Paul – Persecutor to Apostle
PAUL – PERSECUTOR TO APOSTLE
PREACHER – ANGIE MORRIS
Reading – Acts 9: 1-19
The first time I was given the opportunity to preach to a congregation was when I was on a mission trip in white river. Three times a week the church would hold revival services where they would set themselves up and have a church service in someone’s backyard. That particular evening I was asked at the end of worship to preach- this didn’t give me much time to prepare. But God was gracious and gave placed a word in my heart from Colossians on turning away from witchcraft and turning to the loving kindness of God. So I preached over loud speaker so the whole community could hear it of this verse despite the many looks of shock I got. I realized the reason for that shock later when someone informed me that there was a witch doctors house on the property we had the service on. Thank goodness God revealed this to me after.
Wow, what a unique and miraculous experience for Saul. I do believe this experience halted him in his tracks and gave him a serious career change. It was what converted him to Christianity and was the catalyst to his transformation. There are biblical and non-biblical examples of people who have also converted and been transformed but yet did not have an experience such as this. I believe that we can be converted and transformed without seeing bright lights, hearing an audible voice and going blind. And if you look deeper you will see this story and life of Paul illustrates this, as I said I don’t believe God needs to show you the miraculous to bring transformation in our lives. Lets look at the story of Paul and the elements of his transformation which may be what we have experienced and so easy can experience.
Lets look at the Saul the person, I think sometimes we forget who he was before he became an apostle and in doing so place him on a pedestal, lets take that pedestal away in our minds. Because he really was just a man transformed by God.
- If we look at Galatians 1, Paul described himself as advancing in Judiasm beyond many Jews of his age.
- He said that he was zealous for the traditions of his forefathers.
- Saul would have known the Torah backwards
- He was known and had status amongst the Pharisees.
- In Acts 6 he not only witnessed the stoning of Stephen but is says he sat there and approved of it and thereafter they lay Stephen’s clothing at his feet.
- Later he sent a request out to all the synagogues to imprision Christians and then went personally to collect them.
- The bible says he travelled 150 miles, which was 92 km.
- At the start of Acts 9 he was described as breathing out murderous threats.
- Stott said in his commentary of Acts that the original language used to describe Saul in this state portrayed him as a wild and ferocious beast.
- He also goes on to say that in 8:3 the word used to describe Saul destroying the church were used in Psalm 80:13 to describe boars devasting a vineyard/ the ravaging of a body by a wild beast. So basically he was a angry ferocious beast forcefully and aggressively killing and attempting to destroy Christian everywhere. Enough of a picture?
What does he transform into, I think many of us have read about Paul and are familiar with him but for the sake of those who don’t lets briefly look.
- He became a man who live by grace and was no longer a slave to law.
- He was persecuted and later killed rather than being the persecutor.
- He became a powerful preacher, leader and author of many books in the bible.
God is in the transformation business, the transformation Paul experienced we can experience too. 2 Cor 3:18 says that “we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever- increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” God wants to transform us so that we can reflect His glory. Lets look at how he did this in Paul through this very experience.
First and foremost Paul had a personal encounter with Jesus and continued to be in relation with him. Through this personal encounter Paul realized three truths:
- He was chosen
- The Jesus says “I am Jesus who you are persecuting”.
- What a shock it must have been for Saul that the very man who the Christians served would reveal himself to him despite the fact that he had put the Christians through so much.
- God could have shown wrath as he did in the old testament and strike him dead but instead he chose to meet him and reveal to him who he really was.
- Saul did not decide for Christ, Christ decided for him.
It was of this grace that Paul spoke of in many places in the books he wrote, lets look at an example:
“But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I may preach among the Gentiles”
And as he chose Paul Christ has chosen us
He has set us apart since birth
Called us by his grace
And is pleased to reveal His son to us
- He desires a personal relationship with us
- I love this part of the story, Jesus says to him why are you persecuting me.
- Notice how he does not question why Saul was persecuting his followers, because in persecuting his followers he is directly persecuting Christ.
- Which shows that God is directly affected by what we experience, he loves us so much that in hurting us you hurt him.
- My mom always says that it’s the hardest thing to see your child hurt, when they are hurting you experience that hurt too.
- The same is with Christ, which shows his relationship to us as a father.
- He doesn’t just want to know us as God but as a father, he desires a personal relationship with us.
- He reiterates that in His word by calling us a son in John 1:12
- In this encounter with Christ he realized that He was the truth
- “I am Jesus..”
- The very man who he said the disciples were lying about stood before him, resurrected- the Christians really were speaking the truth.
- So often we look to books, psychologists maybe even oprah and many other sources to bring about change in our lives and I’m not denying that they can help bring change but they will never live up to the change you will experience when you have a live and have an active relationship with Christ.
- As Jesus says in John 14:6 “ I am the way, the truth and the life”, so if Christ is the truth and the truth sets you free you have to be in relationship with Christ to experience true freedom.
So first and foremost our personal relationship with Christ brings transformation. The next is the word.
There is transformation in the truth:
- Saul was blinded, I cannot say the reason why God blinded him at that moment. But the experience of being blind and receiving sight was very much like what was going on in Saul’s heart, so even if this is not the reason why he was blinded in the first place it still teaches us something.
- 2 Cor 4:4 says “ The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is in the image of God.”
- So in a figurative sense Paul was not only physically blind but spiritually blind, he knew the word in fact he would have known the old testament so much so that he could recite it.
- Yet could not believe, with all it says about Christ that He was the savior.
- And then he receives his sight, there is something important that comes with his sight and that is an infilling of the Holy Spirit.
- The word becomes alive when we receive the holy spirit, Jesus said to his disciples in John 16 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes he will guide you in all truth.” We may not have Christ with us to reveal the truth to us, but that is why we have the holy spirit.
So the truth becomes alive and I am sure there are many truths that were revealed to Paul that day but one in particular definitely changed his career path.
- That is our righteousness comes not by obedience to the law but through Christ.
- With the exception of Jesus I don’t know of any other in the bible who speaks as freely of God’s grace as Paul. Romans is just an example, in Romans 8:2-3 “through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature. God did by sending his son in the likeness of a sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man in order that the righteous requirements of the law may be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the spirit.”
- We were separated from God because of sin and we can now have that personal relationship with God, because Christ took that sin.
- For Saul as a Pharisee his life was about following law, through God’s truth he realized that in his righteousness did not come through following the law but following Christ.
The last step of transformation, as illustrated in the life of Paul, that I will talk about is.
- Obedience leads to transformation.
- Paul later in Acts 26 describes this conversion experience to King Agrippa and when doing so shares more what God said to him on that day. That was that God had anointed him to be a servant and a witness to not only the jews but the gentiles.
- What an incredible privellege to be called.
- I love how Paul’s calling was so uniquely for Paul and God has a plan so uniquely for us.
- God used Paul’s past qualifications- because he was a Pharisee he would have been well versed in the old testament.
- He would have also been taught to preach and write, not many were qualified in this area. This gave him the opportunity to write many books in the bible through letters to the church as well as give him the foundation to preach.
- His personality- Paul was bold, a leader, spoke his mind and thank goodness he was this way look how God used him as a leader as a result.
- God is into the character changing not the personality changing and Paul’s life shows this.
- God used Paul as he was as a person and his past mistakes, he didn’t waste anything to fulfill a purpose planned particularly for him.
- We do not have to be specific type of person to be used by God.
- He created you as you are for a purpose.
I love the way this story flows, because it is so true in our lives. My next point is we encounter Jesus before he calls us, because his relationship with us should always come first. Relationship + obedience= transformation not just obedience
- Our relationship with him propels us to go.
- In his old life Paul was working outside a personal relationship with God and as a result he became religious, his “walk” with God was about how much he could do to please God.
- Now he knew that God was pleased with him before he even went.
- Neil Anderson in his course called freedom in Christ says an incredible statement “its not what we do that determines who we are but its in who we are that determines what we do.”
- If you place your calling above your relationship with Christ you are at risk of becoming religious.
- You are also at risk of becoming prideful, burnt out and feeling condemned.
- Condemned because you can never live up to man’s expectations, you will always let someone down.
- Prideful- because you begin to think you can do it in your own strength
- Burnout out- because you can’t do it in your own strength.
reiterate my point
Heidi’s always enough
So how does this calling relate to transformation, well it doesn’t.
- The commission doesn’t bring transformation our obedience to it does.
- I loved in Louie Gilgio’s sermon when he explained that the vision is only 10% of the mission the other 90% is just plain hard work.
- Paul’s life is an example of how response to a calling requires testing and persecution but through this character is formed.
“Consider it pure joy my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work its work that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.”
- My friendSharondescribes people that you find difficult to deal with as sandpaper people- God is using them to smooth you off.
- It’s the same with people, places and experiences, this may be in the secular world or in ministry
- If you chose to be obedient you will experience lots of sandpaper, and that will transform you
So in closing in his grace and mercy He has chosen us, desires a personal relationship with us and is the truth. His intention for his word is that it is alive and active in our lives and he has called us to be obedient. God wants to change us into the likeness of Christ so we can bring him glory. Just reading 2 Cor 3:18 again “we with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever- increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”