We can learn many lessons from the life of the apostle Paul who lived in Bible times. Too little has been made of the fact that Paul (formerly known as Saul) before his conversion to Christianity, was in deep sin. Yes, he did not know about God’s plan, and he did not recognize it for what it was.
In our society today, we have many bleeding hearts, people who try to excuse bad behavior because of motives, that appeal to so many who are out of touch with reality. In the minds of all too many, the guilty party should be excused because of his ignorance. “Oh, his heart was in the right place,” they will tell us.
Paul can scarcely be ruled as innocent for his persecution of true Christians, who were following Jesus Christ and believing that faith and trust in Him would bring salvation. This is why Jesus Christ came to earth, as “God with us,” bearing the authority given to Him by God the Father.
Of course, Paul, very graciously and correctly portrayed himself as against God the Father before his conversion to true Christianity. But I submit to you, again, that very little is made of his former manner of life. He thought he was doing God’s service. And I am speaking very specifically of the volumes of talks and sermons, which scarcely dwell at the edges of Paul’s former life.
Obviously, what Paul the Apostle became, as a true champion of God the Father’s way of salvation, of God’s authority then (as now), is of utmost importance to us all. But herein – in this recounting of Paul’s former life, are many lessons that we could and should learn from. And, in dealing with these things, we come upon a kind of forgiveness from God that is almost beyond belief.
Now it is very important and quite laudable to portray what a person can do, and what he has accomplished after he has been converted – that is, changed from one who was not truly following God to one who was.
The Jews had a very tough time believing that Jesus was the Messiah, The One who was looked for. This was especially true of the Jewish leaders, the temple chiefs, the scribes, Pharisees and all those of the so-called ruling class of Israel.
Jesus was described vividly many times in the Old Testament. This would apply definitely and in particular to the Jewish leaders, who failed to see that God the Father’s great promise to Abraham (first called Abram) came about 400 years before the Law. Oh, yes. The same Law given to the Jewish people through Moses. And, of course, these same Jewish leaders failed to comprehend the very purpose of the Law itself.
The purpose of the Law was definitely not the way of salvation, for man could not keep the Law (The Ten Commandments). It was a guide, yes; and an example, yes. But it could not be kept by anyone, Jewish leader or not. So the purpose of the Law was really to expose our sin.
But we can see that the Law was everything to the Jewish leaders, the scribes, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the temple leaders – those who would be looked to as the scholars and the wise men of Israel.
Why, they knew what was right!! But did they – really??
One might ask WHO gave them the authority to micro-manage many of the Ten Commandments and put down as gospel their own interpretations of these laws?
The Ten Commandments were full of extended meanings and interpretations that were man-made, not made by God, nor sanctioned by Him.
But back to our previous premise – what lessons can and should be learned from the life of the Apostle Paul before his conversion?
First of all, each human being who is born lives according to the flesh before he receives Jesus Christ as Savior. Of course, we can observe that the morality of some people is better than that of others. But unless this morality corresponds exactly to the thinking and the philosophy of God the Father, it still falls miserably short of what it should be.
Then there is the realization on the part of the sinner (the un-regenerated person) that he is somehow short before God, guilty of sin, not conforming to what God wants, and certainly not following Him. Paul came to this conclusion.
True, he was struck blind by God the Father, and the realization of His sin and wrong became real to him. But does it REALLY matter what word or what event brings one to realize that he or she is a sinner in God’s eyes?
The very act of realizing one’s sinful state before God can be shown by the response of a young man that I was counseling following a Billy Graham Crusade many years ago. After I had explained to him his true condition towards God, he said, “I guess I’m driving down the road without any insurance.” Amen to that!! He then received Christ as Savior.
Then, let us go still further down this pathway as we recall the life of Paul before his conversion. The Scripture tells us what Paul said about his former life and manner (look up the Scripture Acts 7:54 and read through the rest of the chapter).
We see that after the sincere and pleading address of Stephen to the Jewish leaders, that Paul (then named Saul) consented to the death of Stephen by stoning. Paul (then called Saul) completely agreed to this outrageous treatment of Stephen, a true believer. Then in Acts 8:1-4, we see how Paul contributed greatly to the persecution of believers in the area, entering into their homes, and dragging many of them off to prison. According to history, some of those captured by Paul were killed – and most were imprisoned (for how long, we do not know).
So we can now remember the part that Paul (then Saul) played in punishing those who truly had accepted Jesus Christ as Savior. Why, he was as guilty as any Jewish leader, and urged on by all of them.
But, you say, he did not realize that he was going contrary to God. Dear friends, behavior and not motive has to determine the punishment for wrongdoing. Even in the liberal society we have today, if motive can excuse bad behavior, our society is in terrible trouble.
I am afraid I can’t go along with hateful and wrongful public demonstrations against our laws, and the burning and looting of buildings and businesses of innocent people – all because of hatred for the punishment of wrongdoers. There seems to be a wave against right, ignoring the crimes of those who are wrong because of how justice is carried out.
Society cannot survive if such violations of our laws continue.
We are sending the wrong message by ignoring the first wrong that was committed. Police forces are not perfect. And certainly the law-breakers are not perfect, and their deeds must be considered before any mention of their motives is made.
Now, let me digress momentarily. There is a distinct difference between forgiveness and trust. The forgiveness of a person for his or her wrongs, on the part of God, or by a human person, is an act of the free will – forgiveness is not earned, and quite often it is not deserved. Trust is earned, because of the nature of one who does right, because of the things he does that are correct and beneficial, and a credit to his (or her) behavior.
We may forgive because we feel that God would have us forgive. This usually means we do all in our power to forget, to set aside the wrong as over and done with. But humanly, it is extremely difficult to forget some wrongs. We can choose to act like these wrongs never occurred, but the human mind rarely can completely forget a terrible wrong. It is a fact of human nature.
It is, in my judgment, much easier to forget a cruel act than to forgive the person who performed that act. We can and should forgive, even if we are never asked to forgive. God tells us to forgive so that we are not emotionally or spiritually bound to the person who has done us wrong.
Now, let’s return to discuss the horrible sins of Saul (later becoming Paul).
He was a murderer – regardless of his reasons, his diligence and his driving desire to promote God (through the Law). It is hardly an excuse for his behavior, because it is the result of the behavior and the acts of any person and not his motives that have to determine his punishment. If Paul had committed his deeds directly against Roman citizens, I don’t have to tell you his punishment and fate. He very quickly would have been a dead person.
Many times a person’s sins are much greater if he believes he is doing right.
We cannot, in our society, use motive to avoid consequences and punishment for our actions. This will eventually break down our society, and already in the U.S.A. we are seeing wrongs committed because we are putting motive ahead of actions in importance. A person who is killed because of wrong motive is still d.e.a.d. We should all seek to avoid situations where we might try to put motive before our actions.
Since the sins and the sinful acts of Saul (Paul) were so terrible, we ought to consider the scope of God’s forgiveness of Paul. I, personally, do not consider that because God knew what Paul could and would become, that God acted towards Paul as He did. No, I believe that God has forgiven many who were just as bad towards society, and who never possessed the potential of Paul for good.
So, dear Christian friend, are you like I am? I am thankful for God’s forgiveness beyond measure for my many sins. Can you imagine the scope of such forgiveness?
Christ died, was buried and rose from the dead specifically to pay for all of our sins, so that we might become children of God. We simply accept His gift and allow Him to enter our hearts by faith.
Can you ever hope to repay God for His forgiveness of you? NO, NO, NO!! But, friend, you can try to live like this forgiveness of you by God is THE most important act in the world – like you can never do enough for God!!
Order your life, step by step, to repay God the best way you can, and to enlarge His kingdom! Yes, one person at a time, as long as you can. This should be your task and mine. If you haven’t thought about it this way – START TODAY!!