The Way reminds me that even when I was deep in addiction and depression, depleted of belief in God’s presence; the indelible fact is that he was with me. (Jonah 2, Psalm 139:8, Matthew 28:20). And so, the same enduring presence of grace made available for Paul, is made available to me.
Called by Grace
As I ponder on the conversion of Paul, I see the co-relation of his sins to my salvation. Paul said that God “set me apart before I was born”and then on the Damascus road “called me by his grace” (Galatian 1:15). This means that between Paul’s being “set apart” at birth and his “call” on the Damascus road he was “already chosen”, but “not yet called” (Acts 9:15).
And when Paul was called, it was a non-negotiable call; Rise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do
As John Piper comments, God could have done Damascus sooner…. but between Paul’s being chosen at birth and his calling, Paul was permitted to sin! It must have been part of God’s plan. But what plan? The plan was that Paul’s sins were permitted for me, and my fear was this: As a hardened sinner – have I sinned myself out of grace?
The fruition of the plan is not a convenient deduction. It is an oasis of clear validation from Paul:
The only credentials I brought to this ministry were invective and witch hunts and arrogance. But I was treated mercifully because I didn’t know what I was doing - didn’t know Who I was doing it against! Grace mixed with faith and love poured over me and into me. And all because of Jesus. Here’s a word you can take to heart and depend on: Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. I’m proof – Public Sinner Number One – of someone who could never have made it apart from sheer mercy. And now he shows me off – evidence of his endless patience – to those who are right on the edge of trusting him forever.
(1 Timothy 1:13-16 MSG)
It is these words that continue to fuel my faith in the steadfast love and special mercy that God has kept for me for each hour of my walk on The Way.
Sufficiency of Grace
Paul writes to the Church of Corinth addressing the “pseudo servants of God” and resorts to talking about how his strength is drawn from weakness:
Because of the extravagance of those revelations and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that and then he told me: My grace is enough; it’s all you need. My strength comes into its own in your weakness. Once I heard it, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now, I take limitations in stride and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size – abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get the stronger I become. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10 MSG).
Perhaps…. and while I give myself the liberty of “poetic licence” on the context of this point, just perhaps the gift of the handicap that Paul references -- were the tormenting memories and anguished recollections of his onslaught of Christians before he was called by grace? Perhaps there were unbearable nightmares of the past that haunted him; not unlike my addictions, depression and coping mechanisms. But even those memories were not going to separate him or me from the love of God.
(Romans 8: 38-39)
And because human strength cannot begin to compete with God’s weakness, he also does the controversial;
Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these “nobodies” to expose the hollow pretensions of the “somebodies”? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have – right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start – comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. That’s why we have the saying “If you’re going to blow a horn, blow a trumpet for God.
(1 Corinthians 1: 27-31 MSG)
What then of El Camino? Will there be signposts? Is there a watershed moment on this journey, an epiphany perhaps?
More in the next blog (part 3).
Please also see El Camino part 1