Friday, May 18, 2012


Acts 9:1-2, “Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, when 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.”

1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am.”

I love to read Christian biographies and especially about how God intervened in the life of a man or woman to save them. Conversion stories are my favorites. There is typically much variety as to the particulars, but some things remain consistent to all of them. There is a life before conversion, the conversion experience itself, and the transformation that follows. Sometimes the transformation is radical and profound—such was the case with Saul.

The church has known no greater missionary than the Apostle Paul. Countless souls were saved and churches established as a result of his missionary endeavors. He authored more books of the Bible than any other man (all inspired by God of course). He was a man of profound theology and was privileged to be given a foretaste of heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). He suffered willingly and ongoingly for the gospel message he was compelled to preach (2 Corinthians 11:23-28). But he rejoiced in his sufferings as he understood their contribution to his life purpose--to know Christ better (Philippians 3:10). His life was devoted to ministry (Philippians 1:21-24, 2:17). He fought the good fight and finished the course (2 Timothy 4:7). He has left to us an example worth emulating (Philippians 3:17).

It is amazing to reconsider who Paul was. I remember the first time I read through the account of his conversion (when I was first Spirit-enabled to understand it). I was amazed that God could save such a man. Several passages in Scripture give Paul’s testimony. Collectively they speak to his radical depravity (something that is true of all of us by nature but not always so obvious; Cf. Ephesians 2:1-3; Colossians 1:21).

  • Acts 9:1-2, “(He) was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.”
  • Acts 22:4, “And I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women in prison.”
  • Acts 26:9-11, “So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death to cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.”
  • Galatians 1:13, “For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:13, “Even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor.”

Saul was not in any way seeking after Christ. He was engaged in his murderous activities at the time of his conversion. He would have undoubtedly been voted “least likely to be saved,” had any such vote been taken. So repelling was his reputation that God had to convince Ananias to go to him after Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:10-14). It was to such a man that Christ appeared.

How are we to account for his salvation? Obviously there was no Pauline contribution to it--no goodness of heart or work of his own which led up to it. He was headed in the wrong direction when God turned him around. Years later Paul himself explained that which transpired—“And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13a-14). By what means was Saul saved? By the love, grace, and mercy which are found in Christ Jesus. Mercy is God not giving to us what we deserve. Grace is God giving to us what we don’t deserve. We deserve judgment. Through Christ we are granted salvation and unfathomable riches. The distance between what we deserved and what we have received is infinite and speaks to the “more than abundant” grace that is found in Christ. That is what Paul experienced in salvation.

1 Timothy 1:11-17 is Paul’s glorious testimony to God’s saving work. The “bookends” of the passage speak to the glorious nature of the gospel of the blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11 & 17). In between these two verses we have Paul’s own testimony. The testimony leads to a “trustworthy statement”: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). Paul appeals to his own testimony as evidence of the veracity of this wonderful truth—“Among whom I am foremost of all” (1 Timothy 1:15b). And then Paul gives the reason why he was shown mercy: “And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). In other words—if Jesus Christ could save me (the foremost of sinners), He can save anyone. His ability to pardon exceeds our ability to comprehend (Isaiah 55:6-9).

What a glorious and radical transformation! It speaks to the abundant nature of God’s amazing grace. It reminds us of Jesus’ ability to “save to the uttermost” those who draw near to God through Him (Hebrews 7:25). Paul was always speaking of God’s grace. And his proclamation of the gospel was not theoretical; it was rooted in his own person experience. “He loved me and delivered Himself up for me” was his testimony (Galatians 2:20). He was saved by grace and it was salvation by grace he declared (Ephesians 2:8-9). “By the grace of God I am what I am,” he said (1 Corinthians 15:10). By God’s grace he was saved and radically transformed.

Pastor Jerry

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