The churches of Judea heard the Apostle Paul’s reputation, which preceded him:
“The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”
~Galatians 1:23 (NRSV)
Oh, the majesty of God to convert a sinner convinced of their righteousness to the Righteousness made self-evident in the light of their sin. They fall before their holy God!
Paul (originally Saul) had given every thought imaginable to the obliteration of The Way; the movement of those claiming faith in Jesus’ name. So betwixt was he in tormenting the believers and utterly destroying the First Century church he would go beyond foreseeable lengths—to the astonishment of protagonists on both sides. Like John Newton was irreproachably ashamed of his slave trading days, Paul would go on to use his filthy misdeeds of the flesh—couched in a Pharisaic defence—to inspire the heartiest of persecuted faith in the Lord Jesus.
Whoever is forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). There couldn’t have been many, if any, who had blasphemed and reproached the Holy Spirit more than Saul. Yet, this man was forgiven and made an Apostle—in one step. Nobody knew grace quite as intimately as Paul did.
Reframing Early Christian History
Acts and Galatians both follow similar themes; they abide to the character of the author’s agenda in speaking forth the gospel imperative in nothing less than convincing ways. In both books the conversion of Saul, becoming Paul, is used as illustrative of Christ’s power to change one life and, therefore, history.
The conversion of Saul is a historical landmark representing the transformative method known for taking unbelievers and believers of different faiths into the grace resplendent of God through Jesus Christ.
At conversion the previously unconverted person is invaded—to put it crudely—by the Lord upon their acceptance through open-mindedness; a heart no longer bristling with conceit and in rebellion against God. The greatest conversion in human history featured these very hallmarks; in the flashing of blinding light, no longer was Saul able to hold the Lord Jesus back—the Messiah revealed, meant that Jesus was, in that moment, proved to Saul. He could do nothing but worship and accede to the desire of the Lord that would see him serve the living God the rest of his days.
Only The Spirit Can Prove Himself
Perhaps the most important evangelical lesson is only the Holy Spirit can empower someone to believe; upon holy revelation, that the person becomes convinced of the fact, love, power, salvation, and grace of God. Nothing any human being can do can make a Saul into a Paul.
Only Jesus can convert someone from unbelief to belief; and in the true presentation of the Lord, can anyone be dissuaded?
If Saul—a Christian hater—could be revived to belief in Jesus, becoming Paul, the father of the early church, any atheist, false teacher, pagan-practicing, Jesus-hating, Satan-believing person can be converted. When Jesus is revealed, to one heart at a time, he transforms that heart—making a believer out of them in one comprehensive moment.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.