Paul’s influence for Christ is unequaled among first-century followers of Jesus (1 Cor. 15:10; 2 Cor. 11:23). Yet, he is first introduced in the New Testament as Saul, a great adversary of the cause of Christ (Acts 7:58-8:1). What changed him? The gospel. Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).
Paul wrote the epistle to the Romans who were struggling with their differences and animosity between Jews and Gentiles. Claudius had commanded all Jews to leave Rome (Acts 18:2). Later, when they were able to return, the influx of Jews among the church in Rome which had consisted of Gentiles for years, had heightened the tensions between these two groups. The Jews made their boast because they were the special people to whom God gave the law of Moses (Rom. 2:17). Many of them, however, rejected Jesus and were cut off. The Gentiles may have been tempted to boast because they were now part of God’s people while so many who were born Jews fell away (Rom. 11:17-20). Paul was an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin, who could match his pedigree and accolades in Judaism with the best of them (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:4-6). Yet, he writes as an apostle to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:13).
Both Jews and Gentiles had the same problem—the universal problem of sin (Rom. 3:23). There is none righteous before God (Rom. 3:10). Thus, ultimately there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles before God (Rom. 3:22; 10:12; cf. Acts 15:9). “Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith” (Rom. 1:29, 30). God saves those who call on the name of the Lord in baptism; Saul did this and his former sins of persecuting the church were washed away (Rom. 10:13; Acts 22:16; cf. Mk. 16:16; 1 Pet. 3:21).
Baptism unites one with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—the old man, the servant of sin, dies, and one is raised in newness of life (Rom. 6:3-7). This was the key to the dramatic change in Paul’s life, and the influence for the Lord’s cause the rest of his days. He wrote, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). As long as he was still on this earth, his attitude was, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
The gospel is powerful. It changed Saul from a great persecutor of Christ to a great proponent of Christ; Paul was a new man in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). The gospel made Jews and Gentiles, two groups diametrically opposed to one another, one in Christ. “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace” (Eph. 2:14, 15). The gospel can change your life. It can bring together people who are radically different from one another in the fellowship of Jesus Christ. Will you let the gospel change you for good?