Paul was surprisingly bold.
The account of his rebuke of Peter before the church shows his boldness well (Galatians 2:11-14). Paul saw another apostle acting hypocritically, so he confronted him. Sure, this was Peter, the preacher of Pentecost, the rock that recognized Jesus as the Christ, the one specifically sought out by the Lord even after Peter’s denial. But Paul saw his sin and his sin’s effects on the body, so he took action.
I marvel at this. Paul himself speaks of his former persecution of Christians (Galatians 1:13). He could have spent his years after his conversion hiding from the spotlight, ashamed of his past. He could easily have felt unworthy to serve the kingdom he once so brutally opposed. But he served with a boldness that led him to correct even one of the original twelve.
How could he operate with such freedom? How could he do all that he did? How was he not crippled with shame or fear?
The answer, I believe, lies throughout the first chapters of Galatians. Paul saw his role as an apostle not as an earthly calling but as a heavenly calling. His place in the kingdom came “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Galatians 1:1). Paul then sought to live out his calling before the Lord, desiring God’s approval rather than man’s (Galatians 1:10). And though Paul sought confirmation from the church (Galatians 2:2), he lived his life ultimately before the Lord alone, recognizing that it was God and not man who defined him. As he famously wrote, “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” (Galatians 2:20). Christ changed Paul’s life. Christ defined Paul’s life. Christ was Paul’s life.
Paul’s boldness challenges me, in part because I struggle so heavily with a desire for human approval. I long to be liked, to be affirmed. I’m troubled when disagreement or tension arises between me and another. I fear disunity and division. I want to know my place and to remain there, to avoid rocking the boat or causing any friction. I’m afraid of what others think of me, and I often operate out of those fears. Further, I feel deep shame over mistakes I’ve made, over sins I’ve committed, over wounds I’ve caused. I struggle to serve when I think of my past or of the opinions of others.
Who had more reason to feel shame and regret over the past than Paul, though? Who faced more pressure from the opinions of others than Paul? Who had more opportunity to define himself by such things than Paul? Yet Paul exhibited a boldness for Christ, a passion for the gospel message, and a healthy view of himself and others. How? Because he understood well the love of Jesus. He knew who he’d been, what he’d done, and what others thought him to be. But he knew too who he was in Christ. He let Christ define him, orienting his life in light of the Savior. He served boldly and faithfully for the pleasure of God and not that of men.
I long to live with such boldness, such passion, such conviction. I long to live free from fear and shame. And such freedom is possible, for the same Christ who saved Paul saved me. So I pray for strength to focus on the Lord. I pray for faith to obey in spite of my fears. I pray for grace when I place too much stock in pleasing others. And I pray that I would be faithful to the one who loved me and gave himself for me.