“God has the power to stop evil, so why doesn’t he?” 

It’s a good time of year to ask that question, because the traditional Christian celebration of Pentecost gives us an answer. 

Jesus told his disciples in Luke 24:49, “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” So the disciples are going to receive “power” – but power to do what, exactly? 

They’re about to find out, because only a few weeks later on “the day of Pentecost” in Acts 2:1 “they were all together in one place” when “Suddenly,” verse 2, “a sound like the blowing of a violent wind filled the whole house where they were sitting,” and “All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit,” verse 4. And in verse 38, this same Holy Spirit was also promised to anyone who acknowledged that through Jesus all their sins had been forgiven: “You (too) will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit,” Peter said. 

So, first of all, we have Jesus’ disciples being “clothed with power from on high” as promised, and now the same promise being opened up to “you and your children and for all who are far off,” verse 39. It’s obviously important, then, that the power of the Holy Spirit be given to people, but what for?

That’s answered by Peter in verse 40, when he “pleaded” with his listeners, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” Or as another translation phrases it, Peter “urged them over and over, ‘Get out while you can; get out of this sick and stupid culture.’” Peter repeated that later too, in 2 Peter 1:4, when he wrote that God “has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” 

In answer to the question, then, as to why God, who has the power to stop evil, doesn’t stop it, Peter offers us an answer: God IS stopping evil, by giving US the power to stop it. And what better solution to evil is there, than that? God could, of  course, just blast evil people into oblivion, or sizzle to a crisp anyone thinking an evil thought, but if he did that how many of us would be left? Not me, for a start, because I know what unsavoury thoughts I have toward neighbours whose dogs never stop barking, or toward politicians who lie through their teeth. 

And doesn’t that illustrate the source of evil? It’s what’s going on inside our own heads, just as Jesus said in Mark 7:23, that “All evils come from inside” us. Conquer what’s inside us on a worldwide scale, then, and evil would be eradicated, which is exactly what God had in mind on Pentecost, to give us the chance at last to eradicate evil right at its source, inside ourselves.

The problem with that is the massive influence of the sick and stupid culture we’re stuck in. But “You, dear children,” John writes in 1 John 4:4, “are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.” 

We have the power IN us, then, to “not conform any longer to the pattern of this world,” Romans 12:2, and instead “be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I can have a mind that can see through the sick and stupid thinking of the culture, and therefore not be taken in or influenced by it. 

So in answer to the question in the title, God IS using his power to stop evil, through his promise of the Holy Spirit filling people with his nature instead. 

Is the Holy Spirit real? 

Is the Holy Spirit real personally, that is? Historically, the Holy Spirit has been extremely real, witness Luke’s detailed journal in the book of Acts. In Acts 2, for instance, he recorded the dramatic arrival of the Holy Spirit to a crowd of thousands in Jerusalem, who saw and felt it. And in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit spoke to the church in Antioch – and to Paul personally in Acts 20:23. So to all these people there was no doubt the Holy Spirit was real.

But how is the Holy Spirit real to us today? According to Jesus in John 14:16-17, the Father gives us “the Spirit of truth” and we will “know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” The word “know” tells me the Holy Spirit is meant to be real to us, but HOW do we know it’s the Spirit? Are there clear identifiable signs, for instance, that help us know it’s the Spirit? 

Jesus answered that for us in verse 26, when he said, “the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”

Well, that’s an easily identifiable sign of the Holy Spirit: it’s finding ourselves with a concentrated focus on Jesus and what he taught, because we believe it’s only in his teachings that “all things” about our human existence are made plain. And that’s observably different, because who today believes that Jesus is the only source of all truth, and only he has the solution to (and the explanation for) all our human problems? Any politicians you know who believe that? Any corporate heads? Any highly credentialed academics? Any religious leaders? Any city councillors? Any neighbours, or even family members? Few there be, I imagine, which isn’t meant as a criticism, but as evidence that there are very observable and noticeable differences we can clue into that identify the Holy Spirit as real in our lives.

Jesus also demonstrated in his own life what those observable and noticeable differences are – things like his deep love and respect for his Father and never straying from his instructions, and his deep love and respect for his fellow humans too, and especially the marginalized and ignorant. He also bristled at anyone who didn’t respect his Father, or didn’t care for others. If we feel the same way, therefore, we can take that as clear evidence of the Holy Spirit being real in our lives too. 

There’s obviously something very different happening in our heads – and noticeably in the heads of many non-Christians too – who also take what Jesus taught seriously and try their best to live good lives, even if it means going against the flow of the culture and being criticized and picked on for it. It is surely evidence of the Holy Spirit being “with” them, because they too are observably (and pleasantly) different. 

But Jesus went one step further, because he talked about the Holy Spirit being “IN” us, and in such a way we’ll “know” that too. So, what’s the difference, then, between the Holy Spirit being “with” us, and the Holy Spirit being “in” us? 

Jesus gave us a clue in the next verse, John 14:27, when he says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” 

That’s enlightening, because no matter how much the Holy Spirit has been “with” people, the history of the human race has shown that peace has always been beyond our reach. But verse 27 tells us that Jesus put peace within our reach personally. And Romans 8 tells us how: it’s  through the Holy Spirit (the source of peace, verse 6) living “IN” us, verse 9

So, what does the Spirit living “in” us actually do to make this peace real? According to verse 16, “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children,” and when that dawns on us it surely has to make a huge difference in how we react to our human dilemmas, both personal and global. Because as God’s very own children in his mighty and loving care  we have nothing to fear, which is exactly what Jesus said back in John 14:27 – “Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

But how is that possible in a world like ours, with crisis after crisis feeding fear and anxiousness? It isn’t. So if we, personally, are becoming less fearful and anxious, because in the depths of our being we know we’re safe in our Father’s care, isn’t that what helps us know for certain that the Holy Spirit is real and very much “living in us”?   

“So that Christ’s power may rest on me”

The quote above is by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, which reminded me WHY Jesus was resurrected from the dead: it’s so that we can experience his power resting on us. And why do we need such help and protection? The context tells us.

In verse 7 Paul explains. He needed Christ’s power to “keep me from becoming conceited,” or to protect him from becoming proud and getting big ideas about himself (verse 6). And why is that important? Because, verse 9, God told Paul “my power is made perfect in weakness.” And because God knows that to be true, Paul “was given a thorn in his flesh, a messenger of Satan, to buffet him,” verse 7. In other words, God purposely allowed Satan to weaken Paul, just like he allowed Satan to weaken Job.  

And he’s given us a world that weakens us too, right? We face endless uncertainty and powerlessness on so many fronts, caused by power and money hungry corporations, media propaganda and lies, and dithering politicians mandating policies that damage our youngsters and pit us against each other. We are puppets exploited by the rich, creating mass hypnosis, neurotic fears, and serious mental problems, all of which we have little to no control over, that leave us feeling weak, helpless and scared.  

And God allows this to happen, and even deliberately causes it? Well, yes, according to Scripture, but at least he tells us why. It’s because he’s motivated by grace (verse 9), that in allowing us to be weakened by a satanically driven world, this is the most effective way we experience God perfecting his strength and power in us. And as Paul explains in verse 10, it is also “for Christ’s sake,” because this is what Jesus in his death and resurrection made possible for us. He opened up a completely new world for us to experience, that operates in radically opposite ways to this world, so that instead of us feeling weak, helpless and scared, we “delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and difficulties,” verse 10.  

This was Jesus’ experience too. By emptying himself to be battered by Satan and his world, he too got to experience his Father perfecting his strength and power in him, so that “for the joy set before him” he “endured the cross and scorned its shame” (Hebrews 12:2). And now Jesus has flung the doors open to that kind of joy and power being available to us too.

But lurking in the shadows is the one devilish enemy that can destroy that. It’s conceit and pride in our own strength, and directing our energies to making us think and feel we’re strong too, to give us reason to boast, brag and even believe we are the infallible elite. It’s the kind of conceit that scoffs at other people’s weaknesses, loves judging others as inferior and stupid, looks down on others as merely populist rabble, delights in others’ failures, and complains at every set back to its ambitions and self-image.  

And Paul could have been a conceited boaster like that too. He had tons of reasons for bragging about what he’d accomplished – and what he’d survived (2 Corinthians 11:21-28). “But,” 2 Corinthians 12:6, “I refrain (from doing that), so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say.” He much preferred boasting about the “things that show my weaknesses,” 2 Corinthians 11:30 – like readily admitting he was driven way beyond his strength and ability to cope (2 Corinthians 1:8). 

So why was Paul like that? Because he looked to Jesus as his example, who was “humble and obedient to death,” Philippians 2:8, and “God exalted him to the highest place,” verse 9. So this is how human’s deadliest and most devilish enemy is beaten. It isn’t by strength it’s by weakness and humility, because when Jesus was at his lowest ebb and he couldn’t cope either, that’s when he called upon his Father’s strength – and got it (Hebrews 5:7).  

And now we’re up against “the dark powers of this world” too, that are far more powerful than we are, but call on God and his grace for the strength just to survive another day, and he answers. That was Jesus’ experience and Paul’s experience, and now our chance to prove it true as well. And what a punch in the devil’s face that is. So he hits back, like he did with Paul. But all that did was get Paul to call out for more of “Christ’s power to rest on him,” and again God answered. He learnt, therefore – just like we do, and so did Jesus – that “when we are weak, that’s when we are strong.”   

How do we know God will raise US from the dead too?

God’s speciality is raising dead people, like Lazarus, Dorcas, and those who came out of their graves after Christ died. We’ve also got Colossians 3:1 that says we’ve ALL been raised with Christ, and Ephesians 2:5-6 that we’ve all been made alive in Christ and we live in the heavenly realms already.

So God loves raising dead people, which is good to know because “We were dead in transgressions,” Ephesians 2:5, we lived in “bodies of death,” Romans 7:24, we were “dead because of sin,” Romans 8:10, and we were totally under the power of “the law of sin and death,” Romans 8:2.

But to those who accept this is the awful state they’re in, there’s hope. How? In Jesus Christ, because “If we have been united with him in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection,” Romans 6:5. To accept that Jesus took us all with him to his death to free us from the law of sin and death (verses 6-7) is to realize he took us all with him in his resurrection too. And what happens then? Romans 8:11, “if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” The same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead raises us from the completely dead state we are in too.

So it’s great being dead, because raising people from the dead is God’s speciality. He loves it when we’ve finally reached the stage “we despaired even of life” and “felt the sentence of death,” 2 Corinthians 1:8-9, because we’re at the point (at last) we can experience something truly extraordinary – mentioned in the last part of verse 9 – “that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” When we’re at the end of our rope and we cry out to God for help, that’s when we experience God himself lifting us out of our despair and hopelessness. And after we experience that a few times, it dawns on us that this is how God works. This is his speciality. This is what he’s brilliant at. And this is what he loves doing any chance he gets.

Paul gained so much confidence from God rescuing him from his pits of death that he knew in the future “he will deliver us” too, verse 10. But that’s what this life is for, it’s to experience the proof again and again that God raises the dead, so that there’s no doubt in our minds that when we die our final death, he’ll raise us from that death too.

“God who raises the dead” – today and every day

The above (in inverted commas) is a quote from 2 Corinthians 1:9. It’s in the context of Paul feeling like death because the pressure had been so great for both him and those travelling with him (verses 8-9). Jesus went through the same thing when he too was reduced to “loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death,” Hebrews 5:7. And king David too when he talked about “walking through the valley of the shadow of death” in Psalm 23:4.  

But in all three of these men’s lives the “death” they were begging rescue and relief from wasn’t physical death. Paul, for instance, was totally ready “to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13). And in one city, where he’d been dumped outside as if dead after being stoned, he went straight back in and carried on preaching (Acts 14:19-20). He even wanted “to become like Jesus in his death,” Philippians 3:10. Physical death, then, wasn’t what he, Jesus or David, feared or wanted escape from.   

But what Paul also wanted to experience was “the power of Jesus’ resurrection” (Philippians 3:10). So when buffeted by “a messenger of Satan to torment me” in 2 Corinthians 12:7, he “boasted all the more gladly” about his “weaknesses,” because he’d discovered by then he would experience “Christ’s power resting on me,” verse 9 – and many times too, according to 2 Corinthians 1:10

And this was the context in which Paul spoke about “God, who raises the dead” in the previous verse, verse 9. It was the experience of Christ’s power getting him through and out of “despairing even of life” and “feeling the sentence of death,” verses 8-9

And this was Jesus’ experience too, because God heard his cries for help and by answering him every time taught Jesus the same lesson he taught Paul that, no matter how tough the suffering got, he could totally trust God to see him through (2 Corinthians 1:10 and Hebrews 5:7). And there was history to back it up too, because “In you our fathers put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed,” Psalm 22:4-5. They too, as Paul would phrase it, were “raised from the dead.” 

David experienced it too, because in the depths of his despair at having disobeyed God so blatantly, to the point of begging God not to “cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me” in Psalm 51:11, he was lifted out of his misery, knowing God could “restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit to sustain me,” verse 12. In other words, he trusted God to raise him from the dead too. 

So, can this be our experience too? 

A resounding “Yes” according to Ephesians 2, because we were all in the same boat of being “dead in our transgressions and sins,” verse 1, but “in God’s great love for us, he made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions,” verses 4-5, and “he raised us up with Christ (from our dead state) and seated us with him in the heavenly realms,” verse 6. So we’ve already been raised from the dead and are now experiencing being made alive, so that we can be “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works,” verse 10

And when are those good works being done? In this lifetime of ours right now, which is why we can say, and from our own experience too, “God who raises the dead – today and every day.”

What difference does Jesus’ resurrection make?

If the Biblical record is true that Jesus came back from the dead and actually appeared in human form to hundreds of his followers, some amazing things should have happened, right?

Well, billions of Christians since that time is pretty amazing. Without Jesus’ resurrection the movement Jesus began would have fizzled out, Jesus would be just another failed revolutionary leader, and his followers would have disappeared back into the woodwork.

The fact that billions of people believe Jesus was raised from the dead, and many willingly went to horrible deaths because Jesus’ resurrection proved he was who he said he was, surely indicates something remarkable happened back there that still reverberates in people today. But what noticeable difference has it actually made in people?

To answer that I’ve tried to imagine what difference it would have made in me had I seen Jesus alive after he was dead. God gave us an imagination that enables us to think how we might react in a situation, so, after the shock of realizing Jesus was alive again, what would I have done next?

Well, my first reaction would likely be wanting to tell people about it, as anyone with shocking news would, but then it would be down to the business of what Jesus was resurrected for. It would obviously be to continue what he started, so that would take me back to what he spoke about and did in his human form before he died. And in his own words he came to announce the Kingdom that God was creating in this world, how God and his Kingdom operated, and that God was inviting us to join him in the creation of it – and especially now that the resurrected Jesus is fully in charge without anyone being able to stop him.

I’d be studying into the shape of that Kingdom, therefore, and what a citizen of such a Kingdom would look like, as taught by Jesus to his twelve disciples. And the obvious fact that his teaching from Matthew chapters 5 to 7 would change the world if everybody followed it, would surely make me want to live it so well that it would change the world where I lived to prove it was true

And I’d hope for the rest of my life that I could keep that as my focus, rather than trying to argue people into believing in Jesus’ resurrection based on a few sketchy stories from long ago.

Did anything actually change when Jesus ascended to his Father?

If Jesus hadn’t ascended to his Father after he was raised from the dead, nothing in this world of ours would have changed. We would have carried on as before, still stuck in the same old cycle repeating itself over and over again, of people just living and dying and disappearing into nothing, with no guarantee of a life after death. We’d also be stuck in the same old grim struggle for survival against odds we have never been able to conquer, like poverty, disease, violence, bullying, greed, insanity, and the suffering we cause each other by our inability to control our emotions. As a race we had no future. We’d have done the planet and each other a huge favour by becoming extinct long ago.

But something changed when Jesus was “exalted to the right hand of God” because, Acts 2:33, that’s when he “received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit.” And what the Holy Spirit then did was enable people to “save themselves from their corrupt generation” (verse 40), and “turn from their wicked ways” (3:26). The Spirit would provide humans with the ability to not be corrupt and wicked.

All of a sudden, then, the chance was being offered to us humans to break free of the unrelenting grip of wrong desires, and we wouldn’t want to bully people or manipulate others to our own advantage. A new type of human, therefore, would begin to appear, that showed remarkable similarities to the human Jesus, where love – not self – would become the driving force.

The one key proof, then, that the ascension happened is the Holy Spirit’s effect on the world. And the one key evidence of that Spirit’s effect is this new human that emerged – “clothed,” as Colossians 3:12 says, with “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” And where a group of these new humans mingled together they could be seen “bearing with each other and forgiving whatever grievances they may have had against one other” (verse 13).

The Holy Spirit’s effect can be seen playing out in very practical terms in these new humans’ marriages too, where husbands aren’t harsh with their wives (verse 19), and as Dads they don’t do anything to make their children feel discouraged (verse 21). These new humans would make great employers and employees too, because they’d treat each other with respect and fairness (3:22, 4:1).

Sounds very much like a different world to me, a breaking of the same old, mouldy, worn out cycle of human behaviour that saw no change at all up to the point of Jesus’ ascension. But with Christ’s ascension “old things passed away” and “new things have come,” 2 Corinthians 5:17, the clear evidence of which is the “new human” that has emerged since then, who is a pleasure to know.

“If only Jesus had NOT been raised from the dead…”

I imagine a lot of very bright, intellectual people have thought to themselves, “If only Jesus had not been raised from the dead,” because they’ve had to spend a lot of time in heated and often fruitless debate with Christians trying to win the argument that the resurrection of Jesus never happened.

They’re up against a formidable wall, however, because Christians know Christianity rests or falls on whether Jesus was raised from the dead, or not. So with so much at stake Christians have used every tool and argument possible to prove Jesus’ resurrection was real. And that has put huge strain on human brainpower to refute that Christian claim, because how do you prove that billions of Christians through the ages have all been deluded?

On the other hand, maybe that’s not such a hard task, because more recent history has shown us that billions of people CAN be easily deluded. People en masse still vote for politicians, for instance, because they believe what politicians say is true. The shattering proof of our own experience, however, is that what politicians say and promise has little connection to what they do when voted into office, but people keep on voting for them anyway. Delusion is easy, then, when people want to believe something is true. But does that apply to Christians?

Well, awkwardly not, because Christianity didn’t begin with people wanting to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. According to the Biblical record, no one, not even Jesus’ closest friends and followers, believed he’d been raised from the dead. They totally dismissed it as nonsense, and even ignored eyewitnesses. And for the first few days no argument convinced them it was true.

Even when Jesus actually “appeared to two of them while they were walking in the country,” Mark 16:12, and they “reported it to the rest (of the disciples), they did not believe the news either,” verse 13. So later on when “Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating, he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen,” verse 14.

So Christianity itself got off to a really shaky start, because the idea of Jesus actually coming back from the dead at such a time was too fantastic for even Jesus’ followers to believe. And it was so disappointing that Jesus wasn’t the great Messiah they were hoping for, that several of the disciples went straight back to their fishing boats as if Jesus was dead and gone forever, and the story of Jesus would have faded away into nothing.

And for many critics of Christianity that would have been a much better ending to the Christian movement. But instead they’re stuck with all sorts of people who believe Jesus was resurrected, because what other plausible explanation is there for why this disconsolate, unbelieving group of disciples suddenly believed Jesus really had risen from the dead – and put their lives on the line to spread the news of it too?

And what has made billions more people through the ages believe it’s true too? Is it the simple question, that “Without Jesus’ resurrection what would be the point of our human existence?” I wonder how the brightest of the intellectual elite, and the best of their brainpower, would answer that question too.

Rise up Christians, the war is won

Colossians 2:15 tells the world and all its venomous purveyors of evil, both human and spirit, that Jesus “disarmed the powers and authorities and made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” In other words, the war against evil has been won.

And Jesus’ resurrection proved it. Hate-filled people and evil spirits used every trick in the book to get him killed – false accusations, a kangaroo court, mob madness, corrupt politicians, and all the usual stuff we see repeated today to twist good into bad – and only three days later, in the greatest triumph ever, Jesus came back to life again. 

No wonder Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 10:28, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” And “the one” Jesus is talking about in that verse is now himself, because on coming back to life again, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me,” Matthew 28:18

But this was the “reason the Son of God appeared,” 1 John 3:8 – “to destroy the devil’s work.” And now in his resurrected state he has all the powers of the heavenly realm at his disposal to do it. And he’s displaying that power and making it known through us, his disciples, who, knowing that “we are children of God” means he will “keep us safe” so that “the evil one cannot touch us,” 1 John 5:18.  

So rise up Christians, the war is won. “The world (for now) is under the control of the evil one” (1 John 5:19), so expect evil to hate us like it hated Jesus, and it will keep on trying to destroy us, but only in our bodies, never our souls. Our souls live on, eternally safe and indestructible.

We also know in Romans 6, that if we follow in Jesus’ footsteps, joining him in the crucifixion of our bodies – in our case the crucifixion of our old selves ruled by the evil one (verse 6) – we are “certainly united with him in his resurrection,” verse 5, so what have we got to lose? Because as Paul tells us in Ephesians 2:6, we are already “raised up with Christ and seated with him in the heavenly realms, and in Colossians 3:3, our lives are “NOW hidden with Christ.” 

So when Paul says in Ephesians 5:11, “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them,” what are we afraid of? 

Physically speaking, exposing evil can be a frightening prospect, as we’ve seen in the reaction of the powers that be to those even hinting that the measures mandated during the Covid pandemic have done more harm than good. But Christians recognize evil when they see it, and know the source of it too, that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, authorities and the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms,” Ephesians 6:12.

But our Christian defence against such evil is simple. It’s just three words, “He is risen,” and we, the billions of his disciples worldwide, are risen with him, with nothing to lose in this life but our bodies, which one day die anyway. 

So how do we expose evil without resorting to evil ourselves? In 1 John 5:4, John tells us that “everyone born of God has overcome the world.” How? “This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” 

But faith in what exactly? Verse 5: “Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” And it’s that undying belief in his disciples that Jesus is the living, indestructible, resurrected Son of the mighty God of the universe and beyond, that constantly proves to evil that it has lost the war against God. And try as it might to wipe out the good people and wreck the plan of God to restore our world with his kingdom instead, the powers of evil cannot destroy those through whom Jesus is doing that restoring. 

So rise up Christians, the war is won, and it’s our belief in that, that makes us fearless, no matter what happens to us physically.   

Why is the cross so important to Christians? 

In 1 Corinthians 2:2 Paul told the Corinthians “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus and him crucified.” And later, to the Galatians, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Galatians 6:14. But why was the cross so important to Paul? 

His letter to Timothy gives us a clue. In 1 Timothy 1:12 he writes, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord,” because “I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man,” verse 13, but (thankfully) “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst,” verse 15. And what a change that had made in his life, to the point he was now personally experiencing Jesus “giving me strength, considering me trustworthy, and appointing me to his service,” verse 12.

In other words, it was going through the experience of knowing what he was before he understood the cross, and what he’d become because of the cross that had made the cross so real to Paul. The change in him had been dramatic, and there was only one source of it, “The grace of our Lord being poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus,” verse 14

And what made this even more real to Paul was realizing “This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Jesus Christ, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” 2 Timothy 1:9-10. In other words, this had always been God’s plan, before we even existed as humans, to make Jesus the one who could rescue us from whatever mess we made of our humanity. Jesus, would be our guarantee, that if we broke down we could and would be repaired. 

And Paul was the perfect example of that. Despite having the best religious training available he still broke down into a blaspheming, violent man “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples,” Acts 9:1. If he’d had his way we’d have no knowledge at all of what Jesus came for, or any personal experience of Jesus repairing us. 

But Jesus died to “unite us with him in his death,” so that “our old self” could be “crucified with him,” and the messed up “body of sin” we were stuck in “might be rendered powerless,” Romans 6:5-6. And Paul could say that because he’d experienced it. His “evil desires” (verse 12) against Christians and Christianity had evaporated. He’d experienced a literal “dying to what had once bound him,” Romans 7:6

It was remarkable, and shocking too, to those who’d known what Paul was like before (Acts 9:13, 21). But this is what Jesus accomplished through the cross, so that Paul could now teach through personal experience that we humans can “put off that old self of ours, so corrupted by its deceitful desires” and “be made new in the attitude of our minds, putting on a new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness,” Ephesians 4:22-24.

God made it possible “in Christ Jesus” to have our old nature and the stuff we hated in it killed off on Jesus’ cross, so that we could experience having a “new nature,” Colossians 3:10, that constantly grows too, “as we learn more about our Creator and become like him.”

No wonder Paul wrote in Galatians 6:15, “what counts is a new creation,” because this is what God planned for us to be. It took the cross to make it possible, but what a guarantee of his love and commitment that he’d go to that length to repair the wreckage in our lives and restore us back to what he created us to be. 

Which is why the cross is so important to Christians.