Acts 8:1, 3 – “And Saul was there, giving approval to his [Stephen’s] death…But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison.”
2 Cor 7:2 – “Please open your hearts to us. We have not done wrong to anyone, nor led anyone astray, nor taken advantage of anyone.” (italics mine)
Above, the first Scripture text was written about the same man who penned the second. Luke, a respected doctor, reported repulsive acts done by Saul. Later, Saul (now called Paul) said his life was spotless, free from harming or hurting anyone.
So, who’s right? They both are.
I suppose there’s no place in Scripture that better reveals the transforming power of Jesus Christ as the story of Saul of Tarsus. Saul destroyed the Church. He killed people, murdered them in cold blood because of their faith. He walked into private homes, dragged men and women out to have them thrown in prison simply because they believed and worshiped Jesus.
And we’re shocked at radical Muslims today? They have nothing on Saul of Tarsus!
Saul had the authority with the Roman government to kill people. No wonder Ananius feared speaking to Saul even after God appeared to him in a vision. Talk about a step of faith!
In time, Jesus appears to Saul and the report spreads throughout the city that Saul has been saved! He gained such a notorious reputation as a religious murderer that the Church didn’t believe it. They feared it was a hoax, a scheme to become an insider and have more Christians put to death.
But it wasn’t a scheme, Saul had changed. He had miraculously met Jesus face to face. Saul had been truly transformed! Even his name prior to meeting Jesus no longer fit his personality. Saul, the persecutor of Christ followers, became Paul, the man of God.
Later, the man who barged into the homes of men and women to have them thrown into prison for believing in Jesus would confess, “I have wronged no man, nor led anyone astray, nor taken advantage of anyone.” How can you dare say such a thing, Paul? After what you’ve done?
There’s one answer. Grace. Paul knew the transforming power of God’s grace. Jesus offered Paul grace, and in spite of his tarnished past, he chose to believe Jesus.
The alcoholic husband who is so mean that it’s difficult to picture him “loving” is not too far gone for grace. The addict in the family who has a good heart but the bondage of the drug overpowers all the good—is within the reach of grace. The teenage rebel, uncaring spouse, cynical boss—grace has an arm long enough to transform them all.
The man who helped murder the first Christ followers later died for the same cause. Before he died, he wrote more than half the book Christians order their lives by today. The overpowering message he is remembered for is “grace.”
How could Paul overcome the memories of a Stephen being stoned to death? How could he not beat himself up, replaying events of dads and moms thrown into prisons leaving the kids at home to fend for themselves? How’d he live with himself?
It’s the transforming power of God’s grace.
Jesus. He’s the ultimate Transformer.