One of the most amazing events in the book of Acts was the transformation that took place in the life of Saul who became the apostle Paul. The mechanism of his conversion was so amazing hat it is no wonder he was rocked to the very core and spun about one hundred and eighty degrees from total opposition to Jesus Christ and Christianity to become one of its most fervent proponents.
And we should thank The Lord that He did turn Saul/Paul on his ear for Paul wrote most of what we know and need to learn about life under the New Covenant and life in he spirit.
So let us take a brief look at the life of Saul leading up to his conversion. Where was he, what was he thinking and doing and how did The Lord turn his life about so dramatically and wondrously.
The Damascus Road Experience
We see in this section that Saul was travelling down to Damascus with letters from the chief priests and elders of Judaism to authorise him to drag away and imprison any who professed to be a follower of Jesus. And Saul believed at the time he was doing the right thing. He believed that these Christians were heretics, opposing the truth of Judaism and bringing the Jews into disrepute.
Of course he was wrong, but that is the way of blind fanaticism. But it was evident that The Lord saw something in Saul that He wanted.
There is no question that Saul was a devout man. He studied Judaism at the feet of Gamaliel, a highly respected and wise member of the Jewish elders. A Pharisee who taught the young Saul the ways of Judaism and the law of Moses.
Saul deeply loved and respected the teachings of Judaism too. He was passionate for the truth and he was seeking God according to the traditions of his fathers. He knew the messiah was,coming and he was,looking for him. But he was angry at these Christians believing they were being false to the traditions and leading the people astray, thus his opposition and wrath against the early church.
Searching for Jesus
Now given where Saul was spiritually as an opposer of Jesus Christ, it was,going to take something pretty astounding to turn him around and to come to The Lord. And Jesus came to him in an astounding manner that Saul could not deny and shocked him into stopping and reevaluating his whole life. We see the scripture tells us in verses 3-9 the following.
3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.4 And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
By any stretch of imagination this was an amazing experience. Saul was stopped cold in his tracks after The Lord spoke to him and his sight was taken from him.
Saul spent three days after the Damascus Road experience where he did not eat or drink. He was blind and could not see and so he spent his entire time searching, seeking and praying for understanding as to what was happening. He wanted to know what was happening and he was seeking Jesus to find out.
Finding the Truth
After three days in prayer and fasting Saul did get his answer and regain his sight. But it is evident from other scriptures and Paul’s description of this event later that although he violently opposed the Christians at the time, he must have seen something in what they were saying. Paul describes this event again in Acts 26 and in verse 14 of that chapter he adds a little more that tells us of his state of mind. The scripture in Acts 26:14 says,
And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’
Those last few words are quite informative. A “goad” was a sharpened stock used to prod cattle so that they would move along. And of course if the cattle pushed back or kicked back against the goad it would be much more painful for them.
So too in the case of Saul when Jesus said these words we can see that The Lord had been prodding Saul along the path towards Christianity, but he wasn’t listening. Saul was kicking and screaming and pushing back against The Lord. And Jesus said to him that just like cattle, it was hurting him to do so.
This would not be the last time that Saul/Paul would kick back against The Lord either. We see that there were many times when he did so and suffered for it. In Romans 7 there is a great description where Paul, having been freed from the law rebuilt those walls he had previously had knocked down through Jesus Christ and again became entangled in the law. He says in Romans 7:9-11,
9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me.
Once again Paul kicked against the goads by returning to his former life under the law and he died as a Christian. We see him tell the Galatian church how critical it was not to fall prey to the law when you have been removed and set free from it too. In their case it was the law of circumcision, but it could have been any of the laws and commandments for if you accept to be bound by just one of the laws, you are bound by all of the laws. Look at what Paul said to the Galatian church in Galatians 5:1-4.
1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you.
3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.
4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.
Although their particular problem was circumcision, note the words at the end of verse 3. Whoever accepts one law is obligated to keep ALL of the laws. And if they want to be under the law then as Paul wrote in verse 4, you are severed from and cut off from Christ Jesus and you have fallen away from grace.
Pretty sobering stuff! And why we must take hold of the freedom that we have in Jesus Christ and not kick against the goads to go back to a life under law, under the power of sin, for that is what the law is as it says in 1 Corinthians 15:56. Instead let us learn to do what Paul did and hold fats to the freedom we have in Jesus Christ.
Freedom from sin and freedom from the law are two of the key reasons why Jesus died for us, so we should not sever ourselves from him as the Galatian church was in danger of doing. We must hold onto the freedom that heist gave us and to which we came when we were converted. And we have Paul to thank for showing us the way and giving us the teachings to become free.
(Image sourced from oChristian.com)
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