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Enrich your spiritual thinking.

UCG IA Bible Insights Thursday, September 15 2022

How Paul described his thinking before conversion

Romans 8:6-8 — For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.

How Paul described his thinking before conversion
Apostle Paul, painted by Rembrandt in 1633. Currently located in the Kunsthistorisches Museum. (Wikimedia Commons)

Does the apostle Paul's description in Romans 8:6-8 of human resistance to God's principles apply to you and me?

Absolutely! What Paul learned about himself is exactly what we must learn about ourselves.

From childhood Paul believed in the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. But he—like all other human beings—was naturally inclined to be overly confident of his own opinions and self-discipline.

He explains, "If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! For I was circumcised when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish family that is a branch of the tribe of Benjamin. So I am a real Jew if there ever was one!"

"What's more, I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. And zealous? Yes, in fact, I harshly persecuted the church. And I obeyed the Jewish law so carefully that I was never accused of any fault" (Philippians 3:4-6, New Living Translation).

Paul had observed the letter of God's law with a devotion rarely seen. But like all people—sincere or not—he was woefully unaware of how far-reaching his self-deception had become. Only after being shown that he was persecuting people who really were living by the principles that he thought he was defending did he understand his spiritual blindness.

"I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful [Paul never lacked sincerity, zeal or dedication] and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer [of Christ's name], a persecutor [of people living a godly life], and a man of violence.

"But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost" (1 Timothy 1:12-15, NRSV).

In complete sincerity Paul had believed that persecuting people with beliefs distinct from his convictions—causing them to suffer and even having some of them put to death—was justifiable and pleasing to God. Therefore, he presents himself to us as an example of one whose understanding of God's will and purpose was woefully incomplete. He had not grasped how wrong he could be.

He came to see that instead of being righteous, he was persecuting people more righteous than he was. This he did because of his ignorance of what really matters to God. It wasn't the Holy Scriptures—which Paul had sincerely attempted to practice—that distorted his understanding. Rather it was the prejudice by which he had interpreted those biblical teachings.

Naturally, we are no different! And we would be foolish to think that we are! Only those who surrender their will to God and let Him transform their thinking and behavior (as He did Paul's) will cease being contributors to the combined suffering of the whole world.