Friday, May 16, 2014

SAUL: SAVED BY GRACE (Acts Chapter 9)

Acts 9:1-2, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murders against the disciples of the Lord…”

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 much 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 Jesus 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 all an example worth emulating (Philippians 3:17).

It is amazing to reconsider who Paul was beforehand.  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, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murders against the disciples of the Lord…”
  • Acts 26:9-11, “In opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth…I not only locked up many of the saints in prison…but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them…And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them.”  Cf. Acts 22:4.
  • Galatians 1:13, “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.”
  • 1 Timothy 1:13, “Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent.”
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 repugnant 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—“But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are 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.  We deserve judgment.  Through Christ’s mercy and graced we receive forgiveness instead.  The distance between what we deserved and what we have received is infinite and speaks to the “overflowing” grace that worked to save Paul.

1 Timothy 1:11-17 is Paul’s testimony to God’s saving work.  He praises God in its introduction and conclusion (1 Timothy 1:11 & 17).  His testimony includes the “trustworthy” saying that, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).  Paul explained why he himself was shown mercy: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).  In other words—if Jesus Christ could save Paul, He can save anybody.  His ability to pardon exceeds our ability to comprehend (Isaiah 55:6-9).  Paul’s was a glorious and radical transformation and speaks to Jesus’ ability to “save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him” (Hebrews 7:25).  Paul was evermore speaking of the glorious nature of God’s grace.  His proclamation of the gospel was not theoretical, his own personal testimony was, in fact, very personal (i.e. He “loved me and gave himself for me;” Galatians 2:20).  “By the grace of God I am what I am,” he said (1 Corinthians 15:10).  By God’s grace he was radically transformed from a hate-filled persecutor into a loving Apostle.

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