Shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus, a young man named Saul threw himself into the effort to stamp out what he saw as a blasphemous group: those who said that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah. After participating in the stoning of Stephen,1 Saul was not content to persecute Christians in Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2 tell us:
But Saul, still breathing threatening and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked for letters from him to Damascus for the synagogues, so that if he found any who were of the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
What Saul breathed out, what was in him, was murder.
Of course, within a few verses, Saul’s life changed absolutely. He encountered a resurrected Jesus in the heavens who told Saul that his persecution was not simply against some scattered and deceived Jews, but against “Me”,2 the Christ who was one with His believers. Saul became a life-long lover and servant of Jesus Christ. How could a man so set spend his life advancing the Way he had opposed? With his name changed to Paul, Saul wrote the epistle to the Romans, which I’ve been appreciating with the help of the footnotes in the Recovery Version of the New Testament.3 The note on the word Christ in Romans 1:1 says:
This book explains how the individual Christ revealed in the four Gospels could become the corporate Christ revealed in Acts, collectively composed of Himself with all the believers. By means of the facts in the Scriptures and the experience in the Holy Spirit, Paul shows us that God’s New Testament economy is to make sinners sons of God and members of Christ to constitute the Body of Christ to express Him.
As the note points out, this is a letter not simply about conversion, but about God’s purpose. Paul was clear that he had gone from being a sinner to being a son of God, even a member of Christ’s Body. But how could this be? Paul speaks of “the gospel of God,” the good news for which he had been called and sent. Many of us may be familiar with the gospel of forgiveness by God’s grace through faith in Christ’s redemption, and this is clearly presented in the book of Romans. However, as the note on the word gospel explains:
The gospel of God, as the subject of this book, concerns Christ as the Spirit living within the believers after His resurrection. This is higher and more subjective than what was presented in the Gospels, which concern Christ only in the flesh as He lived among His disciples after His incarnation but before His death and resurrection. This book, however, reveals that Christ has resurrected and has become the life-giving Spirit (8:9-10). He is no longer merely the Christ outside the believers, but He is now the Christ within them. Hence, the gospel in this book is the gospel of the One who is now indwelling His believers as their subjective Savior.
Paul was someone who knew Christ in this way. Christ lived in him,4 he was one spirit with the Lord,5 and he helped people to know Jesus by calling on His name.6 As the Spirit, Jesus Christ was breathable!
In the weeks and months ahead, I’m looking forward to posting more of my appreciation and enjoyment of the epistle to the Romans. Whatever we’ve been breathing, let’s breathe more of Jesus!
- Acts 7:58-60; 8:1.
- Acts 9:3-5.
- Available to browse online at http://online.recoveryversion.org. A physical copy is available free of charge by Bibles for America at http://biblesforamerica.org.
- Galatians 2:20.
- 1 Corinthians 6:17.
- Romans 10:8-13.