Why is Paul’s Conversion so Important?

13 May

We need to remember that authors of books in ancient times didn’t have the luxury that modern writers have of adding a few pages here and there for color and depth. In the first century CE authors like Luke were limited to the length of a scroll. They had to be concise and choose carefully what they wished to say in order to successfully express the theme behind their work. Luke chose to record Paul’s conversion three times (Acts 9, 22 and 26)! Why? Wouldn’t once have been sufficient, knowing that space was limited? Looking back, our vision is 20/20; Paul turned out to be one of the most significant figures of western civilization. What he did, or rather what God did through Paul, changed the direction of the whole continent of Europe and ultimately of the Americas, and to some degree even how the East developed into our modern societies. But, Luke didn’t know this, so why did he take such an interest in Paul’s conversion?

I think that, ultimately, the Gospel of Jesus is embedded in Paul’s conversion experience, and it is expressed in no fewer than five ways. First, Paul never forgot that he was a persecutor of the Church (Acts 22:4; 26:11; 1Corinthians 15:9; Philippians 3:6; 1Timothy 1:13-15). Because he did persecute the Church, it made him a blasphemer, in that he tried to stamp out the name of God on earth by murdering all those who were called by God’s name. A blasphemer was to be stoned under the Law of God. Blasphemy is such a terrible sin that it is connected with judgment without mercy (Mark 3:28-29). Yet, Paul found forgiveness, and he never forgot the mercy of God that covered his sin.

Secondly, Paul saw the resurrected Jesus (Acts 9:3-4; 1Corinthians 9:1). Henceforth, he knew Christ, not as a cursed blasphemer hanging on a tree (Galatians 3:13), but as the Lord of glory (1Corinthians 2:8). Once Paul saw Jesus, he knew that what he was doing amounted to nothing less than blasphemy. Paul had misunderstood Jesus’ crucifixion, and now lay before his Lord without a plea (Acts 9:3-6); and, looking into that perfect Glass, not only did he see the glory of his Lord, but also the unfathomable depth of his own sin and was forever changed by the Spirit of his Lord (2Corinthians 3:18).

Third, and this expression of the Gospel is brought forth through the union of the first two above, Paul found grace, love and mercy so deep that it reached even to him (Romans 11:32-33; Ephesians 3:15-19)—the chief of sinners (1Timothy 1:15). Yes, Jesus reached out, even to Paul, and, through the all powerful grace of God, Paul’s life and ultimately the direction of all of western civilization changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye! Such is the power of the Gospel (1Corinthians 1:18)!

Fourth, in that moment Paul received the grace of God. He was forgiven and became a new man, and in receiving the grace of God, Paul also found the call of God to extend the riches he received to others who were unaware of the treasure before them (Acts 9:6b, 15; 22:15; 26:16-18). This new life, given to us by God, carries with it the responsibility to tell others of the opportunity they have, if they are willing to receive it (Acts 26:19; Ephesians 3:1-6).

Finally, Paul’s conversion experience revealed to him, and ultimately to all of us, that we are the Body of Christ (Acts 9:4-5). What happens to us is also done to Jesus (Acts 9:4-5; cp. Matthew 25:40, 45); and what has happened to him—viz. crucifixion and resurrection—has happened to us who believe in him (Galatians 2:20). We are his, and he is ours, and nothing can separate us from his love (Romans 8:38-39). This is the Gospel of Jesus expressed in the conversion of one man!

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Posted by on May 13, 2012 in Gospel, Kingdom of God


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