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Patrick Bowman I know there are many voices writing and speaking today on the “apostolic movement” within the body of Christ. Over the past twenty years or so more and more revelation has come to the church; some of it received and some flatly rejected. And that is good because some aspects of the movement needed time to be tested, reworked, and represented in a purer form than what was originally put forth. It takes time for the Holy Spirit to deal with the heart of man, no matter how sincere that man, or woman, may be. We make the mistake at times of equating sincerity with truth, excusing error simply because a person is heartfelt in their convictions concerning a particular matter. Sincerity is a quality that is highly admired. It speaks of an intense attitude. It speaks of earnestly considering and undertaking a task with a spirit of deep conviction and feeling. The sad truth is that the sincerity of one’s thoughts and actions does not necessarily make those thoughts and actions a blessing. Hitler was very sincere in his attempt to take over the world, but his sincerity did not carry the weight needed for him to succeed with his plan. Satan was sincere in wanting to exalt himself above the Most High, but he found himself cast out of heaven. When our thoughts and actions do not line up with God’s word, no amount of sincerity behind them brings them any closer to being right. Let’s look at the story of a man who was as sincere as he could be about his purpose in life, yet his views and his actions proved to be sincerely wrong. In Acts 7 we read of the martyrdom of Stephen. We also read that the witnesses to this execution by stoning laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. Chapter 8 tells us that Saul was consenting unto his death and then adds, As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison. (Acts 8:3 KJV) When it comes to sincerity, we see few figures in the Bible as sincere as Saul. He truly believed that what he was doing was God’s will. He was out to preserve the faith, to rid the church of the heretics, those who believed in Jesus. In fact, we see in chapter 9 that Saul not only wanted to clear Jerusalem of the Christians, but was willing to take his cause on the road. And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2 KJV) Bruce Barton (1886 - 1967), an American author and advertising executive, once said, “The essential element in personal magnetism is a consuming sincerity -- an overwhelming faith in the importance of the work one has to do.” Saul had what he needed. He had letters of introduction from the high priest in Jerusalem sanctioning him to seek out and capture men and women of The Way and bring them back to Jerusalem. Saul had faith in his cause. He had purpose, he had support, he had zeal, and he had authority. Oscar Wilde (1856 - 1900), the Anglo-Irish playwright, novelist, said “The worst vice of a fanatic is his sincerity.” Saul was a sincere fanatic. Acts 9 continues, And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? (Acts 9:3-4 KJV)
God often works in “suddenlies” when dealing with human beings. Suddenlies leave no time for defenses, no time for excuses, and no wiggle room to get out of His way. Suddenly is the way God deals with us when He really wants to make a point. This is how Jesus dealt with Saul, and in such a way that there was only one question Saul dare ask. And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. (Acts 9:5 KJV) There is an important point to consider here, if we can see it. Notice Jesus tells Saul that it is He whom Saul is persecuting. Jesus takes persecution of the church personally. As head of His body, Jesus identifies with the pains that we feel, with the persecution we endure. It’s as if the wrongs were happening to Him, because they are. The next verse reveals the only response any of us can make when we come face to face with Jesus. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. (Acts 9:6 KJV) Who are you, Lord, and what do you want me to do? These basic questions are at the heart of our Christian experience. Although we know Jesus is our savior, we should ask the first question often, for Jesus is eager to reveal new truth to us about Himself. He may want to present Himself to us as our healer. He may want to present Himself to us as our source. He may want to present Himself to us as our strength. And when he does, we should always respond, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” It is often hard for those around us to appreciate how the Lord works in our individual lives. We read in verse 7 that the men traveling with Saul stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. When God comes suddenly on the scene on our behalf, those around us sometimes are speechless as they see the glory of the Lord shining upon us. They may see and hear the commotion surrounding our visitation, but be speechless, unable to verbalize the glory that has happened in our lives. This encounter with the living Jesus had a radical effect in Saul. Verses 8 and 9 tell us he was blinded and had to be led by the hand into Damascus. He was without sight for three days and neither ate nor drank. As with Saul, God often uses other people to show us the way, and at other times, God will speak to others with instructions for us. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. (Acts 9:10-12 KJV) Now, Ananias had a problem. His name was Saul. Saul’s reputation had gone before him to Damascus, and every believer knew of this hateful man who persecuted the church in every way he knew how. And Ananias wanted to be sure God knew it, too. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name's sake. (Acts 9:13-16 KJV) God reassured Ananias that it was all going to be O.K. God often times asks of us what our minds have trouble understanding. But His ways are far above our ways and His thoughts above our thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8-9) Ananias trusted God in spite of his fears and carried out what the Lord asked him to do.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. (Acts 9:17-18 KJV) Ananias obeyed God, and in doing so was instrumental in helping launch the most fruitful ministry of early Christendom. It took the sovereignty of Jesus and the responsive obedience of man, both Saul and Ananias, to bring about Saul’s conversion. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. (Acts 9:19-20 KJV) This conversion brought about a transformation in Saul’s sincerity, as well. We see from this time forward that Saul’s sincerity for the cause of Christ far outweighed his pre-conversion shortcomings. Once Saul got right, he was sincerely right. And he straightway proclaimed it. As the apostle Paul, his writings give testimony that he never forgot that once he was Saul. And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; Wherein in time past ye walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience: Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them. Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Eph 2:1-22 KJV) We were all outside the household of God while our sins abounded. We had no hope, we had no future. But Jesus became our peace, breaking down the wall of sin that separates us from relationship with God and one another. He is our peace! This peace, this reconciliation, moves us from outside the camp, as an alien, to inside the camp, supping at the banquet table of the King. We now have access and come boldly into His presence with thanksgiving and praise, rejoicing in the abundance that He now calls ours. Paul’s Own Story
Each person in the household of faith has a story of being outside the camp. Paul’s own story was quite unique. In Philippians chapter 3, Paul presents his résumé as one who at one time trusted in the flesh for his reconciliation with God.
Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you, to me indeed is not grievous, but for you it is safe. Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the concision. For we are the circumcision, which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh. Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith: That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (Phil 3:1-14 KJV)
Paul understood reconciliation much better than even his fellow apostles because of the hatred he once had toward Christians. If ever there was a Jew who was proud about the Law and the standard to which he kept it, it was Saul, Paul’s Hebrew name, As the Hebrew of Hebrews, the persecutor of the church, and zealot for the Law, Saul relied on the sincerity of his own strength of mind and resolve to make him right with God. He then finishes the chapter by admonishing us to walk with an attitude based on Christ’s work in us and not as those outside the household of faith, enemies of the cross, as he had once been. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you. Nevertheless, whereto we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us mind the same thing. Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample. (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.) For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself. (Phil 3:15-21 KJV) Paul reminded himself frequently, as witnessed in his writings, that he had come from an extreme deficit to the foot of the cross, where all things are reconciled. But sin is sin, and a little separates us as much as a lot. The need for Jesus to justify us falls on us equally, regardless of the measure of sinful acts committed; it is our nature of sin that separates us, not the acts. Our acts of sin are simply a result of our nature of sin.
Paul talks about our reconciliation through the great redeemer again in Colossians chapter 1. In fact, you will notice that Paul emphasizes the redeemer and God’s good plan for reconciling all things to Himself, through Christ’s blood. Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: Who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature: For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: all things were created by him, and for him: And he is before all things, and by him all things consist. And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence. For it pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; by him, I say, whether they be things in earth, or things in heaven. And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled In the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight: If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; where of I Paul am made a minister; (Col 1:13-23 KJV) Again in Roman’s 5, Paul emphasizes the reconciling redeemer. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. (Rom 5:9-11 KJV) You might wonder why I have spent time profiling the apostle Paul in this way. Because Paul’s story is similar to my story in many ways. I don’t know about you, but I have had zealous sincerity toward a position I later realized was in error. I have had Jesus knock me to the ground a time or two and talk to me plainly. And yes, I have had those faithful servants around me lead me by the hand to a place of refuge and safety. I have had the scales fall from my eyes and I have been nourished by God’s word and Holy Spirit. I have been set free from my mistakes, forgiven of my sin, and commissioned to preach His word. And just as Paul did, I put my mistakes behind me and press forward toward the mark of the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
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