Paul’s letter to the Roman’s is believed to have been written during a three-month stopover in Corinth on his way to Jerusalem. Paul hadn’t been to Rome yet and may have been laying the ground work for his intended preaching of the gospel there. Paul talked about many of the basics of his gospel message including God’s plan of salvation and righteousness for all mankind (The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans, Introduction pp. 1613-1614). In his elaborate theological essay to the Romans, Paul covered pretty much every doctrinal base by touching on such topics as: “sin, salvation, grace, faith, righteousness, justification, sanctification, redemption, death, resurrection and glorification.” Paul began his letter to the Romans by identifying himself as “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel” (Romans 1:1).
Paul often referred to himself as being called to be an apostle and noted that all believers are called into God’s kingdom. The Greek word Paul used in Romans 1:1 that is translated called, kletos (klay-tos’) means invited (G2822). Paul was pointing out that God is the initiator in the relationship and that we have to respond in order to be saved. Another word Paul used that is also translated called in Romans 4:17 is kaleo (kal-eh’-o). Kaleo means “to call (properly aloud but used in a variety of applications directly or otherwise)” (G2564). The Greek word kaleo is usually used to specify what something is called. For example, it says of Jesus’ birth in Matthew 1:21 , “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS.”
Paul’s conversion, which is recorded in Acts 9:4-5, indicated that Jesus called Paul by name when he confronted him on the road to Damascus. It states: “Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'” One of the unusual characteristics of Paul’s encounter with Jesus was that he didn’t recognize the voice of the person speaking to him. It is possible that Paul’s understanding of his conversion was that he was involuntarily recruited to be God’s servant. That may have been why Paul pointed out numerous times that he was called to be an apostle rather than choosing the position for himself.
Jesus described his attempt to convert Paul as a goad and said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” (Acts 9:5). The picture Jesus was most likely painting for Paul was one of a donkey that bucks against his masters’ prompting to move forward. In other words, Jesus was implying that Paul was acting like a stubborn mule. The Greek word translated goads, kintron is used figuratively to signify divine impulse, “‘a prick,” Acts 9:5; 26:14, said of the promptings and conscience ‘stings’ which Saul of Tarsus felt before conversion, possibly at approving and witnessing the stoning death of Stephen” (G2759). Even though God prompts us to answer his calling, he doesn’t force us to be converted. We must respond voluntarily to the divine impulse that draws us into God’s kingdom.