After conversion, there are five changes a new believer demonstrates in their new life with Christ.
We’re going to continue in our study in Acts. We’re in Acts 9. Last week, we looked at the initial conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Now we’re going to look at his transformation. Life transformation always follows conversion! We’re going to see that in Saul’s life and consider how it applies to us. Let’s stand as we read Acts 9. I’m going to begin reading in the middle of verse 19, through verse 31.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
May God work through us today through His Word!
Have you experienced biblical conversion? It’s the most important question that you could answer. It’s eternally important. Jesus, in Matthew 18 would say
Matthew 18:3 NKJV Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
The experience of biblical conversion is not simply a nice add on to our spiritual life. Rather, biblical conversion is essential to having spiritual life. Jesus says
Matthew 18:3 NKJV Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.
You have no part with God. You have no part with the hope that He offers through Christ. So your conversion story is central to your life. As God has brought conversion to you, this story of your own personal experience with God through Jesus, by the Holy Spirit, becomes a powerful tool to encourage other believers in their walk and also to encourage others that there is a Messiah Savior who is real and impacts life eternally. There is a Jesus who is worthy to follow, to believe in and to receive life from.
This week we continue our study of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9. We began last week with his conversion and now we move on to the story of the transformation that takes place after his conversion. You see, conversion always leads to life change. Life transformation always follows true conversion. This transformation then becomes as much a part of our story as that initial conversion is; that initial turning from sin to Christ in faith. So as we tell our story, let’s include not only that turning from sin to Christ, but also the transformation that God has made in our lives.
Remember we gave this definition last week of conversion. Conversion is the gracious work of God in calling a sinner to Christ resulting in the sinner confessing Jesus as Savior and committing to follow Him as Lord. In simplicity, conversion happens when we turn from sin and we turn in faith to Jesus for eternal life. So, have you been converted? Then as a person turns from sin to Jesus, that person’s life is never the same again. They don’t just walk on forward from that decision from that moment and live the way that they always had been living. The life of God now is placed in the soul and that life then begins to have movement, have energy in bringing about a transformation that leads us to Christlikeness. The Apostle Paul would say it this way
2 Corinthians 5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.
If anyone has experienced biblical conversion, the old life has completely passed away and everything has become new. The way we think, the way we act, the way we relate to God, the way we relate to one another, our purpose, everything becomes new.
The main idea we’re going to trace through this story in Acts is that conversion always brings life transformation. What is transformation? Transformation is the gracious work of God in growing the spiritual life that He gave us at conversion. So it’s there. It’s real. It’s powerful. It’s potent. It’s living. But now it’s like a baby that is now growing and growing and growing. In simplicity, transformation happens when we become more like Jesus in thought, word and deed. So if a person testifies to experiencing conversion without experiencing any true transformation, then the experience of conversion is fiction. It’s not real.
Conversion brings the life of God into our souls and that spiritual life will make visible movements in our daily experience. Now, there are degrees of this movement, this transformation, to be sure. But there is always a level of radical transformation that takes place in the converted soul. In order to trace after this life transformation that occurs, it’s helpful to look at what happens in Saul’s life immediately following his conversion. I want to look at five specific changes that Paul experienced. These life changes accompany our conversion, too. The first life change, if you’re taking notes is
1. A new obedience.
Jesus, having met Saul on the road to Damascus says
Acts 9:6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Now remember up to this point, Saul was taking the cues of his life direction from religious leaders or from his own desires, his own zeal, his own thoughts. Now, here is someone who says, “Everything changes. You’re going to follow what I do.” Jesus says, “I want you to go into the city and wait there and then I’ll tell you more of what you’re to do once you get there.”
Acts 9:7-8 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.
Saul obeys the Master’s voice. He does exactly what Jesus tells him to do.
Acts 9:9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
I think these three days are very significant. I think he’s reflecting on his past life and on now this transformation. I think he’s reflecting on his past understanding of Scripture and the Bible and God’s Law and now his new understanding of Scripture and the Bible and God’s Law. I think he’s reflecting on the fact that all of his life he thought Jesus was a fallacy, that He now was a dead messiah, and now he realized that Jesus is alive. I think all these things are rolling through Saul’s mind and heart these three days that he is blinded and he’s sitting there in the city of Damascus.
Now if you ask Saul at this point prior to his conversion, “Are you following God?” Saul would have said “Of course I’m following God.” If you asked Jesus whether Saul was following God, Jesus would say, “Of course he’s not following God.” There are two different opinions. Whose opinion is true? The answer of course, is Jesus’ opinion. I say that because there are a lot of folks that if you asked them, “Are you following God?” their answer would be, “Yes, I’m absolutely following God.” If you ask, “Have you been converted?” their answer is, “Of course I’ve been converted. What are you even talking about?” The question is, does Jesus affirm that change?
Up to this point, Saul was considering the affirmations of the people around him, the religious leaders who equally didn’t know God. In his zeal to follow the message of the Pharisees and the philosophy and theology and doctrines of the religious leaders, his heart had been closed to God’s Word. He read God’s Word. He memorized God’s Word. He studied God’s Word. He had no understanding of God’s Word. He couldn’t hear what God was saying. More importantly, he didn’t understand the Messiah and who Jesus is. He completely missed it. He thought Jesus was a nothing when in fact, Jesus is an everything. In his religious zeal, Saul was not awakened to God, but he became more and more hardened against God and more and more blinded to Him. Jesus, in talking about the voice of the Pharisees and that voice’s influence among the people, said this to the Pharisees.
Mark 7:8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”
In saying that, Jesus is observing two voices we might listen to. We’re either going to listen to the voice of God and follow and obey, and that’s what conversion does. It awakens us to the voice of God and it gives us a heart to say, “God knows what He is doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m going to follow Him because He’s going to lead me to life. If I continue following my own way, I’m just going to lead into greater disaster and darkness and despair.” Conversion changes everything that way. It changes our perspective of what voice is true and what voice will lead to blessing. Jesus says to these Pharisees, “You guys are listening to the voice of the traditions of men. As a result, you’re shut to the voice of God and His Word.” Jesus goes on to say this.
Mark 7:9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!
There are few people in our culture who follow the traditions of the Pharisees. I know that there are some in the world, but I don’t know any folks who say, “I’m following the traditions of the Pharisees.” Nonetheless this problem of listening to the wrong voice permeates the Bible church. It permeates folks who say, “I’m converted.” It permeates the hearts of those who say, “Me and God are great.” You see, we’re still in danger of rejecting the Word of God as we listen to other truth. That other truth might be rooted in our emotions. It might be rooted in our own feelings about life. It might be rooted in the morality of our culture. It might be rooted in traditions of psychology or traditions of sociology and social philosophy.
These voices are all around us almost twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. What conversion does is it gives us ears to hear those voices differently. “I know that’s not true and I’m not going to listen to that. I’m going to learn because I want to keep in contact with what my culture believes, but that is darkness. If I follow my inner emotions, my inner feelings, the voices of psychology, the voices of secular philosophy and sociology, I’m going to be led down a dark path. I need to listen to the voice of God’s Word.” As we are converted, suddenly we recognize that my own way, whatever our own way is, it’s the way that we choose that is not rooted in Scripture. That’s what my own way is. Whatever my own way is, I don’t trust my own way anymore.
That’s why to be converted, we have to be really humble. Because who doesn’t trust their own way? Who doesn’t trust their own thoughts to lead them? The answer is, only converted people don’t trust their own thoughts. Converted people say, “I’m not going to follow whatever makes sense to me, whatever voice I’m listening to that makes sense to me. I’m going to follow God’s Word. Sometimes God’s Word doesn’t make sense to me, but I’m going to trust Jesus. If I know this is what Jesus says, I know He is the Savior. He is risen from the dead. This is what I know. I know He is Lord. I know He is the good Shepherd. I know that He always leads His sheep into green pastures and beside quiet waters, and that’s what I want with my life.” So the converted person stops believing that his or her own way leads them to life and happiness and goodness. Instead, they know that Jesus alone leads them on the path that leads to life. There is a proverb in Proverbs 16 that is actually repeated in Proverbs 14. It says
Proverbs 16:25 There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.
So if we’re living our life with a view that “I just want to do what seems right to me,” Scripture says that leads to death. In contrast, what Jesus says in John 10 is
John 10:27-28 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Jesus’ voice is not some subjective sort of feeling. Jesus’ voice has been given to us by the Holy Spirit, through His Word. We know Jesus’ voice. The writing of the Holy Spirit in sacred Scripture gives it to us and then uses His Word to speak actively, daily into our lives. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them. There is a real relationship that I have with my sheep.”
The converted life is a life of obedience to Jesus. It’s a life of obedience because we trust the voice of Jesus to lead us to good pastures. Obedience of course is always tested when our own way, what seems right to us, is very different from what Jesus says. That’s where obedience is tested. Our submission to Christ, this evidence of conversion, of obedience, is tested not when what seems right to us and what Jesus says is in alignment. Often that’s true. What seems right to us and what Jesus says makes sense to me and so therefore, I’m going to follow Jesus in this way. The test of whether or not we have this evidence of a new obedience is those times in our life when “This is what seems right to me, but this is what Jesus clearly says. What path do I believe will lead me to life?”
Ultimately, obedience is never a matter of cold obligation, just sort of contradictory yieldedness. Ultimately, obedience is always a matter of what do I believe will lead me to blessing? If we believe our own way will lead to blessing, guess what? We’re going to find ourselves on that path. But we believe Jesus, and this is what conversion does. This is what it did for the Apostle Paul. So we go on to read about how this change also happens in the lives of the disciples whom Paul meets in Damascus.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.”
Ananias has experienced conversion and he has experienced the life change of new obedience. He is told by Jesus very clearly and directly “Go to this house in Damascus and when you get to this house, I want you to lay hands on a guy by the name of Saul of Tarsus.” Guess what? Ananias knows who Saul of Tarsus is. He hasn’t met him, but he knows who he is. He recognizes this is the guy that is coming to Damascus. We already know that. He is coming to Damascus to discover who follows Jesus and then to arrest them and take them bound as captives, back to Jerusalem for trial and imprisonment. So he asks a reasonable question.
13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.”
He understands the real threat that Saul poses to him because he knows stories of Christians who actually have been taken away from their families and imprisoned and even killed. He knows of stories. He may have known people that that has happened to. This is not like, “Maybe he might make life hard on me.” This is a guy that “if I go there, I may never see my family ever, ever again. I may never even be able to hug my kids ever again.” Undoubtedly, these are the thoughts. Let me ask you, if Jesus asked you to do something really hard that runs contrary to what seems right to you, what seems safe to you, what are you going to do? Ananias is a converted man, so Jesus tells him to go. He gives him the command. He says, “I want you to know that I’m not changing my mind. Go!” But then He does give Ananias some comfort.
15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
The clear voice of Jesus ended the argument in Ananias’ soul. He said, “Okay, I’m going to trust you.” Ananias I think appropriately asked for clarification when he was given a really risky command to follow. I don’t think it was wrong for Ananias to say, “But Jesus, do you know Saul is the guy who came here for the purpose of imprisoning saints?” I think that’s not insubordinate. It’s not disrespectful. But at the point that it becomes clear, okay. Ananias refused to argue with Jesus over what was right and good and life-giving. He heard Jesus say, “Go,” and Ananias went.
You see, until we are converted, we don’t trust Jesus to lead us on a path that leads to life. We believe that if we go our own way, that’s a path that ultimately will lead to happiness and joy. Conversion changes all of that. It changes our perspective of who Jesus is. So I ask you, what do you do when your ways run contrary to Jesus’ words? Do you believe that Jesus is better at life than you are? Or are you still believing that you’re better at life than Jesus is? Conversion opens our eyes to see the trustworthiness of our Shepherd.
One of the most important questions we can answer for ourselves is, have I experienced biblical conversion? Have I had a radical change of understanding of who Jesus is? Has God worked a miracle in my heart to give me a heart of flesh, replacing a heart of stone that was hard to Him? You see, without conversion, we’re still left in our sins. We’re left under the power of sin, the condemnation of sin. We’re left without God. We’re without hope. One key evidence of biblical conversion is this faith that produces a new obedience. Jesus, in Matthew 7, speaks of this.
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,
What He’s saying is not everyone who says “I’m converted, I’m converted” will enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, these are folks who believe they are converted, but they’re not. Jesus points that out. He says
Matthew 7:21 …but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
This is the one who has me as Lord, who has received the blessing of salvation and forgiveness. It’s the one who does the will of my Father.
Now, what Jesus is saying is not, “If you obey me, then you’ll be good enough in order for me to forgive you.” That’s not what Jesus is saying. What Jesus is saying is, “If you call me ‘Lord’ by faith, then there will be a change in your life that leads to obedience. That change is evidence that when you say, ‘Lord, Lord’ it’s a statement of faith and not just a statement that is sort of a cold kind of testimony that is not real.” He goes on to say
Matthew 7:22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’
When Jesus says on that day, on judgment day, He says many people will say, “Lord, didn’t we do this? Didn’t we cast out demons and do miracles in your name?” The answer to those questions is yes, yes, yes. Indeed, when they lived out their life, in Jesus’ name, they cast out demons. In Jesus’ name, they did miracles. In Jesus’ name they prophesied. But Jesus says
Matthew 7:23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The issue is not whether in Jesus’ name they did some amazing things. The issue is whether or not they have been converted. So I ask you again, consider the very sober but real question, have you experienced biblical conversion?
Please don’t misunderstand. Converted people still sin. That’s why we need to confess our sins and Jesus taught us to pray saying, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” But converted people have a change in their understanding of the Law-giver and of the commands that the Law-giver makes. We understand this instruction, these commands are given to us by a Shepherd because these commands are given to lead us to life, not take away life from us. These commandments are not burdensome. So while there will be a battle against sin all the way until Jesus comes or until we die and stand before Him, it is a battle that keeps us from enslavement. It keeps us from willful, ongoing, unrepentant, habitual, defiant sin. The new obedience that flows from faith acknowledges Jesus to be the good Shepherd who never leads us astray. So we submit to Jesus not out of cold obligation, but out of a committed faith.
The second change that we see in Saul’s life here is there is
2. A new conversation.
That’s to say there is a whole new relationship with God. Ananias is told to go into the house to meet Saul. God tells him
11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying,
It’s easy almost to throw away that little sentence as somewhat insignificant. I think it just stands off the page with meaning and fullness; “for behold, he is praying.” What God is saying is here is a man now who used to be a persecutor of the church, but now he is a man who is pouring out his heart to God in prayer. He used to be a prey-er, in other words, looking for Christians as prey. And now he is a pray-er. He is changed! Conversion brings about a whole new conversation that we have with God. The converted life is a life of active, real conversation and communion with God.
Saul had prayed many prayers throughout his life. He was a religious man. He prayed prayers every day. But as a convert to Jesus he is a man who is reconciled to God and adopted into God’s family. He now knows God to the point where he is able to call out to God, “Abba, Daddy, Father!” For the first time in his life, it can be said of him, “Behold, he is praying.” This is what conversion does. Prayer is no longer something we do as a religious act. It becomes sort of a conversation that just flows from us upward to God in relationship. Saul recognizes his absolute neediness before the Lord and he recognizes the Lord’s absolute sufficiency and he simply is praying. Prayer is simple conversation from a saved sinner to a treasured Savior. Again, almost everyone says prayers of some kind. But it is conversion that brings us into this warmhearted, this real, this relational conversation that we now have with the Lord.
One of the joys of my life is that I get to spend some time with my little three-year old grandson. One of the sweet things is to watch his relationship with his daddy. They talk about all kinds of things. They talk about theology and they talk about super heroes. They talk about sports. They talk about everything. It’s fun oftentimes for me to sit back and sort of listen in as they talk with one another. As they talk, it’s just so natural. It’s not like the three-year old is saying, “How do I politely say this?” Or “What do I say now? It’s getting socially awkward.” It’s just a relationship that is just flowing out because three-year olds don’t know that there are certain rules of conversation that you’re supposed to make. They’re not even conscious of, “Am I being interesting, here? Am I not being interesting? Am I asking crazy questions or the same questions?” They’re just speaking. They’re just relating. It’s so sweet to see the look on their faces. I see this look of just great love and affection from my son to his little boy as they converse. I see this look, it’s such a beautiful look of these blue eyes, of just absolute trust and dependence, as though Alexander knows everything about everything. “I’m just looking to my dad to tell me.” It’s a conversation.
That’s what is happening with Paul. For the first time, Paul prays. “Behold, he is praying.” Isn’t it a wonder to be converted and to have that kind of relationship with God? When we talk about our need to pray, we must not talk as though we just have to be more disciplined and just gut it out. “I know nobody really likes this. But it’s something we really should do because spiritual people do it. This is what Christians are supposed to do.” No! My heart is converted. I understand God to be different from what I ever understood Him to be and He’s wonderful. It’s amazing just to talk with Him. I know this is a battle. I know there can be coldness in the life of really converted people in their prayer life. But what happens in a truly converted person is they know that there is something more they should be experiencing, but something is keeping them from it and they want to get back to it.
Have you ever had a really good friend? It could be a spouse. It could be a friend. It could be a relative. It could be a neighbor. You’re just so tight that you feel like you can talk about anything with them. You ask them out for lunch and you have lunch. You might say, “I have about an hour here.” Then you look at your watch and it’s like three hours have passed. You say, “What just happened here? I don’t even know what happened. I can’t believe it’s 3:00.” It’s that relationship that Saul is experiencing. It’s the relationship that is the birthright of converted men and women and converted boys and girls. It is our birthright. It’s what is normal for the Christian life. It’s not what is average. I understand that. The average Christian doesn’t know what this is. But the normal Christian, the Christian that is experiencing conversion and then experiencing and yielding to God and receiving the benefits of conversion, experiencing that transformation, this is what is normal for the Christian life.
Our fellowship with God is not wishful fiction. It is a waited upon fact. The truth of the Christian life is to hold onto this promised gift of joyful fellowship with Christ. Many sins, many distractions interrupt our joyful fellowship with Him, but we know that such joy is real. It is a reality for which we fight. Our fight is not like that of grasping after the wind; impossible, never going to be fulfilling. Our fight is a pursuit of the reality of the blessing that God promises us in Christ. It is a fight filled with hope.
Here are some applications. Rejoice that Jesus died so that we can pray. Have we ever stopped and thought about what Christ had to do, what cost Christ had to pay just for us to get in the presence of God and pray? I think that motivates my praying. This ticket that I have came to me at the cost of Jesus coming down out of heaven and dying upon a cross so that I can draw near. Me, a sinner, can draw near to God and have that kind of relationship!
Then secondly, I think it’s right to make appointments. Let’s fight for this joy. Make an appointment to meet with Jesus each morning this week. Just say, “I’m going to make an appointment and I’m going to be in the presence of the Savior.” I can’t create this joy, but I can avail myself to God to bring this joy of fellowship into my life. The third change is
3. A new family.
In other words, when we’re converted, we experience a new community with other followers of Jesus. I love verse 17!
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul,
I love that! Saul, up to this point, hated these folks. These folks knew that he hated them. There couldn’t have been a greater relational divide between Saul and the folks whose house he was now in and with Ananias and others around Ananias. Now, as a result of Jesus bringing conversion, everything immediately changes. “Brother Saul. I am committed to you, Saul. I want you to know that. I love you. I care for you like I would care for my own flesh and blood. I’m going to give myself to you. I’m here for your good and I’m going to walk through life with you. We’re together. You’re my family and that will never ever change.” That’s what Ananias is saying to Saul. Saul had never experienced this kind of family prior. His conversion didn’t isolate him in an individual relationship with God, but his conversion now includes him in this new family and binds him to them. John says it this way.
1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers.
That’s it. He says we know that we’ve been converted because there is a whole new love for people I didn’t love before. This love is not based upon sort of common interest. It’s not based on commonalities. I don’t know if they had anything in common except for Jesus. It wasn’t, “Hey, we all like golfing. Let’s get together. Brother! We like golfing together.” Or “Hey, we all like music. Let’s get together and listen to music. Hey, brother!” No, the brotherhood is not based on commonalities. The only thing they may have had in common was Jesus, but Jesus was enough to create the deepest kind of bond. That’s what family is. That’s what Jesus does. Look at the love that they have for Saul. They were willing to even risk their life. Look at verses 23-25. I love this part of the story! It’s fascinating! It tells the narrative in such a brief way, and yet, there is so much intrigue behind it.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him,
So there is an active group of people who were powerful and capable to kill him, that are watching out for him.
25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket.
This is sort of, I call it the Longenberger story. People who once avoided Saul out of fear, now bravely risk their lives to rescue him. There is so much intrigue that is behind that little description. You can imagine that we discover there is this plot. Every day, we look out and there are those guys at the gates and they’re looking for Saul. If they find him, they’ll kill him. That’s to be sure. So one guy says, “I have this big basket. I think it’s strong enough.” It had to be a strong basket in order to be let down such a tall way from the city wall. You’d want to test it out. Another guy says, “I know how to tie strong knots. I’m going to tie some strong knots.” Then a few of them, I don’t know how many there were that lowered him down; two, three, four? I don’t know. But you can imagine it’s at night and they’re sneaking through the streets with a big basket, a basket big enough for Saul to be in it. And Saul was with them.
Have you ever thought what would happen to them all if they were caught? These guys were actively searching for Saul. What would have happened to them all? They knew Saul would have been in trouble if they got caught, but they also knew that they would be. It’s not as though these guys were saying, “We hate Saul and we’re going to kill him, but you guys that are trying to rescue Saul, why don’t you just go home and have a great night with your families.” They knew that if they were caught sneaking Saul up to the wall and then letting him down the wall, that they would die. What would cause kind of strangers who don’t have a long history with Saul, to be willing to risk their life? Well, it’s conversion. It’s this new family.
Here are some applications. Let’s lean into the fellowship of the church. Covid and the pandemic create so much isolation and loneliness. Some of that isolation can kind of become normal, or the new normal. I would say, let’s lean against that. I know there are reasons why some may still have to remain physically isolated, but let’s find ways to push together to encourage each other because the truth is that many brothers and sisters are struggling in trouble and they need someone to come along and say, “I have a basket. Can I help you? Let’s make a plan to help you escape this struggle you’re in.” Then the second application is ask God to show you some tangible way that you can express the love of Jesus to a brother or sister this week. So there is a new community and a new relationship we have with other brothers and sisters. The fourth change is there is
4. A new boldness
There is a whole new mission in life. Saul is told that very specifically. Right away, this change takes place so that he has this boldness in proclaiming Christ as Lord.
20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
“This one that I formerly said was false, now I say He is the truth. This one who formerly I said is nothing, now I say He is the eternal treasure. He’s worthy of everything. He is the Son of God, God come in the flesh, the Savior.”
21 And all who heard him were amazed
Paul’s witness for Jesus begins the moment he is converted because the converted life is a bold witness. We recognize when we’re truly converted that God has us on His mission. He keeps us in this world so that others would know the Gospel that has the power to bring salvation, the power to bring new life to us. That witness is a primary purpose and focus in the life of every converted person.
This is not out of sort of cold obligation. “Well, I guess I should tell others.” No, we have a story that is too important not to share! We have something that changed my life and I needed that change. I know a whole bunch of people who need that change, too. God wants to use me, this ordinary, feeble, weak person, in order to bring a supernatural message.” Here is the great encouragement to us. Because all of us have people of whom we say, “If I told my brother, my dad, my son, my neighbor, they’re so cold to God. They are an angry atheist. Or they are just this cold-hearted sinner who just is involved in so much sin that they just hate it whenever it’s brought up. What use is it to boldly share the Gospel with them?” Here in this story, what we see is that when Saul boldly proclaimed Jesus, we saw some people coming to faith in Christ and we see some people hating Saul and wanting to kill him. That’s going to happen.
I’m not saying if you share Jesus everything good is always going to take place. Some folks will. But who would have thought Saul would have been one of those that would be converted? If you had Saul as your neighbor, do you think he was one of the ones that if you told him, he might be the one that came to faith? You see, conversion is always supernatural. That’s the joy of being part of Jesus’ mission. It’s that God uses ordinary people to tell a supernatural, extraordinary story. That story does possess the power to every person who would believe it. God is the one who gives grace to open eyes that are blinded. This is the means by which God does miracles and has done miracles for two thousand years of church history. We get to be part of that!
The application is let’s tell the story of our conversion and transformation to those who are near to you and far from God. We’ve been using that phrase and I’m just mindful that those who are near to you and far from God, everyone who is not converted is far from God. We’re not talking about people who seem like they’re super opposing Jesus, but everyone is far from God if they’re not converted. So let’s ask God to give us open doors and a bold heart. The last change that takes place is there is
5. A new suffering.
So there is a new obedience that conversion brings. It’s a changed perspective about the Shepherd who is leading us. There is a new conversation that is the joy of real relationship with God as Father. There is a new family. There is this new relationship. We look around and say, “I suddenly have everything in common with those who have Christ because Christ is everything.” Then there is a new boldness. “I want to share. I want to be used by God. I want to be part of this mission.” This is the most amazing mission! It’s the most amazing purpose that God could ever give anyone and He calls me to be an ambassador. That’s an amazing thing and I want to share the story that changed my life. And last though, a new suffering. Saul’s conversion transformed him from the hunter to the hunted. He knew very well that this would take place.
23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,
God protected Saul through the suffering, but God did not protect Him from the suffering. All through his life, that’s going to be true. He protects Saul through the suffering, finally, it’s believed that he is executed for sharing the Gospel. He protected him through the execution like He protected Stephen through the execution. But with the idea of conversion there is a realization that there is such a transformation, a change that has happened in me, that I’m no longer of the world. Here is the world. It has its system and it sort of has its principles and it has its relationships and friendships. Now I’m outside of it. I used to be in it. While I’m in it, I’m trying to make the best of it.
I remember in ninth grade, you go into the school cafeteria. It’s a big school. I’ve never been there before. I came from a small grade school and this is huge. Where do I sit? You’re looking for some place that just accepts you. I realized as I go over to this table, I don’t belong over there. That has all these athletes and I’m not an athlete. I go over to this other table and I don’t belong there. They’re not going to let me sit there. You’re looking for a way inside to become somewhere inside the circle.
As a Christian, you realize I’m always going to be outside. The only inside place I have is with other Christians, and those are few. That’s the only inside place I have. The world is of a realm that I’m always going to be outside it. Sometimes being outside it is sort of mild suffering and sometimes it’s pretty severe suffering. Saul knew that “When I am converted, I’m no longer an insider. I’m an outsider.” He knew that and he experienced being an outsider in very severe ways. What Jesus says is, “When you come to me, just know that that’s the way life is. Don’t try to solve that problem by becoming an insider in a world that hates me.” That’s disastrous! Don’t make that your focus or your attempt in life. Instead say, “As an outsider, how can I show the love of Christ to these folks who don’t have Him?” I know that when I do that, I may experience suffering. In fact, I will experience suffering. The converted life is a life of suffering for Christ.
Saul was the ultimate insider. If you were in Jerusalem and you were a Jewish person and you wanted to rub shoulders with the powerful and the rich, here is this young guy who had been taught underneath the best teacher in all of Israel. He’s the up and comer. You’d think, “I need to get to know him. If I get to know Saul, I’ll be connected to all these other important people.” He’s the ultimate insider. When he is converted, guess what? Now, he’s the ultimate outsider. If I’m associated with Saul, everybody that matters hates me. That’s what Christ does. It’s really important for folks who are converted to recognize that and to begin to live not in order to try to become hated or try to experience
more suffering, but just to know and not be surprised when it happens, and to know that Jesus is near to those who suffer for Him. Do you remember what Jesus said to Saul when He first stopped him on the road?
Acts 9:4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Saul had never met Jesus. Jesus was dead before Saul began to hear of Him. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” What Jesus was saying is that “When you throw one of my children in prison, you are persecuting me because I’m bound with them.” Isn’t that a wonderful thing? If we suffer with Jesus, we will experience the glory of Jesus. That’s the Gospel. So I close by asking the question: Have you experienced conversion personally?