ST. PAUL ON CONVERSION
ST. PAUL ON CONVERSION
Conversion is the heart of the Christian experience. Conversion is best described in the New Testament in the Letters of St. Paul, and with good reason - no one experienced a more dramatic conversion than St. Paul on the road to Damascus!
As recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus himself called for conversion when he announced "the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel" [Mark 1:15]. 1, 2
The Bible is filled with figures who sinned, became repentant, and underwent conversion, such as Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene. St. Peter denied three times that he was an Apostle of Christ during the Lord's Passion; when the cock crowed, he went out and "wept bitterly" (Matthew 26:75). Following the Ascension, Jesus told him to "feed my lambs" (John 21:15). Saul, the persecutor of the Church, became Paul, the great missionary to the Gentiles, following his conversion. Mary Magdalene was a woman of ill repute before Jesus drove out seven devils from her (Luke 8:2); she became an ardent follower, and was the first to see Jesus following his resurrection (John 20:11-18).
St. Augustine describes his own conversion in his Confessions (Book 8, Chapter 12) while reading St. Paul's Letter to the Romans: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and as for the flesh, take no thought of it for its lusts" [Romans 13:14]. 3
St. Thomas Aquinas, in his discussion of grace in the Summa Theologica, describes St. Paul's own conversion as a sudden reception of grace (in contrast to the gradual transformation over time) as "Paul, suddenly when he was in the midst of sin, his heart was perfectly moved by God." 4
This paper will examine St. Paul's own experience and then his Letters to appreciate his theology of conversion and grace. Modern biblical scholarship at times makes the distinction between the undisputed letters of St. Paul, and disputed letters which may have been written by his followers, but are included in the Pauline corpus. There is a question concerning the Letter to the Hebrews, as it does not begin with the phrase "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ." As all the letters are part of the New Testament and are the inspired Word of God, this paper will reference all 14 Letters originally attributed to St. Paul by the early Church Fathers who formed the Canon of the New Testament.
THE CONVERSION OF PAUL
Paul briefly refers to his own conversion experience in only four places in but two of his Letters. In 1 Corinthians 9:1, Paul asks an emphatic question, "Have I not seen Jesus our Lord" Later in the letter, Paul is describing the Gospel teaching that Jesus died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and began appearing to the Apostles; in 1 Corinthians 15:8-9, he relates, "Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the Apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God."
He writes in Galatians 1:11-12 that "the Gospel preached by me is not of human origin. For I did not receive it from a human being, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ." He adds in Galatians 1:15-16, "When he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles." 5
But it is in the Acts of the Apostles, written by his fellow worker Luke, where the description of Paul's conversion is most complete. Luke was Paul's frequent companion, and reflected Paul, who saw the risen Christ. Paul calls Luke "the beloved physician" in Colossians 4:14, advises Timothy that "only Luke is with me" in 2 Timothy 4:11, and that Luke is his "fellow worker" in Philemon 24. We also know that Luke accompanied Paul on his second, third, and fourth missionary journeys from the "we" passages in Acts 16:10-17, 20:5-15, 21:1-18, and 27:1 to 28:16. Paul's conversion is recorded in Acts 9:1-28, and Paul relates his conversion experience to the Jews of Jerusalem in Acts 22:1-21, and to King Agrippa in Acts 26:4-23.
Hedrick makes two important observations: first, that the three episodes should be considered as a whole as they supplement each other, and second, that Paul's mission initially was to Gentiles and Israelites [Acts 9:15]. 6
Saul consented to the execution of Stephen, and had been persecuting the Church in Jerusalem before he was traveling the road to Damascus to do the same:
"Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him,
"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?"
And he said, "Who are you, Lord?"
And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting;
but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
Acts of the Apostles 9:3-6
Notice that Jesus identifies himself with his Church! In Damascus, Jesus appeared to Ananias and tells him that Saul "is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites [Acts 9:15]. Ananias laid his hands on Saul and his vision was restored, and Ananias baptized him.
Paul reports his mission and purpose given by Jesus before King Agrippa:
And I said, "Who are you, Lord?" And the Lord said,
"I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
But rise and stand on your feet; for I appeared to you for this purpose,
to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things
in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,
delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles -
to whom I send you to open their eyes,
that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God,
that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those
who are sanctified by faith in me.
Acts of the Apostles 26:15-18
In essence this is Pauline soteriology - to bring salvation to mankind by the proclamation of the message of Jesus, to open their eyes, to transfer them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, to receive forgiveness of sins and a place among the people of God! 7
The Gospel event of Christ communicates the reality of salvation!
Paul continues in Acts 26:20: "I preached repentance -μετανοιαν - and conversion - επιστρεφειν - to God by the practice of works fit for repentance - μετανοιας.
A discussion of the Greek word metanoia is in order here. The word metanoia - μετανοια - means a turning, but the word is generally translated as repentance for the person turns away from sin and turns towards God. Literally in Greek the word means to change one's mind. 7-10
Metanoia carries with it a sense of repentance, and is used in a positive sense. Spicq notes that repentance is an expression of regret, sorrow, or disgust. He continues: "in the New Testament, metanoia retains this basic meaning, but is used almost exclusively for the attitude of unbelievers and sinners returning to God, and they are laden with a new theological density; they form an essential part of the kerygma lexicon, urging conversion to Christianity. 8
St. Paul uses the word metanoia for repentance in only four Epistles. For example, St. Paul first asks, "Do you not know that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?" [Romans 2:4]. He advises the Corinthians, "I rejoice now, not because you were saddened, but because you were saddened into repentance; for you were saddened in a godly way, so that you did not suffer loss in anything because of us. Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." [2 Corinthians 7:9-10]. Paul uses the verb form of metanoia in 2 Corinthians 12:21, expressing sorrow over sinners who have not repented of their sins. In 2 Timothy Paul advises "It may be that God will grant them repentance that leads to knowledge of the truth." [2 Timothy 2:25]. Metanoia is also noted three times in the Letter to the Hebrews. The Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament notes that "the infrequent occurrence of metanoia in Paul can be explained by the fact that the event intended has been subsumed under the concept of faith - πιστις 9, 11
The other word for conversion in Greek is epistrepho - επιστροφο, which means to return, or turn back. At times these two terms are often linked, as in Paul's statement in Acts 26:20, or even used in each other's place, such as in Revelation 2:5, 3:3, and 16:20, where metanoia has the sense be converted. But epistrepho, which means to return, may also mean a turning back to one's old ways, and thus may have a negative connotation.
Paul speaks of conversion using the word epistrepho in his very first letter, 1 Thessalonians, expressing the traditional concept of Gentiles turning from idols to Yahweh: "For they themselves report concerning us what a welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God." [1 Thessalonians 1:9]. This is one of two passages where Paul uses this word for entrance into Christianity. 2 Corinthians 3:16, a Christian midrash on Exodus 34:33-35, is the other. However, the third use of this word is in a negative sense, in Galatians 4:9, where Paul relates the Galatians turning back to destitute behavior! 8, 9
For Paul the mind is not just the intellect, but the fuller holistic view of the mind as the seat of decision, the seat of the human soul. This change of mind is deeply personal, for it means a change of life, taking on a whole new way of thinking, priorities and commitments, a whole new direction in your life. 7
The word metanoia takes on a new significance as we study Paul's passages and reveal how the Gospel message affects the mind of the believer.
THE LETTERS OF ST. PAUL
The Letters of St. Paul reflect his experience on the road to Damascus. Christ is the center and key to Paul’s theology, for Paul saw the risen Christ. As Father Joseph Fitzmyer points out, the cross “thus puts Christ himself at the center of soteriology (God's new mode of salvation), and all else in Paul's teaching has to be oriented to this Christocentric soteriology." 10
The redemptive death of Christ on the Cross accomplishes our justification through faith. Justification in Paul is the act of restoring people to their proper relationship with God. For Paul this is already a fait accomplit. Now it is a question of our living up to the moral imperative that the reality of the Christ-event brings. 7
The very theme of Paul's Letter to the Romans presents this concept of justification:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel:
it is the power of God for salvation to every one who has faith,
to the Jew first, then to the Greek.
For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith;
as it is written, 'He who through faith is righteous shall live.'
This expression of justification through faith is further developed in Chapter 3:
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law,
although the law and the prophets bear witness to it,
the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.
For there is no distinction;
since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
They are justified by his grace as a gift,
through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus,
whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood,
to be received by faith.
This was to show God's righteousness,
because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins;
it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous
and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus."
Jesus Christ was obedient to the Father. The Letter to the Hebrews records that Christ gave himself in sacrifice once and for all to take away the sins of many (Hebrews 9:26). Christ gave of himself as a ransom for all:
This is good and pleasing to God our savior,
who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and man,
the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all.
This was the testimony at the proper time."
1 Timothy 2:3-6
Faith and Obedience
Let us then turn to Paul's Letter to the Romans, the most systematic unfolding of the Apostle's thought on faith in Christ as the source of salvation.1 Remember that Paul in the beginning [1:5] and at the end [16:26] of Romans writes the same expression the obedience of faith, which also serves as an inclusion. Obedience is contrasted to sin as a fundamental response to God. The etymology of the word "obedience" comes from the word "to hear." The one who listens to his parents, for example, is obedient! Our faith response to the Word of God is to listen!
The connection between faith and obedience becomes clearer in Romans 5. Paul presents the three periods of salvation history in Romans 5:12-21 (Adam to Moses, the period of sin and death; from Moses to Christ, the period of the law; and Christ, the period of redemption). Paul contrasts the obedience of Christ with the disobedience of Adam: "For just as through the disobedience of one person the many were made sinners, so through the obedience of one the many will be made righteous" [5:19].
Luke Timothy Johnson discusses the three uses of the word faith in Romans 3:22, 3:25 and 3:26, and emphasizes the strong connection between faith and obedience. Johnson suggests "that the faith of Jesus is central to Paul's presentation of the gospel, and that the faith of Jesus, understood as obedience, is soteriologically significant, as it provides the basis for the faith response of others." Ziesler suggests that one may take the two as representatives of two sorts of humanity, especially in relation to obedience to God. 12, 13
Conversion by faith in Christ is a turning to the obedience of Christ, and a turning away from sin, and, in a sense, the disobedience of Adam.
In Romans Chapter six, Paul explains that we receive a new life in Christ in Baptism. "Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life" [Romans 6:3-4]. Baptism is also referred to in Galatians 3:27 and Colossians 2:12.
St. Paul has captured the eternal struggle that we all go through. "For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing that I hate." [Romans 7:15]. Paul then cries out, "Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." [7:24-25]. Have we all not been there?
The Renewal of the Mind
After Paul captures the struggle and temptation of human life in the flesh, he writes that Christ brings us freedom and hope in Chapter eight through life in the Spirit, and discusses the dichotomy between the Spirit and the flesh:
For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus
has set me free from the law of sin and death.
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do:
sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,
he condemned sin in the flesh,
in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us,
who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh,
but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.
6 To set the mind on the flesh is death,
but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God;
it does not submit to God's law, indeed it cannot;
8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
Letter to the Romans 8:2-8
The Greek word for Spirit is πνευμα - pneuma, the word appearing 19 times in Chapter 8 alone! Paul refers here to the Holy Spirit (CCC 782). The Spirit of life in Christ Jesus communicates the life of God, the Resurrection life of Christ, and gives us freedom from life in the flesh. The word for flesh is σαρξ - sarx. This word occurs 72 times in the writings of Paul, and, while it has different shades of meaning depending on the context, the flesh usually refers to the principle of sin that lives in the human personality, ever since the transgression of Adam. 8, 14-15
Paul uses the verb form of set their minds on in verse 8:5 - φρονουσιν - and the noun form in verse 8:6, φρονημα - phronema. (The Greek language is highly inflected). This word means to have an opinion, or to form a judgement, or give careful consideration, to focus. The late Fr. Maximilian Zerwick and Mary Grosvenor suggest outlook, mentality, or aspiration. Paul uses this expression then to indicate the development of a whole new outlook or mentality towards life. The gift of the Spirit is given, but it is for us to convert and set our minds on the life of the Spirit! 7, 16
The term conversion emphasizes that in Pauline paraeneusis great stress is laid on the radical change that has come about in believers by the association with the death and resurrection of Jesus in baptism after conversion. 17
Paul stresses the importance of this point when he begins the paraeneutic section of his Letter to the Romans in Chapter 12:
"I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,
to present your bodies as a living sacrifice,
holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Do not be conformed to this world,
but be transformed by the renewal of your mind,
that you may prove what is the will of God,
what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Letter to the Romans 12:1-2
Again, are we going to be conformed to the world of sin around us, or are we going to be transformed to the life of the Spirit by the renewal of our minds? Paul advises for us not to be conformed or model oneself on this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind to the Resurrection life of Christ, which we obtained through baptism.
But when the goodness and loving kindness
of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us,
not because of deeds done in righteousness,
but in virtue of his own mercy,
by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit,
which he poured out among us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour,
so that we may be justified by his grace
and become heirs in hope of eternal life.
Letter to Titus 3:4-7
The word transformed is in the present continuous sense, as this is an ongoing effort on our part, being the outward expression of what springs from within. 7, 16
Paul uses the same word (transformed) in 2 Corinthians: "All of us, gazing with unveiled face on the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, as for the Lord, who is the Spirit." [2 Corinthians 3:18]. Further on in 2 Corinthians, he again emphasizes this renewal of mind, to make "every thought captive in obedience to Christ." [2 Corinthians 10:5].
St. John Chrysostom, in his Homilies on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Corinthians comments on this passage: "The word captive sounds bad, because it might be thought to suppress freedom, but here Paul gives it its own special meaning. It might also indicate something which has been so violently overpowered it will never rise again. This is the sense in which Paul uses it here. Moreover, the captivity in question is one of obedience to Christ which means the passage from slavery to liberty, from death to life, and from destruction to salvation." 18
In Paul's Letter to the Ephesians, even after the people of Ephesus learned the tenets of the faith, Paul still has to remind them that they must "no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds" [Ephesians 4:17]. One can still be Christian, baptized and filled with the Holy Spirit, and be part of the Church, but still be living a basic life of paganism of the mind. The mind too needs conviction and to come under the dominion of the tenets of the faith. 7
You should put away the old self of your former way of life,
corrupted through deceitful desires,
and be renewed in the spirit of your minds,
and put on the new self, created in God's way in righteousness and holiness of truth."
Luke Timothy Johnson asks an important question - to whose mind are we being conformed to? Paul uses a similar expression in Philippians: "We also await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform our lowly body to conform with his glorified body by the power that enables him also to bring all things into subjection to himself" [Philippians 3:20-21]. Christians have received the Spirit from God, and he clearly states in 1 Corinthians, "We have the mind of Christ" [1 Corinthians 2:16]. 19
This conforming to Christ is an act of faith and a work in grace, through the gift of the Spirit, but it is also a lifelong eschatological process. So if we are going to live a life that is dead to sin and alive in Christ Jesus, with God's grace we need to renew our minds to the reality of the redemptive death of Christ that provides the Resurrection life. This is a true metanoia, a true change of mind that conforms us to the life of Christ crucified and risen, which transforms our lives as we live the moral imperative, and choose time after time what is right! 9
The New Creation and Transformation of the Believer
Christ's redemptive death inaugurates the new creation. Father Joseph Fitzmyer notes that “by new creation, Paul means that God in Christ has created humanity anew, giving it newness of life [Romans 6:4], a life in union with the risen Christ [Galatians 2:20, "Christ lives in me"], a life destined to share in the glory of God." 10, 20
Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation;
the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself
and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
2 Corinthians 5:17-18
The response of one who has turned towards Christ leads to the new creation in the believer. It is a living out of the Resurrection life of Christ, taking on a new way of life, the new self, living out the image of Christ, becoming the new creation. 7
The new creation is the new life that Christ pours out on us through himself:
Paul's Letter to the Galatians preceded Romans, and stresses the importance of faith in Christ Jesus:
I have been crucified with Christ;
it is no longer I who live,
but Christ who lives in me;
and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,
who loved me and gave himself for me.
Paul continues that we become children of God through Baptism:
For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ
have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is neither Jew nor Greek,
there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female;
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring,
heirs according to promise.
The expression of putting on Christ or clothing yourself with Christ is symbolic for sonship or heirship, which Paul expresses in Galatians 4:4-7. Remember the passing on of the mantle from Elijah to Elisha [I Kings 19] was a symbol of the passing on of the prophetic role. Likewise, the Christian takes on and receives all the rights and privileges of Christ as an adopted son of God! 7, 21
Being sons of the Father and receiving the gift of the Spirit through Baptism brings the new creation. This new creation transcends all categories of creation (neither Jew nor Greek, neither male nor female), "for you are all one in Christ Jesus"[Galatians 3:28].
Living in Christ
Father George Maloney, in a truly spiritual work The Mystery of Christ in You, explains the writings of Paul in a beautiful way. He points out that Paul uses the expression or its equivalent to be or to live in Christ 164 times! The concept derives from his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, when he encountered the risen Christ. 22
It is due to him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus,
who became for us wisdom from God,
as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption.
1 Corinthians 1:30
Father Maloney calls this special union with Christ the mystical realism of being in Christ. Paul's realism quickens our faith that was given to us in our Baptism enabling us to realize that we have been incorporated or inserted into the very life of the risen Savior and now with Christ in us we are made into a new creation [2 Corinthians 5:17]. Baptism gives us direct contact with the resurrected, glorified Christ who now, in his spiritualized Body, truly dwells within us (Galatians 2:20).
Through the Holy Spirit Christ brings about the discarding of the old man in order that we might live in Christ according to the new man, the baptized Christian who is living according to this new inner principle of life that is Christ. The author derives his title from Colossians:
But now it has been revealed to his saints,
to whom God chose to make known the richness of this glorious mystery among the Gentiles;
this mystery is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
With this living in Christ in mind, Father Maloney defines metanoia as conversion of one's whole being in total surrender to make the indwelling Trinity the total center of one's life through the permanent union of life in and with Christ through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. 22
Father George Montague, in his book Maturing in Christ, following his discussion on the transformation of the Christian believer into the risen Christ, wrote an exegesis on Philippians 3:8-16 in a chapter entitled The Arena of Life. Sports imagery is characteristic of several of Paul's letters, the idea of life being a race in the arena of life, pressing on to reach the goal. The author points out the word for goal - skopos - is the only time the word is used in the entire New Testament: 23
That I might learn to know him and the power of his resurrection,
and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,
that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect;
but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.
Brethren, I do not consider that I have made it my own;
but one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Even Paul admitted that he was still on the road to salvation, that "I do not consider that I have made it my own," that "he strains forward to what lies ahead," pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." In discussing the phrase, not that I have already obtained, Father Montague points out that the context and "the aorist [tense of the verb] indicate he is referring to the moment of his conversion: that was only the beginning; it was not the immediate reaching of his goal." 23
Meyer comments that "Paul's conversion was a lifelong process, a lifetime of faithful decisions he made...in offering his life to the Lord." 24
Life in the Spirit
Paul describes the life in the Spirit in Galatians 5, and contrasts (graphically in comparison to Romans 8) the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. In his commentary on Galatians 5:16-17, Jan Lambrecht writes "the Spirit-filled Christians in Galatia want to do the right things. In a realistic way, Paul reminds them of their fragile condition. He points to the eschatological tension between the already and the not yet. They are still in the body! 23
St. Paul speaks of God giving the Holy Spirit as a "pledge - αρραβων", or "installment:"
But the one who gives us security with you in Christ and who anointed us is God;
he has also put his seal upon us
and given the Spirit in our hearts as a first installment."
2 Corinthians 1:22
For the one who has prepared us for this very thing is God,
who has given us the Spirit as a first installment.
2 Corinthians 5:5
God has given us through Christ the Holy Spirit to help us while we are in this mortal flesh! The word αρραβων - arrabon is a Semitic loan-word עֵרָבוֹן [Genesis 38:17, 18, 20; Job 17:3], which means a pledge, or earnest, or down payment, which has its closest modern parallel in hire purchase and the deposit system. This is similar to putting a down payment on a house, as a deposit, which may be used to buy construction materials or hire workers to build the house. It is the first installment and the promise of full payment in due course. God has given us the Spirit as a pledge of a future inheritance and as a first installment, so that we fully possess the promise of God for salvation, redemption and the forgiveness of sins. 7, 9, 13, 26-27
The Holy Spirit gives us grace through Jesus Christ [Romans 5:17], freedom [Romans 8:2], and dwells within us [Romans 8:9]. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical Dominum et Vivificantem, quotes Paul, that the Holy "Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus Christ [Galatians 4:6, Philippians 1:19]; "with the sending of this Spirit into our hearts," there begins the fulfillment of that for which "creation waits with eager longing," as we read in the Letter to the Romans" [Romans 8:11, 15, 22]. 28
Actualization and Summary
In summary, Paul offers comfort and hope through faith in Jesus Christ. We live in the arena of life, the goal not yet attained, but "pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus" [Philippians 3:10-14].
But St. Paul continually reminds us of the moral imperative. Stop sinning! [1 Corinthians 15:34]. Galatians 5:19-21 lists the works of the flesh, "that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God" [5:21]. "As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him" [Colossians 2:6]. Paul continues in Colossians to "seek what is above" [Colossians 3:1]. "Put to death, then, the parts of you that are earthly" [3:5]. "Stop lying to one another, since you have taken off the old self with its practices, and have put on the new self, for knowledge, which is being renewed in the image of its creator [Colossians 3:9-10]. Remember the day will come, at the hour of our death, when we will face judgement!
Conversion is a lifetime experience!
One of the spiritual works of mercy is to be patient with those in error. As St. Paul exclaims in Romans, "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord" [7:25]. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" [8:1]. Thank God for the Cross of Christ and his continued mercy through the sacraments of conversion (reconciliation) and redemption (the Eucharist)!
We must have faith in Christ, hope that we accept the grace necessary to obtain salvation, and live a life of love (I Corinthians 13). "The Spirit gives life" [2 Corinthians 3:6]; therefore, may we all live the fruit of the Spirit, as described in Galatians 5:22-23, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control," on our own road of conversion to Christ.
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13 Ziesler J. Pauline Christianity. Oxford University Press, New York, page 55, 70, Revised Edition, 1990.
14 Bergant D and Karris RJ (editors): Collegeville Bible Commentary. Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, page 1088, 1989.
15 Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition. Libreria Editrice Vaticana, US Catholic Conference, Washington, D. C., 2000.
16 Zerwick M and Grosvenor M. A Grammatical Analyis of the Greek New Testament. Editrice Pontificio Istituto Biblico, Rome, page 101, 1996.
17 Freedman DN, Myers AC, Beck AB (editors): Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible. WB Eerdman Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, pages 277-278, 2000.
18 St. John Chrysostom, in Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Volume VII, on 1-2 Corinthians. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois, pp. 284-285, 1999.
19 Johnson LT. Reading Romans. Crossroad Publishing Company, New York, pages 179-180, 1997.
20 An Interview with Father Joseph Fitzmyer. U. S. Catholic, pages 22-25, January 2000.
21 Tamez E. Galatians, in WR Farmer (ed): The International Bible Commentary, Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota, page 1665, 1998.
22 Maloney G. The Mystery of Christ in You - The Mystical Vision of St. Paul. Alba House, New York, pages 21-32, 132, 1998.
23 Montague GT. Maturing in Christ - St. Paul’s Program for Christian Growth. The Bruce Publishing Company, Milwaukee, pages 111-130, 1964.
24 Meyer WW. Sermon - the Conversion of St. Paul. Anglican Theological Review, 85:13-17, 2003.
25 Lambrecht J. The Right Things You Want To Do. Biblica 79:515-524, 1998.
26 Kohlenberger JR . The NIV Interlinear Hebrew-English Old Testament. Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, page 106, 1987.
27 Mounce WD. Basics of Biblical Greek Grammar - Second Edition, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2003.
28 Pope John Paul II. Dominum et Vivificantem. Encyclical of May 5, 1986, Paragraph 14; in J Michael Miller (ed): The Encyclicals of John Paul II. Our Sunday Visitor, Huntington, Indiana, pages 267-339, 1996.