A LIFE REDEEMED
Have you ever seen or known a person whom you believed was completely irredeemable. Their sins appeared to be too great and their heart too hard for them to change their ways? Saul, before he became the Apostle Paul, was such a person.
Saul was born to a Jewish family in Tarsus (Turkey). A Roman citizen, he became a Pharisee who hated Christians because he believed Jesus' teachings violated the Mosaic Law. He relentlessly pursued, brutalized, persecuted, and ordered the deaths of those who called themselves Christians.
Stephen, a devout Christian, "a man full of God's grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people" (Acts 6:8 NIV). He was brought before the high priest and Pharisees. With false charges set before him, he reminded them of what God had done for them, calling them "stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, who always resist the Holy Spirit" (Acts 7:51 ESV). Because of Stephen's strong influence over the people, his stoning was ordered, which Saul had heartily approved.
This story of hatred and persecution is being played out on the world's stage as society sinks deeper and deeper into apostasy. Stiff-necked, rebellious people are rejecting God because they are uncircumcised in their hearts and ears. Like the high priest and Pharisees, today's people reject truth so they don't have to admit they are sinners.
Saul's all-consuming hatred of Christ followers drove him to go before the high priest and ask for letters to the synagogues at Damascus. Thus, if he found any people belonging to the Way (followers of Christ), he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-3).
Do you see that all-consuming fire of hatred and persecution towards today's Christians? They are taken before the courts, sued, and forced to pay exorbitant fines and "damages" that wipe out their businesses, because they choose to hold to their Christian beliefs and not cave to a hedonistic and corrupt culture? However difficult, Jesus said, "...love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV).
Saul approached Damascus and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him and falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" And Saul asked, "Who are you, Lord?" And He said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do" (Acts 9:3-6). At that moment Saul was struck blind, so those traveling with him led him to Damascus where he fasted and prayed for three days. Saul had become a man undone.
There was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias whom God told to go and lay hands on Saul that he may regain his sight and receive the Holy Spirit. Saul's reputation preceded him, so Ananias said to the Lord, "Lord, I have heard from man about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9:10-16 ESV).
Despite Ananias' obedience to the Lord, he must have questioned within his heart why God would choose such a man to carry God's Word to the Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel? "Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out! Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?" (Romans 11:33-34 NIV) We cannot begin to know the mind of God for He tells us, "My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways" (Isaiah 58:8 NIV).
Saul, whom Jesus would eventually name Paul, meaning humble, would say this about himself, "...Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1:15). "I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me" (I Corinthians 15:9-10).
It is by grace we have been saved, through faith—and this is not from ourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). The requirement is a repentant heart that invites Christ into the heart and expresses remorse and regret for wrongdoing and sin. It is a changing of one's mind and a turning away from sin. For it is in our repentance, that doors open for God's power to work within us.
Scriptures do not tell us, but just maybe Christians had prayed for Saul, for there is hope for each person to be redeemed (delivered from sin). Those who confess their sins, God is faithful and just to forgive and cleanse from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
If you have been praying a long time for people and have not seen any change, do not give up hope, and do not stop praying for them. Remember, Paul, who said he was the greatest sinner of them all, became a man of Christ who used his Jewish roots and Roman citizenship to minster to both the Jews and the Romans. Other than Jesus, no single person was more influential during the beginnings of Christianity than Paul. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, He wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament. During his ministry, it is estimated that he traveled over 10,000 miles to bring the Gospel to the lost.
God has all power, ability, and authority to take what the enemy would intend for our destruction and bring good from it. He certainly did that for Paul and He will do that for any who call on the name of Jesus Christ and put their hope and trust in Him.
PRAYER: Father, Your Word says that you do not want even one to parish but that all would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I ask that you draw (name) by Your Spirit and soften (his/her) heart to receive the life-changing truth and message of Jesus Christ. May (name) experience Your love and turn to You, so that (his/her) sins may be wiped out, making room for restoration. In Jesus name, amen.