David Limbaugh explains why Christians must learn about Paul, his work and the early church

Jesus Is Risen
Jesus Is Risen: Paul and the Early Church |

The Christian faith cannot be understood apart from the radical obedience and transformation of a persecutor-turned-Apostle, Paul, whose life and words shaped the early church more than any other man.

And author David Limbaugh believes it's vital that Christians understand the importance of Paul's missionary journeys and work as he testified to the miraculous event that was the physical resurrection of Jesus.

While the first believers in the risen Lord were based in Jerusalem, the faith spread remarkably amid persecution and suffering, Limbaugh explains in Jesus Is Risen: Paul and The Early Church. Limbaugh explores the book of Acts and six New Testament epistles, navigating the activities and thinking of the earliest believers, particularly Paul, as they faced intense opposition, violence, and setbacks because of their zeal to advance God's Kingdom.

Written with passion for the furtherance of the Gospel, Limbaugh equips Christians hungry to know more about the roots of their faith, who will no doubt notice his love for Scripture.

The following is The Christian Posts Q&A with David Limbaugh about his book and what Christians can learn from Apostle Paul. 

CP: You write extensively about how the Apostle Paul was particularly effective at debating and making good arguments for belief in the resurrected Messiah. What can modern Christians learn from his example?

Limbaugh: Paul was uniquely equipped to evangelize because of his sincerity, his intellect, his passion, his intimate knowledge of the Scriptures, his flexibility, and most of all, his love for Christ and for all those to whom he was delivering His life-giving message.

Paul kept his focus on Christ and on his direct commission from Christ to preach the Gospel. He studiously avoided self-promotion; his singular mission was to be an obedient vehicle for the Holy Spirit, through Him, to win converts for Christ.

So as dogmatic as Paul could be on matters of doctrine, he was quite adaptable in his approach to evangelism. He was adamant that the small issues — those that wouldn’t affect one’s salvation — not interfere with his presentation of the message. It was critical not to impose any artificial barriers that could impede the message. So he intentionally couched the message in terms that would most likely appeal to his particular audience, but never at the expense of right doctrine and the true Gospel message.

In his first letter to the Corinthians, he wrote: “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the Gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.”

Paul knew that not all people are alike — they come from different cultures, different religions, and different worldviews. He was determined to meet them where they were. Ravi Zacharias employs the same technique in his approach to evangelism and apologetics, reminding his students that when someone asks them a question about the faith they must be attuned to the questioner as much as the question he or she is asking. Try to assess what is really troubling the person and then tailor your answer accordingly, being careful always to honor the truth and God’s Word.

CP: You note the importance of the book of Romans, which has been called "The Cathedral of the Christian Faith." It's arguably the most substantive theological treatise in all of Scripture. Given its density, it's also a book where its meaning is most vigorously debated among theologians. Though Paul speaks to many things in it, in your study of the book what emerged as its most glorious truth?

Limbaugh: There are so many glorious truths in the book of Romans it is difficult for me to rank them. But I agree with most commentators that the book’s theme is summarized in this passage: “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17).

As I explain in the book, in this epistle, Paul masterfully articulates the interrelationship between righteousness and salvation. Eternal salvation is available to all people — Jews and Gentiles — through faith in Jesus Christ, not through one’s works. Through faith the sinner is declared righteous — Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him in a judicial sense — and he is also empowered by the Holy Spirit to become more righteous in fact. All people are joined as one people in Christ.

CP: The book of Acts chronicles the journeys of the apostles, especially Paul's, and you point out that the book isn't merely history, but that there are theological and life lessons to be learned within it, particularly about suffering in the midst of trials. As you explored this, what moved you most about the fathers of the early church and their work?

Limbaugh: As I read the book of Acts and the epistles, especially in view of the Gospels, I am struck by the radical transformation of the apostles from the time they accompanied Christ in His earthly ministry to their work as missionaries following His resurrection and ascension.

Even though they had been with Christ, listened to His words, experienced His sinlessness, and witnessed His miracles, they were still plagued with some doubt about who He was. At times they would respond that He was the Messiah, the Son of God, and the Savior of mankind, but yet still vacillated, especially after His crucifixion where Peter, of all people, denied Him not once, but three times.

David Limbaugh

But once they encountered the resurrected Christ, touched Him, ate with Him, and prayed with Him — after they had seen Him physically die and then reappear bodily in His resurrection — they were transformed from ambivalent, skeptical, and feckless men to bold proclaimers of the Gospel.

Their transformation was complete, so that when the religious authorities arrested Peter and John and commanded them to quit performing miracles in Christ’s name and to cease spreading the Gospel message, Peter and John responded: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). In other words, “We don’t mean to be disrespectful to you, but we don’t really have a choice when it comes to following your commands or those of the living Son of God, who commanded us to be His ‘witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth’” (Acts 1:8).

These ordinary men with little formal education became extraordinary men through the Spirit of Christ and the gates of Hell could thereafter not contain them. It is a powerful testimony to the power of Christ and the Holy Spirit to transform people’s lives.

CP: The Church in Galatia was under the spell of false teaching. Paul rebukes them calling them "foolish" since they, as you explain, had the Gospel clearly presented to them but insisted on moving away from salvation by faith and returning to the Law and their own works. And we see throughout the New Testament similar rebukes and warnings to watch out for false teachers.

Were it impossible to be deceived, there would be no such warnings present. Yet simultaneously, some Christians seem to have more of a belief in the enemy's ability to deceive them than in the Holy Spirit's ability to lead them into all truth, and as a result they function in a rather paranoid fashion. In other words, we're not immune to the same issues they experienced. How Can Christians today avoid that same predicament that the Galatians fell into, and rely on the Holy Spirit to preserve them?

Limbaugh: Your question presents an opportunity to emphasize the universal applicability of Paul’s letters to the particular churches of his day. Several interviewers have asked me what Paul might say to churches today that are struggling with internal and external threats.

My response is that he would send them copies of his epistles because though many were written to specific local churches, they addressed problems that all churches would face throughout history. His answer is always the same and is just as relevant today as it was 2000 years ago. The church must present the Gospel message, undiluted. It must preach Christ and Him crucified. It must preach our inability to save ourselves and that we find our salvation by grace, through faith in Christ alone.

It must resist the anti-Christian influences of the secular world and their corrosive impact on the church. It must resist the temptation to please man instead of God, for example, by conforming to anti-Christian practices or beliefs prominent in the culture. It must resist the seductive teachings of false preachers who deliver a message that appeals to man’s pride and his self-sufficiency.

Paul would tell them to remain true to “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). He would warn them to be vigilant against those false teachers who will “say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3).

So in response to another part of your question, of course these traps that Paul warns about would be present throughout the history of the church and remain with us today.

I don’t know whether some Christians fear the enemy’s ability to deceive them more than they believe in the Holy Spirit’s ability to lead them into all truth. To me this presents a false choice. A true reading of Scripture warrants that we be forever aware of the ubiquitous forces of evil in the world and scrupulously avoid those, both consciously and by relying on the power of the Holy Spirit to deliver us from their influences.

A healthy awareness of these dark forces, of the underlying spiritual warfare that is playing out beyond our range of physical vision, is essential to insulate us from their power over us. Such awareness will help motivate us to turn to the Spirit, which we must do, through prayer, Bible reading, and the whole panoply of other spiritual disciplines. We’ll never be wholly immune from these influences, which is why we must remain in the Word and in prayer on a daily basis.

CP: I would imagine that when you pen a book with this depth, it's impossible not to encounter the living God in a powerful way. Did that happen for you while writing Jesus Is Risen

Limbaugh: I can’t say that I have overt mystical experiences as some Christians describe, but I can tell you that when I study God’s Word in-depth, I grow closer to Him. In Jesus is Risen, I cover the book of Acts and six of the Apostle Paul’s 13 epistles, and I read and reread these books intensely and close together so that I could better see their interrelationship than I ever could before. As a result of this study I also think I gained a greater appreciation for the struggles Paul, Peter, John, and the other apostles and early believers experienced.

They were real people living in real history and you can’t help but appreciate that as you read Luke’s account of the history of the early church in Acts, and the intimate tone of Paul’s letters to the churches he planted. As I read these books my appreciation for God’s sovereignty and superintendence of salvation history grows immeasurably, as does my awe for His Word and its glorious unity, integrity, and spiritual power. It is my fervent belief that studying Scripture draws us closer to God that most inspires my writing of these books, whose main goal is to encourage people to read the Bible for themselves.

CP: Nowadays, among the worst of heresies being furthered in the West are related to human sexuality and sexual ethics, with increasing numbers of churches affirming what the early church condemned. You might say we have become like Corinth.

How is it that we have forgotten that, as you say in your chapter "1 Corinthians 1-8: A Call for Unity in the Church," not only is the body the temple of the Holy Spirit and sexual sin strikes at the very core of our being, but that indeed it damages the witness of the entire church, not just the individual engaged in it?

Limbaugh: Paul told the Corinthians that the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord — our bodies are members of Christ. As such, we should not unite them with a prostitute, as one who is joined with a prostitute becomes one body with her and the two will become one flesh. “But whoever is united with the Lord is with him in spirit” (1 Cor. 6:17). We must particularly avoid sexual immorality, Paul cautions, because whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body, which is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

As I attempt to explain in the book, I believe Paul is saying that the sexual sin is related to the body in a unique, more intimate way. Other sins may affect the body, notes Leon Morris, “but this sin, and this sin only, means that a man takes that body that is ‘a member of Christ’ and puts it into a union which ‘blasts his own body.’ … The sexual sinner sins against his own body.” As our body was purchased with a price it does not belong to us, but to God and so must be used to glorify God.

I don’t know that we have forgotten these truths, as you suggest, but I do believe we have become numb to them, just as we have to other scriptural truths that have come under assault in our culture, and all too often, in our churches.

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