Each month, we’re going to reflect on what we’ve been reading in the Know His Word reading plan. We’ll call this Reading His Word. You’ll hear excerpts from Bible studies and reflections from our team and others reading alongside us. This month we’re sharing some reflections adapted from To Live Is Christ, Beth Moore’s Bible study on the life and ministry of Paul. Enjoy!
If you asked me today what I question most at this point in my journey with Christ, my answer would not be, Why do bad things happen to good people? Nor would it be, Why have You allowed me this suffering? It would most definitely be, Why did You call me? With all my failure and frailties, why do I have the privilege of loving You, of knowing You the little that I do?
Today as the blinding light falls suddenly on a murderous persecutor, we still may be left in the dark to understand why we’ve each been called; but our eyes will be unveiled to the One who called. And we will sigh and confess, How very like Him.
Dr. Luke’s account of Saul’s conversion is recorded in Acts 9:1-9, 17-19. Paul’s account of his own conversion is recorded in Acts 26:9-18. We should not be surprised that Paul’s own descriptions are far more detailed. One of our friends could tell the story of our salvation but not with the passion and attention to detail we could tell it ourselves!
I can remember some of the first experiences in my life when this formerly dogmatic, closed-minded woman unwillingly discovered the shade of gray. I tended to see everything in black and white. I’ve concluded that for those who only see gray, God often emphatically and lovingly paints portraits of black and white so they are forced to acknowledge the new colors. For those who only see black and white, He introduces constant situations when answers aren’t so easy, lists “A to Z” cannot be found, and points one, two, and three don’t work. GRAY.
At a very difficult time in our lives when we were constantly called for school conferences concerning our son Michael, Keith and I were amused after meeting one of his new counselors. He couldn’t have been a day over 25. He had a brand new psychology degree and our precious boy figured out. Everything he mentioned, we had tried at least 5 years before—and at least 500 times. We didn’t say anything, in order to spare his dignity; but when we got in the car we said, “Wasn’t God merciful to give him Michael early in his practice?”
I was tempted to say to him, “Mr. Black and White, meet young Mr. Gray. He’s going to add a brand new color to your palette, and one day you’ll be glad. Just like I was.”
Life is full of grays, but today you and I get to enjoy a little black and white—the evil of a sinner’s heart, the purity of a Savior’s mercy.
The evil of a sinner’s heart. After such noble beginnings, such strict reinforcement of God’s laws, incomparable attainment of the knowledge of Scripture, and every external mark of righteousness—what happened? How did a brilliant young rabbi become a relentless persecutor of men and women casting his vote for the death of many? He certainly did not develop into a murderous zealot under the instruction of Gamaliel, his highly esteemed teacher.
Saul was not unlike Michael’s bright young counselor. He thought he had all the answers. The obvious difference is that Saul’s answers were lethal. Saul thought he was smarter than his teacher. No sense in waiting to see if the people of the Way would finally dissipate. He took matters into his own hands and tried to give them a much needed shove. Acts 26:11 describes Saul’s mental state perfectly: he had become obsessed.
I’m certainly no counselor, but I suspect that most obsessions rise from a futile attempt to fill a gaping hole somewhere deep in a life. Saul’s external righteousness and achieved goals left behind an itch he could not scratch. Can you imagine how miserable he must have been? Religiously righteous to the bone, inside he had nothing but innately wicked marrow. All that work, and it hadn’t worked. All his righteous passion turned into unrighteous zeal, and he became dangerous.
The Greek word for obsesses is emmainomai. The root word is mainomai which means “to act like a maniac.” Our best attempts at homegrown righteousness are still but a moment from the unspeakable. Passions can turn a new direction with frightening speed. May none of us forget it. The prophet Isaiah said, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). If all the righteousness we have is our own, it’s just an act. And acts don’t last very long.
The purity of a Savior’s mercy. Saul, himself, would later say, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Christ met Saul on the path to his darkest, most devious sin. For that very moment, for the depths of Saul’s depravity, Christ had already died. Christ literally caught him in the act.
Jesus sent Saul to open the eyes of many and turn them from darkness to light so they could receive forgiveness of sins. No greater calling exists, as well as no room for pride. God’s chosen servant was never more than a flashback from humility. Perhaps this is the very reason God forgets, but we don’t. Let’s face it. No one can teach forgiveness like the forgiven. Perhaps, like me, your life has required a healthy measure of God’s forgiveness.
Thank goodness, Saul ultimately became a zealous proponent of forgiveness of sin. As we draw to a conclusion, let’s end with some important thoughts about zeal.
- We can wholeheartedly believe in something and be wholeheartedly wrong.
- Sincerity means nothing if it is misdirected.
Saul believed in his cause with all his heart, and it literally led him down the path to destruction.
Anyone who knows me very well knows I am an avid, maybe rabid, basketball fan. The star player on our local professional team is one of the most devout believers I have ever seen. He observes every holiday. He devotes hours to prayer. He prioritizes faith high above his profession to the point of observing a month-long daily fast which invariably falls during playoffs. He lives a strict and holy life. He testifies at every opportunity on national television—a devout believer. Sadly, he believes in a lie. All that devotion, all those righteous acts, and inside resides a dangerously unredeemed heart. Saul was sincere. As he stated in Acts 26:9, “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” The more I learn about God’s Word, the less I think of opinions. Chiefly, my own.
Christ not only snatched Saul from Satan that pivotal day. He snatched Saul from himself—from his own misguided zeal, from his own obsessions. He can snatch you from yours, too. I’m living proof. I couldn’t count the times any given month I thank God for saving me not only from Satan but from myself.
Having searched the life of Saul, how can we ever doubt that Christ can save? Is any too wicked? Any too murderous? Grace never draws a line with a willing soul. His arm is never too short to save (see Isa. 59:1). He can reach into the deepest pit or down the dustiest road to Damascus. Yes, some things are gray such as, why did He choose us? But some things are still black and white—I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind but now I see.
Want to read more from Beth Moore’s study on the life and ministry of Paul? Check out the full Bible study here!