This evening I want to call your attention to what I personally regard the classic illustration of transformation. Tonight I call your attention to Paul (Saul). I want us to look at him when he was convinced that Jesus was a fraud, that Jesus was not resurrected, and that the myth of Jesus' resurrection was the greatest single, immediate threat to Judaism's future.

One point I want you to grasp is this: the person in the New Testament who had the most to say about transformation was the person who experienced/permitted radical transformation. In the terminology of today, "He had been there, done that, and understood what it was." He knew "what he was talking about" because he experienced transformation. He knew the difficulty of change [he knew it was hard!], but he also knew the importance of change--transformation is not an option Christians can pursue if they want to!

This is the man who said:

To Christians in Rome: Romans 12:1,2 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

To Christians in Galatia: Galatians 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

To Christians in Ephesus: Ephesians 4:22-24 that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.

To Christians in Corinth: 2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

Paul knew that with God's help transformation could occur and must occur in every man and woman who became a Christian.

  1. First, I want you to see clearly who this man was when he thought Jesus was not the Christ and was not resurrected from the dead.
    1. Acts 8:1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.
      1. This statement is made at Stephen's execution [the first Christian put to death because of his faith in Jesus Christ].
      2. Paul was not only there, but Acts 7:58 states that the witnesses who testified against Stephen and started his execution by stoning placed their outer garments [robes] at Paul's feet--he kept their robes safe as they executed Stephen!
      3. He was fully in agreement with killing Stephen!
      4. That death began a persecution against Christians, and quickly [if not immediately] Paul was involved in inflicting physical harm on Christians.
    2. Acts 8:3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison.
      1. Pay attention to the words of contempt and hostility describing Paul's actions:
        1. "Ravaging the church."
        2. "Dragging" men and women out of their homes.
        3. Putting them in prison.
      2. Jewish men and women who believed that Jesus was the Christ deserved no respect!
        1. Jewish Christians as the church deserved no respect!
        2. Jews who dared believe Jesus was the Christ deserved abuse and pain!
        3. Jewish men and women who believed Jesus was resurrected deserved to be prisoners!
    3. Acts 9:1,2 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
      1. Paul told people who followed Jesus Christ, "I will see you dead!"--and he meant it!
      2. He did all in his power to destroy those who followed Jesus--his hate for Christians was not restricted to Palestine!
      3. He must have been highly respected by the Jewish enemies of Jesus.
        1. He had access to the high priest, and not just anyone could walk into the presence of the high priest.
        2. He could make a request of the high priest and get a favorable response.
        3. He could ask for and receive authority to go to Jewish synagogues in a major city of another nation and arrest Jews who followed Jesus.
        4. He could place such believers under arrest and march these people 4 to 6 days (150 miles) to Jerusalem for trial by the Jerusalem Sanhedrin.
        5. Can you imagine hating someone so much that you would walk 300 miles to arrest them?
    4. Listen to Paul's self description at the point in his life when he hated those who believed in Jesus:
      1. Paul made this statement as he defended himself before Agrippa in Acts 26:9-11:
        So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
        1. Note Paul did things "hostile" to the "name of Jesus of Nazareth."
        2. Note Paul took Christians in Jerusalem to prison with authority received from the high priest.
        3. Note Paul used his influence to encourage the execution of Christians.
        4. Note when Paul found Jewish Christians in synagogue, he abused them in an attempt to make them blaspheme Jesus.
        5. Note Paul was "furiously enraged" at Christians--we would call him a man out of control, a man filled with hate!
        6. Note Paul hated Jewish Christians so much that he would go to other countries to pursue them.
      2. Paul made this statement to Christians in the Roman province of Galatia in Galatians 1:13, 14:
        For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.
        1. Paul said he used to be an extremist in persecuting the church of God.
        2. Paul said his intent at that time was to destroy the church of God.
        3. Paul said at this point in his life he was Israel's " rising star"--he was going places! He had a bright future in Judaism!
        4. Paul said he was "extremely zealous" for Judaism's ancient traditions--he knew those traditions, he followed those traditions, and he defended those traditions! He was a devoted, committed man!
      3. Paul made this statement to Timothy in 1 Timothy l:12-14:
        I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus.
        1. God through Jesus Christ transformed a blasphemer into a Christian missionary.
        2. God through Jesus Christ transformed a persecutor of Christians into a Christian missionary.
        3. God through Jesus Christ transformed a violent aggressor into a Christian missionary.

  2. How did this happen?
    1. Let Paul tell us as he defended his Christian actions before Agrippa:
      Acts 26:14-18 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect [Aramaic], "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads." And I said, "Who are You, Lord?" And the Lord said, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me."
    2. When Paul understood Jesus' true identity, everything changed for Paul.
      1. The pivotal understanding that everything Paul understood depended on the identity of Jesus Christ.
        1. If Jesus was a fraud, the myth of his resurrection was extremely dangerous.
        2. If Jesus was God's resurrected son, Jesus' resurrection was the hope of all people in all nations.
        3. When he knew that Jesus was the resurrected son of God, that changed his understanding of everything.

  3. How much change occurred in this transformation of Paul?
    1. I want to read some verses from two letters Paul wrote, and I want you to listen for yourselves.
      1. The first is found in 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8:
        For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed--God is witness--nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
        1. How much transformation occurs when you go from being a violent aggressor who dragged men and women out of their homes, put them in prison, and encouraged their execution to a gentle man who lovingly works for the faith he hated?
        2. How much transformation occurs when you go from being a violent, hate filled man to being a man filled with love who will die for the faith he hated?
      2. The second statement I want to read to you is found in 2 Corinthians 12:7-10:
        Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me--to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.
        And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness." Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness', so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weakness', with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
        1. How much transformation occurs if you go from willingly inflicting pain on other people to willingly enduring pain inflicted on you?
        2. How much transformation occurs if you go from being totally self-reliant and self-confident to being totally dependent?
    2. I want to conclude these thoughts by asking you some questions.
      1. How has belonging to Jesus Christ changed you as a person?
      2. Would you be any different if you did not believe Jesus was the resurrected Christ?
      3. Can someone who has known you for years look at your life and see the ways Christ has changed you as a person?
      4. Is it very obvious in the way you behave that Christ is in control of your life?

The objective of living as a Christian is to be transformed.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Evening Sermon, 8 August 2004

 Link to next sermon

 Link to other Writings of David Chadwell