Psalm 117:1, 2
It is so easy to be self-righteous. We pat ourselves on the back for our fidelity to practicing our faith conscientiously, secretly indulging the thought that God is lucky we are so faithful. We imagine, falsely, that our fidelity to Christ and our goodness flow only from our personal efforts. We don't acknowledge the role of God's grace in our goodness.
Paul knew differently! He knew his initial conversion to Christ and his continual fidelity in serving Christ flowed totally from God's grace and that he had done nothing to merit it -- indeed just the opposite. The Acts of the Apostles tells us that Saul was "breathing murderous threats against the disciples" and was seeking permission to arrest those "living according to the new way." The Acts of the Apostles also notes that Saul was present at the martyrdom of Stephen and "concurred in the act of killing."
Saul learned the truth of God's initiative in faith on the way to Damascus when the Lord interrupted his journey, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Paul responded to the Lord's initiative and was filled with the Holy Spirit, baptized and then began to proclaim that Jesus was the Son of God. All Paul's letters emphasize his realization that God takes the initiative in salvation through freely given grace.
We Westerners need Paul's insight. We don't realize that our faith, like Paul's, is a gift freely given by God and never earned or merited -- indeed the greatest gift God has given us. Fortunately, like Paul, we also have chosen to respond to this gift. Our proper attitude toward this gift -- indeed any gift -- is gratitude, never self-righteousness.
Until we grasped this truth we will never know how much God loves
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