Christians will be tempted to understand Paul’s words differently than an unbeliever would. (Remember that Paul is talking to a group of unbelievers.) He is not preaching “easy believism” or “cheap grace.” Like our Lord, Paul wants it to be very clear that trusting in Him puts you on a very different path. Unbelievers are walking a path of darkness; when they are “re-born,” it will be a path of light. They are on a path leading to death; it will then be a path leading to life. They were on a path that was under Satan’s control; they will then be on a path of submission and service to Yehoveh. Before they walked a path of ease and comfort; now will be a path where they must “take up their cross” and follow Jesus. Faith in Jesus is a change in direction that will lead every disciple through opposition and persecution. That, I believe, is what Paul wants potential believers to know. There is no “bait and switch” in Paul’s gospel, just as there in the message the Lord preached:
“‘As they were walking along the road, someone said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have dens and the birds in the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.’ Jesus said to another, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’ Yet another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord, but first let me say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus said to him, ‘No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’” —Luke 9:57-62
There is a story of someone who had come to Campus Crusade for Christ hoping to join their ministry teams. When he learned he was required to seek his own support, he left saying, “I can make more money on my own.” If that is where you heart is, or if you are going to look at your reputation; if you are going to hesitant because of what your friends and family will think; if you are going to try to argue your way out of the decision—then stay away. The gospel is a call to repentance. This explains the Jewish opposition to Paul and to his preaching. Paul’s adversaries thought everything was fine the way it was, just as they interpreted and applied the Law of Moses. The problem is that the Law was never given to provide lost sinners a way to attain righteousness on their own; the Law was given to show men how sinful they are, and that they need the righteousness, which only comes through faith in the Messiah:
“For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (which is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed – namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” —Romans 3:20-23
It’s not the keeping of Jewish commands (keeping the Law of Moses), nor the ritualistic observance of Jewish ceremonies, that saves. It’s the sacrificial death of Jesus of Nazareth in the sinner’s place. It’s His resurrection from the dead. It’s faith in Him that saves. The gospel Paul preached required self-righteous Jews to forsake their works and to cling to the work of Jesus at Calvary. To an unbelieving Jew, renouncing your trust in law-keeping was abhorrent. And because this was what Paul’s preaching required, his Jewish opponents wanted to kill him—shoot, it’s easier to silence the messenger than heed the message.
This, Paul explains, is why the Jews seized him in the temple and sought to kill him. But God was with Paul, protecting him, just as He had promised. That’s why Paul is still alive, standing before this elite group today.
Paul’s message seems so radical, and on the surface seems so opposed to Judaism. Is it because Paul has cast aside the Old Testament Law and the writings of the prophets? Not at all! In reality, Paul’s message is precisely what the Law and the Prophets taught. It’s not Paul who’s departed from the Scriptures, but rather his adversaries. The Old Testament prophets told them that the Christ (the Messiah) would suffer and die, and then be the first to rise from the dead, to proclaim “light” to Jews and Gentiles alike, but it didn’t fit the paradigm they set up.
If interested, you can download the entire study of The Story of Acts