Are you a biography collector? To varying degrees we’re all interested in the lives of others, not in a neck craning, ‘peeking over the fence fashion’ necessarily, but more out of a genuine intrigue in the life story of others. Sometimes we’re fascinated purely out of interest, other times it’s an overt search for inspiration.
This week at Stonehaven Baptist Church we looked at chapter 26 of the New Testament’s book of Acts and the outlining of Paul’s biography as espoused from his own mouth. In order to avoid execution, he was having to make a case for his life story before the king of the age (Agrippa). Get this wrong and he’d be toast.
He delivered his account humbly, confessing his regret over a very strict religious past that had found him persecuting those who didn’t believe in his religion. He’d gleefully rounded up and had put to death those people who considered themselves Christians, ie. followers of Jesus. His religion vehemently opposed the notion that Jesus was who he said he was, the son of God, and they wanted him done away with. But, he was on his way to Damascus to persecute yet more people when he had a direct encounter with God, struck blind with a piercing light. God then spoke to him and guided his life from that day forth. Paul turned full circle, professing a faith in the Jesus he once abhorred and choosing to spend the remainder of his life serving.
There are a couple of things we can learn from, and be inspired by, in Paul’s story. First, being religious isn’t a good thing. To put our faith in rules and regulations rather than putting our trust in God himself, is folly. Many rules are man made not God breathed, statutes set up by haughty people with lofty opinions of their own self importance without reference to God’s will. Such people impose laws to control others, using religion as their leverage. Merely obeying laws is not what God’s about, he’s full of abounding forgiveness and there’s nothing we can do with our behaviour, regardless of how loyal we perceive ourselves to be, that earns his favour. We don’t have to follow rules to be loved by God.
That though doesn’t mean we live an ‘anything goes’ lifestyle, it’s not a free hit allowing us to behave recklessly. The second aspect of inspiration to be drawn by Paul’s life is gleaned from his manner of living after his road to Damascus conversion. Only when he met with God and experienced his love and forgiveness did Paul find himself choosing to live in a way that honoured him. And the same goes for Christians today, it’s about a relationship with our creator. Living well is more an act of gratitude than obedience. We’re so thankful for the forgiveness God gives us through his son Jesus’s atoning death, that we devote ourselves to him.
Footballers inspire the young, so do celebrities and all kinds of people from all walks of life. Some carry out great acts of kindness and generate wealth for charities and who could deny them the acclaim they receive? But in terms of inspiration, Paul is a front running role model since he lived according to his close relationship with God and signposted people to the true author of love; Jesus. Paul welcomed folk not to himself but to Jesus and, by living a life of faith, we can too.