How many of you have been to France? Three years ago my husband Gary and I got to go France. He had been promising me that trip for ten years and we finally did it. We were first headed to Normandy so we rented a car, and we were smart enough to get a navigational system. They programmed the GPS at the airport and we were off. As we drove further into the French countryside however, I couldn’t ever find our highway on the map they gave us. The exit signs listed towns, but I just couldn’t figure out exactly where we were.
How many of you have been to France? Three years ago my husband Gary and I got to go France. He had been promising me that trip for ten years and we finally did it. We were first headed to Normandy so we rented a car, and we were smart enough to get a navigational system. They programmed the GPS at the airport and we were off. As we drove further into the French countryside however, I couldn’t ever find our highway on the map they gave us. The exit signs listed towns, but I just couldn’t figure out exactly where we were. After more than an hour it became clear that the system had sent us totally in the wrong direction. The person who programmed it must have failed to press enter and the GPS sent us to the previous destination, which was in the opposite direction of where we wanted to go. So obviously we made a u-turn and headed back the other way—what a detour!
This week we looked at the story of the apostle Paul’s u-turn in life in Acts 9. He, too, thought that he was headed in the right direction, following God. But God intervened and turned his life around.
You remember that soon after the birth of Christianity, the followers of Jesus, who were all Jews in those early days, began to be persecuted by their Jewish countrymen, particularly those who were zealous for God’s word and God’s law, both good things. An early leader in the hunt for those who believed in Jesus was Paul, whose Hebrew name was Saul, who set out to find them in neighboring cities and return them to the rulers in Jerusalem for judgment. While on his way to Damascus to arrest more Jewish believers, Paul was suddenly knocked to the ground by a light from heaven. A voice accompanying the light asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” Of course, Paul was dumbfounded as to who would ask such a question when he was busy about God’s business. He was likely more amazed to learn that it was Jesus himself speaking to him from heaven! The one whom he had believed to be a fraud was alive in glory! Perhaps most amazing is that he commissioned Paul, the one responsible for the murder of many of his followers, to take the news of Jesus to those who had not heard!
This event was a total u-turn in Paul’s life. No longer did he persecute Christ-followers; he was now persecuted for his own belief in the resurrected Jesus. No longer was he the poster child for the Jewish rulers and Pharisees; he was now their enemy. No longer was he focused on extinguishing the gospel; he was now its chief distributor.
Sometimes when we have heard a story over and over we become immune to its power. Some of us here are in that category concerning this account of Paul’s conversion. We have followed Jesus and studied his word for many years, and we have forgotten what a surprising story this really is. This is a great story! Paul was on one side one minute and on the other the next, and in that moment, everything changed. His complete turnaround is one of the most compelling reasons to believe that Jesus was truly resurrected from the dead. How else can you explain such a u-turn?
Each of us must also make a u-turn in life, just as Paul did, because we are also headed in the wrong direction.
The direction we are headed seems right for a while; we do good things along the way; we may even think we are going God’s way, headed toward him. However, the time comes when we realize that it’s not God’s way at all, but we are headed the wrong way; we’re not in God’s race at all but on a different course. God is calling us to make a u-turn to follow Jesus.
Let’s think about Paul’s u-turn and what was involved in it.
Turn to Phil. 3: 4-9. We’ll begin with the second half of v. 4.
If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith. (NASB)
If we had been part of the culture of that day, we would have said that Paul had an outstanding resume as a Jew. He had every advantage; he had been to all the right schools; he was a man going places in the Jewish religious community. As great as these things were, Paul says they were actually liabilities to him when it came to Jesus, whose goodness far surpasses any resume that he could produce. Before he made a u-turn, he thought his resume looked pretty good, but God showed him otherwise. Paul’s resume was actually deficient!
We are going the wrong way, just as Paul was, thinking we have great resumes to show God when they are in reality lacking. We each must make a u-turn because we are
Perhaps we think that we were born into a relationship with God because of our parents or because of our religious heritage. Or we might feel that we have achieved enough in life for God to accept us. It’s possible we look around and see that we have lived more godly lives than others have. So on a sliding scale, we are accepted and loved by God. But Paul says the opposite is true. The only one we can compare ourselves to is God himself, and we fall very short of his perfection.
Paul’s resume suggested that he was a righteous man, that he was doing the things that were right in God’s eyes. Do you think God would be impressed with your resume? Would he say that you have been choosing what he says is right—all the time?
We are headed the wrong way because
and that our resumes should make God accept us. That belief that we’re good enough for God is
which is at the root of our other sins. When we turn from God’s way to our own, it’s pride that trusts in our own wisdom. When we refuse to bow the knee to the Creator of the universe, it’s pride that rejects his rule in our lives. When we look at our accomplishments and compare them to others who have done less, it’s pride that judges others on what we can see.
We go the wrong direction, trusting in our deficient resumes for God’s acceptance, thinking we’re righteous because
Instead of comparing ourselves to what God says about us, we compare ourselves to others who don’t seem to be doing as well as we are. They aren’t as good, as generous, as sacrificial, or as holy as we are. Of course, we don’t dare make comparisons to the Mother Teresas of this world!
Let’s turn to Rom. 3:9-18, a great place to compare our resumes:
What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, just as it is written:
“There is no one righteous, not even one,
There is no one who understands,
There is no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
Together they have become worthless;
There is no one who shows kindness, not even one.”
Their throats are open graves,
They deceive with their tongues,
The poison of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Ruin and misery are in their paths,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
In v. 9, Paul makes his point and then proves it by quoting the Old Testament. He says that all people, no matter their heritage, are sinners. That means that no person’s resume can get God to love us or bring us into a relationship with him. We can never do enough to reach the level of God’s perfection. None of us is righteous, which simply means we do not do the right thing, the things that God would do. As this passage clearly teaches, we don’t understand God; we don’t seek him; we all turn away from him; we aren’t kind; our words involve lying, deception, poison, cursing, and bitterness; we are quick to judge others and bring ruin to them; we do not know the way of peace; in summary we don’t fear God.
This is our real resume. This is what we really are inside; thus, we cannot please God as we are. Our resumes are deficient even with all the good things we can list.
Paul’s resume sounds pretty good to us, but to God it was lacking because of the things Paul left out, his sins. Because of them, it wasn’t enough for Paul to be born into a religious family; it wasn’t enough for him to have thoroughly studied and followed the Old Testament law; it wasn’t enough for him to have done more for God than most other people or to be zealous and sincere. God knew Paul’s heart and Paul’s actions and they didn’t measure up,
We are all headed in the wrong direction, as Paul was, by trusting in our deficient resumes for God’s acceptance, and
We saw this in Paul’s story in Acts. He was the model Jewish religious leader, getting rid of all Jews who would turn people away from God, especially Christians. He sincerely believed that he was doing God’s work, and he was sincerely wrong. In Philippians 3:5 Paul mentioned that he had such a high level of zeal for God that he persecuted the church. In fact, Jesus asked Paul why he was persecuting him. To murder and kill Jesus’ people was the same as attacking Jesus himself. Perhaps that is why Paul recognized that we are all enemies of God.
Look at what Paul said in Rom. 5:10 on the screen:
For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life?
When we ran from God, we opposed him and his kingdom. When we said we could reach God on our own by our resumes, we opposed the truth about ourselves and about God. We were his enemies because we were essentially standing with the other side. We may not have persecuted anyone; we may not have openly attacked God in any way, but we essentially called him a liar when we said we were good enough for a relationship with him.
Are you depending on your own goodness to commend yourself to God and be accepted by him? It’s a deficient resume, no matter how religious it may be.
We are all headed the wrong way when we think God’s acceptance is based on what we have done.
How do we do that? First, we must admit that our resumes aren’t good enough. In other words,
Instead of the pride that takes us the wrong direction, we realize that we are sinners in need of God’s mercy. We must give up depending on our goodness before God and depend on Jesus’ goodness. Let’s read again how Paul put his experience in Philippians 3:7-8:
But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ
Paul says in v. 8 that he now realizes that the total of his achievements was rubbish compared to Jesus. The Greek word for rubbish means dung. I read this comment about the word in the NET Bible: it “was often used in Greek as a vulgar term for fecal matter. As such it would most likely have had a certain shock value for the readers. This may well be Paul’s meaning here, especially since the context is about what the flesh produces.”1 Paul said his flesh and its achievements are nothing and produce nothing without Jesus. He was humbled and did a u-turn from someone who expected God to accept him on the basis of his good works to someone who realized it was waste! It was a deficient resume.
Paul says that’s true of us all in Romans 5:6-8:
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
We see here that we are helpless; we are ungodly; we are sinners. That’ll humble us! To make that u-turn, we must recognize that we are sinners, in need of God’s mercy because we aren’t able to earn it on our own; therefore,
We saw that Paul trusted in Jesus’ righteousness in Phil. 3:8-9. Look at it again:
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ and may be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes form God on the basis of faith.
After Paul’s u-turn, he depended on the righteousness of Jesus which comes from God on the basis of faith. He no longer trusted in what he did, but he now trusted that Jesus’ death paid for his sins and brought him into a relationship with God.
When we do a u-turn, we trust that Jesus gives us his righteousness, which is complete and perfect, not deficient. When we stand before God and he asks us why we think we should live with him forever, we say it’s based on the perfect righteousness of Jesus, which he gave us as a gift. That perfection makes us God’s daughters.
Faith in Jesus means that we believe that Jesus was God himself who came to earth as a man and died to pay for our sins; we believe that he rose again on the third day and has returned to heaven. This is what we call the good news or the gospel, which the church of Jesus has shared with the world for 2,000 years.
Now I want to make clear for you, brothers and sisters, the gospel that I preached to you, that you received and on which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold firmly to the message I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I passed on to you as of first importance what I also received – that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also.
Paul saw the Lord on the road to Damascus, and it changed his life completely!
Have you seen the glory of Jesus? Have you depended on his righteousness rather than your own? Have you made that u-turn because of his identity as God who died for you?
If you have, you have a story, just as Paul did. Each of us has a very different story of how God interrupted our lives and caused us to make a u-turn. In my case I grew up in a Christian home, but that didn’t mean I was going in the right direction. We must each make that u-turn for ourselves; our parents cannot do it for us; there is no Christian DNA that we inherit from them. A u-turn may be in an instant, as we see in Paul’s story, or if may have been a gradual revelation that we are sinners and that Jesus is the answer. When I was about 6 or 7, I began to be very convicted about my sin. And because my church was very intentional about sharing the gospel, I knew that I couldn’t depend upon my own goodness but needed Jesus’ forgiveness and his righteousness to be God’s child. So I made a u-turn and trusted in the Jesus I had grown to know and love through my church.
Now that doesn’t mean that I have done everything right since that time. But it does mean that my life set out in a new direction and I was now in the race that I would continue the rest of my life. There have been periods when I have not been a very good runner and there are still times when I fail to run well. But overall, God has me in the race and he will keep me there and move me forward.
There may be someone here who is going in the wrong direction, trusting that you are good enough to merit God’s favor. You may be very religious, as Paul was, or you may have totally denied the existence of Jesus or his right to control your life. Today is a great day to do a u-turn and fall on his mercy to put you in the race. You will never regret it!