Without Prayer there is No Salvation

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Icon of the Ascension

Sergius Bowyer, in his delightful little book Acquiring the Mind of Christ, says that “without prayer…, there is no salvation” (p 12). I read that line months ago, and it has never left me: without prayer there is no salvation. It is, as should be obvious, an overstatement. From Protestant ears, it’s even a damnable overstatement!

But we must couch this statement within the context of Bowyer’s definition of prayer. At the beginning of this short, lovely chapter, Bowyer quotes St. John Climacus who defines prayer very simply as “union with God”. He goes on to say that “our task in this short earthly life is to resume a dialogue that was lost with God in paradise” (p 11). Prayer, for Bowyer, and following the early fathers of the church, is not simply saying stuff to God. Prayer is entering into a divine dialogue of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Prayer is, put simply: the final realization of mankind’s salvation in Christ.

But what does that mean?

The early fathers of the church expressed man’s final end in terms of union and communion. God in himself is a community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And out of love, he created mankind not so that we might live independent parallel lives with God, but rather that we might be included in that divine community.

Andrew Louth, in his introduction to Christianity, explains that the Trinity must be explained in terms of relationship, prayer, and coinherence. He introduces John of Damascene’s doctrine of perichoresis to explain:

[John of Damascene] introduces a concept that had not hitherto been used with much confidence in relation to the Holy Trinity: the idea of perichoresis, interpenetration or coinherence. The persons of the Trinity are not separate from each other, as human persons are, rather they interpenetrate one another, without losing their distinctiveness as persons, their reality coincides or coinheres…

It seems to me that the doctrine of perichoresis, coinherence, that John introduces in the Christian theology, expresses well the realization that within the Trinity there is relationship, a relationship expressed in prayer. There is, as it were, a kind of mutual yielding within the Trinity: the Father makes space for the Son and the Spirit…and Son and the Spirit yield to the Father as they turn to him in prayer. (Eastern Orthodoxy: A Personal Introduction, p 31)

Human beings were created to enter into that relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And, the original sin is principally a refusal to be included into that relationship of reciprocity and incoherence. Adam (and all men after) wanted his “independence” from this community. He wanted to be his own man. And for that he fell away from communion into sin and death.

With this context, we look at salvation. Put within this frame of reference, salvation is nothing more than God’s own loving extension into space and time to gather all of creation back into this relationship of Triune communion. Indeed, in the incarnation the Son became one of us in order to give us what is his: Sonship. Robert W. Jenson, in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, explains this principle very well:

We dare speak to God at all— however others may dare it— only because our Lord permits us to join his prayer, only because he has said, “Trade on my unique filial relation to God, that I may call him ‘Father;’ begin with me, ‘Father . . . ,’ and make it ‘Our Father . . . ,’ not just ‘His Father . . . .’” Thus we pray with this Son, to his Father. Just so, we enter into the living community between them, that is, into their communal “Spirit:” we pray to the Father with the Son, in the Spirit. Indeed, the doctrine of Trinity can be derived by simply adding that only so, only as we occupy the space defined, as it were, by these coordinates—“ to,” “with,” “in”— is it the God of the gospel with whom we have to do. (A Large Catechism, p 14-15)

This paragraph is magnificent, by far my favorite from Jenson. However we speak of the atonement, the goal of God the Son’s incarnation among us and of his being gathered up in his resurrection and ascension, is to exchange his filial relationship with the Father for our sinful reality. The Father’s and the reformers spoke in terms of a great exchange happening through the incarnation, cross, resurrection and ascension. This is no bare legal exchange. It is a real transformation: God became man (incarnation) that man might become God (salvation) as St. Athanasius said.

Salvation is thus being gathered in the Spirit through the Son to face the Father in communal prayer. 

In this way, we simply must speak of prayer as a condition of salvation! Not because prayer is a work that makes us somehow acceptable to God: no, prayer is salvation. When we pray, we enter a new space: the space of Father Son and Spirit. We enter that space by the Spirit through the mediation of the Son, to the Father.

As St. Paul says: God “made us alive together with Christ… and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:6-7). As Scott Hahn says about this passage: “This is not poetic speak, this is metaphysical reality!” Through salvation, we come to be in that space between the Father and the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is the final realization of that mystery. 

Catholicism verses Protestantism: What’s the main difference?

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I have been studying Catholic theology lately, examining the major disagreements it has with my Protestant theology.

While there are major differences, things like the sinlessness of Mary, or the veneration of saints and icons, or papal authority, this was not the largest difference I saw. And to be honest, there are explanations for these practices that aren’t altogether outlandish (though I would still disagree).

Another difference that some might point out is how the Catholics view the sacraments. According to the Catholic Catechism, Catholics understand the sacraments to be “‘powers that comes forth’ from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving”. In other words, Jesus himself gives life to his church in the sacraments. So in baptism, Jesus himself effects regeneration. In confirmation, Jesus gives the fulness of the Spirit. In the Eucharist, Christians quite literally are nourished by Jesus’ body. And this is because, according to Catholic theology, the church is a continuation of the incarnation of Christ. And through his body, in the sacraments, he saves his people. Nevertheless, Protestants, healthy ones at least, understand the importance of the sacraments, and that Jesus really does impart grace through them (although we would understand them differently of course).

I wouldn’t even see grace as the primary difference. All too often, Catholic theology is seen as works-based, religious, dry. However, every Catholic I know would deny that. In fact, grace is central to Catholic theology. The Catechism states that salvation “has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ who offered himself on the cross as a living victim, holy and pleasing to God, and whose blood has become the instrument of atonement for the sins of all men”. Who could disagree with that? Grace really is present in Catholic theology.

So then, what is the big difference? 

To me, the thing that makes Protestants and Catholics diverge; the rub, as it were, is what “justification” means. Justification means two different things in Protestant and Catholic theology — did you know that?

For Protestants, justification is the declaration that sinners, though they be sinners, are righteous because of the righteousness of Christ. Because Christ was obedient in our place, on our behalf, we are given, or imputed Christ’s righteousness. We are saved by the righteousness of another, not our own. As Luther says, justification is the gift of an “alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without. This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies through faith”. We are saved not because we are actually righteous (though we will be righteous in glory), but because Jesus is. So that is Protestant “justification”.

But Catholics do not see justification this way. Though they would still hold to justification, they would define it as the transference from being a child of wrath to being a child of God. And in this transference, rather than Christ’s righteousness being imputed, his righteousness is imparted, or infused within us. What they mean is that the merits of Christ are literally infused into our nature, thereby making us not legally righteous, but actually righteous. Andrew Preslar writes,

[J]ustification is an act of God by which the merits of Jesus Christ, sanctifying grace, and charity are communicated to sinners, who are thereby made just. This infused charity fulfills the righteous demands of the law, being “poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5) in baptism, by which we are united with Christ, who has made complete satisfaction to the Father for our sins (Romans 6:3-4). In concise, theological terms, the Catholic Church teaches that regeneration, sanctification, and incorporation into the Body of Christ are essential aspects of justification, such that the latter cannot be defined in legal, extrinsic, and individualistic terms alone (source)

The Catholic Catechism writes, “justification conforms us to the righteousness of God”. This is very important here. Catholic theology rejects “legal… terms alone”, and says that justification is the act by which by God infuses the life of Christ in us, thereby allowing us to be righteous in the real sense of the word now.

Now here’s the important part: for the Catholic church, because the merits and righteousness of Christ are literally infused, it is now the role of God’s justified church to cooperate with God’s grace and live out a righteous life, thereby meriting eternal life. Final salvation, for the Catholic church, depends on us living out the righteousness of Christ infused within. This is why the sacraments are so important. The Eucharist is Christ giving us more grace to live out a righteous life. Confession is given to absolve any mortal sin which extinguishes the righteousness of Christ infused in us. Impartation or infusion of Jesus’ righteousness, means that we can now live out the law and merit eternal life.

Now let me be fair: this isn’t salvation by self-merit. In Catholicism, final salvation is not dependent on us living out our own righteousness, but rather the righteousness of Christ infused within. In this way, it is still grace-given righteousness.

However, as a Protestant, I can’t help but notice how the burden is truly on you. As the Catholic Catechism states,

Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life

The Catechism clarifies, however, saying,

The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace

While Protestants do have a robust doctrine of sanctification and perseverance, we will not say that growth is tied to our final justification. Justification and sanctification are not bound together in Protestant theology. But for Catholics, justification is a work that God begins freely in us by baptism, but is then merited through sanctification, or cooperation in Christ’s righteousness infused.

As Catholics would say, justification is by faith, but not by faith alone. It is by faith working through love, living out “the divine life” as sons of God.

So, Protestants say justification is imputation. Catholics say that justification is infusion. Small wording change, but to me, this creates the biggest difference in the end.

Want a Catholic’s perspective on the difference? Here is Robert Barron on the Council of Trent, which was created in response to the Protestant Reformation. To get the gist of it, skip to minute 8:45:

Galatians 1:3-5: The What and Why of Our Salvation

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Galatians 1:3-5 contains one of the most succinct, clearest, declarations of the gospel in the New Testament. These three verses contain not only the what of the gospel (what God did to save us), but the why (why would God choose to have mercy on us?).

Paul says in verses 3-5:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.

Notice here that Paul focuses on what God did to save us, and why he did it. So first, what did God do to save us? Paul says God saved us by giving Christ as a sacrifice for us. Jesus “gave himself for our sins”, is what Paul said. Second, Paul tells us why God saved us. God saved us because he mercifully willed to save us, and all to his glory.

What Paul is trying to highlight here is that our salvation is both from God and for God. All of salvation is from him, and consequently not from us.

God willed to save us, not because of foreseen merit, but simply because he chose to do so! And he saved us through Christ — we weren’t saved because of anything that we did (or didn’t do). We were saved because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. He is the basis of our salvation.

And because of this, it is all for God’s glory! Do you see the beauty in what God did to save us, and why he did it?

Timothy Keller gives some great insights on this passage. He says,

What Jesus did: How did Jesus rescue us? He “gave himself for our sins” (v. 4a). He made a sacrifice which was substitutionary in nature. The word “for” means “on behalf of” or “in place of”. Substitution is why the gospel is so revolutionary. Christ’s death was not just a general sacrifice, but a substitutional one. He did not merely buy us a “second chance”, giving us another opportunity to get life right and stay with God. He did all we need to do, but cannot do. If Jesus’ death really paid for our sins on our behalf, we can never fall back into condemnation. Why? Because God would then be getting two payments for the same sin, which is unjust! Jesus did all we should have done, in our place, so when he becomes our Savior, we are absolutely free from penalty or condemnation…

Why God did it: This was all done out of grace — not because of anything we have done, but “according to the will of the Father” (v. 4d). We did not ask for rescue, but God in his grace planned what we didn’t realize we needed, and Christ by his grace (v. 6) came to achieve the rescue we could never have achieved for ourselves.

There is no indication of any other motivation or cause for Christ’s mission except the will of God. There is nothing in us which merits it. Salvation is sheer grace.

That is why the only one who gets “glory for ever” is God alone (v. 5). If we contributed to our rescue… if we had rescued ourselves… or if God had seen something deserving of rescue, or useful for his plan, in us… or even if we had simply called out for rescue based on our own reasoning and understanding… then we could pat ourselves on the back for the part we played in saving ourselves.

But the biblical gospel — Paul’s gospel — is clear that salvation, from first to last, is God’s doing. It is his calling; his plan; his action; his work. And so it is he who deserves all the glory, for all time.

This is the humbling truth that lies at the heart of Christianity. We love to be our own saviors. Our hearts love to manufacture glory for themselves. So we find messages of self-salvation extremely attractive, whether they are religious (Keep these rules and you earn eternal blessing) or secular (Grab hold of these things and you’ll experience blessing now). The gospel comes and urns them all upside down. It says: You are in such a hopeless position that you need a rescue that has nothing to do with you at all. And then it says: God in Jesus provides a rescue which gives you far more than any false salvation your heart may love to chase.

Paul reminds that in the gospel we are both brought lower and raised higher than we can imagine. And the glory for that, rightly, all goes to “our God and Father… for ever and ever. Amen…(source)

Revival vs. Revivalism

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Doug Wilson contrasts the difference between what a revival is, and what revivalism is. He says,

Revival, which is a gift of God, has been turned into a work of man through theological confusion. The result is revivalism, not revival…

In a true revival, doctrine is the emphasis, and the doctrine is God-centered. In revivalism,… man is [at] the center, [and] feelings are emphasized. In [true] revival, truth overwhelms the mind, resulting in an emotional response — inexpressible joy. In revivalism, the emotions are excited directly, and any number of teachings, true or false, can do that…

In a true revival, the change in the moral behavior of those blessed is significant and lasting. With revivalism, very little is done to teach the people to restrain their passions. In fact, because the “revival” encourages a lack of restraint in the church, it is not long before a lack of restraint is evident elsewhere, usually in the area of sexual immorality (1)

I couldn’t agree more with Wilson. Revivalism is about emotions, the show, the lights and the smoke. But it is all mustered up. It is all planned, without any consideration that God’s Spirit is the One who brings about real revival.

But, in true revival, God is at the center, with healthy teaching, and a biblical emphasis. And true revival is brought about through the Word and prayer by God’s Spirit, bringing about conviction, salvation, and passionate repentance. 

For more consideration of this, here is a great conversation between Keller and Carson on revival. Some great thoughts here:

(1) Easy Chairs, Hard WordsDoug Wilson

Sin and the Sovereignty of God (part 3): Why did God permit sin?

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In my last two posts here and here, I have been arguing that God is both sovereign and separate from sin. God is sovereign in the sense that he decreed / planned / ordained (whatever you’d like to call it) all that would come to pass before the foundations of the world (Eph 1:11). I also argued that God’s decrees concerning sin were permissive. And although God decreed to permit the fall, and the free sinful choices of evil men, rendering them certain, he did not coerce or force men to sin. God interacts with sin and human actions sovereignly, yet without himself being coercive or sinful (boggles the mind a bit, right?).

In this post, I want to consider why God would permit sin to come into the world. Epicurus once said,

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

I believe this quotes sums up most atheists and many agnostics. Most believe that the existence of evil itself proves that a good God cannot exist. Of course, I don’t believe this. My first response to this would be, “if an ultimate good does not exist, then what makes evil, evil?” If a good God does not exist, neither can any type of evil — everything would then be by definition amoral. This is why I must believe in the God of the Bible.

But why did God ordain to permit such evil from entering into this world?

Before I begin, I want to make a few points first: On one level it is absolutely valid to say that the fall happened because we are volitional creatures who make our own decisions with their own consequences. This is true; Adam willfully chose to disobey God, and this is the mess it created. But I don’t think this argument is argument enough. Because again, both Arminians and Calvinists alike are still left with the issue of God’s transcendence. He dwells outside of time and knows all things; and nothing happens unless he permits. And even if you deny God’s decrees, you have to acknowledge that God created the world knowing Adam would choose to sin. So, while he did choose sin, and while the fall happened because of it, still, none of it happened apart from God’s permission. So, there still has to be a deeper reason for sin.

With those points covered, I want to again quote Louis Berkohf. He has great wisdom when it comes to God’s decrees. Berkhof says,

[God’s decrees are founded] in divine wisdom. The word “counsel” (Eph 1:11), which is one of the terms by which the decree is designated, suggests careful deliberation and consultation. It may contain a suggestion of an intercommunication between the three persons of the Godhead. In speaking of God’s revelation of the mystery that was formerly hid in Him, Paul says that this was “to the intent that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Eph 3:10, 11. The wisdom of the decree… follows from the wisdom displayed in the realization of the eternal purpose of God…There may be a great deal in the decree that passes human understanding and is inexplicable to the finite mind, but it contains nothing that is irrational or arbitrary. God formed his determination with wise insight and knowledge.

First, I like that Berkhof concentrates on the fact that God does nothing arbitrarily. It his counsel, his plan, which precludes thought and wisdom.

But also, Berkhof alludes to a text in Ephesians 3:10-11, which speaks of God’s plan as being purposed, set forth, and realized, in Christ. Paul also says in Ephesians 1:10 that God purposed before the foundation of the world to “unite all things in [Christ], things in heaven and things on earth”. Paul also declares in Colossians that God planned to make Christ preeminent in all things (Col 1:18). Lastly, Paul speaks of God’s plan set forth in Christ with a purpose to make Himself all in all, that from Him through Him and to Him would be everything (Rom 11:33, 1 Cor 15:28). If you notice, God had a pre-creation plan that was Christo-centric, centered around Jesus’ redeeming work on the cross. And, it was God-directed, meaning that all of God’s work brings him glory and honor.

I think from these texts, it is clear that God had a pre-temporal plan to permit our own willful acts of sin, so that in response to our willful rebellion, he might redeem all things in Christ. And, he purposed to rectify the world in Christ, that all things might be from, through, and for God and his glory. God, in his infinite wisdom, and in response to the sinful will of man, saw an infinitely more glorious outcome as accomplished through Jesus’ death and resurrection. And so, though God could have stopped Adam’s rebellion outright, he permitted our sin that he might accomplish this outcome of summing up all thing in Christ (Eph 1:10).

This is why Paul speaks so magnificently in Colossians 1 of Christ being “the first born from the dead (speaking of his resurrection), that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1:18). In God’s wisdom, he purposed to redeem this fallen world and fallen sinners in and through Christ. I believe this is what the Bible portrays as God’s eternal purpose, being set forth in Jesus, fulfilled by him, coming from him, and being all for him. This is God’s wise decree.

And if you noticeGod’s eternal purpose involves the salvation of willful sinners. God’s plan includes the free justification of sinners worthy of death (again, while God is sovereign over free acts, he doesn’t force anyone to sin as they do). This has always boggled my mind. God, in his own right as God, could have destroyed his own creation for their rebellion. Or, he could have simply chosen not to create volitional beings he knew would sin — yet God, allowing and permitting free acts of sin, chose before the creation of the world to save mankind through the sin-atoning suffering of Jesus. And he chose to do this freely, through faith.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians that in salvation, Christ becomes the center, being our “righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, ‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” (1 Cor 1:30-31). In all things, God’s purposed to rectify in and through Jesus; and in salvation, Christ became the source of all and any good.

God has and is accomplishing his purpose through Christ, and sinners get to benefit.

*For more great insight on this, you can read this great post by Michael Horton on the same topic here.*

**I believe that this answer can be given by both Calvinists and Arminians. Even if you don’t believe in a pre-creation decree (Roger Olson et al), you have to agree that God foreknew the fall, and allowed it to happen for a greater purpose. I believe this is it (I do realize however that many Arminians may be reluctant to agree with this post).**

Why Christians Need the Scriptures

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In his insightful, Freedom of the Christian, Martin Luther writes:

Let us then consider it certain and firmly established that the soul can do without anything except the Word of God and that where the Word of God is missing there is no help at all for the soul. If it has the Word of God it is rich and lacks nothing since it is the Word of life, truth, light, peace, righteousness, salvation, joy, liberty, wisdom, power, grace, glory, and ever incalculable blessing. This is why the prophet in the entire Psalm 119 and in many other place yearns and sighs for the Word of God and uses so many names to describe it…

Luther goes on to describe the Bible as one of the main pillars in the Christian faith. It is a necessary source of nourishment for the Christian. Even the Bible itself attests to this fact. Paul tells us that the scriptures give us encouragement and hope (Rom 15:4). The Psalmists tell us that God’s Word heals (Ps 107:20), and is a constant source of growth and life (Ps 1). Christ himself tells us that we are to live on the very words of God (Mt 4:11). Peter tells us to long and yearn for the scriptures as infants need milk (1 Pet 2:2). Jeremiah says of the scriptures, “Your words were found, and I ate them, and Your words because to me a joy and the delight of my heart. Overwhelmingly, we need the Bible, because it is God’s tool to nourish, sustain, and grow us. It is one of God’s main means to growing his people into the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:13).

But how does the Bible produce this sort of spiritual fruit within us? How does it help us and sustain us in this way?

Luther explains that the Bible does this by revealing to us the saving promises of God in the gospel, and producing faith within us. Luther even goes so far to say that “the Word [itself] is the gospel of God concerning his Son, who was made flesh, suffered, rose from the dead, and was glorified through the Spirit who sanctifies. [The Bible is meant to] feed the soul, make it righteous, set it free, and save it, provided it believes…Faith alone is the saving and efficacious use of the Word of God”.

Luther makes a remarkable point here, that the scriptures are centered around and concerned entirely with the gospel of Christ. I think he’s right; any cursory reading of the Bible will reveal that it doesn’t actually cover everything we need to know. The Bible is concerned with one thing: salvation. And so, the scriptures primarily revolve around the gospel. They center around God’s gracious plan to save sinners, atone for their sins, clothe them in righteousness, adopt them, and make them forever his. Paul tells us this is 2 Corinthians 1:20, that all of God’s saving promises and actions find their fulfillment in Jesus suffering for sinners. In fact, the overwhelming theme of the Old and New Testament is this: “And you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Jer 30:22). This what the scriptures anticipate, long for, and find their fulfillment in. That God will have a redeemed people for himself in Jesus. And this is why Luther can say that the Bible is, in a very real way, the telling of the gospel itself.

But also, this is why the Bible is a delight, encouragement, nourishment, and a necessary source of growth: because the gospel is the only thing that justifies, sanctifies, and glorifies a sinner (1 Cor 1:30, Rom 16:25). As Luther says, “therefore it is clear that, as the soul needs only the Word of God for its life and righteousness, so it is justified by faith alone and not any works; for if it could be justified by anything else, it would not need the Word, and consequently it would not need faith“. The gospel and the Bible are inextricably bound together. Because as Luther says, the only reason we need the scriptures is because we need the gospel. And because we need the gospel, God gave us the scriptures. Anyone who enjoys the grace of God found in the gospel, will treasure, grow in, be founded upon, and desire fully to read and know the Bible.

God gave us a book to read over and over again, that we might remember again and again who God is, what he does for sinners, and how we are saved through Jesus. It is a book “concerning all things necessary for…man’s salvation, faith and life” (WCF). 

Paul’s Salvation: Christ Revealed in Me

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In Galatians 1:15, Paul tells us about his miraculous salvation experience, in which God “set [him] apart before he was born, and who called [him] by His grace, (and) was pleased to reveal his Son to” him.

This, to me, is one of the most eloquent explanations of Paul’s own salvation. The reason is because in this small sentence, Paul pulls back the curtain, so to speak, and gives us a glimpse into the saving work of God. It was a work of revelation that led to saving apprehension.

First, God, for his sovereign purpose, chose Paul for special use as an Apostle even before he was born. As Luther once said, that even “when Paul was not born, he was an apostle in God’s sight”. Indeed, Paul was God’s last apostle, to be sent on mission to the Gentiles — we know that Paul truly took this calling to heart (Rom 15:15-16). Then, after this sovereign calling to apostleship, God drew Paul by his grace unto salvation. This drawing describes the ministry of the Holy Spirit, convicting, willing, enabling us to see our need for the gospel. It is interesting that in Acts 26:14, as Paul described his testimony to King Agrippa, he says that he had stubbornly “kicked against the goads” of God’s drawing grace (emphasis mine). “Kicking against the goads” is a term used to describe a stubborn sheep who refuses to be led by their shepherd. Paul, even under God’s gracious calling, was pushing against it, warring against the truth of God’s Son. And yet, we know that God won him over, breaking Paul’s abstinent will. Finally, Paul says that after God drew him by his grace, he was pleased to reveal his Son to the apostle.

What does Paul mean when he tells us that God the Father revealed Jesus to him? In what way did God reveal his Son to Paul? Of course, in Acts 9, Jesus himself appeared to Paul, even blinding him. But in this verse, Paul says that it was God the Father who revealed Christ to him. In what way was Christ revealed? In the Greek, the phrase Paul uses is literally, “God was pleased to reveal his Son in me”. Because of this, some have suggested that this revelation was God’s saving work through Paul’s missionary ministry. But I’m not sure this is not what Paul is getting at.

Kenneth Wuest, a New Testament Commentator, says of this verse, “the revelation of which [Paul] is speaking here was an inward one, apprehended by the spiritual senses”. I love this. When God sought to save Paul, he revealed Jesus by making him real to Paul’s own spiritual senses. God revealed Jesus, making his saving work tangible and necessary (1 Tim 1:15). It was this revelation that changed Paul’s understanding of Jesus as the leader of a small fringe movement into Risen Lord and Savior (1 Cor 15:17). It was through this revelation that Paul truly came to realize and understand Jesus as the Messiah foretold of his Old Testament (Rom 9:4, Gal 3:16). It was this revelation that made Paul declare that all of God’s promises find their “yes” and “amen” in Christ (2 Cor 1:20). It was through this revelation that Paul realized God’s plan to have both Jew and Gentile as one people in Jesus (Eph 2:11-22). It was in this revelation that Paul realized Christ as the second person of the Trinity, God over all (Rom 9:5). It was through this revelation that Jesus’ righteousness was made to be of more value than righteousness from the Law (Phil 3:2-11). Commenting on this verse, Luther says well, “this is a kind of doctrine not obtained by study, hard work, or human wisdom, nor by the law of God, but is revealed by God himself”.

This revelation was one of spiritual apprehension, in which Paul, in a saving way, truly tasted and delighted in the person and work of Jesus Christ. It is the same type of revelation we need, to see and know who Christ truly is, that we might partake of his righteousness, not having a righteousness of our own. It is a kind of tasting of the character and work of Christ in such a way that propels us into saving faith. This is indeed, what stubborn sinners need, a revelation of Jesus in us.