This post is very long, but I encourage you to read it to the very end… I am sure it will prove helpful.
The Apostle Peter says about Paul that in his epistles Paul talked about the same things that he himself had written about but he concludes by saying that in Paul’s epistles there were “some things hard to be understood…” (2 Peter 3:16). If Peter could say that, then I also can safely admit that there are many things that I don’t understand in Paul’s letters. What is clear from Apostle Paul’s letters, however, is that he desires for every believer to arrive at the place of full and perfect knowledge of the Risen Christ – in other words, what was accomplished at the Cross – and to walk in that power of resurrection, the power that raised Christ from the dead. That should be the desire of each one of us.
In concluding this topic about the revelation or gospel that the Apostle Paul received, let me reiterate my contention that all the Apostles saw a revelation of the Risen Christ, but that the Apostle Paul received a vastly ‘superior’ revelation of Jesus than the rest. In other words, he understood what Christ did on the Cross more than the rest. (I am sure by now we all realize that we are not talking about a vision of Jesus – here we are way, way deeper than that!)
Romans chapters 9 through 11 makes us to begin to understand the special “wisdom” given to Paul. In talking about the Israelites in relation to the gospel he says that “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” (Rom. 11:25)
The Jews were God’s special people and will always be, because the gifts and calling of God are without repentance. They are God’s chosen people, “Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen.” (Rom. 9:4-5)
This scripture is very important in appreciating the special place that the Israelites have in God’s eyes. Note the Godly things that they have been guardians of through the ages. The Israelis are an incredibly special people. But we are not talking of that now.
What is important is that the ‘blindness’ that has now come upon them was prophesied long ago. We do not have time to look into these prophecies now but we can look into the reason for this blindness.
This blindness occurred because God wanted to do something that, out of the goodness of His heart, He had planned on doing since before Time began: to bring eternal salvation to all mankind.
Firstly, God had a score to settle with sin or the Devil, or whoever; I am not very sure here. What is clear is that sin had entered the world, and God had to do something about it. Unfortunately, His beloved people the Israelites happened to be sinners just like everybody else. (“All have sinned” – Rom. 5:12). That put the Israelites in God’s line of fire. Too bad.
Secondly, it is true that He had used the Israelites as His pack horse through the ages, as we have seen in Romans 9, and He would surely reward them; but the Good News of salvation was for everyone. In other words, the Israelites were God’s elect people in one sense, and in another they were not. Salvation was meant for everyone. There was no compromise there. Why?
“Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also.”
“And so blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.” In other words, God would not allow Jerusalem’s eyes to be opened until every Gentile in the world had heard the gospel. God put the Israelites to sleep until He had finished showing all His goodness to the Gentiles. Probably He feared they would throw a tantrum if they realized He was about to share their “cake” with strangers. Whatever the case, He put them to sleep nonetheless. That word there, “part”, however, indicates that not all Israel was been blinded; some were allowed to see, chief of whom was Paul the Apostle.
(As you can see from his doctrine and lifestyle, when Paul ‘saw’ he did not turn selfish. On the contrary, he gave his life as the Lord also had given His. This is crucial to our understanding of the Pauline doctrine).
God also wanted the Jews to know that they were sinners just like everybody else. You see, man has a will, and the will of sinful man is enmity against God. If man’s will was in line with God’s will, God would have no trouble with us. But we have a rebellious will. God wanted them to know that the only way He could have a truly satisfactory relationship with man was for man to put off his (rebellious) will and to put on God’s will. This was exemplified in the Bible by Christ’s obedience.
Our understanding of the need for the Cross is certainly getting clearer here.
But probably the most important fact in all this was that God wanted to stamp His sovereignty over all Creation. As we just said, man also has his will. God wanted everyone, particularly the Jews, to know that He is a Sovereign God. If any man wanted to partake of His nature, he would have to let go his will and submit to God’s rule.
To give an illustration of God’s sovereignty: One day, someone called Job, whom the Bible itself attested to as being perfect and upright was put through some suffering by God, and in his anguish he contested with God why He would let an upright man like him to suffer. God told him, “You cannot question me. I am God. I do as I please.”
Job was stunned! This perfect and upright man realized he had never really known God. He said, “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:5-6! In his perfectness, Job grovelled before God! What a challenge to us! Surely, we could not compare ourselves with Job! How much more should we humble and cry out to God for mercy!
May God have mercy on the Jews, but may He have even more mercy on us believers. I believe that of all the confused and blind and ungrateful people in the world today it is we Christian believers whom God has graciously chosen and called into His Kingdom. I really don’t care much who you think you are – and I am sure God doesn’t, either – but that is the truth, my friend. In spite of all the wonderful proclamations we make (“I love you, Jesus!”, etc.) and all the beautiful songs we sing, the things we do and the attitudes we have towards God and our fellow brethren and mankind in general (and even animals and everything else) accuse us of these things.
And this is all centered on the kind of heart that we have. All our negative attitudes and actions are the result of a rotten heart. The Bible calls it an uncircumcised heart.
And this is where Paul, or rather, the doctrine that he carried comes in. While the Jerusalem Team of elders were busy thinking about circumcising believers in the flesh, Paul was being taught about the circumcision of the heart!
We have a heart problem, and the Pauline doctrine is the solution to that problem. This was the revelation that Paul caught: how the power of the resurrection life of Christ in us would transform us and make us into the image of Jesus Christ; how it would break the power of sin over our lives; how it would give us the very heart of Christ; how it would enable us to walk in the perfection and fullness of the Godhead Himself… which is perfect, unselfish love.
That was why he preached Christ crucified, “the power of God”! There is power in the Cross, to not just save us in the elementary sense, but to bring a full realization of the Godhead in us, as Paul says in Colossians 2: “For I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you, and for them at Laodicea, and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh; That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgment of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
In order for this resurrection life to manifest itself in our lives we will need to first take our cross and follow Jesus, just as Jesus Himself said in Matthew 16:24-25: “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” There is no other way to experience the resurrection life apart from partaking of the sufferings and death of Christ.
In other words, there are two kinds of lives: the physical, material life; and the spiritual life. If we want to gain the latter, we have to lose the former.
That was why Paul said he would only boast in the Cross of Christ, by which the world was crucified to him and he to the world (Galatians 6:14). He rejoiced in the work of grace that God would do in him as he partook of Christ’s sufferings. That was why he did not want to be set free of them. He says in 2 Corinthians 12:9: “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” He was talking about partaking of the sufferings. He wanted to be identified with Christ’s sufferings and death so he could partake also of the resurrection life.
It was a deep revelation indeed that the Apostle Paul received, and we can hardly compare it with much of today’s flippant, materialistic-oriented ‘gospels’. If any preacher mentions Paul today, it is hardly in the depth that he is revealed in the Bible.
Paul’s gospel reveals that there is far more to salvation than just saying the sinners’ prayer. Through experience I personally have also come to know that you cannot go far with this prayer or the initial experience of salvation. Much more needs to happen, and this is where the Apostolic doctrine of the revelation of the Cross of Christ comes in.
Instead of being merely (or largely) religious people, God purposed that through a revelation of the Cross in our hearts, and our identification with it, we would show forth to the world and to spiritual forces in the heavenlies the manifold grace of God, and that through the death of sinful flesh, we would shut the mouths of God’s enemies by living a holy, spiritually fulfilling and victorious life.
That has been God’s plan all along. He could have shut His enemies’ mouths any other way without our involvement, I am sure. But He loved us so much that He wanted to make us a part of that victory! What a grace, what an honor, what a privilege! And in order to involve us, He did what in our wildest dreams we could not have imagined – He sent His only begotten Son Jesus to die on the Cross for us. He then went a step further and chose us, and then gave us the grace to believe in Jesus’ death and resurrection. And finally He came to live in us by His Holy Spirit so that we could grow into mature sons and daughters in the Spirit by dying to the body of the flesh.
Imagine the grace that God has personally bestowed on us in all these things. It is He who chose us and caused us to believe! It is He who touched our hearts! And for us Gentiles, we who were so unworthy, He did us a double honor by rejecting His people Israel so He could accept us!
I don’t know about you, but I consider myself less than a dead dog in God’s eyes. The fact that He could shower me with such undeserved favor staggers me. I am awed beyond comprehension…
Dear brethren, do we realize our position? Do we comprehend the magnitude of the grace that has come upon us – that, more than simply dying for our sins, Christ has come to live in us in the fullness of His resurrection life?
Let us tremble and fear before this awesome God, and before His awesome plan, even as we rejoice with holy thanksgivings.
Today’s Christians are not known to be very fearful or even reverent towards God. Believe me, I have seen Christians – preachers and laymen alike – doing the most offensive and detestable things, in the Name of Jesus!
The Apostle Paul signs off with this warning: “Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off.” Rom. 11:22
Let us fear God, and not take God lightly. But, beyond warning us against these church antics that go on today, for the truly serious Christian this is a warning to not ignore the Pauline revelation. If we fail to enter into the fullness of the knowledge of Christ, and to show forth that fruit of transformation in our lives, we have renounced the Apostolic doctrine that was revealed to Paul, and our Christianity is, quite simply, ‘another gospel’. And yet… the New Testament gospel we are called to live is the gospel that the Apostle Paul carried and preached.