Many of my blogs insist on Christians doing things a little bit better. And we certainly have room for improvement.
But we often confuse behavioral improvement with the process that God sets forth when we’re saved. Our humanity resists change when God insists on it, if you haven’t noticed by now.
But when we start suppressing our human desires, it is only a temporary victory, because we’re still wearing this stinky, hairy flesh (some of us with more hair than others). By our own efforts, faltering is inevitable.
Many religious people — even Christians — believe that we must try harder and achieve an acceptable plateau of righteousness in order to really start pleasing God. However, the work is not our own, but of God through the Holy Spirit. It should be happening automatically, and it only happens because of Jesus Christ.
Saul’s conversion is pretty extreme, you can easily surmise, but we can see some of the aspects of his life that resonate with our own conversion. Notice that these things happened to Saul. Many of these changes, to a lesser degree, should happen to us as well when we become Christians. If it’s not, it might be wise to consider your salvation, or at least, your level of resistance to God.
Reclamation of vengeance (v. 1)
Saul is a bloodthirsty beast at this point in the story. By the time his conversion begins, however, his attitude changes dramatically. Vengeance is God’s job, not man’s.
Confession of Lordship (v. 5)
As soon as Saul is knocked to the ground, he calls God by the appropriate name: LORD. This is a statement of submission on his end, and profession of authority on the other.
Pride obliterated (v. 5) [omitted from NIV]
The Lord makes a strange statement to Saul: that it is “hard to kick against the goads.” Goads are devices used to poke sheep into their correct place. It’s kinda like the roundhouse kick you deliver to your kid’s behind if they won’t get moving to their room. God needed to kick Saul’s butt. And it worked, because Saul stopped kicking back. I believe this is where a lot of Christians stop; many continue to carry pride into their worship, prayer, and service to others.
Trust despite lack of instruction (v. 6)
We like evidence and explanation. But when rationale for what happens to or around us is absent, we get a little wary. In verse 6, God says, “Shut up and go, man.” Kind of. Saul had trust issues, apparently. Saul’s faith is being developed. How’s yours?
Removes sight (v. 8)
Ask a random person how they see, and they’ll say, “I use my eyes, duh.” Ask a blind person, however, and they’ll admit they use the remainder of their senses to “see” the world around them. Saul’s eyes were corrupt with hatred, and the Lord in turn performs His version of lasik — and after a few days, his vision is corrected.
Dependence on the Lord’s sustenance (v. 9)
Jesus famously responds to the devil’s wiles in Matthew 4: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” He forces the issue with Saul; no longer will Saul dine on hatred or bigotry. He will now love his fellow man, because it is now the gospel of Jesus Christ that sustains him.
Reputation redefined (v. 13-14)
In a conversion, there should always be a significant character change — you’re submitting to God’s ways, which are definitely contrary to human impulse, so a difference is inevitable. Saul is well-known for his murderous methods, and the apostles are very apprehensive about receiving him, but they gradually change their mind as Saul’s pattern of behavior reflects his renewed intentions.
Reception of the Holy Spirit (v. 17)
To quench your thirst, you don’t pour a glass of water and just stare at it. Ananias prophetically describes Saul’s motive for his integrity and his work. In all of the activity he does for the sake of Jesus Christ, he is compelled by the Holy Spirit, and that is one source of water that never, ever runs out.
Public profession of faith (v. 18)
After Saul makes his way to the apostles’ base, he proceeds to get baptized. This is a huge deal, because he is publicly associating himself with the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and inherently shedding the clothes of his former ideology. He also sheds these weird scale things, but at least he gets his sight back.
Immediate service (v. 20)
Sometimes, churches think you should be a seasoned Christian before you should begin serving. There are stipulations regarding becoming an elder or deacon laid out in the epistles to Timothy and Titus, particularly in regard to teaching/preaching, but none regarding being a servant of others. Saul wrote the books on it anyway — literally — and he’s shown here serving a short time after assenting to the murder of a Christian. Don’t let legalism prevent you from serving others. Do it, and don’t look back.
The artist formerly known as…
Saul is known by the name Paul later on. Symbolically, it indicates that he is no longer associated with his former self.
Making Jesus your Lord puts you in a position of favor with God. But it also positions you to undergo dramatic changes in your life. May we all examine our lives and consider how compelling the love of Jesus Christ and the influence of the Holy Spirit truly is.