From Saul to Paul and back to Saul?

From Saul to Paul and back to Saul?

The experience of Paul provides a scriptural template of the true Christian conversion experience.

Saul believed in his own righteousness for he believed that concerning the law he was blameless. Philippians 3:5-6

However, after his conversion he understood that he was not a righteous man; indeed he counted his own righteousness as dung Philippians 3:7,8, at which point he came into line with Gods thinking who also regards man’s righteousness as filth. Isaiah 64:6

Paul whom we count as a righteous man correctly counted himself as unrighteous, going so far as to label himself the ‘Chief of sinners’, 1Timothy 1:15.

This was not an attitude of self-effacing mock modesty, or pretended ecclesiastical piety. This was a genuine realization of where he stood, borne from conviction of the Holy Spirit.

Paul on conversion laid aside self-righteousness or ‘self’ and began the internal warfare of spirit over flesh which is true Christianity. Romans 7:14-23

This internal warfare was an ongoing daily process. Paul described his experience as ‘dying daily’, 1 Corinthians 15:31

The experience of death to self through spiritual warfare was not something that was experienced and achieved once at the beginning of his Christian walk. He wasn’t transformed from sinner to holy person who could walk in his own strength thereafter; he needed Christ daily, his life was a struggle against himself right up until his death.

2 Timothy 4:7 I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith:

The example of Paul raises interesting questions:

Paul was a sinner, by his own admission the ‘chief of sinners’. Sin is transgression of the law 1John 3:4. Paul was a transgressor of Gods law.

He was like all men, for ALL are transgressors of Gods law. Romans 3:23, Romans 3:10, Ecclesiastes 7:20

We understand the principals of imputed righteousness and forgiveness of sin through faith in Christ, but what is the difference between the chief of sinners, Paul, and the class that Christ rejects in Mathew 2:23, and Luke 13:27?

Matthew 7:21-23 Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

The class that Jesus speaks of have two things in common with Paul and with us; they are sinners or ‘workers of iniquity’ (same thing) and they are believers in Christ.

What lacks with this class is that the righteousness of Christ has not been imputed to them. Why so? They believe, they have works, and faith without works is dead. James 2:17.

They appear to have it all, faith and works yet Christ says ; “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

Confusing; aren’t works doing the will of the Father?

They have done all these marvellous works! They have devoted their lives to their religion yet they are rejected.

Then Christ says a curious thing. “I never knew you: depart from me.” Why doesn’t Christ know them? They are Christians.

Paul was at war with himself, it was a war he couldn’t win, yet he continued the fight one battle at a time. He was aware of what he was. He saw his only hope was in Christ and His righteousness, and that it was Christ in him that wrought victories. Christ knew Paul because Paul clung to Christ, and Paul clung to Christ because he needed Christ.

The class that Christ rejects argue with him, they think he’s made a mistake. They have wonderful works. They do not understand that works do not atone for any sin. They believe meritorious works earn them salvation, yet Christ clarifies that they have not done the will of the Father.

Rather than engaging in true warfare within themselves through the strength of Christ working in them they have robed themselves in their own righteousness. They haven’t regarded themselves as ‘chief sinners’, they have lessened their own account. They are ‘less sinful’ in their own eyes through works. Like a man in a boat, over flowing to the gunnels, furiously bailing out with a teaspoon they seek to empty their cup of iniquity. They are under Laodicean delusion.

They have not, like Paul laid aside self-righteousness, which is true ‘death to self’. They continue in their own counterfeit righteousness because although they have accepted Christ intellectually they have not ‘died to self’ and accepted him spiritually as their only righteousness.

Luke 11:24-26 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he saith, I will return unto my house whence I came out. And when he cometh, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.

An interesting commentary on Luke 11:24-26 is quote below.

The Curse of Self-righteousness.–The garnished house represents the self-righteous soul. Satan is driven out by Christ. But he returned, in the hope of finding entrance. He finds the house empty, swept, and garnished. Only self-righteousness is abiding there. “Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more wicked than himself; and they enter in, and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” 

Self-righteousness is a curse, a human embellishment, which Satan uses for his glory. Those who garnish the soul with self-praise and flattery prepare the way for the seven other spirits more wicked than the first. In their very reception of the truth these souls deceive themselves. They are building upon a foundation of self-righteousness. The prayers of congregations may be offered to God with a round of ceremonies, but if they are offered in self-righteousness God is not honored by them. The Lord declares, “I will declare thy righteousness, and thy works; for they shall not profit thee.” In spite of all their display, their garnished habitation, Satan comes in with a troop of evil angels and takes his place in the soul, to help in the deception. The apostle writes, “If after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them” {Volume 5, Bible Commentary, page 1093}

 So, Christ drives out Satan from the soul. In turn failure to abandon self-righteousness or ‘die to self’ drives the Holy Spirit out and leaves the soul empty. Satan returns and takes his seat as the counterfeit Holy Spirit. The man continues in his self-righteous ways, trusting to his own meritorious works to earn his salvation, thinking that Christ dwells in him, but it is Satan dwelling in him.

In conclusion

The fruits of Paul’s genuine conversion were to become self-aware in regards to his sinfulness. He abandoned all thoughts of self-righteousness and justification by his own works as folly. He embraced Christ as the only means of salvation. He waged war against the flesh through Christ. He remained in this attitude for life.

By gauging our own experience against these principals we can seek to walk in harmony with Christ and also discern false teachings regarding sanctification and meritorious works.

Some Christians subtly muddle things up. They see that ‘dying to self’ is or is at least evidenced by inconsequential meritorious works, such as dress and diet and other ubiquitous and numerous traditions. A person who is doing the meritorious works as set out by a religious leader is deemed to have died to self because they are doing them.

However the opposite applies, for by obeying the traditions and precepts of men the devotee comes to believe and is taught that he is attaining higher degrees of holiness. This inflates ‘self’ and this drives Christ from the soul. The unfortunate devotee is then left under the Laodicean delusion that he is rich, when he is in fact bankrupt having placed himself under the old covenant.

Acceptable works come from a spirit of gratitude. A man who has permanently put away self-righteousness (died to self) as a consequence of conversion displays the fruits of conversion in his love to his fellow man. Works borne of love are acceptable to God for they are a result of Christ dwelling in the heart.

Works borne of a desire to gain favour, or borne of coercion, or tradition are not fruits of the Spirit and are not acceptable to God.

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One Response to From Saul to Paul and back to Saul?

  1. Simon O'Rourke says:

    “To those who believe, Christ is the sure foundation. They fall on the Rock and are “broken.” To fall on the Rock and be broken is to give up our self-righteousness, to go to Christ with the humility of a child, repenting of our transgressions, and believing in His forgiving love. So also by faith and obedience we build on Christ as our foundation.” EGW

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