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Not Of This World


          I stated a few weeks ago that I believed the conversion testimony of the Apostle Paul was one of the most convincing pieces of evidence for the truth of scripture found anywhere in history.  I know that is a bold statement, but I'm going to double-down this week as we continue to look at the radical transformation that took place in his life.

          James 4:4 teaches us that friendship with the world (that is being a worldly person) puts you at odds with God.  Furthermore, Jesus teaches us in John 15:19 that the world hates his disciples because they are not of the world, but rather have been called out of worldliness through him.  So to summarize these two contrasting positions, as simply as possible: God opposes worldliness and worldliness opposes God.  If you want to see a practical example of the rubber meeting the road, you need look no further than our recent studies from Acts chapter 9 and the life of Paul.  In his lifetime, he lived out both extremes of the spectrum.

          When we first encountered Paul (or Saul) back in Acts chapter 7 at the stoning of Stephen, we saw a man who, though, as a Pharisee, he knew God (or at least what the scriptures said about God and his commands), he was not a friend of God.  Paul was one of the many Jews who had longed for the coming of their promised Messiah, but was unable to recognize him when he arrived.  He, like many of his fellow religious elite, had become blinded by his own pride and self-righteousness.  However, that's not the whole story.  Paul, and others like him, were also stricken blind (spiritually speaking) by the God that opposed their arrogance.

          Paul himself would later teach this very truth to others in his first letter to the Church at Corinth:

          "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:14).

          It would take a second bout of blindness from the hand of God, this time physical, before Paul would be able to finally see the truth that he had formerly been unable to see over all of those years of gazing at God's word, but failing to actually see what it said.  Finally, he was able to see clearly what had previously been hidden from him.  It was as if the lights had come on and illuminated the wealth of knowledge he had been accumulating.  Now, everything was different for him, and he was ready to share this truth with the world.  But as all Christians who endeavor to share their faith with the world inevitably learn, the world isn't always ready to receive it.

          This is where the tables turn for Paul.  His station in life changes radically.  He goes from friend of the world and enemy of God, to friend of God, but enemy of the world.  Talk about the pendulum swinging the other way!

          When Paul begins proclaiming the truth that had for so long eluded him, he finds himself quickly at odds with those that formerly approved of his lifestyle, his beliefs, and his "work."  The former hunter is now being hunted down by those who want to kill him for proclaiming faith in Jesus.  This may be an extreme example (at least in the context of our culture here in America).  Not many of us will ever face the prospect of dying for our faith, but that doesn't mean that we don't pay a cost.

          We call the regeneration that happens upon salvation being "born again."  The Bible describes the change as putting the old man to death and living as a new man in Christ.  These terms point to the fact that, through faith in Jesus, we are spiritually brought back to life, having formerly been dead in our sins.  However, at the same time, our new spiritual life equates to a new tangible reality in our here and now.  Likely, it will cost us friends...maybe even family.  The world will not, indeed it cannot, understand our new way of thinking and living because godliness and worldliness cannot coexist.

          Paul, experienced the loss, but even more so, he got to experience knowing Jesus as his Lord.  Listen to his words as he reflects upon his life in his letter to the Philippians:

          "But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:7-11).

          Living in the world as a Christian is never easy.  It wasn't easy for Jesus, so why would we expect it to be any different for us?  Yet, we are called to do it because without us serving as lights in dark places, the world would never hear the good news of the Gospel.  True, many who hear the truth will reject and likely reject you as well...but some won't.  Some, who, like Paul, formerly lived as enemies of God, will be transformed through Christ into friends.  That's Paul's story, that's our story, and Christ willing, it will be the story for countless many more.

In Grace,
Chris Morris

If you missed this week's sermon (or just want to listen again), follow the link below to listen. Or subscribe to our podcast in iTunes.

Part 21 - Saul Begins Preaching

Questions discussed in this sermon:

1.  Should new Christians teach in religious gatherings?
2.  Why were the Jews "confounded" when Saul taught?
3.  How should Christians engage one another when they disagree on doctrine? 

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