2nd Sunday After Pentecost
June 10, 2007
It is always exciting to meet new Christians. Their zeal and enthusiasm are contagious. They have encountered the Lord in a conversion experience and are eager to tell everyone. For some, however, as time passes, the zeal wanes. Paul was different. From the moment of his conversion, he was a changed man. How was he able to live such a focused Christian life?
I. A Victorious Life is Free from the Past
Paul experienced freedom from his past — and, he had quite a past! He “persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.” How was it ever possible for him to move forward after such a past as this? Paul became a believer in Jesus. He was radically converted. After his conversion, Paul did not consult with “flesh and blood” (vv. 1617). He waited three years before he sought out the other apostles. What was he doing for three years? Perhaps letting go of his past. Perhaps forgiving himself. Undoubtedly, growing in his new relationship with the Lord. He was moving forward.
What about us? How often do we get stuck in the past, unable to move forward? I understand that after some prisoners are released from prison, they immediately commit another crime so they may return to the security of incarcerated living. Our past can become a prison of sorts that prevents us from moving forward into true freedom in Christ.
III. A Victorious Life Has Confidence in the Present
Paul was also living victoriously in the present. Notice what he says in verses 1112. The gospel was not preached to him by man in any way, but received through revelation. Paul was led by the Spirit and did not consult with others.
Too often we are guilty of seeking the approval of other people rather than God. We become people pleasers versus God pleasers. We cannot please God and we cannot hear God if we are focused on gaining the approval of other people.
I am reminded of a children’s story about a man who tried to please all of the people in his village by carrying their straw on the back of his camel. One final villager requested his services, and as he placed a piece of straw on the camel, the animal collapsed. The story concludes with the old proverb, “it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.” The story admonishes the reader to avoid living for the approval of others. Paul lived victoriously in the present because he lived to please God and he saw all of his experiences — past, present, and future — through spiritual eyes.
How often do we see our circumstances with spiritual eyes? Oh, to live in the realm of the Spirit to such an extent! I was deeply moved 1 ½ years ago when a dear friend visited me in the hospital after our third child was born. As she rocked my newborn baby and we chatted, I was in awe of her joy. A few years ago, she lost her baby. He died while she was in labor, before he was ever born.
How was she able to hold my baby with such a presence of peace about her? She saw her experience and mine through spiritual eyes. She saw God’s hand in the entire situation. She had grieved, struggled, wrestled with God, and found his grace in her sorrow. She was able to move on. It was a powerful testimony of Christ centered living.
IV. A Victorious Life Has Hope for the Future
Finally, Paul had hope for the future. News of his conversion preceded him in the churches of Judea. They heard that he who once persecuted the church was now a preacher of the gospel. The Spirit had prepared the way for Paul. He did not need to fear. If we are living by the Spirit, we need not to live in fear as well.
Where is God in the midst of your circumstances? What is God trying to tell you? Here are some practical steps that you can take to answer these questions:
1. Forgive yourself, others and God.
2. Let go of the past. Place it in God’s hands. Imagine nailing your past to the cross.
3. Abide in Christ. John 15:9 reminds us to abide in the love of Christ, not fear, the approval and opinions of others, our past, nor our future.
4. Read books on the spiritual disciplines.
5. Talk to and pray with trusted Christian friends.
6. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Like Paul, we too can live victorious lives. We can be free from our past, live confidently in the present and find hope for the future. (Paula Fontana Qualls)