Did God save us because of our belief, or our unbelief?

So how did Paul become a Christian? Because of his belief? Or because he accepted Jesus as his Saviour? Or because he responded to the gospel? Or because he received the gift of salvation? Not at all. Not one tiny bit, in fact, because on Paul’s own admission he was “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Timothy 1:I3).

But while he was being a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man, that’s when God called him. God didn’t wait until Paul believed, or make belief in Jesus a condition to Paul becoming a Christian. The last thing Paul wanted to do was believe in Jesus. He hated people who believed in Jesus. He deliberately persecuted believers in Jesus, Acts 26:10-11 – “I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme.”

And Paul wasn’t about to change his mind, either, or confess that what he was doing was wrong. He thought he was doing God a service by stamping out these Jesus believers. He actually felt justified NOT believing in Jesus, so how on earth did a man in that state of mind become a Christian?

Fortunately, Paul tells us. “I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and UNBELIEF,” 1 Timothy 1:13. He wasn’t shown mercy and saved because he believed, he was shown mercy because he DIDN’T believe. The poor man had got himself into such a state of mind, as have millions of people today, that he was so turned off Jesus there was no way he could, or would, believe in him.

So what changed Paul? “The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” verse 14. What changed Paul’s mind from unbelief to belief was GOD pouring out faith, or belief, into Paul’s head as a gift of his grace. Paul would never have become a Christian otherwise.

And the reason it happened that way to Paul was that “Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example,” verse 16. To anyone in the future, therefore, who wondered how it is that God saved any of us with the attitude of mind we’ve had toward him, Paul is forever there to remind us that it’s because of our INABILITY to believe that God in his mercy sent Jesus to save us. And it’s only because Christ Jesus GIVES us belief in him that we believe at all, not because we choose to.

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