This week we celebrated the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, a very special day for us in Saint Paul’s Outreach! The decision to name our evangelistic outreach to university students after Saint Paul was very intentional. So much of who we strive to be and what we do in SPO finds inspiration from the person and mission of this saint.
Here are four things Saint Paul can teach us about reaching our peers with the Gospel.
1. It's All About Life-Changing Conversion Through an Encounter with Jesus Christ
Paul was traveling down the road to Damascus intent on hunting down and arresting Christians when suddenly a great light from heaven flashes and throws him to the ground (Acts 9). Jesus Christ manifests himself to Paul and begins to speak to him. The Church holds out Paul’s conversion as a model or type for all conversion.
While certainly a manifestly dramatic event, the central theme is not light and power but an encounter with the person Jesus Christ. Later he would write that he considers everything a loss, as ‘rubbish’ compared to knowing Christ Jesus.
Knowing Jesus Christ is everything (Phil 3)
It brings a peace that transcends all understanding (Phil 4:7)
and a love that surpasses all knowledge and knows no bounds (Eph 3)
What is the moment you met the person of Jesus?
2. Those Who Meet Christ Are Compelled to Share Him
For Paul, the encounter with the love of Jesus Christ ‘compels him’ to evangelize (2 Cor 4). Paul understands that every person is created for a relationship with God and stands in need of his mercy.
- “All have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:20)
- “Christ died for all so that those who live live no longer for themselves but for Him” (2 Cor 5:14)
- “Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16)
Paul was willing to undergo great difficulty to bring Christ to others. He was imprisoned, shipwrecked, whipped with a lash, attacked by an angry mob, beaten with a rod, stoned and left for dead, bitten by a viper, and ultimately beheaded. His commitment to evangelization is so much that while he prefers to depart and be with Christ he wants also to remain to advance the Gospel (Eph 1:23-24).
While you won't find such dangerous persecutions on college campus, are you willing to risk rejection, embarrassment, unpopularity?
3. Evangelization is Just the Beginning
For Paul, conversion is just the beginning. He was keenly aware that the ultimate goal was “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). Achieving this goal is not an automatic consequence of this initial conversion experience. “Not all runners who begin the race finish” (1 Cor 9:24) so “run with perseverance” (2 Tim 4:7).
We are to become ‘mature’ disciples, becoming like Christ himself. Paul’s letters are filled with exhortations, encouragements, and admonishments to put off sinful ways and put on Jesus Christ; to live not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
4. Life in Christ is Lived Daily in Community
As Paul traveled the known world of his time preach the Gospel the immediate fruit of this encounter with Jesus Christ was the Christian community. For Paul, the Christian life was not an individual affair. Neither is the “fellowship of believers” merely a support system to help me live my relationship with Christ. Followers of Jesus Christ are essentially joined to one another. They share the same life principle in the same way that members of a physical body are one (1 Cor 12).
Christ lives in the body of believers. If we are not actively and integrally living life with other disciples, we are in some sense cut off from Christ himself. The becoming ‘like Christ’ which is the essence of mature discipleship is eminently practical and measured principally by how I live in charity with my neighbor.
Are you trying to go solo? Saint Paul would say "let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another" (Heb 10:24). So, get connected!
Thanks be to God for the gift that Saint Paul is to the Church! May we in SPO strive to imitate him being filled with evangelistic zeal and commitment, bringing young people to life changing conversion through an encounter with Jesus Christ, building them together into communities of faith on college campuses, and forming them to become mature disciples.