God’s effectual, irresistible grace always has as its purpose the conversion of those whom He targets, but that is not our Lord’s only aim when He chooses to save His people. Our Creator also pours His grace upon His people to equip them for specific kingdom tasks. We draw this conclusion from Ephesians 3:8–9 and the emphasis that Paul puts on the Lord’s gracious choice of him as the Apostle to the Gentiles.
Paul begins with a few words that encapsulate the wonder he felt regarding his conversion — “though I am the very least of all the saints” (v. 8). Reading Paul’s epistles, we get the impression that he never ceased to be amazed that God chose both to save him and to make him a chief herald of the gospel message, for he refers to his unworthiness in other places, as well (see, for example, 1 Tim. 1:15). From our perspective, we can easily see why he never lost his amazement at God’s gift of grace. After all, he was not only not open to the gospel message prior to his conversion, he was as hostile to it as one can possibly be (Acts 9:1–31). Our frequent failure to be amazed at the Lord’s graciousness to us may originate in the fact that many of us were not outwardly opposed to the gospel before we heard the call of Jesus. Yet that does not mean we were better than Paul; rather, we were merely better at suppressing our hatred of the things of God than he was. Let us never forget that we too were once God-haters and that our Father’s decision to save us was no less gracious than His choice of Paul.
Divine grace was given to Paul to save him and to commission him for service (Eph. 3:8–9), and though we may not have as prominent a role in church history as the apostle, we are nonetheless commissioned for specific service in God’s kingdom (1 Cor. 12). One way we discern this call is through reading Paul’s letters and the rest of Scripture, as the Bible contains “the unsearchable riches of Christ” revealed for our edification. These riches — the plan and benefits of salvation — are inaccessible and unfathomable to the human mind apart from the special revelation of God the Holy Spirit through His prophets and apostles. Jerome, one of the greatest biblical scholars of the early church, writes, “Those things which by nature were unsearchable to humanity are the ones that have been made known by God’s revelation” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, New Testament vol. 8, p. 141; hereafter ACCNT).