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How could Paul be so joyful before God when he knew his sin was deserving of death? This is the man who hated Jesus, God’s anointed, with intense zeal. Why, then, after the truth was revealed to him on the road to Damascus did Paul not take part in penance or self-mutilation or self-loathing to absolve himself from his sins? Is that not what our guilt-laden nature requires of us: restitution for our wrongs? Do we not all feel that payment is necessary for our sins? Yet, there is no joy found among self-mutilation or self-loathing, for there is no absolution from sin apart from Jesus Christ.

Paul knew God’s love and grace. He knew God’s love and His unmerited mercy. To attempt to absolve our guilt through any means but glorification of Christ is to exalt man and obey a lie; namely, that we are powerful enough to free ourselves from our sin.

The repentant heart will always result in humble worship of the one true God. In all things He will have the preeminence. My struggle with sin should lead me to truth:
God says, “I love you.” 
We say, “But I don’t deserve it….” 
God says, “Stop it. Enough of your prideful self-exaltation, falsely clothed in humility. My love has never depended on your performance. I love you because I love you. It rests on My character, not on your obedience.”
Yesterday, after I had done something sinful, my prayer was this: “Lord, I know I should not have done that thing or said this thing. Thank You for loving me, for not treating me with hatred. How great is our God, that He would justify the wicked and acquit the sinner of his sins. Praise be to God for His great mercy.”

God’s character is love and life. Yes, hell awaits those who reject His Spirit- the only unforgivable sin. But the one who trusts in Christ, even though he be the greatest sinner, is not condemned to hell; likewise, all the works of righteousness will not justify a man unto Heaven. To the wicked and the righteous alike, God says, “I will acquit you - if only you will repent and believe in Me.” For there is no one righteous under Heaven, “for all have sinned” (Romans 3:10), and there is no one so wicked that is beyond the grace of God’s salvation (Ezekiel 33:10-20).

From where did Paul’s joy come, then? It came not from his performance but from Christ. For in Paul’s performance, where was there any joy to be had? This is the man once named Saul; a Pharisee, a hater of the Savior of the world, a persecutor of all who followed Him. He was there at the stoning of Stephen, “in hearty agreement with putting him to death” (Acts 8:1). Who could rejoice in such performance? There was only evil and lies - “ignorant” to the truth, as Paul puts it later in I Timothy 1:13 - that lead him to act as he did. No, Paul’s joy was not out of his performance; Paul’s joy came from Christ Jesus, “who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Do you not see, oh Christian, that our joy lies in Christ and not in our works? Everything involving salvation is from Christ and for Christ! He will have the preeminence in everything - there is no glory for you or me. He justifies the sinner who repents of his sinful ways and regenerates their dead hearts unto life. He gets the glory for that! After we are justified freely by His grace to do the good works He predestined for us, and we disobey Him, what then? Is our joy - our Savior - taken away from us since we did not love Him as we ought, or love others as we were commanded? Of course not! But our joy lies in the finished and completed work of Jesus Christ, and we put no confidence in the works of the flesh but we rejoice in the Lord (Philippians 3:1-11).

This is what Paul understood. He knew the grace of God and what was given to him at the moment of his salvation. He knew that though a wretch he had been, there was nothing that could ever separate him from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, for he was a new man (Romans 8:38-39)! That is where joy begins and that is where joy ends - with Jesus Christ our Savior. It was out of this joy at being saved from death that Paul followed Jesus with contentment and gladness.

Our joy does not depend on our performance; our joy depends on God’s truth. Obedience comes from a joyful heart with thanksgiving at the grace lavishly given to all who believe.  In Christ, our joy is hidden.

Is obedience not important, then? Is God’s necessary judgement and wrath against sin not a reality? Of course, this is foolish talk. For certainly we are to walk in the Spirit of the One who has redeemed us forever, out of joy obeying Him. And most assuredly to the one who refuses Christ, judgement and condemnation is justly given. Yet anyone who hardens their heart against the unconditional love of the Father, full of grace - even so that He justifies the ungodly - is ignorant to the truth and is held in their captivity by lies. For Satan is the father of lies, and by them he kills, steals, and destroys all humans everywhere. But the Lord God shall be praised for His truth, for by it we are free.

"Joy does not depend on our performance; joy depends on God’s truth. Obedience comes from a joyful heart with thanksgiving at the grace lavishly given to all who believe."