“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (v. 16). - Romans 1:16–17
Scholars have speculated that the mind of the apostle Paul was so keen that he still would be recognized today as one of the leading thinkers of the first century even if he had not been converted to Christianity. It was this outstanding Christian thinker that Christ used to lead the expansion of His church across Asia Minor and southern Europe to the walls of Rome.
Paul’s thought is strongly shaped by his character. Dr. John H. Gerstner has used Paul’s name to focus attention on four characteristics of Paul that starkly define him. Paul, he says, was Polluted: He called himself the chief of sinners and never considered himself to have attained sufficient sanctification; Agonizing: He pressed hard against inner obstacles to conform to the image of Christ (see Rom. 7); Uncompromising: He absolutely believed that no one could have fellowship with God apart from Jesus Christ; and Loving: He said love is the fulfillment of God’s law and must motivate all keeping of the law. Some may find the final two points contradictory, but as Gerstner notes, Paul was loving in that he was uncompromising, for if the Gospel is indispensible, it is loving to be uncompromising about it. After all, souls depend on it.
Some major tenets of Paul’s theology, according to Gerstner, are:
Christ is Lord and God. In Romans 1:4, Paul displays the apostolic emphasis on the Resurrection when he says that Jesus was “declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.” He also clearly asserts that Christ is God (Rom. 9:5), yet He is a distinct person with a distinct mission (Phil. 2:5–11).
God is sovereign in grace. He says that “God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us … made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4–5). And “it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy” (Rom. 9:16).
God reveals Himself in the Bible. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God …” (2 Tim. 3:16a).
The reality of God’s wrath. “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men …” (2 Cor. 5:11a).
Paul was a unique vessel prepared by God for a unique task. His inspired work has been the foundation for many of the church’s theological tenets for two thousand years. Scan through Acts 9 through 28. List ways Paul contributed to the expansion of the church. What obstacles did he face? What is his legacy for the church?
Passages for Further Study
- Acts 26:4–23
- 1 Cor. 15:9–11
- Gal. 1:11–24
- Phil. 3:3–11
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