The Apostle Paul displays a life of spiritual transformation as dramatic as anyone in Scripture. This week I highlight 5 points about his conversion experience that may give us a different perspective on our call to follow Christ.
Acts 9 records the conversion of Saul from “Persecutor of the Christians” to “Champion of the Gospel of Jesus”. In studying this chapter I noticed what I’m calling “5 Phases of Transformation”. I don’t see these phases as exhaustive, or absolutely sequential. In fact, I’m not even sure that “phases” is the best word. Other, perhaps better, options include: stages, moments, events, or elements. They are definitely NOT “steps”!!
From the chart you’ll notice that each phase involves a person, or actor, and an action. I’ll expand on each phase below.
A Christian Accepts (Acts 9:10-17)
The opening words of v17 are tremendously important to this story. “Then Ananias went…” Ananias was a Christian who knew that Saul was coming to Damascus to persecute him and those who worshiped with him. Ananias seems to naturally fear and dislike Saul. But when God tells Ananias to “Go” because Saul “is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name…” Ananias accepts God’s mission.
Ananias also accepts Saul. The first two words he says to Saul acknowledge Saul’s submission to God, “Brother Saul…”. Ananias is no Jonah reluctantly sharing a message of Good News. Ananias overcame his fears and preconceived ideas about Saul to call him brother, sit with him and discuss Jesus, baptize him and welcome him into the body of Christ. Verse 19 concludes with Saul hanging out with the local disciples. It’s reasonable to conclude that Ananias was also responsible for integrating the reborn Saul into the local church there in Damascus.
Unless Christians open our hearts and put away our prejudices so that we willingly accept sinful people of all stripes into our presence, those people will never experience the love of God. Saul experienced Jesus on the highway between Jerusalem and Damascus. Today most people don’t meet Jesus on the highway. They meet Jesus when they meet his disciples.
A Sinner Repents (Acts 9:3-9)
Transformation of any kind requires a catalyst. Perhaps it’s an epiphany as in Saul’s case. The consistent message of John the Baptiser (Matt. 3:2), Jesus (Mark 1:15), and the Apostles (Acts 2:38) is that we must acknowledge sin in our lives and turn from it in order to enter the kingdom of God.
Repentance as I’m using the term refers to more than just me changing my actions. As we recognise our past sins, we also recognise the eternal consequences of our sins. Saul’s repentance lead him to fast and pray for three days as he [presumably] confessed his sins and pleaded with God for mercy and forgiveness. In response to Saul’s repentance God sent Ananias to baptise him.
Repentance is the catalyst that God uses to bring Saul (and us) into the kingdom of God.
The Holy Spirit Indwells (Acts 9:17)
The Holy Spirit’s presence demonstrates to us that no matter how corrupt our lives to this point, Jesus cleanses us so completely that holy God can live within us.
The Holy Spirit descends upon Jesus at his baptism. Peter promises the Holy Spirit to those who repented at Pentecost. The Spirit’s presence within us is intrinsic to our spiritual transformation.
The Holy Spirit empowers our transformation. We’ve tried a life of holiness on our own, and failed. We can only live up to the ethic of the kingdom of God because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives. Galatians 5:16-26 demonstrate the difference the Holy Spirit makes when we submit our lives to Him.
Jesus Commissions (Acts 9:20-22, 28-29)
If we think salvation is all about sin and its consequences we miss something significant. God does not forgive us so that we can continue to live as we always have while making a few moral adjustments.
When we immerse ourselves into the death and resurrection of Christ we also join the mission of God. God’s love for us and our love for God inspire us to love our neighbours. Paul enters the kingdom of God and immediately begins preaching “that Jesus is the Son of God!” The primary concern of the kingdom of God is not our personal piety, but the redemption of the world.
When we fail to infuse an urgent concern for the lost into the identity of new converts we undermine God’s design of his kingdom. Accepting Christ as the Lord of our lives requires us to adopt the mission of Christ.
Satan Attacks (Acts 9:23, 29)
Saul’s preaching led to death threats.
Jesus’ baptism led to a Satanic showdown in the wilderness.
Spiritual transformation does not occur in a vacuum. Spiritual warfare is a very real part of our journey toward God. In fact, God often teaches us that He uses these attacks as part of our transformation process. James writes (1:2-4) that we should, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
This final phase actually returns us to the first. As Saul experiences attempted murder from the Jews, God still requires him to love them, accept them and willingly share the Gospel with them. At some point in the future Saul may find himself face-to-face with those who now plot his execution. How will he respond? Will he run? Will he retaliate? Will he pray for their destruction? Or will he accept them as people needing the grace of God?
- Do you have any “phases” you would add to this list?
- Is this description a helpful way to think of the transformation God wants to produce in our lives?
- I have previously critiqued the “5 Steps of Salvation” HERE.
- I have also written a serious of blog posts title “DAILY Steps of Salvation” that you can find HERE.