I remember hearing the story of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer’s prison salvation shortly before his death. I was so confused that someone who seemed so unworthy by all earthly standards (someone so cruel and deeply evil) could possibly experience a true conversion.
But the life of Paul the Apostle is the perfect reminder that the blood of Jesus is capable of washing away the dirtiest of sin-stains. Salvation is not limited to the bounds of our human understanding and those we deem worthy.
Many Christians know Paul through the 13 epistles he wrote to the Church and to Timothy and Titus. These letters comprise much of the New Testament, and through them we learn about Paul’s life, his conversion from Christian persecutor to persecuted Christian, and his ministry to the early Church.
And of course we learn much about the life of faith that we are called by God to live.
How much do you know about Paul?
Here’s a Biblical fact list about Paul. See how many you already know:
- Prior to his conversion, we know Paul by his Jewish name, Saul.
- He was from Tarsus, Cilicia – modern day Turkey. (Acts 22:3)
- He was a pharisee and was zealous for God. (Acts 22:3)
- He was born a Roman Citizen. (Acts 22:28)
- Paul hated Christians and wanted to stop their movement. (Acts 7:54- 8:1-3, Acts 22:4-5)
- Jesus appeared to Saul and that’s how he became a Believer. (Acts 9:1-22)
- God called Paul to be a missionary. Paul went on three journeys to carry the gospel through the Roman Empire. (Recorded in the Book of Acts.)
- Thirteen New Testament books are attributed to him.
- Paul was a bold preacher and teacher. Though beaten, stoned, and persecuted for his faith, he did not stop.
- Though he walked faithfully with God for many, many years, Paul considered himself the “chief of sinners.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
- He lived a humble life, serving others, and glorifying the Son, not himself. (Philippians 1:21-26)
- Paul was imprisoned in Rome and wrote several New Testament books in chains. (Colossians 4:18)
- After several years in prison, Paul was executed about 67 A.D. by Emperor Nero, likely at a similar time as Peter. (While Peter was crucified upside down, Paul likely died by sword because it was illegal to execute Roman citizens.)
Though not one of the 12 Disciples, Paul was called by God to be an Apostle to the Gentiles. He traveled throughout the Roman Empire, teaching the Gospel message boldly and unashamedly. Most of his letters were written to Gentile converts to Christianity who were in established local churches, and three were written to pastors of churches. His letters encouraged the Believers there, and instructed them in deeper matters of faith.
His personal transparency and unabashed desire to follow God both touch and inspire me. I’m sure you agree that reading Paul’s letters weren’t meant to only encourage his original audience; they’re meant to encourage and instruct us, too! Without his ministry to the Gentiles, letting them know that Jesus came to save everyone (not just Jews), you and I might not be here sharing faith and worshipping our loving God together.
I once heard that Paul was one of the greatest writers ever of logical reasoning. His words are always direct and well thought out. His intellect was magnificent and is definitely evident in His writing, but yet, we don’t have to be mensa members to understand what he’s saying. He writes in a way that’s deeply intelligent, but simple, clear, and understandable. (I can see why God inspired him to pen His words!)
And not only did Paul write with logic and intellect, he wrote with emotion and passion. The epistles to the Church aren’t dry bits of academia; they are filled with God’s love and Spirit. They are the written words of God, penned by man. Paul’s passion for the Lord, love for the Church, and heart for lost sinners all shine through his works.
One of Paul’s main themes is that man is saved by grace through faith. This makes total sense when considering these two things: the grace God poured out in sending His Son to save the world, and Paul’s audience of Gentiles.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
In Old Testament times, justification with God happened through the keeping of the law — or by behavior. But Paul explained that because of Jesus’ sacrifice, justification now came by faith in the death and resurrection of our Savior.
If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
But justification by faith wasn’t all Paul wrote about. He also wrote about living a transparent life of sacrifice to God (Romans 12:1), wrote to teach that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9), shared the Gospel message, taught about grace (Ephesians 2), sanctification (1 Corinthians), liberation (Galatians), and encouraged Christians to think. (1 Corinthians 14:20 and 2 Tim 2:7)
Though Paul called himself the “chief of sinners” he is often now referred to as “the Apostle of Grace.” And considering the grace which God showed in saving this murderous persecutor, and the great grace of God which Paul wanted to share with the world, I’d say it’s a very appropriate title.
Oh, what marvelous grace is shown through the blood and forgiveness of Jesus!
How have Paul’s epistles touched your heart? Do you have a favorite book or verse penned by him?