He was a good man in the eyes of many people. His outward life seemed perfect. All his friends trusted him. His acquaintances held him in high esteem. But he had a problem. He did not know the truth. But that did not stop him from teaching others. He was quick to point out errors. He was especially concerned about false teachers and false doctrines. He was a real champion for religious orthodoxy. That is why Saul was so eager to stamp out those who followed Jesus.
Something happened to Saul that changed his course completely. Although he had considered himself blameless regarding the law, he was condemned by the 10th Commandment. He was a covetous man. Was he jealous of the success of these Christ followers? Was he a man who was so jealous for his own belief system that he hated those who did not toe the line with him? Did his animus toward Jesus stem from the realization that inwardly he was a murderer who had gleefully watched as stones ricocheted off of Stephen’s body?
He described what happened. “Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead. For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died” (Rom:7b-9).
Saul had been blameless outwardly but was inwardly wretched. Was there deliverance for him? Was all that he attained by keeping the law merely this inner misery? He had studied the right stuff under the best teachers. He was in the perfect environment, surrounded by men who knew the scriptures and assiduously kept their interpretation of how to apply them. But why did he feel so inwardly vile?
Because he was a vile wretch. He looked good to his peers. But who were they? Men who had killed. Men who had hounded others for failing to measure up. Men who would mock and jeer at man being killed on a cross. Was that righteousness? Was that what really pleased God, even if they believed the man was a blasphemer? These questions brought nothing to Saul but more anxiety.
Who knows what was in his mind as he rode along the Damascus Road? Yet it was to this evil but self-righteous man that Jesus appeared. For Saul, that changed everything including his name. The change that most affected the world was the change in his message. Instead of preaching Moses, he preached Christ. Of course he used Moses and the prophets. Read his sermons. Read his epistles. They are full of scriptural quotations. But he used them to preach Christ, His death, his burial, and His resurrection.
How is a person to keep the law? Paul had grown sick of doing that in his past. It had led him only to inner discontent. No. He did not preach Moses to cajole people into keeping the law. He preached Jesus. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3,4).
After all, what power did the law have? Someone has rightly said that the law is a great teacher. But teaching the law and giving the power and ability to keep the law are on completely different levels. All the law can do is bring us to the sense
that we are out of bounds. It cannot keep us from crossing the line.
Something died in Saul when he realized he had grossly crossed the line of covetousness. That is what made him feel wretched. The law did its duty. It killed a self-righteous Moses preacher. But the law is good. It showed him his need for Christ. “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith” (Gal. 3:24).
How did Paul approach issues when he addressed them? He focused on Christ. After describing the darkness of the unsaved, he turned his attention to those who had come to the Lord. “But ye have not so learned Christ; If so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus” (Eph. 4:20,21). Then he admonished these believers to put off the old way of living. No more lying, holding grudges or stealing. No more corrupt communication, bitterness, anger, making a fuss, or evil speaking. Instead, put on the new man. Be kind, tender hearted, and forgiving. Do it for Christ’s sake. “And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us…” (Eph. 5:2a).
Notice how Paul kept the focus on our Lord. We are to learn Christ, be taught by Him, and follow His example.
I don’t know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but that inspired writer did an amazing thing in using Old Testament heroes of the faith. He told us that none of them had what we have. They “received not the promise: God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39). And then the writer told us where our focus should be. “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Heb. 11:2a).
So where is Jesus? For Paul, He was everywhere. He was his life. “For me to live is Christ,” he said. He was in his aspirations. “Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). He was in his preaching. “Yea, woe is me if I preach not the gospel.”
When my father was a new believer, he went to what he called an icicle church. However, he found help even there. When the pastor ended his homily, he asked, “And what does Jesus Christ mean to you?” Dad responded in his heart, “Everything, Lord, everything!”
He was happy to be saved. He was glad to live the Christian life. But what meant the most to him was Jesus.
Where is Jesus in your life? Where is He in your decisions? Where is He in your teaching? Where is He in your preaching?
A minister found a scrap of paper on his desk after a Sunday sermon. It said simply, “Sirs, we would see Jesus.” He considered that and preached a Christ-centered gospel the next Sunday. When he reached his desk he found this note. “Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.”