After hearing this for years, I finally asked her a blunt question: ďIf you could go back enough times to correct all your mistakes and choices and sins, do you think you would still need a savior?Ē
The correct answer is yes, of course. But it made her think more about forgiveness and mercy than choices and errors, and I never heard her make that statement again.
Of course, we canít go back and undo errors and mistakes Ė thereíd be nobody left in the present if that was the case. So the clean slate is not really quite like it is advertised.
The false hope the world promotes can do a lot of harm among Godís children.
Theyíre ready to dedicate and devote and promise their lives to God Ė not out of a true sense of service, but for the selfish promise of the clean slate. They want to enter a new stage where all the errors and mistakes of the past will no longer exist. In fact, in some excitable circles, they contend that they will never sin again and can walk through this life in sinless perfection.
Can you imagine the disappointment in God that these people must feel when reality sets in?
Proper goal, wrong motive.
They want to serve God for how it will benefit them. Keep in mind as we explore this, we are speaking about Godís children. If they can be convinced to do something for God, itís because God has first done something in them.
What really happens to a child of God thatís undergone a true, slate-cleaning change?
Thereís a part of him that begins to make examination after the new birth. Heís been alive now, probably a couple of years since his regeneration, and heís beginning to question some things; heís finding some situations uncomfortable, and he may need relief from a burden or internal force.
Heís got an urging for service that he doesnít quite understand, and perhaps now he turns to church. While he may have spent part of his childhood in church, this time something is different. Now, he seems drawn to it. Heís actually on a journey.
Over time, if he hasnít fallen prey to the promises of clean slates and sales pitches from the media, friends, family, and associates, he may hear the sound of the gospel. Itís going to irritate him, and make him uncomfortable, but at the same time, it should deliver some peace from the questions and struggle his new birth has stirred up.
He may think heís looking for eternal salvation. And thatís fine, because heís on a spiritual quest as a newborn babe and the only thing for certain heíll know is that the gospel, the true gospel, when he hears it will bring that peace and comfort heíll find no where else.
Eventually, under the sound of the gospel, he might come to decide he canít hold back any longer and realize the only relief from the pressure is to come forward and align with the people that he believes are serving the true and living God. After baptism, does he get a clean slate and get to start over?
Remember our title subject, Paul? He knew something about clean slates and history. Paul penned a universal law in Galatians that he had experienced and wanted us to understand:
Gal 6:5 For every man shall bear his own burden. Gal 6:6 Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things. Gal 6:7 Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. Gal 6:8 For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.
Saul of Tarsus was a successful Jew: Powerful, well respected, in charge of other men, a man of great authority. He held life and death in his hand. Well studied, well educated, raised of well to do parents, yet when he was struck down on the road to Damascus, personally visited by Jesus, his life was immediately changed. But was his past wiped clean?
Far from it. In fact, Paul began immediately to experience what he would later write about in the sixth chapter of Galatians. From educated and illuminated to uncertain and blind. From powerful to helpless. From a ruler of men to a servant. From a man of great authority to a man requiring the guiding hand of an underling to lead him.
There are countless examples if we care to look for them. Paul was reaping what he had sown.
Peter knew the lesson as well. And while the new Christian convert in the world begins to look for that bed of roses and his own personal soft cloud of comfort, the reality is more like Peter describes:
1Pe 4:12 Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: 1Pe 4:13 But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.
If you put that on your churchís welcome mat youíll never have to clean it.
John tells us in Jhn 1:11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not. Jhn 1:12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, [even] to them that believe on his name:
While that was certainly true of the Jews in Jesus day, it pertains to you as well. When are you given the power to become the son of God and believe on his name? When you come up from that watery grave, you become a manifest King, capable of ruling in the kingdom. You are made a priest unto God, empowered to offer spiritual sacrifices.
But what else happens? You now have a courtroom set up in your heart and mind and a daily judgment begins. Fire is associated with judgment in scripture, so when Peter tells us about the fiery trial which is to try you, he has a double meaning.
The blank slate theory the world holds fall apart under examination. In the walk of a child of God, actions and responsibilities begin to take on meaning. Peter tells us more just a few verses down:
1Pe 4:17 For the time [is come] that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if [it] first [begin] at us, what shall the end [be] of them that obey not the gospel of God?
A king has responsibilities. A priest has responsibilities. Even a child has responsibilities. Our responsibilities are based upon whether we choose to perform them or not. Blessings always come from obedience. If we are not obedient, Paul says we have a judgment.
2Cr 5:10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things [done] in [his] body, according to that he hath done, whether [it be] good or bad.
Letís be clear. Judgment is in this lifetime. This is reaping and sowing. Eternally, we were all judged in Christ at the cross. Thereís a line in the old hymn Rock of Ages: When I soar to worlds unknown, See Thee on Thy judgment throne
We will never see him on His judgment throne in the world to come. All judgment will be over. We face the seat of judgment daily.
Did Paul get a clean slate? The scriptures reflect quite the contrary.
For every assembly of believers Paul broke up and disturbed, I think he had to start a church.
For every discussion about Christ he disrupted, he had to later defend the same against heretics.
To contrast the letters of authority he held, he was given the task of penning true letters, with true authority.
For the stoning of Stephen, he himself was stoned and left for dead. For holding the cloak, he found himself naked.
For the imprisonment of the saints, Paul too found himself bound and jailed.
For the shipwreck of Christian lives and devotion, Paul found himself troubled multiple times at sea.
For the breaking of assemblies, he faced solitude in the Arabian Desert.
For forcing believers to blaspheme against the most holy God, Paul faced beatings with whips and rods.
In addition, robbers, perils, hunger, thirst, fastings, cold, nakedness and attacks by the heathen.
And finally, for attempting to remove the head of the early church, that is, her leaders, Paul suffered a be-heading at the very end.
2Cr 11:23 Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I [am] more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. 2Cr 11:24 Of the Jews five times received I forty [stripes] save one. 2Cr 11:25 Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;
2Cr 11:26 [In] journeyings often, [in] perils of waters, [in] perils of robbers, [in] perils by [mine own] countrymen, [in] perils by the heathen, [in] perils in the city, [in] perils in the wilderness, [in] perils in the sea, [in] perils among false brethren; 2Cr 11:27 In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness.
2Cr 11:28 Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches.
This might appear to be a grim picture for the new convert, but Paul was a particular case. We understand the principles taught in scripture that Jesus will never leave us or forsake us.
Paulís story with the stoning in Acts Chapter 14 reveals much:
Act 14:19 And there came thither [certain] Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, drew [him] out of the city, supposing he had been dead. Act 14:20 Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.
Stoning may not have been the impromptu punishment of the citizens of Lystra, but certain Jews incited the crowd. Paulís stoning was so intense the crowd believed they had murdered the apostle. Left for dead. But the next day, heís in travelling form and ready to take on a new assignment. How is this even possible? Did Paul die?
2Cr 12:2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 2Cr 12:3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 2Cr 12:4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. 2Cr 12:5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.
Historians say if you backtrack fourteen years from the time Paul writes this, you end up in Acts chapter 14. Whether a physical resurrection or not, Paul was healed from a stoning, and enjoyed a miracle and a renewing of life.
While weíve attempted to rightly divide between a clean slate and reaping what we sow, letís end on good news, Paulís perspective through it all:
Rom 8:17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with [him], that we may be also glorified together. Rom 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time [are] not worthy [to be compared] with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Brother Royce Ellis