From Saul to Paul
This morning we heard the story of Saul’s conversion. Remember Saul from a couple of weeks back? He was the one consenting to Stephen’s death. He was the one holding the coats of the men who stoned Stephen to death.
Saul was a very religious man.
Saul thought he knew God intimately.
From his youth Saul had been taught exactly who God was and how God wanted people to behave.
In his adult life Saul made it his business to see that other people lived according to his understanding of the way God was.
Saul’s zealousness for God made him a person who was highly respected by the temple leaders of his day.
Saul was so impressed with the traditions he had been taught that he thoroughly believed he had God’s ear.
And he knew for sure that he had the high priest’s ear.
So, Saul, in his self-righteous zeal, went to the high priest, asked for and received, the man’s written blessing to go to Damascus.
Where he would further God’s will on earth by throwing into religious prison any followers of the Way that he found there.
Followers of the Way is what Christians were called before they were called Christians.
before he was stoned to death, with Saul’s blessing, would have been known as a follower of the Way.
So, there was Saul, due to his understanding of the way God was, encouraging the stoning of Christ followers and going well out of his way to persecute the early church.
Going all the way from Jerusalem to Damascus; as Acts puts it, “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples.”
And then, along that same dusty road comes Jesus. And God brings Saul down a peg.
Brings him all the way down to the dirt of that road. Blinds him with a brilliant light.
And says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Amazingly Saul has the presence of mind to say,
“Who are you, Lord?”
Jesus answers, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
So, suddenly the man in charge, the man who knew exactly what God was like, and what he wanted. the man blessed by the high priest to terrorize the followers of the Way, is laying in the dirt, blinded by the light of a vision of the risen Christ.
A true vision of the very real God of the universe.
And Saul does what he is told to do.
When Saul gets to Damascus a faithful follower of the Way comes to him three days later, lays hands on him and prays.
And Saul receives the Holy Spirit. The scales fall from his eyes. And he can see.
He is baptized.
His vision of God changes.
It is converted.
Saul is converted.
he becomes a follower of the Way.
As testimony to his conversion later on in Acts and in the rest of the New Testament we find the man whose understanding of the way God was made him think he was doing God a favour by persecuting the followers of the Way. We find this converted man now preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Telling the known world, the good news of salvation
through God’s gracious gift of faith in Jesus
as the Christ of God.
Teaching the people in person and by letters to live that faith by obeying everything Jesus had commanded the apostles when he was with them on this earth.
The letters Paul wrote, as preserved in our Bible, are filled with wise, Spirit inspired knowledge on the practical how-toos of living the Christian life.
Paul’s letters are all about being formed by faith and grace into the likeness of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.
They are about answering this question –
After our conversion, how then shall we live?
Paul’s letters are about spiritual formation.
I am studying a book written by another Christian teacher. A man named Dallas Willard. The book is entitled, The Renovation of the Heart.
This book is also about spiritual formation.
Like Paul, Willard argues in his book that the Christian life, which is the life of discipleship to Christ, is a life of being formed into the likeness of Christ through the grace of God by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It is a life, the life, which begins after we first believe in God, after our idea of God is converted from the way the world sees God to the way God really is.
Willard teaches in his book that the gift of faith that we receive from God, through God’s gracious love for us, is a gift, that due to the pure love and gratitude toward God, which it engenders in us, we cannot help but respond to, by loving and worshiping God with heartfelt obedience.
Willard argues that once we are able to see the true loving nature of God; as demonstrated to us in the gift of faith.
Then we have a vision of God, an insight into the true nature of God, that draws us into the life of God, into life in Christ.
At the point of receiving this vision of who God really is, Willard argues, Christ begins to be formed in us and we begin to live into that vision of God.
With Paul, who said we are meant to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, Willard also says our conversion, our seeing God for who he is, is something that requires our attention if we are to be and to become in Christ all that God intends us to be, fully human, living abundantly in Christ.
As a help in putting our vision of God into action in our lives, Willard talks about the VIM method of attending to our growth into the likeness of Christ.
The VIM method of spiritual formation holds three steps:
The vision is seeing God for who he really is in Jesus Christ, understanding and believing that God wishes us to be like Jesus and realising that In Christ, by the Holy Spirit, God the Father, by grace, actually and really, makes this vision possible in us and for us.
The intent is our loving God with all our minds and might so like any smitten lover, we focus our beings on living into the object of our desire, the vision we have received of God in Christ, and so with our Spirit empowered will, deciding to become Christlike in our behaviour.
The means is learning how, practically, to go about fulfilling our intention to live into our vision.
The means Willard speaks of are: memorizing scripture so it becomes part of who we are, so through the written Word, God is constantly before our face as we live being formed into the likeness of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ.
Willard also encourages prayer as a means of getting to know God. Through conversation with the one we love we grow in likeness to our beloved.
Willard also encourages the seeker after God to reflect upon the lives of the saints who have gone before us, learning from their lives and experiences who our God is.
We started this sermon with the story of Saul’s conversion. The story of Saul, the persecutor of the Way, becoming Paul, God’s chosen vessel to carry the name of Jesus before the Gentiles. Paul, the author of much of our New Testament, an apostle born out of time.
So, what does Paul’s conversion have to do with us?
Particularly those of you who could not point to the time or even the year that they were converted?
Is conversion for those of you who have always believed in Jesus, as far back as you can remember, even a thing?
Of course, it is.
Because conversion is something that happens to every believer every day.
Conversion of every believer into the likeness of Christ occurs with every breath a follower of the Way takes.
In Christ we live and move and have our being.
By the power of the Holy Spirit our idea of God, our vision of our beloved grows, becoming more complete, daily.
Every moment of a believer’s life draws them closer to their beloved.
Every breath we take, in faith, is a step forward in our conversion into the likeness of Christ.
Relish the story of your own conversion.
It is the ongoing story of your life in Christ.
You, like Paul, are a chosen vessel of God, called and chosen to hear and obey all that Jesus taught.
Called and chosen to live, loving and enjoying your God forever.