THE CONVERSION AND TRANSFORMATION OF SAUL (PAUL) – RE-CREATION NOT RENOVATION
"Though you wash yourself with lye and use much soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, declares the Lord God." (Jer. 2:22) "Can an Ethiopian change the color of his skin? Can a leopard take away its spots? Neither can you start doing good, for you have always done evil." (Jer. 13:23) From face lifts to education to self-help books and programs, the secular world promises us a new and better life. Yet, the song writers and singers who sing about love and world peace can't even get along with their wife and children. And I can't count the number of new year's resolutions I broke before God broke me and made me a new creation in Christ. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Cor. 5:17) God doesn't renovate us, He re-creates us and we are totally new creations with a change that begins on the inside and gradually changes us on the outside as we go "from one degree of glory to the next." (2 Cor. 3:18) Amazing grace, as John Newton called it, the former slave trader turned pastor and champion emancipator of the very slaves he once bought and sold.
"Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem." In this chapter we see the amazing conversion and transformation of Saul – public enemy number one to the new but rapidly growing Christian church. "Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor (against the church)….; It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all." (1 Tim. 1:13, 15) Saul, later to be called Paul, must have been the most unlikely candidate in the mind of the apostles and all the new believers to become part of "the Way," the name believers used to refer to themselves. And Jesus is still the Way and the only Way for a sinner to be saved, transformed and heaven-bound. (John 14:6) Jesus is the only way to God but He offers the free gift of pardon to every person in the world. "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Rom. 10:13) Who is your most unlikely candidate for salvation? May this message renew your hope, prayers and witness.
Let's look at this exciting and wonderful account of Paul's dramatic encounter with the risen Lord. 3 "As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" 5 And he said, "Who are You, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do." 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. 10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." 11 And the Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight." 13 But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake." 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened."
In these verses we don't read of Paul confessing his sins and praying the sinner's prayer for salvation but what we do see is immediate life change: quick obedience to Jesus' commands (vv. 6-8, 18), prayer (v. 11), being filled with (submitted to) the Spirit (v. 17) and fervently proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God to the very Jews who denied Jesus with him as the ring leader (v. 20). His saving faith is obvious to him and to all who knew him. I'll never forget a person once telling me that our faith is a private and personal thing. Oh it is most personal for sure, to the very core of our soul, but it cannot be and must not be private. Our Lord and Leader did not hide away in some cave where only a few might find Him but, "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people." (Matt. 4:23) And then He paid for our sins by writhing in pain hanging naked on a public cross. How can we keep such love a secret? It is the most passionate love story in human history; true love. Paul got it and never was the same.
But why was Paul so angry with Christians and such a Christ-hater? Often the ones who shout the loudest against Jesus are the very ones who deep down are afraid it might be true. Paul had invested his entire life in Judaism and was a rising star (see Philippians 3:1-6). He had a lot to lose in his mind if this itinerant unschooled preacher, Jesus, was Who He claimed to be. His great knowledge of the OT Scriptures was also working against him because they pointed to Jesus as the Son of God. And watching Stephen's stoning, after hearing his powerful testimony (Acts 7) as Stephen saw Jesus and died with such love and forgiveness must have been so convicting. Later on in Acts 26, when Paul is retelling of his conversion, he includes another statement by Jesus that shows this growing conviction: "We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.' (Acts 26:14) Goads were long sticks with sharp pricks on the end to poke the oxen to keep them in line or keep them moving. Some of the more stubborn oxen would kick against the goads and only hurt themselves. Stubborn unbelievers, like Paul pre-conversion, kick against God's Word and Spirit to fight off conviction and hurt themselves by continuing in sin ("the way of the transgressor is hard" Prov. 15:13) and ultimately face the just wrath of God (Rev. 20:11-15). Though Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus was sudden, it seems that God had been working on him for a while.
Paul's strong resistance and even aggressive persecution against Christianity is the same reason people here in America and all over the world hate Christians and the Christ of Christianity. Why? Because deep down they know it is true (Rom. 1:18-20; 2:14-16) and they know they are accountable for their sins against a Holy God whom they reject. Jesus said, "The world can't hate you, but it does hate me because I accuse it of doing evil." (John 7:7) "And the judgment is based on this fact: God's light came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil. All who do evil hate the light and refuse to go near it for fear their sins will be exposed." (John 3:19-20)
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) Other than yourself, whose conversion to Christianity has been the most shocking to you?
2) Describe in one sentence how you "saw the light"; what did you believe in, strive for, hope in, or "love" more than Jesus before you were saved?
3) How has Jesus changed you? What were the immediate changes and where have you seen gradual changes?
4) Imagine looking at a photo of yourself from 25, 40, 50 years ago compared to one today. There would be obvious differences. Now what if you could see a photo of your soul, your character, attitudes, habits, desires, activities from many years ago (before you met Christ) till today; How different would it "look"? Describe the most dramatic differences. Please take the time to write this down so we can give the Lord much glory as we share how He and He alone could save and change a wretch like you and me as John Newton and Paul (Rom. 7:24) put it.
5) From observing Paul's response to Jesus after his salvation – quick obedience to Jesus' commands (vv. 6-8, 18), prayer (v. 11), being filled with (submitted to) the Spirit (v. 17) and fervently proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, which of these do you feel you want to grow in?