But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. Ephesians 2:4-10 (NRSV)
Of all the human characters in the Bible the apostle Paul is one of the most prolific and well known, as well as one of the least likely. We first see Paul in the Bible when he was called Saul. Saul was a strict Pharisee who believed he was doing God a favor by persecuting the early church- up to and including having early Jesus followers killed for their faith.
God’s plans for Saul were far different from the plans Saul had made for his own life and purpose. (Acts 9:1-31)
After Saul’s dramatic encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus his life was forever transformed. Instead of rooting out and persecuting and killing Jesus followers, Saul became Paul- one of the primary missionaries and teachers of the Gospel.
If anyone would be an unlikely pick for God, it was Paul. Yet God has a pattern of choosing the unlikely and the underdog to work in and through to accomplish mighty works for Him.
Paul emphasizes that salvation is a gift- that God in Christ comes to us, calls us, and justifies us. This salvation and justification has absolutely nothing to do with us earning or deserving it. All we can do is live in response to that gift.
There is a beautiful song written by Marty Haugen as part of the Holden Evening Prayer, in which he echoes the Psalmist :
“Let my prayer rise up as incense before you /the lifting up of my hands as an offering to you.” (Psalm 141:2)
May our prayers rise up as a sweet offering to God, not out of an obligation to pray and praise, but as a loving response from a grateful heart.