daily biblical sermons

Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, ThD
Homily of Monday, the Conversion of St. Paul the Apostle, January 25, 2016
Acts 22:3-16, Psalm 116, Mark 16:15-18

Scripture quotations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.


It is to "the Gentiles - to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:17-18).

Today we celebrate the conversion of St. Paul the Apostle from a persecutor of the Church to its greatest preacher, missionary, and theologian. His conversion came about by seeing a great light, while he was on his way to Damascus to arrest Christians. He fell to the ground and heard the voice of the risen Christ say to him that he will henceforth be a witness to Christ among "the Gentiles - to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me" (Acts 26:17-18).

This is a brief summary of St. Paul's mission. He was to open the eyes of the Gentiles so that they might see the truth and recognize Jesus Christ as their Savior, for they are now in the darkness of ignorance and sin, and hence under the power of Satan. Through the word that St. Paul would preach to them, they will turn from darkness to light, and from Satan to God. Through their faith in Jesus, they will receive forgiveness of their sins and be sanctified.

So St. Paul began to preach that Jesus was the Son of God and the Savior of the world. He traveled throughout the eastern part of the Roman Empire, going from city to city, each time preaching first in the Jewish synagogue, and when the Jews rejected him, he would then turn to the Gentiles, who accepted his message.

As St. Peter discovered that the Gentiles to whom he preached in Cornelius's house received the Holy Spirit as they heard him preach, and gave witness to it by speaking in tongues (Acts 10:44-48), and so he baptized them without circumcising them; so also St. Paul made the same discovery in his work among the Gentiles, realizing that it was by faith in Jesus that we are saved and our sins are forgiven, not by doing the works of the Mosaic law, which his Gentile converts did not keep. St. Paul then extended this principle to good works in general, for these too were prescribed by God's law. His great conclusion was that we are justified - declared and set right with God - by faith, "apart from works" (Romans 4:6).


The Basic New Testament Theology of Salvation

In this way St. Paul laid the foundation for the Christian theology of salvation, namely that we do not save or justify ourselves by our good works, but only God can do this to us, and he does so not through our good works but through the work of his Son on the cross, whose death for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3) made reparation for them (Romans 3:21-26), thus enabling God to acquit us and set us free from our sins, when we put our faith in his Son and accept him as our Savior.

This is the only way we can get right with God and escape his wrath (Romans 1:18; 5:9), under which we were rightly suffering because of our sins. Only God can put us right with himself and free us from his righteous wrath, not our own works; and he does so by the work of his Son on the cross, which was a work of reparation so that God could forgive and save us without compromising his own righteousness and justice, since due reparation had been made for our sins by his suffering and death on the cross.

Only God can bridge the gap for us that separates us from God. We cannot bridge this abyss ourselves; and God has bridged it in the death of his Son on a cross. In this way God has acted to avert his own righteous and necessary wrath for us sinners. He has averted it by letting it fall on his Son on the cross instead of on us who put our faith in him. So by faith we escape the just wrath of God and are saved from it, not by our works, which can never be good enough for that.

God's Son was sent to the earth to bear our sins (2 Corinthians 5:21) and to bear God's curse against us because of them, which is the curse of his law (Galatians 3:13). Instead of us bearing this curse of the law, Christ bears it as our substitute and suffers all that the law justly requires that we suffer for our sins. Thus he fulfilled for us what God's law demanded of us sinners - suffering and death for our sins (Romans 8:3-4).

God condemned, judged, and punished our sins in his Son's flesh on the cross (Romans 8:3) instead of in us, thus satisfying for us the law's just demand and requirement (Romans 8:4) that we suffer for our sins, so that we could go free, forgiven and absolved, since full reparation has been made for us on the cross, when we put our faith in him.

If Christ has made full reparation for us on the cross, how could we ever think that we still have more reparation to make for our sins? This has already been done, and we are now free of our sins and fully forgiven. What remains for us to do is not to make more reparation for our past and present sins, but to integrate into our personality this forgiveness and transformation of us into "new men."

Both our guilt and our punishment for our sins have been removed from us, for Christ suffered our punishment for us so that we would not have to suffer it again or worry about making still more reparation before God for our sins. That has been done for us by Christ, through our faith.

If someone commits murder, he will have to spend years, perhaps a lifetime in prison. This is the earthly consequence of his sin and his earthly punishment, demanded by the state. But before God he is absolved and freed both of guilt and of punishment by Christ's substitutionary reparation on the cross, when he puts his faith in him and turns in sorrow and change of heart (metanoia) from his sins to God in Christ.

Integration and assimilation of Christ's justification and salvation, which makes us a "new man" in Christ, not more reparation before God, is what still remains to be done by us, once we have been forgiven, justified, and saved by Christ's reparation-making work on the cross.

Our task during our lifetime is to grow spiritually (progressive sanctification), to assimilate and integrate into ourselves and into our personality the "new man" (Ephesians 4:22-24) that Christ has made us by his death. This takes time, in which we must learn to avoid our old vices and acquire new virtues. This is the work of a lifetime.

This, then, is the gospel, the good news - and it is good news indeed - that St. Paul preached to both Jews and Gentiles alike. It is the same gospel that the Church is to preach today to both believers and nonbelievers. It is the good news that we bring to the nations, ad gentes. It is a specially revealed message of hope and life from God himself. We are only his agents in preaching it.

And we as Christians are always in need of this good news for ourselves too, for we often fail to live our life perfectly, even if our sins are only small ones, and so we need to turn to the cross again and again and invoke Christ's salvation with faith anew each time, that his reparation-making passion and death on the cross may once again merit for us before God his just forgiveness and justifying grace.

It is our faith, not our works, that brings God's renewing, saving, justifying work into our heart and life, and so God reckons us to be righteous on the basis of Christ's work on the cross (Romans 4:3, 5, 23-24), through our faith, not on the basis of our works (Romans 3:20, 28; Galatians 2:16; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; Philippians 3:9). Then, reborn (John 3:5) as "new men," and a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15), we are to produce the works of the "new man," which enable us to grow still more in holiness and ever more assimilate our new birth, and ever better integrate it into our personality. This is where our good works come in.


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