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“Paul, a Bondservant of Christ”

(Romans 1:1)

Last week as we began to break ground on this letter of Paul to the Romans, we saw
that he wrote this letter, not so much to address any particular problems they were having – as
he does in many of his other letters – but so that they would have a better understanding of the
Gospel. And when we really stop to think about this, who could give them a better
understanding than Paul? It’s hard to explain a concept or an idea to someone, unless you
first understand it yourself. Try explaining to your children how airplanes are able to fly, or
how boats can float on the water without sinking, or why there are so many different colors in
the rainbow, without knowing anything about it first, and see how far you get. If this is true
of the things we can see, how much more true is it of the things we can’t see and the things
which can only be experienced? This is the way it is with the Gospel. Its truths really can’t
be seen. We know that there is a Jesus Christ, who is both God and man, and who laid down
His life for those who would believe in Him, even though we can’t see Him. We know there
really is a heavenly Jerusalem where the saints and angels continually stand in the presence of
the Holy God, even though we can’t see this either. And we know that there really are such
things as salvation and damnation, even though we can’t see them. We know that these things
are, that heaven or hell exist, but they are beyond our ability to see. Some of these things
haven’t happened just yet, but they will in the future, and when they do, we will see them.
But this doesn’t mean they’re not real. God has told us that they are real in the book He has
given us. And He has given us His Spirit to convince us that they are true. Besides this, there
are also things which we can’t see now, but can only experience, such as regeneration,
justification, adoption, sanctification and assurance. We can’t see these things, but we can
know that we have them through our experiences. This also comes through God’s Spirit. He
is the One who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God (Rom. 8:16). He
is the One who gives to us a sense of the beauty and glory of the things of the Lord so that we
can know that our hearts have been changed. Without the Spirit’s work we could have no
more chance of experiencing or understanding the glory of the things of the Lord than a blind
man could have of understanding color or a man who can’t taste could understand of the
sweetness of honey. Without His Spirit, we can understand something of what they are
supposed to be like, but we can’t experience them or see their glory.
Now Paul was a man who not only knew the truths of Christianity, but had also
experienced them for himself. God had especially prepared him so that he would be able to
declare and explain these things to others, by saving him and giving him a revelation of
Himself. What I would like for us to do this morning is very briefly survey the life of Paul to
see how the Lord shaped and molded him by His Spirit so that he would be able to teach the
Gospel to others.
First, let’s consider Paul’s background to see what he was like before Jesus saved him.
We know from the Scriptures that Paul was actually very zealous for the Jewish religion. He
tells us in Philippians 3, that he was “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the
tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of
the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless” (vv. 5-6). Paul was
someone who took religion seriously. There weren’t any among his peers who seemed to
even come close to his devotion. But yet what was it that Paul really had? Did all this
knowledge do him any good? Was he really a faithful Jew? Would we consider him to have
been an Old Covenant believer? No. Paul had many wonderful privileges – he was raised in
the Old Covenant community; he had a great deal of knowledge – he was schooled as a
Pharisee; he had tremendous zeal – he labored very hard to be the best among his peers. But
Paul was unconverted – he persecuted the church. He hated the people of God. If he had
been an Old Covenant believer, he would have received Jesus Christ when he was presented
to him, because in his heart he would truly have loved God. He would have done everything
he could to protect His church. But as it was, he set out to destroy it because he hated Jesus,
and in hating Him, he hated His Father. This shows us that even though it may be a
wonderful privilege to be raised with the Bible that still doesn’t guarantee our salvation. Paul
knew more about the Old Testament than we will probably ever know, but he was
unconverted. You don’t have to be born again to understand what the Bible means and who it
points to, but you do if you are ever to love Him. We must never trust in our own upbringing
or in how much we know about the Christian religion to save us. We must embrace the One
the Father points to in His Word. We must trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, and we must love
Him and His Father with all our heart.
Paul’s background didn’t save him, but as we’ll see, it did give him a wonderful
advantage once he was saved. Let’s move on now from his background to his conversion
experience. How was it that Paul came to Christ?
His story isn’t like many of ours. He didn’t come to faith in Christ at an early age
because he learned about Christ from his parents. He didn’t go to a church service and walk
forward at an altar call. He didn’t go to an evangelistic meeting at the invitation of a friend.
He wasn’t seeking Christ, and he didn’t have any interest in Christianity at all. Rather, he
hated it. His hatred for Christians was so strong, and his zeal for his own religion was so
great, that he actually set out to destroy the church. Luke tells us that he was ravaging the
household of faith, entering house after house, dragging off men and women, and putting
them into prison (Acts 8:3). He even went to the high priest to get letters authorizing him to
go to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any Christians there, he might arrest
them and bring them back to Jerusalem to put them on trial (Acts 9:1-2). Paul was not what
we would call a God-seeker, but a God-hater. Usually, we think there isn’t any hope for
someone like this. But this wasn’t the case. The Lord showed Paul mercy, because he didn’t
know what he was doing. He writes in 1 Timothy 1:13-14, “I was formerly a blasphemer and
a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly
in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which
are found in Christ Jesus.” As he was on his way to Damascus, the Lord Jesus met him. He
sent a bright light out of heaven that flashed all around him, causing him to fall to the ground,
humbling this great Pharisee. While he was on the ground, he heard a voice from heaven: the
Lord Jesus speaking to him, asking him why he was persecuting Him. But Paul didn’t know
what He was talking about. He wasn’t aware that he had been persecuting anyone like Him.
He asked Him, “Who are You, Lord?” And He answered, “I am Jesus whom you are
persecuting” (Acts 9:3-5). All of a sudden what Paul had been doing struck him like
lightening. In injuring the Lord’s people, he was injuring the Lord. Before, it might not have
made any difference, since Paul didn’t believe that Jesus was the Lord anyway. But now he
knew that He was, and by God’s grace, he immediately submitted to Him. Jesus told him to
get up and enter the city, and he would be told what to do (v. 6). And so Paul got up and was
led into the city, because he was blind. After he was brought into Damascus, he remained
blind for three days, during which time he fasted (v. 9). Then the Lord sent Ananias to him,
who prayed for him, and Paul regained his sight. But we know that after this he never saw
things the same way again. Paul’s physical eyes had been closed three days earlier, but his
spiritual eyes had been opened. Now he could not only see the light of day, but also the light
of the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus.
Now I hope you can see by this that salvation is not simply a matter of your own
choice, but God’s. It’s a sovereign act of the sovereign Lord who calls men to Himself just as
He pleases. Paul wasn’t looking for Christ, he didn’t want Christ, as a matter of fact, he hated
Christ. Left to himself, he never would have chosen Him. No, this was God’s choice, a
choice that He had made from all eternity, a choice that was eternally in His mind, since He
has always known exactly what He was going to do. This truth is one of the themes that Paul
will explain to us in his letter to the Romans. Salvation doesn’t “depend on the man who
wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). This wasn’t true only of
Paul, it’s also true of us. God didn’t save us because we were looking for Him. God didn’t
choose us because we chose Him. He chose us purely by His mercy. Left to ourselves, we
would have hated God and tried to destroy His church every bit as much as Paul. The only
reason why we may not have been putting as much effort into it as Paul did is because God
was holding back our sins. He restrains even the sins of the unbeliever, so that His church can
continue in this world and so that He can call out His elect people. We need to remember that
we can’t pat ourselves on the back for our coming to Christ. We can’t thank our parents for it,
even though their faithful teaching and prayers were part of the means the Lord used to bring
us to Him. We can’t thank the minister or our friends who witnessed to us for our salvation,
even though they too were a part of those means. We can only thank God, because it was His
work from first to last. Without His Spirit, we would have only turned our nose up at the
Gospel our whole lives and went to our graves hating Him. Salvation is the sovereign act of
Paul had a very rigorous upbringing in the Jewish faith, but it didn’t change his heart.
But when the Lord was pleased to reveal His Son to Paul, his heart was changed, and he was
gloriously saved.
Now the last thing I want you to see about Paul is the change that took place in his
life. Now that the Lord had saved him, he no longer tried to destroy the church, but did
everything he could to build it up. This change was immediate. When his sight returned, he
didn’t go straight to the synagogues of Damascus to carry out his original plan. Instead, he
began to preach the faith he once tried to destroy. The change was so powerful that those who
heard him were amazed. They knew that Paul had come there to terrorize the church and to
arrest Christians, but instead, he was now trying to convince them to become Christians.
Instead of using his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures to refute Christianity, he was
now using it to prove that it was true. Paul’s life was changed radically, and it was changed
for life. As we saw last week, he continued to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord
and Savior Jesus Christ. The Lord called him to be an apostle and sent him on three
missionary journeys in which, with a little help from his companions and a great deal of help
from his Lord, he was able to evangelize just about the whole Roman Empire. The Lord had
kindled a flame of affection in his heart that was so strong, it consumed him for the rest of
days in tireless devotion to His service. This is the man the Lord called and whom He
sovereignly shaped to write this letter to the Romans. When you combine this with the
influence of the Spirit that makes this letter the very inerrant and infallible Word of God, you
can see why Paul was the perfect person to write this letter, and just how important it should
be to you and to me. We need this letter. We need to understand its truths. We need to apply
these things to our lives so that we also may devote ourselves fully and completely to the
Lord’s service. After Paul finishes his explanation of the Gospel, he writes this, “I urge you
therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice,
acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to
this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the
will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom. 12:1-2). This is what
Paul did by God’s grace. This is also what He calls us to this morning, by that same grace.
Let us look to the Lord then for His mercy and grace and seek with all our strength to follow
Him. Amen.