Today I want to share a little about my best friend who lives in Washington State. Early in my life he and I became best friends. We used to hang out all the time. There was a point in both of our lives where we went in opposite directions socially (he became a Christian and I wanted nothing to do with Christianity) but we remained friends. He watched out for me during my rebellious years. I look back and I remember that I did many stupid (and irresponsible) things as a college student. I was living a life of rebellion. I lived a reckless and sin infested life. To say I was a rough individual would be an understatement. I lived in complete abandonment of rules and regulations. Fortunately and thankfully my friend was there to watch out for me. He cared about me, he was concerned for my safety and most of all he wanted me to meet Jesus. In an odd sort of way he had a servant attitude as he would accompany me to parties and bars to make sure I stayed out of trouble. He would often share Jesus with me and I would just pass him off as a Jesus freak. Thom would often say to Drew, “Why do you waste your time on Jeff?
I am not only thankful for the prayers and investment of my friend but I am most thankful for the grace of God. I am thankful for Ephesians 2:8, “For it is by grace you are saved; through faith, it is the gift of God.” It is not just a gift… it is THE gift from God.
Nobody reading this today who is a born again follower of Jesus can say, “I am a Christian because of something I did.” Not a single one of us is so good, pure, moral and holy that you deserve God’s grace and not a single one of is too far gone, sinful or lost to receive God’s grace. We all should rejoice and be thankful for God’s extending grace.
Saul to Paul (Sinner to Saint)
In this ongoing series we have looked at various individuals who had encounters with Jesus and in their encounter their lives were forever changed. We have looked at the encounters of the Apostles as they were called to follow Jesus, the Pharisee Nicodemus who found out what it meant to be born again, the adulteress who experienced true mercy and forgiveness, and the rich young ruler who walked away from Jesus.
Read Acts 9:1 - 9
Sola gratia… This is Latin for “Grace alone”. Grace, what a beautiful word. God’s grace, it is a beautiful theological truth. Grace – “God’s unmerited kindness shown to undeserving humanity.” Without grace we are all lost.
The Apostle Paul truly understands, appreciates and loves the grace of God. This was not always true though. He may not have truly understood grace until he had his encounter with Jesus Christ. Paul loved grace. He spoke about it often in his writing. He brought the message of grace through faith in Jesus to the Gentiles through his preaching and writing. However Paul was not always a grace loving, Jesus preaching, messenger of hope that we know him to be.
Before Paul had his Christ encounter he was one of those individuals that many believed was too far gone to be saved. Before he became the Apostle Paul he was known as Saul. He was an aspiring Pharisee who was quickly making a name for himself. We are first introduced to him in Acts 7 as the young man who was looking on with approval and holding the cloaks of the elders and scribes who were stoning the Apostle Stephen. Early in his career Saul launched a campaign against this Christian movement as he ravaged homes, threatened, murdered and arrested men and women and through them into prison. It was all done with the approval of the leadership of his time. This tyrant caused a great dispersion to occur among believers (which we now know was part of God’s plan) who were fleeing for their lives and relocating to various Jewish and Gentile cities. Charles Swindoll writes, “He hated the name of Jesus, so much so, he became a self avowed, violent aggressor, persecuting and killing Christians in allegiance to the God of heaven.”[i]
Saul was born a Jew in the city of Tarsus. In his youth he went to Jerusalem to study under the teachings of Gamaliel (Acts 22:3), who was perhaps one of the most notable of first century sages. Saul was totally committed to the Law as interpreted and understood by the Rabbis, and he became a member of the sect of Pharisees with high aspirations. To Saul, followers of Jesus were heretics and they were an abomination to the God he served. In response to this he joined in the persecution of the Christian church. He would stop at nothing to accomplish the goal of destroying Christianity. [ii]
Paul’s Christ Encounter
Verses 2 & 3: Saul approaches the high priest and asked for letters to the synagogue at Damascus to seek out and arrest anyone who was a follower of Jesus. He set out for his 150 mile journey (It would take him about a week). On the road to Damascus Saul comes face to face with the risen Jesus Christ and has a Christ encounter that changes his life radically. He would literally become a new person with a new outlook and purpose.
Verses 3 & 4: “Suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ He responded, ‘Who are you Lord?’ And he said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’” At this very moment Jesus in his grace reached down and called the man who was persecuting his people to become one of the people he was persecuting. Isn’t grace amazing? In God’s never ending grace he stops a murderer (Saul) dead (pardon the pun) in his tracks and calls him to become that which the murderer despises. Jesus tells him specifically to stop what he is doing and do what he is told to do. He was now going to become a messenger of Jesus Christ to both Jews and Gentiles about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
This all happens with men who were traveling with Saul and they stood there speechless because they could hear what was going on but not see anything happening. This encounter was a time where God pours his grace on Saul and he is converted to Christ. His life will never ever be the same again.
In this short passage we witness an event that has reshaped the face of Christianity. A murderous tyrant comes face to face with the savior and has a salvation experience that completely rocked his world. Paul understood that day that all he had devoted his life to destroying was in fact a movement of God. Up to this point Paul was completely dependent upon himself and his works for his righteousness. Yet he eventually realizes that all of his law keeping and rule following was all for naught. Paul actually says this in Philippians 3:4 – 11… Paul acknowledges that his conversion and transformed life is all a result of God’s grace. He says if anyone could boast in the flesh of his works it would be him. However he counted it all as loss in relation to the grace of God. He knows and acknowledges that it is only by God’s grace that he will receive eternal life. If Paul wrote nothing else other than these verses it would be enough to know that he understood the beauty of God’s grace.
GRACE! It is the gift from God, it is not something we deserve, He has given it to us regardless of who we are and what we have done. Our salvation does not depend on how good we are, how popular we are or how little we sin in life. It depends solely on the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
God has an abundance of grace and love for you. This was displayed through the cross of Jesus Christ. Even when all of us were entrenched in sinful ways and in complete disregard for Jesus doesn't take away the fact that He still gave His life for you. God’s love for you is never ending. Jesus didn’t die on the cross based upon what our response would be to Him, He did it so humanity would receive redemption, life and eternal joy.
You and I have been saved by grace. We didn’t deserve to be saved, we deserve hell. God’s unmerited favor shown to you and I, He provided a way. It is THE gift from God.
Regardless of our past we all need to realize that our salvation is not based upon what we do (works), but based upon what Christ did for us (His grace). When we were called by God it was because He first loved us, not vice versa. Our response to Him is based upon our conviction of sin by the Holy Spirit, this leads to the realization that we are indeed sinful, decrepit, and in need of a savior. God calls all of us to receive His gift of grace.
No body is so far gone that God cannot extend his grace to him. God’s grace has the power to transform. His grace turns sinners into saints. This is great news for all of us. I close with these words by the band U2 with their song “Grace”.
“What once was hurt
What once was friction
What left a mark
No longer stings
Because grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things”
[i] Swindoll, Charles (2002). Paul: The Man of Grace and Grit, p.4. Nashville, TN Word Publishing.
[ii] Richards, Larry: Every Man in the Bible. Nashville: T. Nelson, 1999, S. 177