15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, 16 was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.
When a man recognizes his own inability to achieve the work of salvation within his own power, he is brought low. He will see the task before him, the mountain that must be conquered, and he will feel the weight of impossibility. For Paul, this was accomplished in a moment. He was heading to prove his own righteous worth before a holy God and that God knocked Paul of course. In a moment he knelt before an unknown God, whom he had dedicated his life to study, and asked, “who are you, Lord!?” The righteous Pharisee, the persecutor of the church, the fury of the Law’s wrath was reduced to surrender and blinded in his own self-righteousness.
Such a conversion leaves nothing to the self-importance of a man. Such a conversion is a violent reduction of man’s role. Paul’s transfer from the kingdom of this world to the Kingdom of God is a sudden and vicious rejection of Paul’s offering of righteous works according to the law. Only Christ’s work will suffice to bring salvation. Paul’s language about his life in Christ reflects this great truth: that salvation is a work of God alone.
Paul acknowledges that Christ “had set [him] apart before [he] was born” (v.15). Paul’s receipt of Salvation is such that he knows that he has little to do with the victory wrought on his behalf. Before Paul was born, Christ had set the course for Paul’s eventual redemption. This loving and generous God had designated Paul to be His own. As Paul observes of Jacob and Esau in Romans 9:11 the course of election is set before the man has accomplished any deed. Consider the grace present in this picture: God sees that the intention of Paul is entirely wicked, murderous, and determined self-righteous works and still God sets him apart for the greatest glory. God’s redemption was set in motion before Paul ever took a breath.
Least we think this means that Paul was simply a robot with no meaningful choice or part in the Lord’s work of salvation, Paul follows his bold declaration of election with two verbs that describe God’s work. God’s work, though set before Paul’s birth, is calling and revealing. First, Paul is set apart. In this, he acknowledges that salvation is a work of God from the beginning. Then Paul explains that this set apart reality is manifest in a calling by God. The calling of Christ on the heart of a believer is effective. When a believer is called, he must come out. As Lazarus was compelled to defy death and come out of the tomb at the call of Jesus in John 11, so Christians are compelled to rise from our dead state and glory in the presence and glory of Jesus Christ! (For further reflection on the calling of Jesus on the heart of those who believe consider Jesus’ words in John 6:35-59.)
Note also, the calling that Paul speaks of is “in His grace” (v. 15). Paul’s calling is one of grace. He is called by God because God is good and gracious. There is no merit in Paul that derives such a lavish gift. Indeed, Paul’s own works should be met with wrath and eternal death. A holy God who is infinite and just ought to lay waste to Paul. This is mercy in the face of certain death! God bestows mercy on Paul by calling him to surrender. The Holy Lord of all creation is well within His rights to destroy everyone, and yet He offers salvation in Jesus Christ to all who will believe! This is grace. There is no earned worth in Paul’s calling, only grace.
God was “pleased to reveal his Son” to Paul (v.16). The revelation of Jesus to believers delights God! Consider that for a moment: your faith pleases God! When you see Jesus as He is, you delight the heart of the King of all things! You seeing Jesus makes God happy!
To what end was Paul saved? He was not brought to the obedience of faith in a vacuum. Each personal encounter with Christ is set in the larger context of God’s redemptive plan. You matter to God’s work. You are a part of God’s plan and you play a role in the Kingdom. Paul was redeemed for the purpose of sharing the Gospel with the Gentiles. Likewise, you have been redeemed to display the gospel for all to see. So get to work. Share the revelation of Jesus.