was saying these things so that we would see and accept the reality of this same supply of all that is needful in order to fully and continually proclaim Christ in our world as our own gift from God. Christ has done all that is required for each of His people to be sowers of saving grace, truth, love, and redemption in our world. We have no bill to pay at the supply house, but we have an endless abundance of life to spread in a world that knows only death and its pain without the Savior that we have come to give to it as our life’s true work.

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit,whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3: 4-7

God did not save anyone, ever, because of our goodness or as a result of the work that we have done. Accomplishment in this world is of no value to the Lord. He is interested in one thing, and that is our willing acceptance of Him as Lord over our existence, Savior of our souls, and Perfecter of our hearts. When Paul says that the goodness and loving kindness of God appeared, he does not mean that these Godly characteristics were previously missing; rather, he is indicating that, in Christ, they became present in this world in human form and in His death and resurrection they were made tangible to all of the world in a way that had never been true before. God’s goodness and loving kindness were demonstrated in Christ’s willingness to endure the worst of human violence in order to permanently eradicate sin and death’s true power over people’s lives.

All of this is done because God feels great pain when people reject Him. He desires to be in relationship with all of us, and the Lord seeks after everyone even knowing that many of us will not accept that invitation and realizing that there will be a number of us that will openly and actively reject His love, grace, and offer of mercy. When Jesus taught about the shepherd that seeks after the one percent of the flock that had wandered away and into danger, He was speaking God’s heart for the relentless pursuit of any and all who are, in fact, lost in this world. He will go anywhere and endure everything that the evil of this planet can throw at Him in order to redeem one of us. So, too, should we be open to following Christ’s call and His leading into loving others, caring about and for them, and for going where it is needful in order to bring the love of Christ and the truth of His gospel to them.

This willingness to serve the Lord is a sign that we are true heirs of the great spiritual wealth that comes to people who enter into adoption by God into His family of faith. We are made into people that are able and willing to lay down our lives in service to God because of the work of regeneration that the Holy Spirit does in us and the related renewing of our minds from ones that are focused primarily upon our own desires and wants into ones that follow God’s heart and that seek to live in the full expression of love, righteousness, and justice. In all of this there is freedom, for we are no longer required to do good works in order to appear to be worthwhile people in the world. Instead, Christ’s blood has washed us clean and we are proclaimed to be righteous and holy by Christ so that all that we think, say, and do is oriented by the Spirit toward serving God’s will and all constraints upon our capacity to love others are removed by the presence of Godly grace and mercy in and with us through each hour of every day.    

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

There is a simple clarity in the way that Paul saw the truth about his condition in the eyes of God and concerning the darkness of his reality before Christ got ahold of him. He was a lost man who did not know that his sense of direction was corrupted so badly that he was navigating a course through life that was certain to lead to his own destruction. Yet, Paul was going at it all with a full head of steam and with no conception of the disaster that lay ahead for him and for anyone who joined in with him in his zeal for the cause of denying Christ to the point of defeating Jesus’ entire mission. Paul’s self-proclaimed stature as foremost among sinners is based upon his knowledge of God that had been gained as a direct result of his training as a rabbi, and it was perfected through the angry intensity of his drive to find and to destroy people who were following Christ.

We know the story. Jesus would not leave Paul alone. Finally, Jesus chases Paul down in the midst of a journey to expand the scope and the reach of his mission of defeat and destruction for the newly constituted church of Christ-followers. As the American rock band, The Eagles said,

“On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair, warm smell of colitas, rising up through the air.

Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light.

My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim.

I had to stop for the night.” 1.

After that remarkable time when Paul stopped running, he had little choice on that day, some thirty odd years have elapsed until this point in time when the wise, veteran itinerant preacher is providing guidance and wisdom to his young disciple, Timothy, and by extension, he is also giving us the benefit of this same eternal truth and counsel.

The same reality that was Paul’s belongs to everyone else, too. Christ Jesus came into this world to save each and every one of us, for all are born into sin, and Jesus is the one who redeems us from that dead and doomed state of being. Everything else that Jesus said, did, and demonstrated is secondary to that salvation-oriented purpose. For, if we are not in a relationship with God, all of our goodness, justice, and love are formed up out of whatever strength and capability that we may be able to summon up from within ourselves. It does not draw its energy and its guidance from the depths of the eternal that is resident by virtue of essential character in God, Himself. This is a resource that is made fully available to all of Christ’s followers through the presence of the Spirit. Although we may not always yield ourselves to God’s will and way of living, that is a story for another day, in Christ, we are taken out of the old, worldly way of viewing all of life, and we are granted the same reprieve from death that Paul was so excited to proclaim.

  1. Hotel California; Glenn Frey, Don Felder; released 02/1977.