The conversion of the apostle Paul described in Acts 9 is not only the single most momentous event in the entire book of Acts (outside of the day of Pentecost itself in chapter 2), but the case could be made that it’s the single most momentous event in the entire history of the worldwide church.
God chose Paul to be the one who would take Christianity and turn it from a powerful but limited movement confined to the region around Jerusalem, into a global, earth-shaking, international juggernaut. God chose Paul to make sure that the future New Testament would be not just a loose collection of stories and random letters, but a robust, systematic library of such theological and philosophical impact that it would tower above every other religious book ever written. The shadow cast by this man’s thought and faith has reached across 2,000 years of history, touching each and everyone one of us.
When later on Paul would describe his face-to-face showdown with Christ, he often used two words: mercy and grace. He wrote Timothy, “…formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:13–14). For the Lord to intervene in such a miraculous way to save Paul from his own madness had only to do with God’s goodness, not his own.
Now, true confessions time. How many of us have compared the story of our own conversion to Paul’s, and thought to ourselves, “Mine doesn’t hold a candle to his.” For me, I grew up in a Christian home, my parents took me to church, and I accepted Christ when I was 11. And there’ve been times when I’ve thought, Big whup. My conversion wasn’t all that amazing.
But what are we saying if we think that way? Are we saying that Paul needed a lot of mercy and grace and we only needed a little? Are we saying that of course Paul would be overwhelmed by God’s mercy and grace, but if I’m not so overwhelmed, that’s understandable? Anemic grace, how dull the sound, that saved a half-wretch like me…
If we have any of these sort of thoughts, then I would suggest it’s proof that we have a defective view of our sin nature. If I grew up with a loving mom and dad who disciplined me and took me to church, so that I ended up better behaved than someone who grew up fatherless, who got into more trouble than me, and never heard the word of Jesus except as a swear word, is my better behavior because my sin nature is less than theirs? Because I tend to act better, does that mean I am better, in my nature?
The Pharisees thought they were morally better than tax collectors and prostitutes, and assumed that this was a reason God chose them. But no, my heart is just as corrupt and rebellious as any reprobate person, and capable of just as much evil. The difference between us is that God gave me the grace of an intact home to grow up in, and conscientious parents who helped slap some handcuffs on my sin nature. But put in another situation, my story would likely have been very different.
The Christian doctrine of sin is very powerful that way. It helps me see things properly. It reminds me that I should be just as overwhelmed by God’s mercy and grace in my life as Paul, who was a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent hater of God.
Who cares that my testimony isn’t as dramatic as Paul’s! What’s a greater testimony to God’s love — that by his mercy and grace he kept me from committing great sin, or that by his mercy and grace he delivered me from great sin that I was already committing? Both stories point straight to Jesus Christ and declare, “He saved me. It’s not because I’m so good that I have new life and the hope of heaven, but because he’s so good.”
Paul wrote in Romans 11:32 — “For God has consigned all to disobedience that he may have mercy on all.” We’re all equally sinful and lost in the eyes of God. The Pharisees were no better than the repentant prostitute washing Jesus’s feet with her tears. They should have all been on the floor with her. As should we. We all have been saved by a mercy and grace that we did not deserve.
Without much effort, can you see yourself on the floor before Christ, overwhelmed with gratitude and worship for his mercy in your life? If not, why not?
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.