Salvation is not dependent upon how closely we can follow lists of rules and commands; yet, most of us Christians fall into the trap of describing faith in moralistic terms (if you’re good enough, you’ll get into heaven). I know that I am certainly guilty of allowing my walk with Christ to be expressed in the overly-simplistic terms of “right living” or “good works.”
If anyone knows what it is like to live by the strict rules of doctrines and dogmas, it was Paul. If there is any doubt about his rigid adherence to the rules, he gives a list of his “credentials” in his letter to the Philippians.
He had ticked off all the necessary boxes, and yet none of it mattered when he was blinded by the light on the road to Damascus. All that “right living”, all his “good works”, were useless him after he encountered Jesus.
In fact, some of the things he counted as good deeds he would learn were actually acts of sinfulness. His rigidity, his persecution of Christians, his exclusionary idea of salvation… those aspects of his life, once thought to be jewels in his crown, had actually done far more harm than good.
Likewise, when we become so rigid and set in our perceptions of “right living”, we run the risk of missing the salvation that is right before us. Paul was living among Christians who were telling him all about the Son of God, but he was so rooted in his belief of right and wrong that he wasn’t willing to hear the Gospel.
After Paul’s conversion he would swing to another extreme. One day he was a fierce advocate for excluding most of the world from God’s salvation, the next he was advocating for the salvation of all people.
Circumcision was a hot-button issue in Paul’s day. Contentious debates which threatened to split the early church raged about whether the Gentiles Paul was bringing to Christ could claim to be Christians without first becoming Jewish.
Paul, that once great lover of the law, saw it as an unnecessary hoop to make people jump through. People were starving, he thought. Why make them go through long, complicated rituals to be fed?
God likes to make points in unlikely ways and with unlikely people, and Paul was no exception. No one would have thought that the zealot Paul would face off with James and the Jerusalem Christians to advocate against Jewish customs for Christian converts.
And yet, Paul’s advocacy would open up the Gospel to an entire new population and bring the hope of salvation to a large number of people who had, until then, been excluded.
When Paul surrounded his rigid adherence to following the rules, he lived more fully into God’s blessed Kingdom.
Who are the people being excluded from the message of salvation today? Who might you be excluding with your rules and requirements? Who do you think God is telling you to bring into the Body of Christ? If God were to call you to a Paul-like ministry, to whom would you be sent?