The other day I was talking with someone about the Bible, and they proceeded to ask me this question: “Why did Jesus choose Paul to become His disciple?” The question was in reference to Paul’s background as a Pharisee and how he strongly persecuted the early church. So as I thought about the question, two major points arose in my mind as to why I think Jesus chose to use Paul.
The first point is based off Paul’s upbringing as a Pharisee. In his letter to the Philippians Paul writes,
For we are the circumcision, who worship God in the Spirit, rejoice in Christ Jesus, and have no confidence in the flesh, though I also might have confidence in the flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eight day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (3:3-6)
Paul was perfect concerning the flesh, he was a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, perfect in the law, and he persecuted the church. But notice how Paul starts this passage, “we…who worship God in the Spirit…and have no confidence in the flesh.” Then he goes on to write, “what things that were gain to me (in the flesh) these I have counted loss for Christ” (v. 7).
My point here is that Paul, who was so perfect in the law, which he clearly deems as fleshly, has counted all that a loss for Jesus Christ. What better person to pick to demonstrate that the law has been superseded than one who was of a high ranking under the law and followed it down to the letter, yet considers it to be a loss for the sake a Christ?
Judaism was a major problem during Paul’s time, which is the purpose of this letter (and many of his others), and it is still a major problem today with movements like the Hebrew Roots Movement. Jesus chose Paul to teach others, both then and now, that Christ is so much more important than the law. We worship Christ in Spirit, whereas the law is only fleshly.
The second point that came to mind was in terms of salvation. The conversion of Paul demonstrates that anyone can come to Jesus Christ. Here you have Paul, as mentioned above, who was a strict Pharisee that persecuted and killed Christians. Acts tells us that he was “consenting to [Stephen’s] death.” And again that he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, [he] went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.”
Paul killed Christians. Plain and simple. Yet, Christ chose him to spread the gospel to the whole Gentile, Roman world. To me this demonstrates that anyone can come to Christ. I’ve heard lots of people speak of murderers in prison who are going to “rot in Hell” for the crimes they’ve committed even though they claim to have converted to Christianity while in prison. I can’t say for sure where these people’s hearts are, only God knows that, but if they have truly converted as Paul did, there is no difference between them and Paul. Would you say that Paul was in Hell? Most likely not.
All sins are wrong, whether it be murder, adultery, thievery, lying, etc. However, “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9) And Paul demonstrates that, regardless of your past you can always change and put your faith in Christ, confess your sins, and seek to do His will. Because it is God “who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Timothy 2:4)