Called

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.

Life after death

Paul’s summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15 concluded with an identification of the ultimate reason for believing in Christ. He stated, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:13-14, ESV). Paul went on to say, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Life after death was a key issue in Paul’s gospel message. His primary concern was a misconception that death marked the end of physical life. The Greek word translated resurrection, anastasis means literally “to cause to stand up on one’s feet again” (G386). Paul made it clear that physical death was a temporary state of human existence that would eventually be eliminated. He said about Jesus’ triumph over death, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26, ESV).

Paul used the analogy of a seed to explain the difference between our natural and spiritual bodies and stated, “Someone will say, ‘How are the dead raised? What kind of bodies will they have?’ What a foolish question! When you plant a seed, it must die before it starts new life. When you put it in the earth, you are not planting the body which it will become. You put in only a seed. It is God Who gives it a body just as He wants it to have. Each kind of seed becomes a different kind of body.” (1 Corinthians 15:35-38, NLV). Paul likened the transformation that occurs when a seed is changed into a plant to what happens when our natural bodies are resurrected. Paul pointed out that our resurrected bodies will have an unending existence (1 Corinthians 15:42). and then he stated, “I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable” (1 Corinthians 15:50, ESV)

Paul’s description of the resurrection of the dead was framed in the context of a mystery or a divine revelation that can only be understood with the help of the Holy Spirit (G3466). He said, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and we shall be changed” (1 Corinthians 15:51-52). The Greek term Paul used that is translated sleep, koimao (koy-mah’-o) means “to put to sleep” and refers to the phase of sleep when you are still fully conscious (G2837). Koimao is used figuratively to represent the death of Christians because there is no loss of consciousness when our spirits are temporarily separated from our human bodies. Paul concluded his discussion of life after death by connecting the resurrection of the dead with Isaiah’s prophecy about God’s completed work of salvation (Isaiah 25:8). He stated, “‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57 ESV).

Good news!

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians included many topics that are relevant to Christians today. In 1 Corinthians, Paul outlined the basics of what every believer needs to know in order to be successful at following Christ. One of the important things Paul talked about was the content of the gospel message that he had been preaching throughout Asia. Paul started with the statement, “I declare unto you the gospel” (1 Corinthians 15:1). What this meant was that Paul was certifying the content of his gospel. In other words, Paul was saying his gospel message was the real deal, it was guaranteed to produce results in converting people to Christ. The Greek word translated gospel, euaggelizo (yoo-ang-ghel-id’-zo) means “to announce good news” or evangelize (G2097).

Paul believed the gospel of Jesus Christ was not only good news, it was the best news anyone could receive: “You are saved from the punishment of sin” (1 Corinthians 15:2, NLV). Paul conveyed his gospel message in four relatively short sentences. He stated:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV)

The three central points of Paul’s gospel message were that Jesus died, he was buried, and he was raised on the third day. Jesus’ appearance to numerous witnesses was a means of not only verifying, but also validating his resurrection. One of Jesus’ skeptical disciples said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Thomas had either seen or heard about the wounds Jesus received during his crucifixion and was convinced that Jesus had actually died on the cross. Thomas’ request for validation of Jesus’ resurrection seems reasonable under the circumstances. After Thomas request was met, Jesus told him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Paul understood that the only way a person could be saved was by the grace of God. In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul stated, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8, NKJV). Paul told the Corinthians that he had been saved by God specifically for the purpose of preaching the gospel (1 Corinthians 15:10), and then he added, “It makes no difference how you heard the Good News. It could have been through the other missionaries or through me. The important thing is this: We preached the Good News to you and you believed it” (1 Corinthians 15:11, NLV).

Justified by faith

Paul was a change agent of sorts because even after Jesus died and was resurrected, his disciples didn’t seem to fully comprehend what he had done for them. Liberty was a foreign concept to the Jews. The temple that the Jews worshipped in was designed to constantly remind them that they were separated from God by their sin. After Jesus died and was resurrected, the Jews, and everyone else, had free access to God. There wasn’t anything they could do from that point forward that wouldn’t be forgiven.

One of the problems the Jewish people had was continuing to think of themselves as God’s chosen or special people. They thought a barrier still existed between God and man. The idea that anyone could freely enter into the presence of God was beyond the Jews’ comprehension. Paul felt it was his responsibility to correct this erroneous thinking. Paul wanted the Jewish people to understand that they were no longer special. That was why they didn’t like Paul’s message and tried to kill him.

One of the ways the Jewish people tried to stop Paul’s gospel message from being accepted was to say that he had made it up, that it wasn’t really true. What he was preaching was so radical that Paul was reluctant to share his message with certain people. It took him 14 years to grow strong enough in his faith that he was willing to confront the leaders of the church in Jerusalem. Peter, especially, was a problem for Paul because everyone trusted Peter and believed everything he said was directly from the Lord.

Finally, when Paul made it back to Jerusalem, he said straight out, God has spoken this message to me and I am obligated to share it with you (Galatians 2:2). “And when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship” (Galatians 2:9). Everyone finally agreed that Paul should take his message to the people outside of Israel so that they could become Christians too.

Later, Peter came to visit Paul in a city where he was preaching. Peter stirred up trouble by acting like Paul was doing something wrong. Paul confronted Peter and told him to his face that he was being a hypocrite. The dispute between these two men was about whether or not a person could work his way into heaven. Paul said, “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.