The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Paul the apostle

When did you last weep?

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In this further guest post by my father, Austin Walker, he adds to a previous article some further reflections on the church’s response to the present crisis.

In my first article I outlined some of the biblical reasons why I believe we are facing the present crisis. I suggested that the true church of Christ should take the lead in seeking the face of God, confessing our sins and the sins of our nation, pleading with him for his great mercies’ sake. In so doing the church would be following the noble examples of men like Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah. This second article is intended as a sequel. I would like to develop the response of the church further by considering in particular the examples of the Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul.

If you have followed the details of the crisis on the internet over the past few months you will have read some tragic and harrowing accounts of those who have died as a result of Covid-19. Sometimes husbands and wives have died within days of each other. Members of the same family have died in similar circumstances. Occasionally younger people and even children have been cut down, though many have been spared. In some care homes across our nation many elderly people have died. Early on in the crisis we heard of nurses and doctors who were reduced to tears because their patients had died without any relatives being present at their bedside. The disease has not discriminated. We know of Christians who have died as well as those who adhere to different religions or none. In the UK some 35,000 are known have died as a result of Covid-19. Unnumbered tears of sorrow have been shed by the families, relatives and friends of those who have died. Such grief has been compounded by the restrictions on numbers attending funerals.

Of course many people die every day from a wide range of diseases or as a result of accidents or for some other reasons. Public attention is not normally drawn to these ‘ordinary’ statistics in the way that it has with regard to deaths associated with Covid-19. These are extraordinary days. While it is true that many more have survived the disease than have died , we cannot escape the distress and sorrow that accompanies the death of loved ones. There is no escaping the fact that this is a very real disease, often bringing long-term damage even when it does not fatal, that has brought intense grief in its wake.

Many people regard death simply as an inevitable and natural process. The Bible sees it with a different pair of eyes. The book of Job refers to death as the “king of terrors” (Jb 18.14). There are some unbelievers who say they are not afraid to die. That sounds bold, but it is folly born of unbelief. Death is not a natural process. Death is an unwelcome invader, an evil that brings to everyone pain, grief and sorrow. It entered into the world in which we live as a result of the sin of one man, Adam: “through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom 5.12). Furthermore, we read that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6.23). Death brings us face to face with our Judge: “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb 10.27). Confronted by death we are powerless and exposed to God’s judgment.

Death is not only the inevitable outcome of sin but primarily divine punishment for sin. Beyond death there is God’s judgment of condemnation and hell unless we have been cleansed and forgiven for our sins. The Lord Jesus several times warned of being “cast out into outer darkness” where there will be such intense sorrow—“weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt 8.12; 13.42; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30). Hell is real, the place of “everlasting punishment” (Mt 25.46), utterly devoid of any of God’s blessings which every human enjoys in this life.

The Bible has the answer to the dilemma caused by death and the reality of divine condemnation. There is a way of escaping judgment and the wrath of a just God. The gospel of Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead, is our only hope, as 1 Corinthians 15 makes plain. He died for our sins and—having been raised from the dead—is the first fruits of those who died believing in him. “Since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead” (1Cor 15.21). “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2Cor 5.21). “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’)” (Gal 3.13).

Our present concern is with our reaction to the deaths caused by the current pandemic which was identified in the previous article as a temporal judgment of God, justly deserved by our nation. Furthermore, it serves as a divine warning about the final judgment. If we understand our Bibles correctly there is a far deeper sorrow than death from Covid-19 or any other disease. Disease is one of the tragic consequences arising from the entrance of sin into the world. This pandemic brings us face to face with death which is the result of sin and ends in condemnation and everlasting punishment if we remain in unbelief.

The reality of death and all that is involved in death plunged our Lord Jesus Christ into tears. John 11.33-38 is a remarkable unveiling of the heart of the Lord Jesus Christ as he is confronted with the death of his friend Lazarus and the grief of Lazarus’ two sisters, Mary and Martha. Twice we read that Jesus groaned (verses 33 and 38), once that he was troubled (verse 33), and once that he wept (verse 35). Christ’s tears were not shed for Lazarus—he was about to raise him from the dead. The spirit of the Lord Jesus was reacting to the reality of death with a mixture of righteous anger and intense grief. Death was the object of his anger. He was also very aware of the one behind death, namely the devil, who has “the power of death” (Heb 2.14). Christ did not react with a cold and somewhat distant concern but rather, as B. B. Warfield once said, “with flaming wrath” against the foe. Yet at the same time his reaction showed that he had entered into our lot and identified himself with our deepest griefs and sorrows, taking to himself all the miseries associated with sin. The devastating evidence of a fallen world drew out of his heart both anger and compassion.

Similarly, in Luke’s Gospel, we read how he reacted as he drew near to Jerusalem before his death. “He saw the city and wept over it” (Lk 19.41). He wept over their ignorance, their spiritual blindness, and unbelief. They did not know “the things that make for your peace,” nor did they “know the time of their visitation” (Lk 19.42, 44). On a previous occasion he had cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” a cry pregnant with pathos and pity (Lk 13.34-35). He knew what would happen in the future when divine judgment fell on Jerusalem. The Romans came and destroyed both the temple and the city. He wept in compassionate pity in the light of their persistent wicked unbelief and the inevitable heavy judgment to come.

Surely, then, we who profess to be the true church of Jesus Christ should be imitating our Saviour by weeping over the present predicament of our nation in its unbelief and apparent determination to continue flouting the law of God? We live in the same fallen world that Christ entered. It is all too easy for us to react to what we continually see before our eyes by saying it is what our nation deserves. We can react with holy indignation and display little or no grief and shed no tears. The result will be a hardening of our hearts and the growth of a self-righteousness that will blossom into an ugly pride. On the other hand, we can descend into sentimentality by displaying only sympathy. The truth is we live in tension while we are here. On the one hand there must be righteous indignation, but it must be joined with grief, compassion and Christlike tears. He alone is the pattern for our response to this present crisis and if there is to be revival in the church this certainly ought to be one of the things that must characterise the church. Have we become so dulled and adopted such an ungodly apathy and indifference that our hearts no longer feel any real compassion and our eyes shed no tears.

The apostle Paul followed the example set by his Redeemer. He spoke of having “great sorrow and continual grief in my heart,” such that, were it possible, he was willing to be counted accursed by God and devoted to destruction, if only his Jewish brethren might be saved (Rom 9.2-3, 10.1). Such a spirit was proof of a deep, fervent, Christlike love, an anguish of heart that was not only deep but continual. The language he used in Romans 9.1 is striking: “I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit.” It not only displays the profound extent of his feelings, and his great love, but also tells us what motivated and constrained his response to Jewish unbelief. It would be reasonable to say that Paul knew what it was to weep Christlike tears over his Jewish brethren. It was patterned after the love of Christ, who was made a curse for us (Gal 3.13).

How then should we respond to the present crisis? With righteous indignation mingled with compassion and tears. Paul’s language in Romans 9.1-3 is the language of a Christian. If we harden our hearts and crush our response, we will cultivate a spirit that is unconcerned about those who are perishing. Such a spirit should leave us wondering if we are Christians at all. Neither should we despair in unbelief, concluding that our God will not show mercy, or—worse—should not show mercy. That is too much like Jonah.

Daniel, Ezra, Nehemiah, Paul and Christ show us the way to respond to what we are seeing in our nation. When we set our face towards the Lord God to make our requests by prayer and supplications it is not to be with a tepid spirit that we plead his great mercies, but with a fervent and full heart beseeching him to hear, to forgive, to listen and to act. It is difficult to beseech God in that manner without our eyes shedding tears.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 21 May 2020 at 09:11

The preacher’s anticipation

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St Paul expected his hearers to be moved. He so believed in his preaching that he knew that it was “the power of God unto salvation” [Rom. 1:16]. This expectation is a very real part of the presentation of the Gospel. It is a form of faith. A mere preaching which is not accompanied by the expectation of faith, is not a true preaching of the Gospel, because faith is a part of the Gospel. Simply to scatter the seed, with a sort of vague hope that some of it may come up somewhere, is not preaching the gospel. It is indeed a misrepresentation of the gospel. To preach the Gospel requires that the preacher should believe that he is sent to those whom he is addressing at the moment, because God has among them those whom He is at the moment calling: it requires that the speaker should expect a response.

Roland Allen, Missionary Methods—St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1962), 74.

HT: Justin Taylor.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 23 June 2012 at 12:20

Paul the planter

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Kevin DeYoung discusses (using Eckhard Schnabel) whether or not the apostle Paul had a church-planting strategy that focused on cities, and concludes that this is a misguided oversimplification. Here is his helpful conclusion:

So where should we go to plant churches? The short answer is: everywhere. But beyond that we should simply look at where a church is needed and where we have an opportunity to go. This will lead God’s people to many big, important cities. And to many other smaller “less important” towns and regions God cares about just as much.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 14 April 2012 at 16:47

The Taylor test

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Writing on the contention between the two apostles, Paul and Peter, and its resolution, William Taylor makes the following comment:

It may seem a paradox to say it, but there are few things which test a man’s real Christianity more than reproof for that which is actually blameworthy. It is comparatively easy to guard against giving offence; but it is exceeding hard to keep from taking offence in such circumstances, and to say with the Psalmist, “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head.” We all assent to Solomon’s proverb, “Open rebuke is better than secret love;” but when the rebuke comes most of us, on the whole, would prefer the love; and too frequently we are disposed to resent the faithfulness of the brother who would hint, even in the most delicate manner, that we have been in the wrong. We cry out against the modern dogma of papal infallibility, but we have all too much belief in that of our own infallibility; for our tempers are roused, and our hearts are estranged by any exposure of our error or inconsistency. How many personal alienations and ecclesiastical schisms might have been prevented, if there had been on the one side the honest frankness of Paul, and on the other the manly meekness of Peter as these come out in this transaction! (Paul the Missionary, 175-176)

Do you pass the Taylor test?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 14 September 2011 at 08:37

God’s gospel gift

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Cast your mind back into the depths of the allegedly-festive season. For many, it would be a time for the giving of gifts. Typically, with the person in mind for whom you desire a gift, you set out to find something that fits the template. Indeed, sitting in the Christmas carnage and tracing back from the gift to the perceived needs, desires or expectations of the intended recipient can be a little disconcerting. The socks and chutney imply a frozen-toed cheese eater; the DIY [home improvement] manual and the alarm clock hint at someone both incompetent and lazy; the sweater and make up suggest someone cold and ugly to boot. There is a lot to get wrong in such mind games: our foolishness, sensitivity (or utter lack of it) and ignorance might leave us muddled and misguided. Furthermore, if there is no appropriate and appreciated match between what is given and the one to whom it is given, those gifts lie quickly forgotten and largely neglected, unworn, uneaten, unused.

But what if a gifted, wise and insightful physician who knew us accurately and intimately sent to us a box of pills with instructions to begin a life-saving course of medication immediately? Might you not be entitled to presume that he had correctly diagnosed a deadly condition and has kindly provided the cure? In such an instance, you might accurately match the recipient and the gift, connecting the condition and circumstances of the former with the nature of the latter. And would you not be relying on it still? Would not that gift remain unspeakably precious to you?

So it is with God’s gospel gift: an unbreakable, inexhaustible, unforgettable, incalculably precious saving gift. The eternal God was neither ignorant nor whimsical, was not foolish or misguided, in sending his Son to save men. Here we have a gift precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, circumstances and condition of fallen mankind, calling forth perpetual reliance and overwhelming thankfulness. In Romans 5.6-11 the apostle Paul makes some of the connections between the recipients and the gift, describing sinful men in the light of the saving Christ:

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.

Firstly, Paul says that we are powerless. We are utterly without strength (Rom 5.6). The word Paul employs here is used in Matthew 25.31-46, Luke 10.9 and Acts 5.15-16 of those helplessly sick; in Acts 4.9 it describes the impotence of a man who was lame; in 1 Corinthians 12.22 it speaks of weakness and feebleness. It is a word describing comprehensive helplessness, and in Romans 5.6 it is used of our natural state, having no power in ourselves to do good, able neither to resist sin nor to pursue righteousness. We had no strength to restore our relationship with God nor to maintain one if it could be restored. Paul pictures a man utterly lacking in spiritual vitality, without any of the functions of life: it is a sketch of entire, ongoing, sinful incapacity, of a man beyond human help.

It was to men in such a state as this that Christ was given. We need someone who is truly strong, able not only to act on his own behalf but on behalf of others also, not only to secure good for himself but for others too. According to Isaiah, Jesus is just such a mighty Deliverer: “He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might he increases strength” (Is 40.29).

Secondly, we are by nature ungodly. Paul uses the same word in Romans 4.5. He means one who is thoroughly lost, wicked, having nothing to offer God. To be such a person means that we can never take God’s favour for granted because we positively fail to deserve any good; we have no entitlement to blessing. Romans 5.6 tells us that ungodly people needed someone to die for them: we required a ransom to be paid, someone to come at the proper time, the appointed hour, to take our place. The seventh verse makes plain that this is, by any account, the rarest of gifts. How much more when it is to men considered not as good and righteous but as ungodly that God sent the Son of his love? It was to men lost entirely and wicked throughout that Jesus came to do nothing less than die: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mk 10.45).

Again, we are sinners. We are those who miss the mark at which we aim, who fall short of our target. It is the tragedy of fallen men that we not only fall short of the target which we truly desire and earnestly pursue – our own happiness – but that we also fall short of that at which we should aim: the glory and honour of God, which we rarely consider and usually despise. In short, we are both personally wretched and morally polluted. As such, there is nothing in us to evoke blessing but much to demand cursing. It is a condition that leaves us entirely exposed to the divine displeasure and righteous judgment.

Paul would have us understand that to secure the life of sinners by any gift would be unspeakable love, the very pinnacle of grace, and such love and grace are displayed in a God who gives nothing less than his beloved Son for us, and in a Christ who willingly lays down his life to secure blessing for such men.

Fourthly, we are guilty. This is the clear implication of the language of sin and of justification (Rom 5.8-9). We need to be justified, to be declared righteous in the sight of a holy God. As sinners, we have deserved nothing but condemnation, and we abide under wrath. We have no righteousness of our own to plead, no goodness to parade. Justice demands vengeance, and what can provide satisfaction apart from fearful and just judgments falling upon the head of the guilty sinner? Where can such a sinner find a putting away of sin and a grant of righteousness, so propitiating the wrath of an offended God? How can we come to have that happy testimony, “You have forgiven the iniquity of your people; you have covered all their sin. You have taken away all your wrath; you have turned from the fierceness of your anger” (Ps 85.2-3)?

It requires blood. We are justified by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, who gave his life, so paying the debt, removing the guilt, providing a credit that was acceptable in saving transaction with a holy God.

Furthermore, we are enemies. Sin becomes habitual, habitual rebellion produces a deepening aversion to the Righteous One, that aversion develops into a settled enmity, and enmity breaks out into open hostility. Every sinner is on that way of rooted adversity to God in some form and degree, and is therefore subject to his wrath. We were rebelliously opposed to God and God was fearfully opposed to us. We were both antagonistic toward him and alienated from him, being without God and without hope in the world. Our relationship to God by nature is not one of neutrality, but of war. Men rage impotently against God and God sets himself implacably against all iniquity. Where, then, can a man find peace with God? Where is God reconciled, enmity removed, harmony established, justice vindicated, and holiness honoured?

God himself supplies the means. The offended God is himself the one who addresses the grounds of separation and provides for reconciliation. It is and must be a fruit of astonishing love, profound pity, and incalculable grace to design and execute such a plan, but what again almost beggars belief is that this reconciliation required nothing less than the giving of God’s own beloved Son. It was not accomplished at any lesser price.

But there is more still. For supposing that all this is carried out on our behalf – the powerless find a champion, the ungodly find a sacrifice, sinners find a saving life, the guilty find a righteousness, enemies find a reconciliation.  It leaves us still and always utterly dependent. Saved men need saving. This does not for one instant mean that there is something lacking in the life and death of Jesus that yet remains to be made up, but rather speaks of our continual need for his grace and strength, our perpetual reliance upon him, finding all our security for the present and future in him alone. Paul speaks of our being saved from wrath through him, by his life (Rom 5.9-10). Our abiding union with our crucified but risen Redeemer ensures that we remain protected to the end and into eternity. We are reconciled by his death and saved by his life, having nothing to fear in the day of wrath, for he both secures our standing by his acceptance with God and is living to intercede for us. He is our Good Shepherd, guiding his sheep safely to the eternal fold; our Great Priest who stands before God on our behalf; he is securing and will secure our final happiness.

Thus we have in these verses two portraits, intimately connected to each other, reflective of each other in the way that a negative reflects the original. Here is the light of Christ and the corresponding distorted shadow cast by sinful man. The portrait of ourselves is unflatteringly honest, depicting us ruined and lost. The portrait of the Lord Jesus shows him as the gift of God, piercingly beautiful, precisely fitted and perfectly suited to the character, condition and circumstances of those he came to save. He is displayed as One mighty to deliver, by his life, death and resurrection supplying the reconciling righteousness and the cleansing blood that we could never obtain for ourselves, and this he provided by taking our place and dying on our behalf.

Do we accept the testimony of the gospel gift of Jesus Christ about our character, condition and circumstances? It may not be flattering, but it is painfully accurate. Look at the portrait: do you not see your own face staring back at you? Do you find your own wretchedness and neediness written in these things? God was not ignorant or whimsical, not foolish or mistaken when he sent his Son for sinners. The gift was given because the state of the intended recipients demanded nothing less.

Do you accept the gift? It is one thing to acknowledge the need, but another to accept the gift? Salvation is entirely from without. Martin Luther used to speak of the natural man as turned in upon himself. Grace shows the emptiness within, and makes us lift our eyes outward and upward to where we find our only help. Let us be honest: if the portrait of sinful man is a portrait of my own soul, where will I find salvation in myself? If I am powerless, ungodly, sinning, guilty and opposed to God, what will I offer to secure my salvation? There is nothing else left but to look elsewhere. Helpless sinners need a mighty Helper if they are to be delivered from sin and death and hell. God offers the priceless gift of his incarnate Son, and nothing more is required than to cast one’s soul for time and for eternity upon him, to accept the gospel gift as the one and sole answer to the damnable misery of separation from God.

Let us note here – especially those of us who preach – that any message that offers hope but fails to take account of these particular needs and the gift given to address them is a false gospel. To paint the soul of sinners in brighter colours than these does not shut people up to the only remedy, but gives man a falsely elevated view of his own capacity and a correspondingly low view of the saving excellence of the Lord Christ. To offer any alternative remedy is to offer a placebo that, at best, will float men gently and peacefully into the Pit. However, God’s gospel gift of his gracious and glorious Son delivers men from sin and death and hell when it is received with repentant faith.

Should we not, then, humbly receive, gratefully remember and ardently rejoice in such a gift? Only love and mercy would offer such an unparallelable kindness to people such as us; only a fool would reject him; only a gross ingrate could possibly forget the greatest of all possible gifts; only a hard heart would fail to rejoice in the Giver and his glorious Gift. This is where Paul brings us and leaves us: “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). The focus is not on ourselves, not even so much on what we receive in Christ, but on the Christ whom we receive by faith, and the God who sent him to be received. Paul leaves us exulting in God in Christ. We boast not in ourselves, but in the saving God through whom the utterly unworthy receive reconciliation, made secure for life and in death and through eternity by his Son – Jesus the Ransomer, God’s gospel gift.

This article first appeared at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 19 January 2011 at 12:11

Paul’s gospel

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Kevin DeYoung at TGC looks over a volume by Steven Westerholm called Perspectives Old and New on Paul: The “Lutheran” Paul and His Critics to give some helpful insights into the relationship between the circumstances in which Paul was preaching the gospel and the essential nature of the gospel which he preached:

So yes, justification by faith resulted in the “erasing of ethnic boundaries.” But Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley and every faithful gospel preacher before and after them have also been right to preach the good news of “grace abounding to sinners.” This is the heartbeat, the tap root, and basic point of justification by faith. And if this happens to be “Lutheran” that’s ok, because it happens to be biblical too.

Read it all.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 13 January 2011 at 12:48

A disciple’s disposition

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If you were to choose one phrase to describe yourself, what would it be? One might argue that, for the apostle Paul, it would be this: “a bondservant of Jesus Christ.” He uses it repeatedly to describe his privileged status as a disciple of Jesus, bound to exclusive, absolute, willing obedience. But there was a time when he would have been the last person on earth to embrace and employ such a title. What made “a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” adopt the posture of Christ’s bondservant?

The change occured just outside Damascus. Paul was travelling to the city intent upon doing violence to the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. Suddenly a light from heaven shone around him and he fell to the ground. Who knows what went through his mind at that moment? What did he expect? No doubt the persecutor believed that he was doing the will of God; perhaps he even anticipated some divine commendation. Instead a voice spoke to the man lying on the earth: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” What a shudder must have gone through the heart of that proud man. There is already a new humility in his confused question: “Who are you, Lord?” Then these words of staggering reality give the crushing answer: “I am Jesus.” We might wonder how Paul survived the shock: that imposter, the cursed Nazarene, is the Lord of glory. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” He had known and perhaps been bested by Stephen, heard his pointed and powerful sermon and seen his face at his death; he had listened to the believing confessions of tortured followers of the Way; he had studied endlessly the testimonies of the Hebrew Scriptures, his treasured scrolls. And now he is confronted and cast down by the very Messiah that he has been anticipating, the very Messiah that he has been persecuting.

No wonder he was “trembling and astonished.” Stripped of all self-righteousness, all self-confidence, his entire world up-ended by this striking moment of divine revelation, he bows his head and asks a question: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

That question gives us an insight into a humbled heart; it shows us a disciple’s disposition. Certainly there is still much pondering and praying for Paul over the coming hours, but this phrase opens a door by which we can gaze into a bondservant’s soul. Here is the subordination of one’s own will to the will of another. Here is a posture of voluntary humility and ready obedience.

Paul’s response is personal. He is face to face with Christ, and there is no thought of anyone else. His relationship to this Jesus is all that now matters. He is concerned not about what he himself would like to do, what others would have him do, or what others should themselves do. “What do you, Christ Jesus, want me, Saul of Tarsus, to do?” Every other allegiance, legitimate or otherwise, assumes its relative and proper obscurity next to the claims of Christ.

His response is immediate. This may be the most complete and radical change of plan in the history of the world. What the Christ speaks will be the rule of his life from this moment. No other plans or purposes will come into the equation, and nothing will be put off to a more convenient occasion. The risen Lord has declared himself, and instantly this man asks only what is required of him. All Paul’s hopes, schemes and dreams – short, middle and long term – are instantly abandoned, and all he is and has are put at the immediate disposal of the Lord Christ.

His response is unconditional. Paul has no idea what Jesus of Nazareth will ask of him. Who can say what his command will demand? But that is not the issue. The possible answers do not prevent or inhibit the question. The sense of his question implies this: “Anything and everything that you might require I stand ready to give.” This is not some strutting boast, but an unavoidable declaration in the light of who it is that stands before Paul.

His response is voluntary. It is a conscious and willing response. This is a deliberate act of consecration, an offering up of himself with a ready heart. There is no coercion, only felt obligation. This is not an accidental attitude, but a purposeful seeking out of the will of Christ in order to do it.

And so his response is fundamentally active. There is an immediate awareness that this Messiah will require and be entitled to a life lived to the praise of his glory, a life in which everything is given not anaemically but vigorously, not dragged out under duress but poured out exultantly. The living follows the birthing, the doing follows the saving.

And what is the source of this outlook? From where does this disciple’s disposition arise?

It is a believing response to Jesus of Nazareth, the risen Lord and God’s Christ: “I am Jesus.” It is the unparalleled and unparellelable glory of his unalloyed divinity and glorious humanity that has captured Paul’s heart. It is Jesus as the promised Prophet, Priest and King; the Son of David; the one Mediator between God and man; the Redeemer of God’s elect; the Hope of Israel; the Light of nations; the Dayspring from on high; the Lord of lords and King of kings. Paul has opposed him with every fibre of his being, and he has responded with sovereign mercy. When Paul later writes that “he loved me and gave himself for me” he is speaking of this Jesus whom he had persecuted. When the Father sought a Ransomer, a voice like many waters answered, “I will go.” Where angels and men were helpless, the Lord of men and angels gave himself to save his people from their sins. He died for those who were still his enemies. He died for Saul of Tarsus. He died for us.

And the man who sees – even faintly – the person and the work of this Jesus, whom God has made both Lord and Christ, asks this: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”

It is a believing sight of Jesus Christ that liberates us from anaemic, self-satisfied, shallow, take-it-or-leave-it religion. Do not say that if only you could see him as Paul saw him, you would have a different attitude. His glory shines on every page of your Bible, and you lack nothing to enable you to truly perceive him. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is no less glorious and no less gracious than he was on the day when he appeared to Paul. The Scriptures sing of his majesty and speak of his excellence, painting him in all the glorious colours that God has intended us to see in the portrait of his Son, lit up with the shining light of the Holy Spirit. If we have been given eyes to see and hearts to believe, all that is required is that we love greatly as those greatly forgiven by our great God and Saviour, and live accordingly.

What does it mean? It is not a call to some extravagant but ultimately empty gesture allegedly made for the sake of the kingdom, or some energetic but perhaps pointless demonstration of wrong-headed zeal. It may or may not demand a radical change of direction. It may or may not be a call to a sacrifice of which you have not before dreamed.

But – whatever else it requires – it will demand a change of attitude and call you to a different spirit. It means that you begin to ask not what you must do for Christ, but what you can do. It means a readiness to serve God wherever and whenever he may call us, whether that is where we are now or somewhere else where he would have us to be. It means that we bow the knee before Jesus, God’s Lord and Christ, and make a personal, immediate, unconditional, voluntary and active response, asking, “Lord, what do you want me to do?” It means being ready to follow him, whatever the answer, and ready to serve him, whatever the cost. That is a disciple’s disposition.

This article first appeared at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 10 December 2010 at 08:37

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