Paul’s Calling and the Gospel Message

Title: Paul’s Calling and the Gospel Message

[Audio http://ab86qw.bay.livefilestore.com/y1pJ3WC2lHmGEi2zoqxVjvksEeiinjKo_88-yKyVnotyTsdHrY_4_CfaMG8J_dE9SC1EMqnUYrQuoHfSoixAau-Pg/7-13-08paulscalingandthegospelmessage.mp3%5D

Text: Acts 26:17-18, 20

Time: July 13th, 2008

There is an old saying that goes, “Life happens on the way to something else,” meaning, that something comes about usually when we are pursuing something completely different. That’s what makes life so interesting. Well, it’s the same thing as we see in the Bible because the Bible is a realistic description of life and all of reality. Many of the things described in the Bible apparently come about on the way towards something else. Or, in other words, we find many surprising things described in the Bible. As we study the Book of Acts we’ll find many surprises. As a matter of fact, most of the Book of Acts is surprising, not in the sense that God works many supernatural miracles, but for the fact that he works them through the agency of fallible human beings like the Apostles and other early Christians. We all know that God is capable of performing awesome miracles, and that Jesus as the very incarnation of God worked miracles, but it is very surprising that God would use ordinary Christians in the Book of Acts to work miracles also. But this is exactly what God does. Well, today, I’ll be talking about the Apostle Paul’s calling to the ministry of the gospel, which involves the miracle of conversion, first of Paul’s own soul, and then, following his calling, the conversion of many other souls. In the course of describing Paul’s gospel ministry calling we learn some very important and essential aspects of the gospel message itself. That’s what we’ll be examining today – the description God gives to the process of preaching the gospel, what conversion actually means. It’s found in Acts 26:17-18, 20, which says, “I am sending you to them (the Gentiles) to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” And then Paul’s own description of his ministry: “And to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” So in this short passage we see two things: one, God’s description of Paul’s gospel ministry calling; and two, Paul’s own description of his gospel calling. Both of these descriptions can help us today because they describe some very important, even essential, aspects of what conversion to the gospel of salvation really means. Conversion means opening our eyes to God’s truth, it means coming from darkness into the light, it means escaping the rule of Satan for the rule of God, it means being forgiven of sins, and it means receiving eternal life. Finally, according to Paul’s own testimony, it means proving our repentance and faith through the evidences of a changed life that leads to producing good works. Let’s look at these things closer.

First, everyone is spiritually blind and needs to have their eyes opened. Acts 26:17-18, “I am sending you to them to open their eyes.” When I read something like everyone is blind and needs to open their eyes and learn how to see I immediately think of puppies, yes, little doggies. Puppies are born blind, with their eyes closed. It takes between 10-14 days for puppies to begin to open their eyes and see. Now here’s something else that’s just as true: people, human beings, are born spiritually blind. That means you and me and everyone else is born spiritually blind. We can’t see the truth of God, we can’t see the point of faith, we can’t perceive spiritual reality. The only thing we can see is the material world and our own selfish needs. We are born earthly minded and we will stay that way unless something opens our eyes. We see in this passage in the Book of Acts that God commissions Paul as an evangelist and missionary and minister to “open the eyes” of the spiritually blind. Now God wouldn’t need to send Paul or the other apostles or anyone to open the eyes of the spiritually blind if everyone could already see. But the point is that everyone is born and starts life spiritually blind, dead to God, dead in trespasses and sins, destined to Judgment and Damnation, unless something supernatural and miraculous happens, unless our eyes are opened we will all perish for eternity. Now most people don’t believe that they are spiritually blind, or ever were spiritually blind. Most people believe that they can see, or at least that they’ve come to see as adults, but according to the gospel most people are wrong. From the time we are born we exist in a state of original sin inherited from our parents, who inherited from their parents, and so on and so on all the way back to our original parents Adam and Eve. They sinned in the Garden by disobeying God, which cursed the whole human race ever since, and brought about spiritual blindness upon us all. We are so blind that we don’t even know we are blind. There are an estimated 6 to 7 billion people on the planet earth and the vast majority of them think that they can see when in fact they are as blind as a bat spiritually. All of the Muslims are blinded spiritually, all of the Hindus are blind, all of the Buddhists are blind, even all the Jews are blind, and also a vast number of people who call themselves Christians are blind too because they are Christian in name only. Only those who have been converted, truly saved or born again have had their eyes opened to the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. I hope that you can see today. I hope that you are still not blinded spiritually. In a moment I’ll talk about how you can know whether you are blind or whether you can truly see spiritually. But we all need to have our eyes opened.

Second, everyone is in spiritual darkness and needs to come into the light. Acts 27:17-18, “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light.” The first point was that we are all blind and need to open our eyes, but the second point is that we are all in darkness and need to come into the light. Now think about this – it makes no difference if you open your eyes if there is no light in the room – you are still in the dark. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to walk in a totally darkened room or house, but you can have your eyes wide open but it doesn’t really help unless you turn on a light. I’ve been outside on a night that was totally dark, no moon light, no star light, no street lights, nothing. It’s hard to even walk a few feet. I remember having a flat tire on a stretch of deserted highway in the middle of the night in Utah. It was so dark out you couldn’t even see the hand in front of you and I had the task of changing a flat tire. I felt totally blind. I had to feel my way to the back of the car, feel my way to the tire, feel the flat, feel the lug nuts, feel my way to the back trunk and the tire iron, feel my way to jacking up the car, etc. It was really hard. Why? Because it was a pitch black night, no light out at all. Well, according to the gospel, all of us are born into the world in darkness, spiritual darkness. That’s why we stumble around in confusion and conflict and chaos so much of our lives. Some of you understand what it means to live in spiritual darkness. Look at your lives, look at your divorces and failures and messed up lives. It looks like you are living in spiritual darkness. Look at the Hollywood movie stars and celebrities in the news; their lives are out of control, often ending in tragedy and ruin. But all of us start out in spiritual darkness as sinners, as rebels against God, as lost souls. Unless we come into the light we will continue in that darkness and die in that darkness and then perish in everlasting darkness for all eternity. It’s tragic. But thank God people like the Apostle Paul and others are sent by God to turn people like you and me from darkness to the light. That’s what true spiritual conversion is – turning away from the darkness of sin to the light of God through Jesus Christ by faith. We need help in turning from darkness to light because we don’t know where the light switch is. We are like blind people stumbling in a dark house at night looking for the light switch. We are in double trouble because we can’t find the light switch but even if we did it wouldn’t help us because we are blind, so we need healed so we can see and we need someone to help us find the light. All of these things come about through the Holy Spirit when the gospel is preached. Have you come in to the light out of the darkness? I’ll talk about how you can know for sure if you have or haven’t.

Third, everyone lives under the control of the Devil and needs to come under the control of God. Acts 27:17-18, “I am sending you to them, to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God.” Now here’s something that is hard for most people to accept: we are all under the control of the Devil, we are born under that control and live under that control, until a greater power delivers us from it. The Bible says elsewhere, that “the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” Satan is called the god of this world. Jesus spoke to the Jewish religious leaders and informed them that their father was really the Devil. He could have said that to anyone, everyone, also. Now remember what the passage has already said: we are all blind, we all live in the dark, and we are ruled by the Devil. Unless we are delivered from this condition we will die in our sins, blind, in darkness, and we’ll go where the Devil goes, to hell forever. Now that’s the bad news, and it really is bad news. If people knew how bad things were they’d be motivated to seek after God more, but unfortunately, the Devil blinds our minds, keeps us in the dark, and hides that fact that he’s in control of our lives. Remember the famous saying by comedian Flip Wilson, “The Devil made me do it?” Well, there’s truth in that statement, not totally, but there is some truth to that statement. We naturally serve the Devil. No, we don’t think of it that way, but every time we sin or disobey God and God’s law, we are in one sense serving the cause of Satan, because he is leading a revolt and rebellion against God. He first recruited angels to revolt against God a long time ago, thousands of years ago, before recorded history. But then, if that wasn’t enough, he recruited people too, starting first with Adam and Eve, who he tempted to disobey God and commit the original sin. Ever since that time, Satan has been recruiting all humans to rebel with him and the fallen angels in opposing God. We all start out on Satan’s side in rebellion against God, and unless something happens or someone intervenes, we’ll live and die in rebellion against God, and we’ll share eternity with the Devil in hell. But thank God Jesus died on the cross to save sinners like you and me, and to rescue us from the power of Satan. Jesus said, “I have come to seek and save that which was lost.” He’s talking about you and me – we are the lost ones that he came to save. Has Jesus saved you from the control of Satan? Have you been brought out of the darkness into the light of God? Have you had your eyes opened? Have you been healed of your spiritual blindness? In a minute, I’ll explain how you can tell if you have or if you haven’t yet.

Fourth, everyone is guilty of sin and needs forgiveness; everyone is condemned and needs saved. Acts 27:17-18, “I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” We are blind, we need to see; we are in darkness, we need to come into the light; we are controlled by the Devil, we need to be set free to live for God, and finally, we are guilty and condemned to hell, but we need to be forgiven and saved from hell. When I think of this I think of a guilty and condemned prisoner who is on his way to the electric chair or, as it was in the wild, wild west in the old days, the hangman’s noose. The trial is over, all the evidence has been presented, all the arguments for and against the man have been given, the jury has rendered the guilty verdict, and the judge has given the sentence according to the laws of the land – death. The guilty and condemned man is walking towards the electric chair – like in the movie Dead Man Walking. But the truth is that we are all dead men walking. We are guilty of sin, we are condemned to hell, and the only thing separating us from eternal damnation is time, whether that’s months, years, or decades. But unless something happens between our birth into this world and our death leaving this world, we are dead men walking, it’s just a matter of time. But imagine that dead man walking, that guilty and condemned criminal is brought to the electric chair to meet his final end, he’s strapped in, the switch is about to be thrown and thousands of volts will enter his body and send his soul into eternity, but imagine at the last second word reaches the officials that the governor has pardoned the guilty man! He’s received a stay of execution and a pardon. The man can walk free! Can you think of any better news for that man than to be pardoned. That’s just what God has done for us. We are the condemned man, the dead man walking, we will face the ultimate death – the destruction of our soul in hell because we’ve already been found guilty and condemned. But through Christ’s death on the cross in our place on our behalf, we are offered a pardon, all we have to do is turn from our rebellion against God and accept the pardon. Do you realize you are a dead man walking? Do you realize that your sins make you guilty before God? Do you realize that your guilt will lead you to condemnation in hell? Do you realize that unless Christ pardons you it will happen, guaranteed? Do you turn away from your rebellion and accept Christ’s pardon on your behalf? Have you embraced Christ and his salvation for your soul? Let’s find out if you have. There’s a way to know if you really have fully embraced Christ’s pardon. My last point.

Fifth, everyone who has repented of their sins and trusted in Christ will bear evidence of it by their changed life. Acts 27:20, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” Paul was given a commission to preach the gospel by God and this is what he preached: one, that people should repent of their sins; two, that they should turn in faith to God; three, that if they had truly done so their lives would different and it would be easy for people to see that they had converted. Is it easy for people to see that you are a Christian convert? Does your life show your conversion? I’m reminded of the funny story of the evangelist Billy Graham walking down the street of a large city in the U.S. like New York during the height of his popularity in the 50s. Suddenly from out of the side ally a homeless drunk stumbles out on the sidewalk and recognizes Billy and come up to him and speaks: “You’re Billy Graham aren’t you? I got saved in your New York crusade years ago and since that day my life’s never been the same. I’m a changed man.” Well, obviously, that man’s testimony to a changed life is practically worthless. Obviously whatever happened to that man it wasn’t something that profoundly changed his life, or else he wouldn’t be in the gutter a drunken bum. That man needs help, but it doesn’t help for him to think that he got saved, that God changed his life, when in reality nothing has changed except now he’s more mixed up than he was before. Well, that’s just the way a lot of people are today, although they aren’t as visibly messed up as that man. According to statistics, 1/3 of all adults in the United States are born again Christians. But if that figure were true, things would look a lot different. According to another statistic, ½ of all born again Christian couples divorce, but again, if this is true, something is terribly wrong with the Christian faith. Where is the evidence of conversion? Paul says, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” Do you want to know if you are truly saved? Look at the evidences of your life. Are you bearing the fruit of repentance and faith? If you claim to be Christian, where is your fruit? If you claim to be an apple tree, show me the apples. If you claim to be an orange tree, show us the oranges. If you claim to be a Christian convert, like Paul says, prove it by your deeds. As James says in the Bible, “Faith without works is dead.” Now let’s be clear – nobody is perfect, everybody fails. But a true Christian confesses his or her sins quickly, repents of them – that means turns away from them – and recommits his or her life back to God. Is that what you do when you sin? Or do you try to make excuses and defend yourself? We are all sinners; there are just some of us who confess, repent and are forgiven, and others of us who need to do so. Which one are you today? If you need to get right with God today, let’s pray. Please pray with me.

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