Men must find themselves in an uncomfortable situation when they must decide whether someone who has spoken for God and proclaimed His goodness in this world is worthy of death or prison. That such a question could be raised and discussed shows the world’s state of rebellion. Paul, on the other hand, could wish with boldness that “all...should become such as I also am”; and it is in the presence of God who judges hearts and discerns all things that he makes this wish.
What characterised the apostle was: firstly, he had the certainty of his salvation and of his position before God; secondly, he greatly appreciated this position; and, thirdly, he had the love which made him desire that others should be such as he was.
The effectiveness of Christianity lies in the ability to wish that others should be such as we are. Paul desired that the judge who summoned him to court should be such as he was; for this to be so he had to have the joy of heart and the certainty that he possessed a happiness which others did not have. He did not desire that all should be apostles, but that all should be Christians. He does not speak here of a state of sanctification which he might have reached because, later, he says to the Philippians, “not that ... I am already perfected”, chap 3: 12. It was not the progress he had made but what he had in Christ that made him wish that all should be such as he was. If you have understood that Christ is yours and that you are Christ’s, if you have the communion of the Father and of the Son and the seal of the Spirit, you can wish that others might be as you are.
Paul encountered all kinds of distresses; poor prisoner, far from his friends, with chains his only portion in this world. However, even if we find ourselves in the most difficult circumstances, we can nevertheless desire, if we have Christ, that everyone should be as we are, except for the bonds and the painful circumstances. If someone were to lose his reputation, his goods and his liberty, instead of desiring that all should be as he, he would wish that no one should be like him. If a person does not have Christ, he has nothing but what the world has, nothing but what death can take away. Paul was, at the same time, the most righteous man and the greatest sinner. If a man has not broken the law, he can have boldness but not the assurance of salvation. Paul has assurance, even in calling himself the first of sinners. He is the only example of this in the word of God: he acted according to his conscience, even while persecuting. He felt compelled to make, and did make, great effort for his religion; he had a great deal of religion. His compliance was very exact, with a good conscience and irreproachable as to the law. At the same time, he was the first of sinners, for he was impelled by the greatest possible hatred against God. To the extent that religion feeds self-righteousness and pride, he was very religious. When we boast in our religion, it is nothing but pride in the presence of God. True religion is what God is for us, not what we are for God. Paul was well taught in his religion; the traditions of the Pharisees had driven him to a hatred of novelties. As soon as we limit ourselves in our religion to what man can understand and find reasonable, Christ becomes a novelty to us. It was inconceivable for man to ask God to give His Son for him; it was something entirely new and unexpected. We may pride ourselves in the religion of our ancestors, but when there is the confession that one is a sinner, without strength, the pride of man’s heart is injured. This is opposed, as his reputation is touched without the conscience being reached. Paul knew well that the name of Christ contradicted all his traditions and he would have wished, if possible, to eradicate this name from the earth. The heart rises against the idea that there should be nothing but grace for a lost world. Is there anything more sinful than to wish to eradicate the name of Christ from the world? Meanwhile, Saul was irreproachable as to the law, very exact in his religion and of good conscience. If there is anyone here in this condition, who may not have the conviction of being a sinner in his rebellion against God, may he remember that, in this state, he is lost. This is what Saul of Tarsus understood as he found himself in the presence of Christ and, if convicted of being the first of sinners, how can he wish here that all men should become in every way such as he was? It cannot be a wish that others should be sinners, nor that that they should be lost. Paul, therefore, must have found that he was saved, that there had been a response from God to this sinful state. Paul could not have been reassured by man’s righteousness, since, before God, all the righteousness of man has been weighed and He has pronounced this sentence: “There is not a righteous man, not even one”, Rom 3:10.
Saul was committed to the destruction of the name of Christ, when the Lord Jesus met him. It is a most fearful circumstance to be caught in an act of open warfare against God! Thus Saul is crushed. What becomes of his good conscience when he finds himself an enemy of God? Of what value henceforth are his religion, his correctness, and his learning? What are his teachers worth? All these things had misled him, had even driven him to war against God. All the supports of his soul desert him at once; he is in Christ’s presence as an enemy and a rebel. This sometimes happens. What purpose is there in being instructed in religion, if, after all, we are involved in war against God? Paul discovers suddenly that the object of the thoughts of God is this Jesus whom he is persecuting, that this Jesus is Lord and that he is in the presence of His glory.
“Why dost thou persecute me?”, Acts 9: 4. Saul is informed of the perfect unity of Jesus and believers; he has this revealed to him. It is the gospel preached to Saul from the mouth of the Lord Jesus. He begins with this, with what would seem today to be suited to a very advanced Christian state. Saul persecuted this way (Acts 22: 4), a reproachful form of reference to Christians. Jesus says to him: all those of this way are one with me. If the Lord Himself recognises that I am one with Him, is it, from that point onwards, surprising if I wish that everyone should be as I am?
Jesus was in glory after having suffered and endured the penalty of our sins to unite us with Himself. It is therefore a finished matter; it was even before we were born that Jesus bore our sins. “Having made by himself the purification of sins” (Heb 1; 3), He set Himself down on the right hand of God. I need to see that in order to present myself before God. If we had the right to ask God for the greatest mark of His love, God could give us no more, for He has already given His Son; He has already loved us according to the perfection of His love and Jesus has united us to Himself in communicating to us His life and in giving us His Spirit. If I love someone, can I desire for him anything better than the life of Christ, than the inheritance of Christ, than the seal of the Holy Spirit indwelling him to assure him of this inheritance? Conscious of his sin, his ruin, his corruption, but knowing that God had taken account of it, and in spite of it, He had given His Son for him; assured that God loved him as a Father, sealed with the Holy Spirit, Paul can desire that others might be like him. And it is what we also can do, we who possess the same privileges.
In order to be able to say with such boldness, “I would to God” that you “should become such as I also am”, it is necessary to live close to God, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, the Spirit being grieved, we are unable to speak of Jesus and the position of the Christian in a true and living way. In order to render testimony, it is necessary for the grace of God to have been well known, the fulness, the certainty of grace. Furthermore, it is necessary to live in communion with the Lord and not to grieve the Holy Spirit.
Translated from “Le Messager Evangélique”