Paul was a first century Jew. Though born in Tarsus, Cilicia (Acts 21:39), at an early age he moved to Jerusalem [a few hundred miles from Tarsus]. As a young person, he studied under the Jewish Rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). He became a zealous, totally committed Jewish man. He was a Pharisee, a "Hebrew of Hebrews," devoted to the Jewish law (Philippians 3:5). Given his pre-Christian focus and Pharisaism's first century focus, there is little reason to doubt that he refused to personally associate with idol worshippers.
Before he became a Christian, Paul was a deeply religious person. He was a devout Jew who seemingly was in preparation to be a Jewish Rabbi. He was a Pharisee which means he was devoted (a) to all Old Testament scripture as God's authority, (b) to Jewish laws of ritual purity, and (c) to confidence in the world and beings existing beyond this physical world. He considered it religious duty and responsibility to associate only with Jews, and perhaps only with devout Jews.
Paul was an isolationist Jew. Yet, God made him the Christian apostle to people who were not Jews (Galatians 2:7,8). Most Bible students accept this fact without thinking. Has that strange situation challenged your thinking? Pre-Christian Paul was a Jew of conservative perspectives. He arrested and voted for the deaths of Jews who violated his conservative perspectives (see Acts 8:1; 22:4; 26:9-11). This inflexible Jew refused to tolerate fellow Jews who believed Jesus was the Christ! Yet, later, he was Jesus' apostle to people who were not even Jews!
Paul's Christian mission included converting people who were not Jews to Jesus Christ. After meeting Christ, Paul spent much of his Christian life associating with and teaching people who were not Jews. He associated with and taught people after he became a Christian whom he rejected before he became a Christian.
The gulf between conservative Palestinian Jews and idol worshippers in the Roman empire was enormous! Devout Jews regulated all aspects of life by God's scripture. They knew God's moral values. They knew the divine principles that served as God's foundation for ethical decisions. True, many first century Jews misunderstood God's priorities. Yet, they correctly identified the living God and were exposed to His will.
The spiritual advantage of the first century Jew was found in the fact that he or she knew the Living Creator God. It was unnecessary for the Jews to learn and understand who God was before they learned God's will in Jesus Christ. People converted from idolatry needed to learn who God was if they were to learn God's will in Jesus Christ.
Many idol worshippers did not correctly identify the Living God and were not exposed to His will. Many of them had no knowledge of God. Many of them never studied God's scripture. To many of them, God's moral values and ethical principles were unknown concepts. To many of them, sexual immorality [including homosexuality] could be considered godly. Abusing others could be considered ethical. Deceit could be considered virtuous.
For the idol worshipper converted to Christ, often there was as much to unlearn as to learn. Incorrect concepts about divinity and morality needed to be abandoned before new concepts could be developed.
The point: when many who were not Jews were converted to Jesus Christ, they had to learn a new concept of character and a new understanding of integrity. Often their understanding of good and evil had to be reversed. Matters that devout Jewish Christians understood to be moral disaster might be accepted as moral goodness by Christians converted from idolatry. Often Paul's statements to Christians converted from idolatry focused on their misunderstanding of godly character and integrity (consider Galatians 5:16-26 and Colossians 3:1-17).
Many who became Christians in the first century had numerous incorrect, ungodly concepts when their faith in Christ resulted in baptism into Christ. Repentance began at conversion. Paul's epistles make it evident that the understandings and views of many Christians were in the ongoing process of change after conversion. Even basic concepts of right and wrong had to be "relearned" after conversion to Christ.
To illustrate this all too frequent problem among converts from idolatry, consider some situations addressed in Ephesians.
Read Ephesians 2.
Their sins and violations of God's law killed them. They were dead. They were guided and controlled by spiritual forces other than God. These forces produced people who rebelled against God. Their lifestyle was controlled by self-indulgence. Their physical desires dictated their behavior and thoughts. They deserved God's severest form of anger. Spiritually and morally, they alienated themselves from God.
God made it possible for these spiritually dead people to be forgiven and made spiritually alive. He did it because (1) His enormous love expressed itself through His mercy (2) allowing God's grace to save them. Through Jesus' resurrection, God allowed them to be raised to life. Life was sustained in them because they were seated with Jesus.
They could take no credit for being made alive in Christ. It was God's work, not theirs. By placing their trust in God's goodness, they received God's gift of salvation. God produced salvation through Jesus' cross and resurrection. Their obedient response only accepted what God offered them in Christ.
They were God's workmanship, God's creation. God created them in Christ Jesus for the purpose of doing good works. Their good works was not the source of their salvation. Doing God's good works was their means of expressing appreciation for their salvation. These good works were not an afterthought of God. These good works were God's intent before Jesus died and was resurrected. They were to characterize the new lifestyle of these people who were created anew in Christ.
God planned those good works "beforehand" or prior to the existence of salvation in Christ. Read 1:3-6 and observe Paul's emphasis on God's purpose and planning prior to the "foundation of the world."
No. The good works expressed their appreciation for God's gift of salvation. Note Paul's emphasis in verse 8. The good works were not an attempt to earn salvation. They were in response to understanding their new purpose in Christ.
No. A Christian's refusal to do God's good works is rebellion. Rebellion made them dead in their sins and trespasses (verse 1). Reverting to an existence of rebellion could never be an expression of appreciation for God's gift of salvation.
At that time in that condition, they were separated from Christ and excluded from God's people. They had (1) no covenant with God, (2) no hope, and (3) no association with God.
Jesus Christ made it possible for these Christians to belong to God. He made it possible for them to be at peace with God. His blood brought them near God. He destroyed the barrier that separated them from God's people.
These Christians, who were not Jews, were no longer non-citizens. They, with all Christians, were fellow citizens in God's nation as a part of God's family. Their spiritual existence was founded on the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ being the cornerstone. Now they were a part of God's living temple that contained God's Spirit.
Read Ephesians 4:1-24. The first ten verses contain a plea from Paul to these Christians at Ephesus to preserve unity and peace.
The roles of service listed are those of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors (shepherds), and teachers.
Those roles existed to equip Christians for the work of serving. That would result in the building up of Christ's body.
The goal of these roles was to move Christians toward (1) unity of the faith, (2) knowledge of God's Son [knowing the person, not merely knowing facts about the person], and (3) maturity that reflected the fullness of Christ.
Attaining the goal would produce mature spiritual people rather than children. They would cease being easily influenced by ungodly forces or easily deceived by changing doctrines, human trickery, and deceitful scheming.
Attaining the goal also would result in Christians who loved and spoke truth, who grew up in Christ, and who allowed Christ to control them as the head.
They would love so that the entire body could build itself up in love.
Note the natural link coupling knowledge of our identity in Christ and Christian character and integrity.
They would not live as godless people lived. They would not surrender their minds to (1) futile thinking, (2) understandings arising from darkness, or (3) alienation from God. They would not allow (1) ignorance of God and His will or (2) hard-heartedness to determine who they were or how they behaved. They would not be a people without feelings or concerns for other people. They would not allow sensual, impure, greedy people or influences to determine how they behaved.
That is not the way Christ taught them to live. Christ taught them to live differently.
They would abandon their old, pre-Christian existence, learn to think in different ways, and be the person Christ created them to be. They were created in God's likeness, righteousness, and holiness of truth.
The "old self" was their pre-Christian lifestyle. They would deliberately abandon those ways of using life.
They would renew their thinking. They would learn a different way to think.
They would put on the new self. This new self was created in God's likeness, righteousness, and the holiness of truth.
Link to Student Guide Lesson 10
previous page | table of contents | next lesson