At Gateway Church in Austin, we continued our series called “Unlikely Heroes.” John Burke shared at the McNeil campus, and I shared at the South Campus. Here are some of our thoughts:
“Saul/Paul was certainly an unlikely hero as he went from overseeing the murder of Christians to becoming a martyr for Christ.
Paul grew up with the name Saul. He was from Tarsus, a city in modern day Turkey, so he was a Roman citizen, but he grew up in Jerusalem because his dad was a Jewish Pharisee. In Jerusalem about the time of Jesus, it was a theocracy—a religious government. So the Pharisees were not only religious leaders, they were political leaders, rulers, powerful, wealthy, esteemed as the elite.
So Paul, Saul at the time, just listened to those he was seeking to please—aiming to prove himself successful in their eyes. Fearing the people would overthrow them, the Pharisees began to arrest and even kill the outspoken followers of Jesus. The first killed was Stephen. The young Saul was there, in on the action (Acts 8:1-3).
Saul thought he was doing the right thing by God! He was deceived, but he thought he was a good person—extra good! The scary thing about humanity is how easily we can be deceived, but we never think we’re shooting for the wrong target. The only way out of self-deception is humility. To allow others to speak into our lives and listen for God’s whisper with a humble heart. Or…have a blinding light confront you (Acts 9:1-6).
After this miraculous encounter with Jesus, Paul shifted his message proclaiming that we are made right with God through faith in Jesus, not by trying to prove ourselves good (Philippians 3:5-10).
We can aim for proving how “good” we are. We can set our sights on being “successful” however we want to define it. We can hit the bullseye—and in the end, find out we were aiming for the wrong target! In other words, God created you for himself—for a relationship where you know Him intimately and allow Him to guide your life. With God at the center of your life, everything becomes valuable as you follow him—all our accomplishments can have an eternal, lasting value when done following the One who made us. We are deceiving ourselves when we think: “I don’t need God, I’m a good person.” How can we be “good people” if the Creator’s definition of good starts with Trusting in Him, and we say, “NO—I’m trusting in me and my plans.
God doesn’t give us what we deserve. He gives us Grace. God has made a way through Christ to empower us by His spirit to be who God intended us to be. We are “good” NOT because we prove we’re good, we’re “good” because we let God be God of our lives—He makes us good from the inside out as we let him lead and guide us.
Have you ever considered that God has a plan and purpose for your life—something that may involve your current plans—what you’re currently hoping for, banking on, living for—but it may also involve a change of plans? We must be willing to give up trying to prove ourselves—to the world, to mom or dad, to the voices in our heads—give up even trying to prove to God that we’re good. When we die to that old life that leaves us feeling condemned, because were never good enough, then we can live with Christ.
God takes our past, even what was meant for evil, and he redeems it – He buys us back for himself. He sets us right with Him, and as we follow Him He uses all of it for good.
Paul traveled throughout the Greco Roman world for 20 years helping people find faith, starting churches. And 13 of the 26 books of the New Testament. He spent 6 of those 20 years in prison for his faith.
Paul relied on God’s strength, even when he felt weak (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). When the Roman Emperor Nero started burning Christians to light his garden, Paul was one of the targets of that persecution—He was martyred for faith in Jesus—the one he once persecuted. But he hit the target. Will we do the same?
To watch or listen to this message, go to www.gatewaychurch.com/podcast.