“For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Gal 2:19-20
There is always something that we devote ourselves to in our lives and it can change over the years. We might devote our lives to our spouse, our children, our careers, garden, career, or any of a number of things. But how devoted are we to Christ as His followers? How serious do we take the calling He has given to us as His disciples? I know that even as a preacher of God’s word, I get sidetracked with other things that takes my sight off of Christ and His calling for me. Of course, Satan’s powers in this world are hard at work to do just that in all of our lives. To be less devoted to God. To get sidetracked to make other things, although good things, more important than what Christ has called us to. Does that mean you give up other things that are important? No, it means to make God part of everything you do. But, if that thing that is important to you, takes you away from God and what Christ has called to, then it either needs to be realigned or possibly let go in favor of the One who gave His life for you.
In the passage above we have a statement by Paul as to his devotion to Christ’s calling in his life. The calling was probably more direct than any of us went through. Paul (Saul at this time) was taking on Christianity to wipe it out with a vengeance. He was a devout Jew, he was a Pharisee, and he had the backing of the Jewish Sanhedrin. With Jesus coming to Paul on his way to Damascus to hunt down followers of Christ, his life does a complete 180 degree turn. He goes from upholding the Law of Moses to preaching Christ anywhere he is sent. Paul is a man who is going to be fully devoted to something, it’s who he was as a person, so he was the right one to take the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. In Galatians 2:19, he says that “he has died to the old law that he might live to God”. The law was what Paul had devoted his whole life to. Then he goes on to say that he had shared in the death of Christ “so that it was no longer him who lived but Christ now lived in him”. Is this how you feel about your life in Christ? He goes on to say that his life, while he is still alive in this world, “would be lived by faith in Christ”. Why? Because God loved him enough to have His Son die for him and that Christ was willing to die the worst Roman death so that Paul would have the chance to live for God. This passage makes me all goose-pimply thinking about that kind of devotion to our Lord. I want to stand up and yell “Yeah, Paul, me too”, but am I willing to live it as Paul did? No excuses. No justifications. But the willingness to give our lives for Christ as He did for us.
If we read on in other letters written by Paul we find that the above statement wasn’t just a one-time occasion when Paul was feeling really emotional. There’s a few passages in the second Corinthian letter that backs up what Paul said in Galatians. In 2 Cor 4:7-12, Paul admits that we are just humans, but that if we will allow ourselves to be molded like clay, then God can use us in the way he sees necessary to complete His will: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us. We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed, always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. For we who live are always delivered to death for Jesus' sake, that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So then death is working in us, but life in you.” We have a treasure that is inside of us. For Paul, it was having “the dying of the Lord Jesus” in him, so that the life of Jesus would be made known in his life. Our life, if we are willing to join Paul in this proclamation. For Paul, Christ died so that He can live in those who take on His name. Does this mean we need to live the same kind of life as Paul did? Paul would say no; he would hope that you wouldn’t have to suffer like he did, but he would urge you to be like him in devoting your life for the cause of Christ. How will that look in your life? You won’t know until you give your life completely over to God and His Son.
The question is, how far are we willing to go in allowing God to use us for the cause of Christ? There may come a time in this life when we have to stand up for our faith under difficult situations. How will we react? How far are we willing to go to teach and bring the lost to Christ? Look at what Paul and those ministering with him were willing to do: “We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed. But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God: in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings; by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report; as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold we live; as chastened, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” 2 Cor 6:3-10. It’s not taking up arms against those who oppose us. Paul is speaking of a greater strength than that. He is saying to keep doing what Christ has called us to do no matter what happens to us. Paul, and many others in the first century, the beginning of the church, gave up their lives for their faith in the gospel of Christ. How far are we willing to go? Most of us haven’t experienced very much persecution. It’s been fairly easy to be a Christian. Will we stand firm when our faith is challenged? Some give up because of personality conflicts. Will we give up that easy? I hope not.
Paul lived a life that seems like it was one suffering after another as a minister of God’s word. It seemed like everyone was trying to hurt or even kill him. But there was something about Paul, that I think if you were to ask him if it was all worth it, he wouldn’t hesitate, but say “Yes, and much more, if it meant living for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ”. Were there times when Paul felt overwhelmed by the persecution he was experiencing? Yes, but the Lord helped him understand that it needed to happen. Paul writes later in the same letter, “And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." Therefore, most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore, I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ's sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Cor 12:7-10. This is a strange thing for Paul to let us know, since he had written throughout the letter of all the suffering he has gone through in his ministry. We don’t know what this “thorn in the flesh” was. Was it something other than the other sufferings he wrote about? It must have been pretty bad. Or was it a prayer concerning one of the other situations that he has already told us about? We don’t know, and it would be speculation on our part to pin it down to something which really doesn’t matter in the long run anyway. What we do know is that Paul went to God about something that was troubling him and that it seems God wasn’t willing to take it away, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is make perfect in weakness.” Not what you really want to hear from God when you pray about suffering. But let’s unpack this a bit to get below the surface of what it’s saying.
As Paul struggles with this “thorn in the flesh”, God is saying that His grace (mercy, love, compassion, patience) is sufficient for him. “No matter what you go through, Paul, I am always with you, and no matter what happens, you will be with Me for eternity”. There are sufferings that we will go through in this life and we need to remember that God has not forsaken us. Remember when Christ was on the cross and had taken on all the sins of the world (past, present, and future), He cried out asking God why He had forsaken Him. When we are suffering with sin or hurting from physical, mental, or spiritual pain, God is there telling us that we can make it if we will put our trust in Him and not the suffering. God says that He does some of His greatest work for us when we are feeling weak. Why is that? It may because we are willing to let our defenses down and allow Him to do His will in our life. “Okay God, I’ve tried everything my way and it isn’t working, so I submit myself to your will to take care of this situation”. It looks like Paul came to that conclusion with the reply he received from God. “I’ll take pleasure in all the sufferings I go through, because I know that when I make myself weak (submission) it makes me strong (God working in his life). We might conclude then, that when bad things happen, it’s God trying to get our attention to let Him come into our life, or for us to give the situation to Him and allow Him to work through us. Paul understood this. Bad things and suffering are going to happen in this life when we take Christ to the lost. The question is, how will we react to it?
This takes us back to the beginning of this article. Paul was willing to give up his past life of opposing Christ, thinking he was doing it for God, to submit to God’s will as a Christ-follower. It meant dying to Law of Moses (or to the past), by being crucified with Christ, so that Christ would live within him, and that he could really do the will of God. What will it take to get us to come to the same understanding? Will we keep trying to do this “Christian thing” on our own terms, or will we renounce ourselves so that Christ can truly live within us? Just for fun; when do you think Paul came to this faith statement in his life? Was it after he had been beaten down by numerous sufferings? Or was it towards the beginning of his ministry so that he was prepared to do whatever it took to present Christ in his actions and words to those who were without Christ in their lives? I believe he wouldn’t have made it very far if he didn’t submit his heart, mind, soul and strength completely to Christ. How far are you willing to let Christ come into your life? When you were baptized into Christ, do you believe that you were crucified with Him, buried with him to the world, and was raised up in newness of life, to live for Him and allow Him to live in you? Life if full of decisions. If you haven’t put the world of sin to death in your life, or you haven’t really been devoted to Christ like you know you should, then maybe it’s time to make a faith statement like Paul did in your life, so that you can start living for Christ by allowing Him to live in you. May we not give up or give out until our journey ends. I love you all, Doug.