Law Versus Grace: and The Reluctant Apologist Accepted

An apologist is “one who defends or supports something, such as a religion.” Saul of Tarsus zealously pursued righteousness through keeping the law until he discovered God’s reason for law and purpose for grace… “Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21, NKJV)

Saul, a Pharisee from Tarsus, was a man striving to do the right thing. He obeyed the statutes to the letter, and he prosecuted blasphemers to its fullest extent. He was a brilliant, passionate man who feared God and wanted to do what pleased Him. He was confronted by Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), and had perhaps one of the most significant conversions to Christianity in history.

His sight was taken from him for three days, and I am sure he came to grips with his own spiritual blindness as he waited for God to tell him what to do next. As a powerful Pharisee, he originally saw the law as a means to earn God’s favor. As a sightless pilgrim, he grasped the concept of grace, and he came to understand that the law’s purpose was not to save, but only to condemn.

In Romans 3:20 he said “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” In Romans 4:15 he said “the law brings wrath.” Religion that is built upon law will always fail for two reasons: 1) The law exists only to demonstrate that men will fall short of its standards and face the wrath of a righteous God; and 2) all men will fall short of its standards.

The Apostle Paul (as Saul is known to us) knew that the law hates sinners, and he called himself the “chief of sinners”. Paul and all of us sinners were doomed under the law’s rigid standards. When Saul encountered Jesus, he stood before Christ not as a righteous Pharisee or even as a good man, but as a sinner. So it is with all of us. Often one of the biggest obstacles we have in discovering God is our own sense of righteousness. Don’t ever let doing good take the place of discovering Grace. Paul says that where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. If, like me, you are a sinner who has done wicked and dishonest things, who has failed the legal requirements in so many respects, that is amazingly good news! Whatever your sins, whatever you have done to break the law, Grace is greater.

Saul of Tarsus, on that night,
When you were blinded by the light,
What did you see? What did you find
That changed your heart and changed your mind?
What caused your ruthless heart to thaw,
To see the hopelessness of law?
Was it the look on Jesus’ face
That turned you towards amazing grace?
Was it in blindness that you found
That Grace could more than sin abound?
Where legalism failed to heal,
Your righteousness from Grace was real!
When you were blinded, you could see
God’s love in perfect clarity,
And wrote so that the mystery
Of Grace–that fell on you—could fall on me.

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Deliverance: Sometimes You Get It FROM the Stones. Sometimes, Though…

Deliverance apparently has different meanings to different people. Take Paul, for instance: “You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.” (2 Timothy 3:10-11 NIV) The Apostle Paul certainly experienced some incredible trials and hardships on his missionary journeys. He shared in 2 Corinthians 11 that he was flogged, imprisoned, and shipwrecked (among other things).

While writing here to Timothy, he speaks of being rescued at Antioch, Iconium and Lystra during his First Missionary journey. There’s an interesting detail to note about this: Paul rejoices in his deliverance by the Lord in each place. Sure enough, at Antioch and Iconium, he escaped angry mobs and persecution. They left Antioch and “shook the dust off their feet”. At Iconium, opposition was stirred up, but Acts 14:6-7 says, “…they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country where they continued to preach the gospel”.

At Lystra, the deliverance Luke describes is very different. Acts 14:19 says the mob caught Paul and STONED HIM and left him for dead. Yeah, you read that correctly: they hit Paul with big rocks until they assumed he was dead, and yet Paul includes that in his list of places where the Lord delivered him.

Maybe Paul’s definition of being rescued is different than mine, but I would normally classify being pelted with rocks and left for dead as a loss rather than a win. Not so for Paul. What he teaches Timothy is far more profound. He basically says that sometimes God delivers us FROM the stones, and sometimes He delivers us THROUGH the stones. Faith enables us to see that deliverance is not always the absence of hardship or pain, but it’s finding God’s comforting presence in the midst of them. On your journey, the Lord may give you a present of pure escape, when He protects you from calamity or misfortune. But the next time you are being pelted by the stones of life, remember that when you don’t receive His presents, you will definitely receive His Presence. And perhaps like Paul, you will have a broader definition of deliverance from and deliverance through.

Paul said there were many persecutions he endured,
But every time, he said, the Lord's protection was assured.
In Antioch he left the presence of an angry crowd;
He shook their dust beneath his feet and walked off strong and proud.
Iconium's unbelievers turned into an angry mob,
But Paul escaped before they had a chance to do the job.
At Lystra, Paul said God delivered him; but read the text:
You may have missed where Luke described what happened next!
The angry caught up with Paul; the Riot Act was read,
And Paul was taken up and stoned (with ROCKS!) and left for dead.
And yet, Paul says, he was delivered from the persecution,
Including Lystra, where they carried out his execution.
The stones of life will come, Paul said, so here's what you must do:
Remember God delivers FROM. And He delivers THROUGH.

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Almost Famous: The Cosmic Guide to Being Known

What is known can either be as asset or a liability. “If any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet that he ought to know; but if any man loves God, the same is known of him.” (1 Corinthians 8:2-3, NIV). For years I have called this my “Life Verse”, because I think it embodies the gap between what we see as important and what God thinks is important. Knowledge is one of our greatest barriers to learning something new. Thinking we know everything is a sure-fire way to keep from getting to know everything. What is known can keep us from finding the unknown…
By celebrating human thought and accomplishment, the world only scratches the surface of what’s important. Think about it: who are these celebrities, and what are the usual requirements for someone to become well-known or TMZ-worthy?

Our culture celebrates actors, athletes, fashionistas, law-breakers, skin flashers, rock stars and self-promoters. You see them on TV. The paparazzi follow them around. The tabloids make up stories about them, and they exhibit their flashy smiles and skimpy bikinis at your grocery checkout stand. For all of those people, and for all who follow them, hoping for a glimpse of a celebrity: You know nothing yet that you ought to know. The tabloids at the check out stands in the Kingdom of heaven will have a whole different set of headlines. What you know is not nearly as important as WHO you know. The world offers its worldly wisdom and fleeting fame. Paul says that the person who loves God will be known because THEY LOVE GOD. When people talk about you, what do they say? Do they say “wow, that (Your Name Here) must really love God!” Or do they say something else? What are YOU noteworthy for? If you want to be famous, and if you want to be celebrated, then the Bible’s advice is simple: Love God. It’s a surefire way to accomplish on an eternal scale what so many people hunger for on an earthly one. Love God. Be known.

What things guide us and what things can aim us
At some way to be celebrated and famous?
Is it being good-looking or wearing high fashion,
Or chasing our gifts with our money and passion?
Being rich is a good way to do it, with money--
Folks will flock to you just like the bees do to honey!
You'll get some attention by showing some skin,
And finding some trouble that you can be in,
If it's drugs, sex or cheating that you like to play with,
Or even the bad boys that you like to stay with,
You probably can't do it all on your own,
So remember these things if you want to be known...
If the world's definition seems shallow and lame,
There's a whole different way to seek fortune and fame:
Stay humble. Love God with your heart and your head,
Disregard worldly things and believe what He said,
And you'll find you're inclined to be like Him, instead.
At the end of the day you will find you have grown
Not in fame or the game, but in just being KNOWN.

 

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You Can’t Separate this Fact from Reality: You May Be Far More Powerful than You Think

Paul’s brilliant treatise connecting the Hebrew Law with the work of Jesus is both logical and challenging. Even though he stood on a firm foundation of faith, Paul did not separate his brain from his beliefs. But as intellectually powerful as it is, the logic was not what Paul fixed upon; in fact, he grew downright passionate about something else:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 NIV)

Here in his letter about sin, the law, and faith, the Apostle Paul puts a stake in the ground about God’s love. He is convinced. Nothing in all of creation can separate us from it! It’s a magnificent statement from an amazing book; if you read that list, it covers pretty much everything in existence that could somehow keep us from being surrounded, protected, and rescued by God’s love in Christ Jesus.

There’s one thing he leaves off this list, however. It’s the one power on earth that will allow you to be separate from God’s love, and in fact it’s the ONLY thing I know of that can do it: YOU. Your WILL is able to separate you from God’s love. While Angels and Demons can’t do it, YOU can. Just decide you don’t want him. Decide he’s not there for you. Decide that God’s love has no place in your life, and you can be totally separate from God. He’ll never take His love away from you, but he will allow you to take yourself away from it.

C.S. Lewis said, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.” You can be independent and do your own thing all you want to; or you can feel convinced about the inseparable love of God. It’s totally up to you.

 

Not the future, nor the past,
Nor any power that can last;
Not witches who could cast a spell,
Or demons from the pit of hell,
Nor angels' voices as they sing,
Or any earthly lord or king,
Or any mere created thing--
Nor height or depth, nor width or breadth,
Not even the power of life or death!
No fatal flaw or ancient curse,
Not one thing in this universe,
Not things below us or above,
Can separate us from God's love!
The only way that you can lose
Is if that is the way you choose.
You want God's love? Expect it.
And if not, just reject it.

 

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The Persecutor Who Became an Apostle: Why did Saul Become Paul?

There was once a zealous man who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. He persecuted and attacked the followers of the Way, and accused those who preached Jesus’ resurrection of blasphemy. This same man had an experience that transformed him and changed his life completely. We know him as the Apostle Paul, the same man who said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” How could a Pharisee of such unparalleled zeal make such a change? How could an enemy of the Church become one of its staunchest defenders? What changed him from Saul the persecutor into Paul, the Apostle? Apparently the power lay in the Gospel, which Paul defined so well in his first letter to Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV)
Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous rabbi of that era. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (He referred to himself as formerly “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and this was Paul’s encounter. It changed him forever.)

He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he had previously applied to persecuting the church. He spent three years in Arabia communing with and learning somehow from Christ himself, and then taught in Damascus, strengthening the church. The Apostle Paul became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist for Christ the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world. You can doubt a lot of things about Christianity, but you really can’t argue with the historical impact of Paul. If you haven’t read his letters, they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. He said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” His testimony still counts as an eyewitness because he was transformed after an encounter with the risen Lord; he went from being an enemy of those who followed Jesus to a follower himself. When he encountered Jesus, he began to connect the dots, and the rest is history.

It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. I hope they do for you!

Saul abhorred the gospel, and he hated those who knew it;
If there was any way that he could stop them, he would do it.
He encountered Jesus as he traveled to Damascus;
Witnesses said, "Yes it really happened there. Just ask us!"
That was not the only testimony to that day;
Saul was transformed into Paul, and then had this to say:
"I am not ashamed at all! The Gospel gives me power,
And I am going to preach it every minute, every hour.
I will go in grace to those who used to fear and hate me,
And preach God's love, from which no power can separate me!
I'll gladly preach of healing where I used to cause such pain,
For me, for Paul to live is Christ! For me to die is gain.

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
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