Did Paul Have A Choice About Being A Christian?
Did Paul have a choice about being a Christian?
Questions about free will are nowhere explicitly dealt with in the Scriptures. The views that theologians have about them must therefore be held tentatively since they have to be dealt with by way of implication. In order to address this one, I am going to back up a little bit so as to get a running start.
The Bible says that man was created in the divine image, and this is usually understood as inclusive of his free will. We are also presented with the idea that man is a fallen creature, and thus that his freedom has somehow been compromised. The most natural interpretation is that it has become entangled in sin and therefore can only will imperfectly to come to God.
All of these ideas are exhibited in the life of Paul. He too had a will that was entangled in sin, and he too could only make imperfect attempts at willing to be godly. Nevertheless, he spent most of his life employing his free will in just this pursuit: I was advancing in Judaism beyond many Jews of my own age and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers (Gal. 1:14). He testifies elsewhere that many of his brethren had employed their freedom in similar ways: I can testify about the Israelites, that they are zealous for God… (Rom. 10:2).
Paul’s conversion ought to be viewed in light of these facts. All our evidence indicates that he had already staked his freedom on following God. The only trouble was that his efforts in this direction had actually led him in the opposite direction. Apart from God’s direct intervention in his life, it’s very likely he would have persisted in his error to the end. But it’s also very likely that the revelation he experienced on the road to Damascus would not have been nearly as effective if Paul had not been Paul. It’s less, therefore, a matter of God taking away Paul’s freedom of choice, and more a matter of God using Paul’s free will decisions against him. Paul had willed the road, but not the destination.
This leaves us with a bit of a paradox. There is a sense in which Paul did not have a choice about being a Christian, but only because of the choices he made.
Pastor Chad LewisJanuary 5, 2016